Book learning

As I’ve been reading and researching information about writing for the web, I realised that it will save me time to find a book on the topic by someone who already knows about it. After a bit of indecision and largely based on reviews on Amazon, I have chosen the book Writing for the Web by Crawford Kilian.

The author of this book spent 40 years teaching at community colleges and from what I’ve read so far appears to know what he is on about. In fact, just reading the introduction I learned a new concept for me, the difference between hypotaxis and parataxis, and the idea that hypertext relies more on parataxis in which ideas stand alone without being linked to the previous idea.

I’m wanting to learn without my existing biases getting in the way so it makes sense to carefully read through this book (and possibly others), putting what I learn into practise and also following through with further reading and research where I can.

More information about hypotaxis and parataxis:

Am I actually going to read this?

The start of the year is a good time to ‘clear the decks’ and cleanup excess stuff cluttering my shelves, home, workspace and mind. I began by reducing my clippings of websites/articles stored in Evernote from 6500 notes down to 3800. I still have some work to do to prune it right down to only the essential reference material I need to keep.

Starting back at work today I was confronted with an overflowing tray of paper that needs sorting, junk on my computer desktop, and a very full downloads folder. A common theme of all this stuff I have accumulated is that at the time of saving it I had some intention of reading it. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read everything.

I love information, it fascinates me to learn new facts, ideas or tips on how to do something better. When I was a kid the primary source of information was from books. I lived in a small country town with a small public library and few shops selling books. In this setting it was achievable to have read all the books available that interested me, and I did just that. It was possible to know the limits of the information available in my small world.

Now it is not possible to know the limits of information available to me with an internet connection. Yet I still have an information scarcity mindset. This belief causes me to hold on to sources of information despite understanding that by the time I get around to reading it that information is likely to be outdated. This is a costly mistake.

The thousands of pdfs stored on my computer are not only taking up bytes, they take up mental space and each causes a mild stress by being unread.

An Information Flood

Information is no longer scarce, we are flooded by it. In a flood the problem in not getting enough water, the real problem is keeping excess water out. Added to having too much water is the issue of it being dirty. There is water pouring in all over the place but it is so contaminated with filth that it is unusable, even hazardous. This is the situation we are now in with information.

Social media channels are like sewers, plenty of content running through them but little of true use to us. If I jump into the Twitter or Facebook feed I’m carried along in the torrent but all it does is waste my time. News websites are not much better, actual news stories are so similar to click bait that it can be tricky differentiating the two.

Search engines such as Google or Bing are not reliable conduits of clean information. They are like using the same bucket for bailing out flood water and collecting drinking water, cross contamination is constantly occurring.

Filters

To avoid the negative effects of misinformation we need to filter our sources. A clean stream can easily be muddied so I have to consciously filter all incoming sources, picking out what is helpful and leaving behind the trash. I do seek out good curators but what is considered useful to that person may not be relevant to me.

The ability to efficiently filter information, both from the flood and also from reliable sources, requires training. Fortunately my work and education have trained me reasonably well. Perhaps this is going to be the primary benefit of having a degree, learning how to identify reliable sources and developing critical thinking skills to discern what is most true.

In our society the scientific method and peer-review are held to be the best information filters. Working at a university I have ready access to such information but even that can go stale and outdated if stored too long.

Storage

Books used to be a great way to store and retrieve information, in some cases they still are. These days so much new information is being generated and it changes so fast that storing information is hardly with the trouble. Assuming I have internet access, all I need is the information required to go about my daily life and work. Holding on to more than that comes at a cost and it will be quickly outdated so unless what I need is historical records there is no point keeping old stuff. The obvious exceptions are photographs and family records.

So back to my original problem, I am flooded with information, I don’t need more and don’t need to keep it all. If I need to know something I can easily look it up. The cost of keeping what I’m not actively using is higher than the small effort required to find anything I want to know.

Rest in the Sun

What most of us need these days is a chance to ‘dry out’, an opportunity to escape the flood and catch our breath. This is related to my goal of reading books rather than blogs this year. I want to stem the tide of incoming information and clear out all the stuff I’m not able to keep up with. This should enable my mind to quieten down, think more clearly and create.

More books and writing

Swapping blogs for books

In 2017 I did a lot of reading. Some of that was books, but a large amount was articles and blog posts on the internet. As a result of consuming an estimated 3,650 written articles from the web last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my time could be better spent reading books instead.

Some of the reasons for this conclusion are:

  • Many blog posts end up repeating much the same information as others (especially anything about how to do something with WordPress).
  • Due to the shorter format of even a long web article, reading off the internet is wide but shallow. Good books enable a deeper exploration of a topic.
  • Most web articles are not particularly well researched (there are exceptions and I love those).
  • Reading from a computer screen in the evening is detrimental to good sleep, something that is becoming more important to me as I get older.
  • I have a massive list of books I want to read!

Therefore, in 2018 one of my goals is to devote my evening reading time to books rather than web articles. In theory this should result in a jump in the number of books I read, and maybe even see me knock off some heavy duty tomes which I keep putting off diving into despite knowing that I will gain much from digesting them.

More writing

A sort-of related goal for this year is that I want to do much more writing. Last year I spent a lot of time tinkering around with websites. I consider this to have been valuable learning experience and don’t regret the time invested but have realised that I’m unlikely to become a web developer and want to improve my writing skills in 2018 rather than continuing to focus on web development.

The obvious way to improve my writing is to write more, so expect to see much more published on this blog in 2018 than over the last few years. Not all of what I write will end up here (be glad for that), some will be junk, some will be purely practise and some won’t be stuff I want to publish on the internet.

I do see the potential hypocrisy in wanting to read less from blogs yet intending to publish more on my own blog. However, nobody is forcing you to read my blog and it hurts no-one for posts to sit here lonesome and unread. In the long run if my writing improves any lonely unread posts will have been worth the effort.

Eating poems

At the end of the poetry anthology Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr there is an essay by the author in which she discusses part of her journey of faith and the role of poetry in that journey. From reading it I realised how shallow my own experience of poetry is and that while setting out to read a poem a day is definitely worthwhile, it is just scratching the surface of truly experiencing poetry.

In memorizing the poems I loved, I “ate” them in a way. I breathed as the poet breathed to recite the words: Someone else’s suffering and passion entered my my body to change me, partly by joining me to others in a saving circle.

For the year ahead (i.e., 2018) I will continue reading a poem each day to broaden my experience, but I also would like to latch on to a couple of poems that really speak to me and read them over many times, write them out, speak them out and let them take root in me until I can feel the poem as well as read or recite it.

My giant list of books to read

Books I intend to read

These are books I already own because at some point I have decided that I want to read them.

The lists below are not in any particular order, though I have split them into hardcopy vs Kindle to help me keep track of where each book is located and have separated out poetry books because I like to see what poetry books I’ve got in a list of their own.

Poetry

I read poetry books fairly slowly, but also like to read them multiple times. I prefer reading poetry from ‘real’ books (paper ones) so these are mostly hard copy books, the few Kindle versions are marked as such.

  • Unholy Sonnets by Mark Jarman (ISBN 1-885266-87-1)
  • Poems of Nazim Hikmet (ISBN 978-0-89255-274-0)
  • Electric Light by Seamus Heaney (Kindle)
  • Second Sky by Tania Runyan
  • A Selection of Poetry by Christopher Smart
  • Antonio Machado: Selected Poems by Antonio Machado
  • Collected Poems by Ted Hughes
  • The Complete Poems by Walt Whitman
  • Selected Poems of Ezra Pound by Ezra Pound
  • Nine Horses by Billy Collins
  • Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glück
  • These Intricacies by Dave Harrity
  • The Poems by W.B. Yeats
  • Complete Poems by Marianne Moore (Kindle)
  • The Complete Poems by Walt Whitman (Kindle)
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Complete Poetical Works by Edgar Allan Poe (Kindle)
  • The Complete English Poems by George Herbert (Kindle)
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (Kindle)
  • Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Kindle)
  • Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series) by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery
  • Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser

Hard Copy (Paper) Books

I really like real books but for some reason it is often easier to pick up my Kindle for short bursts of reading so I tend to get through more Kindle books than paper ones.

  • The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott
  • The Evil of Evils: The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin by Jeremiah Burroughs
  • Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development by Joseph E. Stiglitz
  • How to Write a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry” by Tania Runyan
  • The Letter to the Ephesians by Peter T. O’Brien
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
  • The Suicidal Mind by Edwin S. Shneidman
  • The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
  • Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison
  • Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit by Walter Brueggemann
  • Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann by Walter Brueggemann & Edwin Searcy
  • The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri J. M. Nouwen
  • A Journey to Victorious Praying: Finding Discipline and Delight in Your Prayer Life by Bill Thrasher
  • Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God’s Word by Joshua Choonmin Kang & Dallas Willard
  • Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri J. M. Nouwen & Ron Hansen
  • The Epistle to the Romans by Douglas J. Moo
  • Prayer by John Bunyan
  • 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity by Dale Ralph Davis
  • 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis
  • Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera by Bryan Peterson
  • Communion with God by John Owen
  • The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan for Humanity by Daniel P. Fuller
  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren
  • Psalms 1-72 by Derek Kidner
  • Psalms 73-150 by Derek Kidner
  • The Works of John Newton, Volume 1
  • The Works of John Newton, Volume 2
  • The Works of John Newton, Volume 3
  • The Works of John Newton, Volume 4
  • The Works of John Newton, Volume 5
  • The Works of John Newton, Volume 6
  • Church History by Eusebius
  • The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry Garrard
  • Living in the Maniototo by Janet Frame
  • Stories and Poems by Janet Frame
  • The Book of Acts by F.F. Bruce
  • By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me by Sinclair B. Ferguson
  • The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Saint Augustine
  • Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by Harold W. Hoehner
  • The Epistle to the Romans by Douglas J. Moo

Kindle books

Why the preference for Kindle books? Mostly it comes down to price and availability – living in New Zealand means that books are really expensive here and the selection in local book shops is quite limited. As you may note from this page, my taste are not exactly mainstream or popular culture so I purchase a lot of my books online. Shipping to NZ from Europe or the US is expensive and slow, whereas ebooks have no shipping costs associated with them and delivery is instant (though the size of this list indicates that a book will sit on my ‘shelf’ for a lot longer than it would take to be shipped here!).

Another reason why I have so many Kindle books is that I have picked up many of them free or very cheap on sale at a rate faster than I could read them.