what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, September 5, 2016


As an avid reader for more than half a century, I have become more and more aware of the shortcomings of most recently-published non-fiction books.
Their bibliographies may look impressive and their chapter headings riveting but the books increasingly suffer, in my view, from the following sorts of deficiencies –
- They are written by academics
- who write for students and other academics
- and lack “hands-on” experience of other worlds
- the author’s speciality indeed is only a sub-discipline – eg financial economics
- the focus is a fashionable subject
- written with deadlines to meet commercial demands
- making claims to originality- but failing to honour the google scholar adage of “standing on the shoulders of giants” (despite – perhaps even because of - the extensive bibliographies)

I now have a litmus test for any book which catches my eye – actually not one but three -
 1. Does it reveal in its preface/introduction and bibliography an intention to honour what has been written before on the subject?
 2. Indeed does it clearly list and comment on what has been identified as the key reading and indicate why, despite such previous efforts, the author feels compelled to add to our reading burden??? And can you, the reader, identify any obvious gaps in that list?
 3. Can the author clearly demonstrate (eg in the introduction or opening chapter) that the book is the result of long thought and not just an inclination to jump on the latest bandwagon?
All of three years ago, I wrote about “slow books” - I wasn’t aware of the phrase - it just came to me in a creative flash. I was not really surprised, however, to learn that the phrase had already been coined – although fairly recently as I see from this March 2012 article in The Atlantic and this (rather local) 2009 website. In 2009 there was even a small book entitled Slow Reading 

Let me push, however, for a wider definition of a “slow book”. 
"Slow food" is an entire process - it is the preparation, production and consumption. And abhors the formulaes, specialisation and slave labour which the logic of modern production and ownership systems require eg in MacDonald's and Amazon.

Similarly "Slow books" stand against marketing and "commodification" (sorry about the word!) and are about the relationships of real authentic people - whether as writers, readers, craftsmen or suppliers.
update; a review of a new book - Slow Reading in a Hurried Age

I will now reveal – exclusively for you – my ten tricks of fast reading and comprehension. They are very simply expressed -

- Read a lot (from an early age!)
- Read widely (outside your discipline)
- Read quickly (skim)
- If the author doesn’t write in clear and simple language, move on to another book asap. Life’s too short……Bad writing is a good indicator of a confused mind

For each book
- Mark extensively (with a pencil) – with question-marks, ticks, underlines, comments and expletives
- Read the reviews (surf)
- Identify questions from these to ensure you’re reading critically
- Write brief notes to remind you of the main themes and arguments
- Identify the main schools of thought about the subject
- Check the bibliography at the end – to see what obvious names are missing

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