I know what it is to be a poor reader. I do not know what it means to be a passionless reader. Books are filled with ideas. Ideas are a kind of candy. There is no one in my experience who dislikes candy.
I am a poor reader because I’ve always felt that I have an inability to control the flitting of my mind and which expresses itself most eloquently in the flitting of my eye. Watch the eye of one who is watching. The pupils look like two cooks ambushed by the morning breakfast rush. It is here and
and then like ….
The words appear in order. Meaning is generated almost immediately. Like a magic spell, the words incantated create a illusory world, a voice, a character But before the end of the third line, the eye has imperceptibly skipped a word. It may have been a small word, in very large novels, that word may represent but the smallest fraction of the total meaning of the text. And yet, it is catastrophic. For it leads to another word, and another, and of course with each missing word there is a muddying of meaning, a loss of vibrancy. Slowly the text becomes a bland sort of gruel. Try as you might you may in fact fall half a page. It is a drop that can be likened to an impetuous child who must descend a staircase each day before he leaves the house. Sooner or later, he leaps two three, maybe more steps at a time. Why wouldn’t he do the same when he reads?
This has led me to the conclusion that the greatest reason for the supposed weakening of readership is the physical habits of looking. In this day and age, the eye is accustomed to move at great speed from image to image. The average cut in move and television editing has increased fifty fold. Video games, another pleasurable activity, make evening driving feel slow and staid. I have sometimes wonder whether even the refresh rate of this seeming still screen of my computer doesn’t in some way habituate my eye to frantic movement.
Of course, this leads to the inevitable: a closed book. Abandoned. If there is no exterior motivation for the reader to continue, there will be little incentive for them to retrace their steps to the place where they were and begin again.
Textbook editors, especially of the grade school variety, but increasingly in upper level texts have anticipated the busy eye by creating many text boxes and employing varieties of font and picture on the page. The rationale is this: kids today get bored.
I am sure I am not the only one to suggest that this is the exact wrong direction to travel. The way to get the busy mind to indulge in the printed word is not by making the printed word busy. This is exactly why police officer does not, as many movies suggest, engage in the car chase. It adds to the chaos and the danger. Rather, a coordinated effort to give the culprit no other option but to slow down is the more effective method. So it should be with textbooks. Engage is this paradox: through uniformity of presentation, the reader will find variety of imagination.
Impatience wasn’t just the one unforgivable sin for Kafka. It was the original sin.
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