Tag Archives: Reading

61 Books in a Year

26 Jul

Ken Norton explains how he did it:

When I analyzed my reading habits, I realized that despite only finishing five or six books a year, I was already spending a big portion of my evening reading: social media, the news, Silicon Valley think pieces, and my Pocket backlog. Some of it would be worthwhile, but I wasn’t deliberate in how I chose to spend my time (ahem, Wikipedia wormholes). Junk reading, like junk food, is momentarily satisfying but terrible for you in the long term. I didn’t need to read more, I thought, I just needed to read healthier.

He has four other suggestions. I wonder how much of my reading is junk reading? There are certain blogs I look at everyday, but I think I mostly profit from that. I don’t spend time on Twitter or Facebook, but I do spend a lot of time reading newspapers on my Kindle. Norton seems to have the same issue:

I’m still a news junkie when it comes to politics, but I’ve metered the time I spend reading the news (primarily to keep my blood pressure down). I subscribe to important publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I try to pepper short bursts of news over the course of the day. I also don’t load news or articles on my Kindle.



“How To Read 100 Books A Year”

28 Apr

Things are pretty busy over here at Peakmemory with the approaching end of the semester. So I draw your attention to this piece by Darius Foroux.

Always Be Reading means that you:
Read on the train
Read while you’re breastfeeding your baby
Read while you’re eating
Read at the doctor’s office
Read at work
And most importantly — read while everyone else is wasting their time watching the news or checking Facebook for the 113th time that day.
If you do that, you’ll read more than 100 books in a year. Here’s how. Most people read 50 pages an hour. If you read 10 hours a week, you’ll read 26,000 pages a year. Let’s say the average book you read is 250 pages: In this scenario, you’ll read 104 books in a year.

Reading and longevity

29 Aug

I hate to be such a killjoy all the time. But this recent study on reading and longevity has received a lot of attention. I don’t fault the researchers for how their findings have been presented, but many media outlets have presented the findings as causal rather than correlational. Put simply, we cannot tell from these data if reading causes people to live longer. It could be true, but this study can demonstrate that this is the case. An alternative explanation might be that people with higher IQs both read more and have higher life expectancy. 

As someone who reads a lot, I hope this hypothesis turns out to be true. And reading more is never bad advice.

Speed reading claim called into question

23 Apr

I have always wanted to believe that speed reading is possible and that, some day, I could obtain this ability. One of the claims made in speed reading courses and books is that regression, going back and rereading words, contributes to slow reading and can be eliminated.

Now, a paper published in Psychological Science reports evidence that regression is necessary for comprehension. Here is the abstract:


Recent Web apps have spurred excitement around the prospect of achieving speed reading by eliminating eye movements (i.e., with rapid serial visual presentation, or RSVP, in which words are presented briefly one at a time and  sequentially). Our experiment using a novel trailing-mask paradigm contradicts these claims. Subjects read normally or while the display of text was manipulated such that each word was masked once the reader’s eyes moved past it. This manipulation created a scenario similar to RSVP: The reader could read each word only once; regressions (i.e., rereadings of words), which are a natural part of the reading process, were functionally eliminated. Crucially, the inability to regress affected comprehension negatively. Furthermore, this effect was not confined to ambiguous sentences. These data suggest that regressions contribute to the ability to understand what one has read and call into question the viability of speed-reading apps that eliminate eye movements (e.g., those that use RSVP).

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that there is trade off between reading speed and comprehension.

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Japanese induced dyslexia

17 Dec

In my opinion, everyone should be a life long learner. However, this dictum is doubly important for those of us who teach.

Teachers have an obligation to be learners, not only because we need to be aware of new findings and ideas, but also because learning can help us empathize with our students. A point that was brought home to me last night at the Japanese Language Meetup that I attend every few weeks.


At the meetup we read out loud from a book written in the phonetic Hirigana script. I have only recently learned the Hirigana, so my reading is very slow and deliberate. At this stage, reading Hirigana places such a demand on my processing skills that I was unable to attend to the meaning of a passage while reading. I joked that I was suffering from a “Japanese induced dyslexia.”

Here is a paper that, by implication, suggests that my comparison was not far fetched.

Over time, I will have to develop what is called automaticity in my decoding of the Hirgana, if I want to be a fluent reader of Japanese.


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Video plea for spaced repetition

8 Nov

Here is a video, a kind of open letter to Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, about spaced repetition learning.
While I disagree with the assertion that Supermemo is the best software implementation of spaced repetition, I prefer Anki and Memrise, the video does a good job of explaining the basic idea and makes the case that spaced repetition has the potential to revolutionize education.

Reading and psychological health

14 Oct

At the beginning of each semester I ask my students to list their favorite non-fiction book, favorite novel, and favorite movie. This helps me learn something about the students and becomes the starting point for many discussions. Occasionally, to my great sadness, some students will admit that they never read anything.

Recently, the several media outlets have reported on research about the psychological benefits of reading. Most of these accounts reference this paper published in the journal Science that linked reading literary fiction with improved Theory of Mind.

Here is the account published in The New York Times and here is the reading list used in the study. In a somewhat different vein Gavin Francis writes about bibliotherapy in the Guardian, in his review of the book The Novel Cure.

England: Bedtime stories in decline

16 Sep

From the Guardian a disturbing story that claims that reading stories to children at bedtime is in decline in England:

“The survey also found that in previous generations, parents who read bedtime stories did so more regularly than their modern counterparts. Only 13% of respondents read a story to their children every night, but 75% recall being read to every night when they were kids. On average, today’s parents read bedtime stories to their children three times a week.

The findings are all the more surprising since 87% of those polled believe that bedtime reading is vital to children’s education and development.”

I wonder what a survey of North American parents would show?

As Risley and Hart have shown, children’s exposure to vocabulary has important long term consequences.

Cognitive benefits of reading

12 Sep

This wonderful blog post, “In Defense Of My ‘Reading Too Much,'”  at Book Adoration alerted me to some of the recent research on the cognitive consequences of reading.

For example there is this paper in The Journal of Research and Personality titled: “Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds” Here is the abstract:

While frequent readers are often stereotyped as socially awkward, this may only be true of non-fiction readers and not readers of fiction. Comprehending characters in a narrative fiction appears to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels. Frequent fiction readers may thus bolster or maintain their social abilities unlike frequent readers of non-fiction. Lifetime exposure to fiction and non-fiction texts was examined along with performance on empathy/social-acumen measures. In general, fiction print-exposure positively predicted measures of social ability, while non-fiction print-exposure was a negative predictor. The tendency to become absorbed in a story also predicted empathy scores. Participant age, experience with English, and intelligence (g) were statistically controlled.

This Time magazine article gives a good summary of the research.

Tales from my library

24 Jul

Each physical book has a history. Sometimes you find artifacts in old books that powerfully connect you to previous owners.

I own a book, Spencer and Spencerism, by Hector MacPherson published in 1900.


Almost forgotten today, Herbert Spencer was once an influential social thinker. His efforts to apply evolutionary thinking to society was embraced by both the political right, who saw his writing as an argument for social Darwinism, and the political left, who found in Spencer the idea of society evolving towards a better state. The modern reader will find his account of evolution bears little resemblance to scientific evolutionary theory. They will also find him exceedingly difficult to read.

Yet in his day, people did read Spencer and took him very seriously. On the title page of my copy, three previous readers have signed their names. One as recently as 1983


In the book I found several pages of handwritten notes.


While the notes are clearly about the text. Beyond recognizing a few words, I can not read them. They are written in German. I find this striking, this German speaker thought it was  important to read about  Spencer and was willing to study a book, admittedly a popularization, in a  English. This person was a motivated learner.

In the course of preparing this blog post I discovered that Hector MacPherson also wrote a book titled Books to Read and How to Read. Lest you think I am against electronic books, I have downloaded the pdf and will read it on my Kindle.

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