Friday, July 24, 2009

Many Kinds of Reading

Tyler Cowen shows his complete inefficiency in reading (ht):

Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor, makes the suggestion in his book "Discover Your Inner Economist," which shows how to use economic reasoning to improve your life. Scarcity is one principle — a lack of attention and time keeps us from being as cultured as we'd like.

We should ask ourselves if reading a book we're getting little out of is the best use of scarce resources.

He takes his own advice, saying he finishes one book for every five to 10 he starts.

If this is true then the principles by which Cowen selects books to read in the first place are simply awful; there's no reason why he should even be starting most of those books. If time and attention are so important, why waste time on them at all, sinking the original investments of time that it takes to start them? Some books are surprise duds; but that much waste suggests a serious need for a better way of picking out books to start in the first place. You can sample how a book will be without starting it; people do it in bookstores all the time. There's no perfect method for it, but it can be done.

In any case, the article makes a common false assumption, namely, that reading is all of a piece, all the same thing. 'Rewarding read' and 'easy read' or even 'good read' are not all the same thing; and in each of the three cases what counts is determined by the reason why you are reading in the first place. In some cases whether you like the book will be irrelevant; in others it will be the only thing of relevance. In some cases you will be trying to 'get something out of a book' and in some cases you will simply be reading in order to be reading. And so forth. Reading is not all the same.

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