The joy of reading difficult things

I typ­i­cally read about a book a week. The major­ity of those are non­fic­tion with an occa­sional fic­tion one thrown in as well. Some of my recent favorites are The Power of Habit, Salt, and Moon­walk­ing With Ein­stein. Those are all great but they’re also all pretty easy reads. They give my brain just enough to feel pro­duc­tive but not enough to really chew on.

Two weeks ago I picked up The Order of Things, a book I’ve had on my shelf for years. While I’ve only made it 90 pages in, I love it.

As a polit­i­cal the­ory major in col­lege I read a lot of books like this. Books you strug­gled with to fully grasp. One of my favorite courses was an upper level Soci­ol­ogy course where the only assign­ment was read­ing. No papers, exams, or any­thing else. That read­ing made for the most chal­leng­ing class I took in college.

Some­where along the way I for­got the joy of sit­ting down to slowly and delib­er­ately work my way through a book. I’m glad I found it again.

Mid-week reading list

With the crazi­ness of run­ning a Word­Camp last week I didn’t have much time to read through my Instapa­per queue. Thank­fully, I had some extra time to catch up on things tonight. Inter­est­ingly I had a lot of arti­cles that hit on sim­i­lar themes. Last week seemed to be the week to pub­lish pieces about publishing.

Scott Hanselman’s Your words are wasted was first up. It speaks to my belief in the impor­tance of open source soft­ware and own­ing what you pub­lish. As he says, “I con­trol this domain, this soft­ware and this content.”

It’s been a while since I’ve read some­thing from the Nie­man Lab but I think I need to start fol­low­ing them more closely again. 13 ways of look­ing at Medium was well done. They save the crit­i­cal ques­tions for the end and there could have been more of those, but it’s an inter­est­ing look at Ev Williams’ new pub­lish­ing tool.

The Dan­gers of Being a Prod­uct Instead of a Cus­tomer was another good post. As Diego writes there, “I’d much rather be a cus­tomer of web ser­vices than a product.”

Anil Dash’s mus­ing on streams was inter­est­ing as a some­what higher level piece. Peo­ple do read on the inter­net, they just require con­tent to be pre­sented in the right way.

Inter­est­ing stuff going on.

My favorite iPad feature

Tap Left Mar­gin -> Next Page; my favorite fea­ture of the iPad. This means I can com­fort­ably read while drink­ing tea and not worry about which hand holds my iPad.

The major­ity of the time I’m read­ing a book I just want to go for­ward. It always felt clumsy to swipe with my left thumb. Advanc­ing with just a tap means the device never breaks my flow.

Explorable Explanations

Do our read­ing envi­ron­ments encour­age active read­ing? Or do they utterly oppose it? A typ­i­cal read­ing tool, such as a book or web­site, dis­plays the author’s argu­ment, and noth­ing else. The reader’s line of thought remains inter­nal and invis­i­ble, vague and spec­u­la­tive. We form ques­tions, but can’t answer them. We con­sider alter­na­tives, but can’t explore them. We ques­tion assump­tions, but can’t ver­ify them. And so, in the end, we blindly trust, or blindly don’t, and we miss the deep under­stand­ing that comes from dia­logue and exploration.

Explorable Expla­na­tions is my umbrella project for ideas that enable and encour­age truly active read­ing. The goal is to change people’s rela­tion­ship with text. Peo­ple cur­rently think of text as infor­ma­tion to be con­sumed. I want text to be used as an envi­ron­ment to think in.

Bret Vic­tor - Explorable Expla­na­tions.


Con­tin­u­ing in the style of last week I spent most of today read­ing my Instapa­per back­log and lis­ten­ing to pod­casts. Good day. Here are the highlights: