Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yet more reading

Somebody in the comments wondered how I have time to read so much.. Part of it is simply that reading is my only real hobby (scuba? Sure - one week a year. Reading? 51 weeks a year). So I literally spend my time either in front of my computer or reading - and I don't waste it on commuting.

Another part obviously ends up being that I'm just a fast reader. Oh, I know people who read faster, but if it's some easily read sci-fi or fantasy, I'll read at a pace of 100-150 pages per hour, and you simply cannot distract me while I'm reading. Try to talk to me, and I won't hear a word.

So most books I finish in a single sitting, and weekends I might read two books in a day. The more sciency books I read take longer, but that may explain why I probably average about three books per week, and sometimes do many more - especially during the later parts of the merge window when things aren't as hectic on the kernel front.

Anyway, the haul over the last couple of weeks has been mostly random stuff (Fire Upon the Deep by Vernon Vinge, Golden Torc by Simon Green, Turn Coat by Jim Butcher, The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee). Don't ask me what the common thread is, because there is none. Some were randomly picked up from the book store in desperation over not having anything at all to read, others were things I'd read the authors before. I enjoyed them all, in different ways.

On the non-fluff front, I read Phantoms int he Brain by V.S. Ramachandran, based on a recommendation in the comments of the last reading post. I have to say, it is a better book than The Brain that Changes Itself (the one that triggered the recommendation), but at the same time I was also a bit disappointed with it.

Why? All the chapters on different disorders were absolutely fascinating, but then the last chapter just stood out as a big disappointment. It seems that any time that people start discussing "qualia" and guessing about what consciousness is, otherwise sane and coherent people end up being just confused and crazy (example: Roger Penrose). Ramachandran avoids the outright crazy, but chapter 12 ended up being a big disappointment to an otherwise engrossing book for me. But even that disappointing chapter had interesting content in it.

So, highly recommended, despite the small nagging feeling that the last chapter really could have been so much better. Most of the book is about the fascinating ways the brain fails at what it's supposed to do, and what it teaches us about how people really function.

The other non-fluff book was Bart Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted", a kind of follow-up to the earlier Misquoting Jesus that I read some time ago. Bible study is actually fairly interesting, although in many ways I always thought the Old Testament was way more interesting. Ehrman, of course, concentrates pretty much exclusively on just the New Testament, with just passing mention of OT issues as they relate to NT issues. The book was also the inspiration for the current kernel naming ("Man-Eating Seals of Antiquity"), since it fit perfectly with my pattern of nonsensical animal-related naming scheme.

Recommended. Not nearly as engrossing as Phantoms, but an interesting read none-the-less.


Tom said...

I'm reading Inner Fish atm and I quite like it. Actually I started reading it and then I had to read On The Origin Of Species first, because I thought if only Dawin could have read that book.
But I know it is not really deeply scientific like Dawkins etc. But it is an interesting read.

PS. Fast reader, I really wish I would be that fast, but then again I mostly read web pages and before I go to sleep.

Anonymous said...

I read a lot as well, I think aNobii is pretty cool. It lets you track what you read, keep margin notes, and lets you find new books using automated recommendations.

Anonymous said...

Have you read "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson? It's absolutely stellar. It has 910 pages and I've been reading it since last November (slow reader). I'd be interested to know how quickly you got/can get through it.

Shankar said...

With an average of 1book/day, what's your thoughts on using Kindle, as you could be saving tons of trees :) ?

GeorgeK said...

omg qualia ... i confronted them when i was doing some philosophy of mind. These guys have gone as far as to create physical theories based on them ... but the worst thing is people actually take them seriously. Regardless, 'Phantoms' is great reading.

. said...

Linus, you've probably read all the classics on biology and genes..

If you haven't read it already, I recommend the more obscure, less technical, more thoughtful Erwin Schroedinger's "What is Life." Small, but a gem.

And beware of the Kindle! I used to read 3-5 books a week and after I got the Kindle, it jumped to 10-20 because I could get junk stuff so easily at the touch of a button, and spent my weekends and late nights unable to disconnect.

If you're a book addict, it's pure crack - none of that waiting for Amazon or putting on clothes to bike over to B&N, none of that usual weight to hinder your purchase...

ZUCO said...

Do you read so fast because it is something natural on you of just because you follow some of those methods to read faster?

Frank said...

Linus, I'm just wondering how many books you must have in your shelves ... Do you acutally share books with friends or do you buy all these books and keep them for your own? Do you read the books only once or are there some favourites which you'd read again once in a while?

Tom R said...

Glad you enjoyed my recommendation. I agree with you completely about the final chapter though, I found Pinker's treatment of consciousness far less woolly.

Indigenous said...

Thank You for sharing.

Alok said...

Thanks for this post, I was wondering the same.

It's good to know that you read your Blog comments too.

Anonymous said...

Might I suggest "Seth Speaks" by Jane Roberts? It is a different sort of book from what you seem to read, but certainly touches on several points of your interest.

Or perhaps a more scientific tone with "The Origin of Satan" by Elaine Pagels?

Unknown said...

The issue isn't that you're reading too much it's that you're diving too little. Only one week a year?! I know there's some cool diving up there in the PNW.

Unknown said...

Reading suggestion: S.M. Stirlings Nantucket series. It's fluff reading, to use your words, but I enjoyed it very much.

Leek said...

I have read The Terror by Dan Simmons; I think that is the best book I've ever read; but the thing is thar I'm very slow to read, but well; bye.; my blog is in Spanish.

Mark O'Neill said...

Hi Linus,

Some of my friends who read quickly say that they often forget things they read quite easily too. One friend said that reading for him is like watching dramatic television, as he remembers the feeling of the book, but none of the details. Also, my sister has, at least once, read a chapter or more of a book before realising she's read the book already. Do you find that, or you just have excellent read/write speeds to your brain?

I'm actually quite a slow reader, as I tend to mull things over quite a lot (and I also read a lot of physics/maths).

Linus said...

Mark - sure, the more you read, the less likely you're going to be to be able to pick out one book among many. I could easily see myself reading most of a chapter before I remember that I read that book several years ago.

And I have several books that are duplicated in my bookshelf simply because I didn't take the time to read a chapter, and it turned out I had already read it. People who don't buy several books a week probably don't have that issue ;)

Does that mean that fast readers read less carefully, or does it just mean that they read so much more that it's then relatively harder to remember some pretty forgettable book? I dunno. But I'd personally say the latter.

I'd argue that quite often, I end up enjoying a book more because I don't even need to think about reading it. Because I read quickly, the pace of the book is faster, and it's less boring, so I suspect I enjoy it more.

The secret to reading quickly is to read a lot, so that you just have practice. But it's also important to not actually sound out the words. If you read by actually "hearing" the words in your brain, you're not going to read a whole lot faster than somebody could speak. You want to get away from that trap, and end up seeing a whole line at a time - or at least large fractions of a line.

The other side of it is that the text really has to 'flow' well enough that you can fill in the gaps. I'm personally convinced that I anticipate most of the words, so a lot of the ability to read quickly is not that I can really read a whole line at a time, but that I can see a reasonable fraction, and the rest is "prediction", together with a weaker form of "reading" that is just enough to confirm your prediction.

And no, I obviously don't "know" that is how I read. When I get engrossed in a book, I don't think "did I actually really read that word" or "I just anticipated that words and a quick skim confirmed it".

The downside of that is that it really means that I read certain kinds of text much faster than others. If it doesn't match the normal patterns, I slow down a lot, and then I spend effort on the mechanical reading, rather than the "see the plot as it unfolds", because the reading is so automatic.

So I like technical literature where I end up thinking about what I read, and I like the well-written "fluff" literature where I don't even have to think, and I just "see" what happens - and yes, it's like going to a movie, except with way more detail (compare the length of a movie script to a book some day - movies are basically visual short stories).

But the other side of that is that I hate reading text that doesn't "flow" well, yet isn't interesting enough to think about. Sometimes the lack of flow is just because a writer isn't very good. Sometimes, it's a writers style. I suspect sometimes it's because the writer tries to go for style, but isn't very good at it.

ZUCO said...

It's similar to Japanese. When I started living in Tokyo my Japanese improved over the years as well the speed I could read. Finally I realize that reading ideograms is faster than alphabet. You don't need to worry about "how to skip to read the words" you just see the meaning in the same ideogram. It's like to see the signal of stop or no-smoking.
Actually I think that Asian populations that use ideograms as China and Japan have by default the ability to read faster than alphabet-based cultures, like western ones. It's harder to learn but in a long term it has many advantages for fast reading.

wakes said...

re Penrose, I've found he's good to bring up when talking to people who believe in mediums, psychics etc, you can say 'well these affects may be spooky action at a distance of the quantum nature of the human brain - but it's still science not metaphysics...'

Unknown said...

Hello Linus!
Help me to learn linux!

Unknown said...


You should write a book. Explaining how you do or would you do this or
that. Explaining your point of view about almost everything, like a
list. This book, your book, would be a wonderful guide to
inexperienced people. Anybody could learn how to do things in the
right way doing the exactly the opposite you advice.

Gumpa said...

> you simply cannot distract me while I'm reading. Try to talk to me, and I won't hear a word.

You clearly suffer from ASD, Attention Surfeit Disorder.

Linus said...

Gumpa: I know. ASD is a debilitating disease, causing lack of social life and occasionally being run over by cars due to inattention.

And it clearly is genetic too, because my oldest daughter is the same way. She reads some book, and the external world just goes away. The house could burn down around her, she'd just be turning the pages.

Jos van den Oever said...

There's a book about Jesus by film director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers). It's in dutch only atm, but when (if) it is translated to English you should read it. It will take you only one sitting.

Verhoeven takes an effort to fit all writings in the new testament into a cohesive story that could have happened. It's not a book for tender souls though. If you have a problem with wild speculations about Jesus' life, do not read it. On the other hand, if you like detectives and attempts at puzzling out a believable scenario from contradicting witness statements, you will like it.

रवि रतलामी said...

Gee...3 books@per week means a lot of books over a period. Do you collect them or DONATE them?

robert.berger said...

Do you use any speed reading technique for reading fast, or is it a built in feature of yours? Would you like to share the trick?

Unknown said...

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Thank you so much for spending your time to answer these question.

Best regards,

Linus said...

mhogue: you asked me how long it would take to read something like Cryptonomicon, and since I actually had it in my bookshelf (a present) but never got into it, and since I didn't have anything else pending, I started reading it.

It's not the kind of book I usually read (which was why it was unread), but I finished it last night. So it was a "long weekend" kind of book for me, certainly not a "one sitting".

I dunno. It was somewhat interesting, with a few laugh-out-loud moments, but quite frankly, I do not like "alternative history" kind of literature. I want my literary world to be more fantastic.

Emily Dirsh said...

Since you've read Ehrman, you might like something along the same lines but more in depth (ie, longer and scholarly). I really enjoyed "God: A Biography" by Jack Miles. It's written by a former Jesuit (interesting enough) and examines the Old Testament with the intent of understanding its main protagonist, God, as a literary character. It won the Pulitzer a number of years ago, I believe.

Marko Susimetsä said...

I can see The Laurentine Spy being something that can be read very fast (I just read it, but didn't really pay attention to how long it took), since it is a very simplistic and light book.

But I'd never want to read any of the Aubrey/Maturin novels or any other "Literature" in that manner. Such books often have me go back and re-read a paragraph or a sentence that was very beautifully written and I like to savour the time that I spend with them. Plus, since the language is rather archaic, it is harder to just anticipate the words, like you describe.

Anonymous said...

Re: Cryptonomicon
I finished it Monday night as well. Except it was a "7 month" kind of book for me. =) However do you find the time to do all that reading?

Tim said...

I must preface this by saying I do not follow any organized religion (or any disorganized one).

The fact that the New Testament was canonized prematurely _does_ make bible study a very interesting hobby. That obviously reciprocates to the Old Testament. The duality of either work (being a window into some kind of spirituality or history) is what will make each work survive, no matter how the world changes.

I'm not a history hunter, I try to avoid authors like Dan Brown unless I'm too tired to get up and find the remote while HBO delights in presenting the theatrical rendition.

Fast reading is like fast eating, however it seems like you have the mental teeth to pull it off. I've finished books in a few hours, an evening or even two in such a time.

I guess its the married thing, I enjoy a protracted measure of solitude every day, a book in front of my face helps to ensure it :)

Greguti said...

I urge you to read the essay The Origins Of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by american psychologist Julian Jaynes, published in 1976.

Maybe the most powerful, original and documented theory about consciousness and how it emerged during the course of human evolution.

Unknown said...

Dear Sir,

I am a Journalist from India., working on an article on this subject of open source software. I was searching the net for you, and found your blog. What I would like to know is, after creating a genius system why didn't you want to market your sucess? Why did you work for this 'movement' open source? Was there a clear philosophy at work?

Shilpa Shivalkar

pbsdesign said...

I highly recommend Neverness by David Zindell and the rest of the trilogy:

Krish Jayaram said...

My suggestion would be "Books I have Loved "
by Osho Rajneesh . This book is the starting point for the world of Religious inquiry.

Anonymous said...


One thing that interests me is: In which places do you read: Sitting in front of a table, lying in the bed or in you hammock. Or do you walk around while reading?

luca said...

read this:) In Search of the Miraculous , by P. D. Ouspensky

philip.mather said...

"two books in a day" - blimey I read a lot but not that fast. Even the easy Sci-fi stuff I don't cover that quickly, some of Terry Pratchett's books I get through in a couple of days but as you say I'm oblivious to the world about for the duration. Much like a good coding session but then I have to go back and read it again to get all of the subtle jokes.
Anyway I'm glad someone else thinks Penrose goes off the rails. He seems to devolve from a good start into the basic argument that as the lowest level mechanics of the mind operate within the scale of quantum effects we can get away with explaining the brains unique manifestation of “self” by simply chucking the word quantum in there and leaving it at that. “It’s quantum and hence indeterminate until observed” is a naff conclusion. Couldn’t get to the end of one his books I got so frustrated with him.

Steve Zimmerman said...

I also have experienced the OT as more interesting than the NT.

However, the NT contains the most important datum, which is that the only Living One is Jesus Christ, because everyone else was crucified w/ him. Colossians 3:3 says, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid w/ Christ in God"

and Proverbs 10:30 says, "The wicked shall not inhabit the earth."

Chapter six of the book of Romans in the Bible tells us what to do about the fact that we have been crucified and raised w/ Christ.

Thank you for Linux. It makes computer science so much fun!

Unknown said...

You should try

If you just read Golden Torc by Simon Green then...

# Daemons Are Forever: Secret Histories: Daemons Are Forever Bk. 2 (Gollancz S.F.) by Simon R. Green
# Unnatural Inquirer, the (Nightside) by Simon R. Green
# Hell to Pay by Simon R. Green
# The Spy Who Haunted Me: Secret Histories Book 3 (Gollancz S.F.) by Simon R. Green
# Small Favour (Dresden Files 10) by Jim Butcher
# Turn Coat (Dresden Files 11) by Jim Butcher
# Just Another Judgement Day (Nightside) by Simon R. Green
# Into the Nightside (Nightside Series) by Simon R. Green
# White Witch, Black Curse (Rachel Morgan 7) by Kim Harrison
# Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Travis said...

"and I don't waste it on commuting." -- you dirty rascal! I want your job, but for reasons more than just the commute haha!!

Anirudh Vyas said...

Thats crazy, 150 pages an hour? Is it because of "evolutionary" nature of reading? like the more you read, the better your concentration becomes?

Vyas, Anirudh

kernel said...

Have you ever tried audiobooks?? I also do like reading books, but as I'm programmer my eyes have enought work even without it. Even when i'm not behind keyboard, i have new hobby in studiing of physics, lot of reading here too. So i made compromise in form of good audiobooks. My eyes can rest and my mind+imagination can work the same way.
Just my 2 cents

Unknown said...

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Sergio A. Hernández said...

Actually, in my webblog in Spanish ( I used to mix several subjects in my posts like Linux & Bible. It is kind of weird to read that the rebel-geek-mind read & know about the Bible. Right now I am reading "Lost Symbol" & from the Bible the book of Numbers. Greetings to the original Linus.

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