On Reading

When mariner was just beginning his elementary school years, he began reading the family library. It consisted of about ten or twelve popular novels and a 1939 Book of Knowledge encyclopedia; the encyclopedia still is in his possession. The novels were best sellers and classics of their time but alas, over the years mariner has forgotten the titles. He does remember not having the patience, and perhaps the maturity, to finish the novels. However, he did, believe it or not, read page by page all nineteen volumes of the encyclopedia (the twentieth volume is an appendix).

Mariner more or less avoided reading fiction until high school – except for the beloved Sunday comic strips and comic books. In high school there were classes that existed only to read fiction. Books like Old Man and the Sea and (horrors) Heart of Darkness. In college mariner discovered fiction ponies called Cliff’s Notes; these helped his experience in those ‘fiction’ classes.

Not that mariner was illiterate or indifferent about knowledge and information. Mariner was the kid who would cut school and spend the day at the public library (not the fiction section). Later in life, after mariner was married, he decided to enroll in a Master Degree program. He knew his weakness for reading and his impatience while waiting for information to emerge. He asked his wife, an ardent reader, if she would read his textbooks for him. Succinctly, with a tone of disgust, she said, “No.”

So mariner had no choice but to learn to read very, very fast. He enrolled in Evelyn Woods’ speed reading program. Mariner must say up front it is a remarkable training program with excellent improvement in reading something extremely fast. Mariner’s words per minute tripled. The sensation of eliminating subvocalizing is a memorable experience. One feels as if they are in a plane lifting off the runway and soaring.

But mariner did not take Evelyn’s classes to read more fiction. In a manner of speaking, he wanted to avoid reading. The class he took to heart was the class about how to read nonfiction!

Mariner was able to dissect a textbook or treatise in a fraction of the time by not reading all the words! Specifically, one memorized the primary table of contents, skimmed through the preface, and then studied the author’s writing style. It turns out most writers habitually use one of three sentence locations within a paragraph to state the specific point or information for the whole paragraph. Most nonfiction writers use the first sentence of the paragraph to state the primary point. Second most popular is using the last sentence of the paragraph as a summation. A few writers set up the paragraph in the first sentence but don’t state the point until the second sentence. Combined with the top down thread of the table of contents, one can literally jump over chapters to sustain continuity. Don’t try this with math or engineering texts.

As the decades passed, mariner remained a reluctant reader unless there was a task at hand or a goal that required additional information or understanding. During his career, he often had to fly to different locations. Any traveler knows that hours in an airplane can be boring. One day mariner decided to try reading a novel.

At the airport bookstore he picked up Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger. On the plane, he started at the beginning. A story line developed and pieces of plot were linked around the person in the story. At the end of the first chapter, the novel started all over again with another person. The second chapter never referenced the first chapter! Hell, mariner doesn’t have time for this nonsense. He closed the book and has never looked at a novel since.

The same pattern emerges when mariner watches movies. His poor wife enjoys movies. Mariner notes the color schemes, the actors, the music and the pattern of camera shots. About fifteen minutes into the movie – to his wife’s chagrin – mariner says he has seen the movie.

Ancient Mariner


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