Resolutions and readings

The end of a year. Time to reflect. How did those beginning-of-year “must do better” plans work out? Not that I’m usually an enthusiast for them: but, for once, this last year I did make two fairly serious resolutions.

The first was relatively easy to keep — to lose quite a bit of weight. The secret? You just eat fewer carbs, exercise more. And keep going. Who could possibly have guessed? So, primed with this wonderful new insight, I’ll now have to write my sure-to-be-best-selling life-style-and-diet book. Move over Gwyneth. I expect to make a fortune.

The other resolution initially took significantly more will-power to put into practice. Keep off the internet from mid-evening. For a start, try to ignore Twitter, the newspapers, the political magazines, the political blogs, and the rest. Read novels and the like instead. In these days of Trump and Brexit and more, I really can’t recommend this enough for the sheer improvement to eudaimonia and well-being. Try it for a week (you can do it!), and then another week … You won’t regret it, trust me!

And I’ll add, don’t read the novels onscreen: there’s still something about sitting down with a real printed book that seems to engender a different level of engagement (and I don’t think that that’s just me).

I keep a list. I didn’t quite get to a book a week (unless I’m allowed to count the likes of Dombey and Son as more than one!). But I have read exactly twice as many novels and other books this year as the year before, and I feel I’m reconnecting to that much earlier self who seemed to have endless time for non-work-related reading. The novels’ explorations of our  human world, the delights of encountering wonderful writing, the sheer fun of getting caught up in a story, have all given great pleasure.

There’s no plan to the reading, other than a rough intention to mix up classics and recent books, and first readings with re-readings. And sheer chance plays a large part:  what turns up in a favourite haunt, the beautifully run Oxfam bookshop in Saffron Walden? Indeed, such serendipitous finds have been among the most enjoyable — Madeline Miller’s Circe, the collected poems of U.A. Fanthorpe, the novels of Helen Dunmore (I’m reading through an as-new set of the first ten, bought for a pound each …).

And what am I reading as the  year ends? Clive James’s long poem The River in the Sky (which isn’t entirely working for me, but has its magical moments); Sue Prideaux’s I am Dynamite (not that I am a Nietzsche fan, but it promises to be a rollicking read); and, not least, this winter’s Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. All more than good enough to keep me happily sticking to that resolution to avoid frittering time (and to avoid getting stressed!) on the internet.

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3 Responses to Resolutions and readings

  1. Rowsety Moid says:

    Re don’t read the novels onscreen: there’s still something about sitting down with a real printed book that seems to engender a different level of engagement (and I don’t think that that’s just me).

    The linked “I don’t think that that’s just me” article makes claims that seem quite questionable to me. There are several in just these two sentences:

    When we are reading from a screen, only one section can be seen at a time and the available reading surface area is limited. If you read a printed medium such as a book, several text areas are available simultaneously and it feels easier to form an overview and make notes in the margins.

    What are the “several text areas” that “are available simultaneously” when reading a printed book? Is the “available reading surface area” unlimited somehow?

    If anything, it’s more the other way around. There’s more reading surface area on my laptop’s screen than on the two facing pages, taken together, of most books; and it’s easy to have more than one section on screen at a time. I often have more than one window or window region showing different parts of the same document. (Did the author just forget, at that point, that not all screens are as limited as those of a phone or e-reader?)

    Of course, I can turn to different pages in a book, and that can make some things easier, but the pages are not all visible at once in the way several sections can be on a screen.

    Also, try doing this with printed books rather than a screen:
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%201&version=NIV;SBLGNT;DRA;KJV

    (The link should go to several different translations of John 1, together with the Greek text, displayed in parallel.)

    • Peter Smith says:

      To confess, the link I provided was a bit of a stop-gap! — I couldn’t find again the link to a more convincing piece along the same lines on research about concentration, retention, understanding levels, etc. that I saw a while back. I agree of course about the virtues of screen estate and multiple windows for work-related reading. But for getting lost in a novel …?

      • Rowsety Moid says:

        I wasn’t thinking primarily of work-related reading, just that what the article says about screens isn’t true, or is at best true only of some types of screens. And so even if the author’s right that “the reader often experiences better concentration and a greater overview when reading from a printed medium”, the article can’t be right about why.

        Some of what it says isn’t even relevant if we’re talking about getting lost in a novel. (How often are you making marginal notes when lost in a novel?)

        I’ve read a lot of fiction on paper over the years, and also quite a bit on a Kindle (especially since I don’t have room for more paper copies). I haven’t noticed any systematic difference in comprehension, retention, or how immersed I can become. I’ve seldom read the same novel both on a Kindle and on paper, but when I have, I’ve either noticed no difference in how engaged I became or felt the Kindle experience was better. (For example, when I read Rosamund Lupton’s Sister on my Kindle, I thought it was better written and easier to read than when I later tried a paper copy.)

        That’s not to say books aren’t better in other ways. I generally prefer a book, especially if it’s a physically nice one that doesn’t have too small a font and isn’t too big to hold and handle comfortably, or if maps or pictures are important.

        I also think computer screens are usually worse for continuous reading than paper, largely because of the display technology. The problem is at least reduced on a Kindle which uses ‘electronic paper’ rather than a backlit screen. However, such e-readers have other limitations such as screen size.

        So I have no problem believing there are many cases where paper is better. However, I am not convinced that reading novels is among them when the alternative is something like a Kindle. And if paper is better for novels, I would wonder why and how much is due to the way people are used to using screens for other purposes.

        Think, for example, of settling into a comfortable chair away from distractions, perhaps a chair you use only for reading. That all makes it easier to become immersed in the story. Most screen use is not like that. It’s for work, new messages might arrive, or you might switch between windows doing different things, and so on. If you take a screen to the chair to read, the things that normally happen when using screens can interfere with you ability to become engaged. Or you might be used to reading faster on a screen, and don’t slow down to read in the way you would a good book.

        Such things can make books better, but they’re also things that can change as you do more novel reading on a suitable screen.

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