“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” ~ Howard Aiken
Reading is skimming.
If you played songs the way you read books, you would hate music. You wouldn’t like any songs. You would have no favorite bands. It would all just be a frikkin’ chore. This isn’t a thought experiment: I didn’t really like music until mp3s came around and I was totally freed from the tyranny of “one artist, one album at a time, all in order” 1. The explosion of variety in choice and sequence changed the game for me.
Read books like you listen to music. Skip tracks. A page, like a song, must earn the right to keep being “played”. When you don’t like a song or don’t feel like it right now, you skip to the next track. Book pages are begging you to do the same to them You don’t force yourself to like or even listen to all the tracks in an album. Why should pages in a book be any different?
Here’s what school didn’t want you to know:
You’re not a bad reader — she’s a bad writer. The world is full of bad writers; I speak as one of them. Skip the page 🙂 . There are no bad readers, only bad books. You don’t suck. That book sucks. That page sucks. If it were any good, it would make you want to read it.
People who don’t read enough or are illiterate altogether just haven’t been exposed to any good books yet: if they had been, they’d have been driven by an insatiable urge to read. I can read Japanese in large part because the first 9 volumes of the Evangelion manga are so good. I wanted to read them so badly, I had to become literate. I’d read what of them had been translated into English, but that wasn’t enough for me.
Every boring page that you don’t skip, that you don’t stop reading, is preventing you discovering a book or author or page that you will like.
Every boring page that you don’t skip lowers the likelihood that you will ever discover a page that doesn’t suck.
Every boring page that you don’t skip is like a jealous, annoying sibling, vigorously rooster-blocking you from discovering the page, the line, the author the book of your dreams.
The more boring things you force yourself to read, the less likely you are to ever get to something cool.
You’re trying to drive to Wal-Mart and every boring page is a detour.
Think about it: if you were driving a car, and forced yourself to go everywhere but Wal-Mart 2…
Trying to read slowly to get the most out of a book is like trying to play a song slowly to get the most out of it. It produces more distortion than comprehension. To get that part of the song down, you just loop it. Similarly with a book, just re-read it again. Multi-pass reading. Loop the book. You’re far better off reading a book many times sloppily than reading it once well. Even painters lay multiple coats of paint over the same spot, right? But they’re in motion the whole time; they don’t stand there holding the brush over the target, watching…paint…dry. Same idea.
You don’t need to get good at reading to start skimming. If anything, the weaker your reading skill, the more you need to skip. It doesn’t matter that you’re a rabidly voracious reader in English. Get over your English self. Your English self can eat a dictaphone. In Japanese, you’re a baby. You will hate reading in Japanese if you don’t start skimming. It’s that simple. Your reading skill in Japanese is fragile. That means you’re fragile.
“B-But, Khatzumoto-sensei how will I ever learn to read if I skip stuff?”
Wrong question. Let me rap with you, son:
If you don’t skip, you will never learn to read.
There. I said it. The “n” word. Never.
“B-but is it even reading at that point, though? Isn’t one then merely glancing at random things?”
↑ Spoken like a true illiterate. 3 Well, for starters, you’re not a fax machine, needing everything fed in sequence.
You’re a human bean.
And guess what? If you need clarification (drum roll)…you can go back.
Just like you go through music playlists in Winamp 4…the direction is not only forward but also backward.
The trick is to stay the rhymes-with-duck away from boring things.
Sequence is overrated. Which is not to say that it isn’t sometimes valuable (that’s why we go back), but it’s sort of like…like that girl who thinks she’s Helen of Troy’s prettier sister but is actually a 6 at best (maybe a low 7 in the right lighting and at a MySpace angle)? Or maybe even like Helen of Troy herself because, seriously, how pretty could this woman have been that calm, rational, phlegmatic Mediterranean men were losing their oh…men.
Anyway, sequence is like that.
You’re not a fax machine. You’re not a Turing machine needing ticker tape. You’re a person. And a book is like a person. So saying “but if I switch and skip, surely nothing will make sense!” is like saying: “if I don’t hear a person’s life story in excruciating detail from beginning to end, I’ll know nothing about them but random facts!”.
But you know what? Often you’ll know and learn and understand more from the summary, Cliffs Notes 5, headings and table of contents, plus a few random details here and there, than from effing hearing:
“Tuesday, September 22, 199X, I woke up at 6:43 and rubbed the gunk out of my eyes. My vision still blurry, I stumbled to the kitchen, where I opened the cupboard and pulled out a bowl. Into the bowl I poured some cereal — Honey Nut Crunch — and then 2% milk, for there was no skim to be had. I proceeded to eat this cereal for breakfast…”
And all you wanted to know was his name and hometown.
You’re not missing anything important by skimming, and even if you are, you can always rewind, replay change gears, go in slo-mo if need be (rarely necessary).
So, yeah, books are like people. And you don’t need to have read all the words in a book — or even most of them — to get the picture, any more than you need to see a printout of the quantum state of every subatomic particle of every atom of every molecule of all 10 trillion cells in a person’s body at every point in time since they were conceived and while we’re at it, every quantum state of every subatomic particle of every atom of every molecule of all 10 trillion cells at every point in time from division to apoptosis for all N-million of their direct ancestors…in order to know a person.
The real world is “random”. Much more than we generally give it credit for. Sequence, smooth linearity is largely an illusion that we create. That’s why movie editing works — because we make up a sequence of events where none actually existed. It’s why any kind of storytelling works, because our brains are machines for creating patterns and sequence and filling in blanks.
Virgin Mary in a tortilla, anyone?
So skip around. Eventually something will draw you in. But to get to that something you have GOT to skip. Japanese itself is at stake here. And that is the irony.
Fact: The most beautiful rooms and homes are the near-empty ones. Wabi-sabi and all that.
Bear with me momentarily while I tout a design philosophy that my site does not actually embody. If you want to think clearly, to live in comfort and dignity and true opulence, then you throw things away. Throwing things away sets you free and makes life fun. Same story with reading. If you want a happy reading life, then you skip. You skim. Regularly. Frequently. Religiously.
People who try to read everything are like hoarders who hoard things, like on the show “Hoarders”.
“B-b-but…I should…it might be useful”
Yes, and that’s why your house is full of trash and you sleep in dark corners — much like the vermin who now rule it.
Just like hoarding things turns them all into trash, forcing yourself to read everything, in sequence, one-duckling-character-at-a-time-till-death-to-you-part turns all of reading into a pile of metaphorical feces.
Disgust is very hard to localize. When you read a Japanese book in a boring way (i.e. by not skipping the boring(-to-you) bits), you don’t get bored with the book, you get bored with the entire Japanese language.
But all you had to do was skip. All you had to do was not-do: not-read. Not-read the boring parts.
You still don’t believe me, do you? I’m that shady uncle who takes you to whorehouses and underage drinking, aren’t I?
Fine. It pains me to do this, but…let me just pull rank on you second.
I am literate enough in Japanese to…I dunno…be mean-spirited and pedantic to Japanese people and not show enough weakness to get any comeuppance (I am still talking about reading BTW). Conversely, everyone who raises the “b-but, it’s not reading if I don’t do everything in order and feel boredom and suffering” argument…isn’t. Literate in Japanese, that is.
I’m like an experienced pilot giving flying advice and people who are yet to ever fly a plane are freaking out and raising objections to me home-brewed tips and pointers arrr. And Japanese people? Cannot help you, because they’re like birds now; they can’t even remember how they learned how to fly. But I do. And I’m telling you.
So listen to me. Trust me on this. Don’t be a hoarder. Start skimming now. The reading rooster must not be blocked!
It’s funny. I get flack sometimes for not giving enough concrete advice here at AJATT. But at the same time, as soon as I do give it, people freak out like: “THERE’S NO WAY THAT COULD WORK!!!”. 10k Sentences, MCDs, Lazy Kanji…always greeted with the same violent incredulity.
But don’t worry, I’m not blaming you and the Jews. Just the Jews. It’s not your fault. The truth is, I hate giving concrete advice. It requires a great deal of effort to impart (endless cajoling with explanations, qualifications and examples), yet has such a short shelf-life that by the time you’re done imparting it, it’s no longer current.
Ironically, when I was a youngling in Japanese, when the iPhone was but a twinkle in a certain Syrian‘s eye, I scoured these Internets, desperately seeking concrete advice and techniques. And I found some. Spread out all over the place. And I brought it all together. And it helped. And it worked. Hard.
Concrete advice and techniques definitely have their place. We could sit around like potheads musing on martial arts all day but eventually, yeah, you’re probably going to want to spar or do some dummy work or something. Concrete.
The only teensy-weensy problem is that (my) concrete advice too quickly becomes dogma. It hardens (in) people’s minds, like, well, concrete. I’ll never forget how skepticism over the old “10,000 Sentences” method (pre-MCDs) turned into fervent devotion to it and then rabid defense of it (as if it were literally a noble and venerable tradition) when it was supplanted by MCDs.
And that’s just the thing. Methods change. Remember the “Unified Reading Process“? I mean, I kinda sorta do it still, but not really; it’s evolved so much that it barely resembles the original.
So where does my loyalty lie? Certainly not with a technique. Techniques are just tools to me: I care little for drills and drilling, all I want is holes. That sentence will never get taken the wrong way. If it catches mice, it’s a good cat and all that.
You get relatively little concrete advice from me not because, well, because the mindset that acquires and produces and — most importantly — adapts and evolves that concrete advice is far more important. Without that mindset, you could easily latch onto the advice and hurt yourself. History has shown this to be, yeah, a thing.
At some level, I think, and this is going to sound incredibly arrogant, but I think…I want to free the greatest tool of all: your imagination. I want you to be able to imagine yourself being native-like in Japanese.
I dunno…I’m not good with words like you are. I’m not eloquent. I don’t know how to explain why stuff works or even how. I can’t justify any of it theoretically; I can’t convince you with or without logic; I’ll leave that to other people. It’s mostly pictures to me anyway. All I know is…there’s stuff that I did and do and it works pretty awesome, and you can try it out and mix it up. I do want you to suspend your disbelief for a while trying the stuff out, but I don’t want you to “believe in” the stuff. The stuff doesn’t need to be believed in. The one and only thing that must be believed in is you.
You’re illiterate. Not in English but in some other language. Presumably in Japanese.
You can’t read Japanese. I can. Like a bau5.
I know a way out for you.
Give it a try. It’s not like you’re going to get any worse at reading than you are now.
Engagement is the name of the game. The primary objective is not to get yourself reading “the” right things in “the” right way but to get yourself reading at all. We’re not trying to hit home runs. Just to get you with your cleats on and a bat in hand. On the ice with skates on and stick in hand. Anything — everything — that happens beyond that is gravy on the cake. Icing on the turkey.
Boredom roosterblocks the primary objective.
So boredom must go.
Read books like you listen to music. Skip pages like you skip tracks. A page, like a song, must earn the right to keep being “played”. Life’s too short to go all the way through every song to figure out whether or not you like it. If you like dubstep, you’re not doing yourself any favors listening to country music and hoping that Skrillex will magically appear out of nowhere to save the day. Go straight to the Skrillex.
I love music. I love Japanese hiphop. But only because I, like, buy, rent or download 10 albums at a time and throw away all but 1~2 songs per album (and sometimes, all songs). Don’t die of thirst waiting for Evian when there’s Volvic. Don’t wait until you know every word in the language to start turning pages.
Apparently, the best readers come from homes where their parents showed (and read them) books before they could even speak, let alone read. Learn from these parents. Do you want to live in the metaphorical illiteracy ghetto forever, or do you want to pwn? Don’t wait until all your ducks are in a row to touch them books. Read now. Skip now. Skim now. Because reading is skipping and skimming.
- Mixtapes? Please. Ain’t nobody got time for dat. ↩
- (what? I like Wal-Mart) ↩
- You know I love you, Eric. I’m just winding you up. You’re from AJATT Plus. We’re like family. ↩
- Brazen nostalgia…I don’t even use Winamp any more, but…she deserves a mention because we grew up with her. ↩
- Fact: The Cliffs Notes work. I was in a reading club and we discussed Hamlet one time. I’d read all of the Cliffs Notes and only some of the play. I was able to discuss that shit more intelligently than anyone there. I once pooh-poohed the Cliffs Notes. I was wrong. ↩