Speed Thinking? Hmm, Maybe…

Due to the nature of my job, reading ‘eats up’ at least two thirds of my time every day, it has always been so. The rest of the time goes on writing and living my human life, but this kind of lifestyle leaves me little to no time for thinking– I mean, the efficient, productive thinking that normally leads us to something new.

As a teacher, I read through lots of student materials daily; I have to learn a lot, because otherwise I will have nothing to teach them. As a translator/interpreter, I have to know a lot and this makes me read endlessly about so many diferent things. As an author… well, I don’t even have to begin explaining it: reading is critical.

This is why whenever I read an article, a coursebook text, or a piece of fiction, I catch myself on thinking: “Eww, too many words! Too many words! Guys, please!” I want to finish every piece as quickly as possible, because my ‘to read’ list is itself as long as a novel.

man scrolling old book pages at the table fast

I am sure I am not alone in this. Many people regret having to waste their time even when they are reading a fiction book with no practical reason, for pure pleasure. Time is becoming our strictest warder; we simply can’t afford to spend days on reading a book anymore.

I thought I found an answer by starting to listen to audiobooks when I am in gym or while cooking and doing stuff with my hands. It helped, not for a long time, though. My ‘to read’ list is still growing fast, and my time is still slipping away.

Some colleagues suggest that it’s good to study speed reading. I am sure it is, but is this going to solve the problem? Just a little, but– no, I’m afraid. I believe that we are going to end up inventing a way of speed thinking soon. But isn’t thinking in a hurry the most dangerous business of all?

I think the best answer for readers would be to ‘brush up’ their ‘to read’ lists and start reading more selectively, while writers will have to accept the approach of condensed writing — when everything is put in the most precise and well-structured way, so that the reader can easily grasp the idea of every passage and quickly move on.

In fact, the process is taking place already, even for the fiction books. I just analyzed a dozen of bestsellers published in 2018 and compared them to a dozen of fiction bestsellers which were first published between 2000 and 2005. The results are very interesting: on the total, the more recent novels have become more ‘visual’ and imaginative (the descriptions are built to create fast images in the reader’s mind); the passages in novels have become shorter; there are more dialogs, in which sentences are becoming shorter, too, and it is not unusual to see chapters of the cize of a page anymore. As far as I know, this was not a usual thing in the literature published in the 20-th century.

So, condensed writing is taking over little by little. I think I need to study and compare more texts — who knows, maybe a deeper research is going to reveal more tendencies which I have not noticed yet?

Definitely Maybe… (a book review)

It feels a bit funny to see the cover of this book with English words on it, because I know its original Russian version so well. The book is really, truly Soviet, if I may say so. I mean to say that in it, the characters, their moral/ethical positions, the setting, the events, and everything else up to the last line is filled with the worldview of the Soviet people. Well, this makes the book even more interesting for us today, when the Soviet Union is only history.

Still, the problems raised in the book are global, or I’d rather say, universal. The novel is amazing in its ability to live and remain ‘fresh’ through time: today, half of a century later, it reads as if it was written just yesterday by someone who always looks into the future.

I am sure, the authors did.

Definitely Maybe (Russian: За миллиард лет до конца света,  literal translation: A Billion Years Before the End of the World, sometimes called Definitely Maybe: A Manuscript Discovered Under Unusual Circumstances) is a science fiction novel by Russian writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, first published 1974. The story takes place in Leningrad, USSR. The protagonist, an astrophysicist Dmitry Malyanov, is officially on vacation, but continues to work on his thesis, “The Interaction of Stars with Diffused Galactic Matter”. Just as he begins to realize that he is on the verge of a discovery worthy of a Nobel Prize, his life becomes plagued by a number of strange events, which finally lead him to a great deal of stress and make him unable to do his research anymore.

Little by little, Malyanov begins to suspect that someone (or something) deliberately intends to prevent him from continuing his work. Meanwhile, the same idea occurs to his friends, also talented scientists, who find themselves in a similar situation—some powerful, mysterious, and very selective force impedes their work.

An explanation is proposed by Malyanov’s friend, the mathematician Vecherovsky. He posits that some mysterious force is trying to slow down mankind’s scientific pursuit, which might become a threat to the very fabric of the universe in some distant future. In fact, it is the Universe itself that resists attempts of rational beings of constructing supercivilizations. Vecherovsky proposes to treat this universal resistance to scientific progress as a natural phenomenon which can and should be investigated and even harnessed by Science.

As the novel concludes, the other scientists, including Malyanov, have been forced to abandon their research, and Vecherovsky remains alone to battle the universe and continue their work.

I just finished reading the book for the 4-th or possibly the 5-th time, and enjoyed it again– maybe even more than the previous times. It glows with love for the world we live in. It is profound in thought; it touches deepest problems of human ethics, and at the same time, it is full of humor and life. I do recommend you to try reading it.

Also, I absolutely love and would like to recommend a few more books by Strugatsky brothers:

Snail on the Slope (Russian – “Улитка на склоне”) is a philosophic and deeply psychological sci-fi novel ;

The Doomed City (Russian: Град обреченный) is a 1972 science fiction novel — an absolutely amazing philosophic piece to read

Roadside Picnic (Russian: Пикник на обочине), a 1971 novel; within ten years after the first publication, 38 editions of it were published in 20 countries.

The Ugly Swans (Russian: Гадкие лебеди) written in the 1960-ies, but published only in 1987, during Gorbachev’s Perestroika.

Side Thoughts About Reading Fiction

Has it ever come to your mind that mankind might have never accepted the idea of writing books that are supposed to give the reader nothing, but pleasure? I am talking about fiction. Well, we all know that quite many people find fiction books absolutely useless and never read them. In the early ages, especially when only a tiny part of society could read at all, the mankind could easily decide to pass on fiction at all and limit itself to just using books for the purpose of sharing useful information, like coursebooks, instruction manuals, all sorts of directories and documentation, etc. Wow, just think about it: people might have never understood the pleasure of reading for fun. Eww, what a dull planet we would be then!

Unlike other inventions of the mankind, and even more — despite them — fiction books manage to remain incrediblly popular among millions, and this fact itself is amazing.

“It took thirty-eight years before 50 million people gained access to radios. It took television thirteen years to earn an audience that size. It took Instagram a year and a half.” says Gary Vaynerchuk, a social media personality and a serial entrepreneur. I can’t help thinking that, with all these changes in the world, with so many other things to see and experience, and with having dramatic lack of free time, people’s affection for reading fiction looks… well, it looks kind of weird!

I used to think that this has something to do with the insatiable appetite of all humans for obtaining new emotional experiences. The best (or the safest) way to get them is to make yourself comfortable with a book in a soft chair and follow your protagonist’s adventures, unless you perfer to throw yourself into the storming ocean of real life experiences. Through centuries, fiction books continued to play the role of a soft sedative for emotionally thirsty people. But now, in the 21-st century, when we have all sorts of other emotional teasers like television, the Internet, virtual games, etc., why do we remain so attracted to books? So I think that it is not just about emotions — fiction books help feed our thirst for fantasizing. Our imagination refuses to be chained within the limits of a movie, or a game, or something that has been prepared for our eyes, and — alas! — has a finished, static shape. We need more: some basic blocks for experiences which we can build and colorize in our own minds, to our personal tastes, and fiction books, so far, remain the only phenomenon that can give it to us.

Please, let me know what you think about this. Your comments are very welcome.

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

May The Best Book Win!

librocubicularist | nonfiction | moonlights as the host of Silent Book Club Kota Kinabalu | writes on Scrivener