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Misreading the mind: Ezra Klein and Nicholas Carr on transactional reading and contemplation

Ezra Klein: If you can get the argument of a book – through book reviews or book essays or a Wikipedia page or something – that actually isn’t what the book can do for you primarily.

Getting the main argument of a book is very easy. It’s the time you spend in in it, where you begin to make connections between the things you brought to the book and the book, that is valuable.

Even a bad book in this way can be very valuable because it’s really about the interaction of the book and you, and that takes a lot of time… the value of books – given that they are slow and long – is that you have to spend so much time in that world that you begin to adapt that world to yourself and you come out with something that the writer couldn’t have given you.

I feel like the metaphor that we have for the book is almost the thing in The Matrix where the little pin goes into the back of your head and it downloads the information into your brain. And we all sort of wish we had that. I’ve said this so many times about long books: “I don’t want to read that book, I want to have read that book.”

But the trick of it is that it’s not it’s not really about the information in the book – I mean you get some of that but you’re really going to forget most of that instantly as you’re reading it. It’s about the things in the book that connect to information or ideas you already have.

Nicholas Carr: In a way we’ve become more and more focused on this practical view of reading, which is all about productivity and efficiency, and more and more we lose sight – or at least lose the sense of the importance – of reading as a kind of act of contemplation, where your whole mind is engaged.

There’s also a tension in our view of the mind… there’s the silicon valley approach, which is essentially that the mind is a kind of computer and the more information you can input into it as quickly as possible then the smarter we’ll be in output… and to me that’s misreading of the mind itself… Much of human intelligence and the highest forms of human intelligence are not about productivity, they’re not about information processing, they’re about getting into this more contemplative state.

Ezra Klein and Nicholas Carr on The Ezra Klein Show – Nicholas Carr on Deep Reading and Digital Thinking

See also…

Deep Literacy: what it takes
Kevin Kelly on deep literacy
Tyler Cowen on reading fast, reading widely and reading well
Neil Gaiman on reading fiction, empathy and changing the world
Books as network opportunities
Broker Books
Folk art and reading as rivals
C.S. Lewis on reading the originals
and possibly Hegel?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...