Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Filtering

An interesting post from Miscellanies that causes me o look forward to Tony Reinke's soon-coming book:

Book Filtering

Allan Jacobs makes a very good point about the importance of choosing the right books to read:

One of the most widely quoted sentences of Sir Francis Bacon—it comes from his essay “Of Studies”—concerns the reading of books: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” This is usually taken as a wise or sententious general comment about the worthiness of various texts, but Ann Blair shows that Bacon was making a very practical recommendation to people who were overwhelmed by the availability of books and couldn’t imagine how they were going to read them all. Bacon tells such worried folks that they can’t read them all, and so should develop strategies of discernment that enable them to make wise decisions about how to invest their time. I think Bacon would have applauded Clay Shirky’s comment that we suffer not from “information overload” but from “filter failure.” Bacon’s famous sentence is really a strategy for filtering.

Today American publishers are cranking out close to 300,000 new book titles (and new editions) each year. We need a filter. But how do we build such a filter to fit around the contours of our life? That is one of the major questions I sought to address in my forthcoming book Lit!, particularly in chapter 7, “Read with Resolve: Six Priorities That Decide What Books I Read (and Don’t Read).” My point there is simple: book readers must first determine clear reading goals. Once we determine what we want our books to accomplish (even if the goal is mere pleasure), a host of questions about what books you should read will resolve themselves, making the choice about what books to read, and which ones not to read, a more manageable decision.

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