"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Reading (Updated) ...

(Originally published 04 May 2010 - Updated below 16 Mar 2013)

I'll send out a bunch of emails about this post and, from experience, have a pretty good notion of the seven or eight who will actually take a look at it.

Many of those who wont bother will pass simply because they are busy with this thing called LIFE.  It's silly and selfish to want them to put "Read Paul's blog" at the top of their priorities list, and I'd have to be even more full of myself than I usually am to expect that.

I'll always remember an episode of Candice Bergen's "Murphy Brown" TV series in which she plays a TV news reporter showing up at a politician's office, starts telling the secretary who she is, only to have that secretary cut her off at the knees with, "I don't watch television; I have a LIFE!"

And, many of those to whom I send my "Look at me! Look at me!" messages are in that situation.

But, I suspect that for a few, the real reason is that reading is an ordeal for them.  I'm not the first to wonder that;  Isaac Asimov noted in an essay of his, probably before some of you were even born,  that reading (just like playing an instrument, sports, and many other skills) is something that some have a knack for, and others have to work like hell to accomplish.

I'm speaking now of extremely intelligent people who overcome that problem, through sheer will and discipline, by reading what they have to but take no real pleasure in it. If you find a profile they've put up anywhere, and there's a "Favorite Reading:" list on it, they're apt to put on it, "I don't like reading."

One of the luckiest things about my life is that I've always loved reading (almost anything), and that it's always been easy for me.

I had to drop out of school after the ninth grade (I did get a GED during a period of unemployment thirty years later), and have never had much study discipline (or any other kind of discipline, for that matter), but it's very hard to read as much as I have without some of it managing to stick. As a result, I tend to do very well on tests.

Such tests impressed the USAF enough that they sent this high-school dropout to Yale for a year (for language schooling) and this accomplishment helped my way into engineering and IT careers. And overall, I can't really complain about how my life has turned out.

But, for that, I have to credit loving reading and never having to struggle with it.  In my case, that was a knack that I had the sheer good luck to be born with.

(Originally published 5/4/10 11:14 PM)

Update - Sat, 16 Mar 2013 - I may have had some help with that "luck".
Today, I came across this post More on reading; a bit of the absurd by Dr. Jerry Pournelle. I sent an email to him, mentioning A Profound Sadness at the Polling Station (my thoughts on how vital mastery of English can be to making it here), and also the post you are now reading.

In Dr. Pournelle's post was an email from one of his readers noting ...

When our daughter was in kindergarten, she read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Yes, she understood it with the help of her Parental Dictionaries and a bit of phonetic guidance with things like wingardia leviosa. My sainted mother-in-law took the place of an English nanny.

This reminded me that some of my "luck" was certainly due to Mom and Dad. Both of them were voracious readers and kept plenty of material at hand.

By the time I was 7 or 8, I was devouring copies of Mechanix Illustrated left by my uncle (who was a subscriber and also read a lot. That magazine had many articles on just about everything besides the usual auto repair and furniture building you would expect (see The Year of the Jackpot).

Dad kept a large supply of Zane Grey and Max Brand paperback westerns I got hooked on.

I think it was about this time that Mom showed me a copy of Treasure Island, warned me that I shouldn't read it as it "might give me nightmares", and hid it away. Of course, I found it and devoured it. It didn't occur to me until much later that it wasn't all that difficult for me to find.

I'm pretty confident that I had been played. :-)

Thanks, Mom and Dad.


Anonymous said...

Hey Paul! Maybe you should send your article to the Obama Administration. One tends to have more credibility when one has READ something BEFORE criticizing it. But then, that blows the plausible denyability later when you've been found to be spouting horse shit.

Paul_In_Houston said...

Well, Sir:

Isn't the Catch-22 of your proposal the fact that they would have to read my article?    :-)

Unknown said...

Thanks for your post on reading. First, I'd like to mention that I have been lurking here for some time, having been led to this site from Chaos Manor. And I do make this a priority every day. There are 7 sites I check daily for updates from a variety of genres, and yours is one of them.

Not to put any more pressue on you than you already feel, but I get worried when there is a long hiatus in posts and miss them a lot.

And then to the meat of my comment:

I find that my life story parallels yours in many ways, not in the least of which is in reading. I have always been a loner, prefering the company of machines or books to that of people. In my younger days, I spent a lot of time with gas engines, electric motors, and always, always, books. I truly discovered the library when in 4th grade. We'd moved to a small fishing village in Alaska (in 1966) for a year, where there were no roads in, no TV, and little to occupy your mind unless you took action. This is the year that I discovered Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, Robert Lewis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and others. I became a voracious reader, and have always been known in my family has having a book in my hand. The next year, we moved to Montana and I spent my fifth grade year learning Phonics. I didn't realize how important that was until Jerry Pournelle started commenting on it at his site.

My parents were school teachers, and did their best to assist my interest in reading, but didn't need to do much as I always was independent and took matters into my own hands. I'm absolutely positive reading reading

At any rate, thanks for your site, and I truly appreciate having the opportunity to come here and read the interesting and often very important comments you make.

I'll try to comment once in a while now that I've been exposed!


Paul Gordon said...

To Unknown:

Sir: You've just made my day.

I've been somewhat aware of you because I have a site meter and am addicted to it.

Because it shows someone in Billings, Montana, on Bresnan Net, I thought it might be an Air Force buddy of mine in Kalispell (who also uses that ISP) writing from another location.

You mean I have TWO people in Montana reading me? Cool! :-)

"Not to put any more pressue on you than you already feel, but I get worried when there is a long hiatus in posts and miss them a lot."

We all have our ups and downs. I consider the night of November 6 as definitely a down, and it's burned me out on politics (for awhile), but I'll get back. You've probably noticed that movies are my first love anyhow.

I really do have some future posts in mind; I just have to get around to them.

Thabks for writing. Glad to hear from you.

Unknown said...

I note that in my post there was somehow a corruption, probably in the process of posting, where it says 'reading reading'

What I was trying to say is that I am absolutely reading well has been responsible for much of any success I have had in careers over the years.

Sorry about that!

Paul Gordon said...

If you look at your latest comment, you'll see another corruption.

Posting software has a built in "gremlin" that, when you hit "Publish", looks for typos and, if it fails to find any, will conjure some up and insert them.

So, don;'t worry about it. :-)


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