I was sent an article by a friend this week written by Joseph Epstein, one of the world’s great essayists and author of 31 books, so I thought it had some merit.
The premise of his essay is:
Every superior writer I have known, or known about, was a slow reader.
That’s an intriguing thought…and even a better justification for being a slow reader (of which I am one).
He goes on to tell us why:
The reason is that writers read differently than non-writers.
People without literary ambition might ask what a book means, whether it is significant, whether it gives pleasure.
Writers ask these questions along with two others, which slow them down considerably:
1. How exactly did the author achieve his effects
2. What from his work can I appropriate—a euphemism, of course, for “steal”—for my own writing?
I have no “literary ambition” that I know of beyond this blog and my books…but I have some writing ability…and maybe I can attribute that to the fact that I am a slow reader.
Do you buy Epstein’s thesis?
Let’s explore it a bit before you rush to judgment.
With a bookcase that looks like this below (and there’s another one on the other side of my office) and an assumption that I’ve read many of the books here–you would think I invented speed reading.
In that case your assumption is wrong…and you would also be wrong if you assume that I have mastered the art of neatness:
The fact is, I am an incredibly slow–and picky—reader.
Slow just means slow…although I am up to “2.0 speed” with audio books.
That matches how I speak so it’s easy.
Picky means that because I am so slow, and to get the most out of a library as large as this, I’ve learned some lessons from others that still allows me to absorb the content (with contentment)–from most of the books above.
I am also embarrassed to say that I have not read many of the books you see here—possibly none—cover to cover. That’s how slow I am.
But maybe Epstein has given me some “embarrassment protection” saying that this, at least, has made me a better writer.
And so has Marty Edelston, my mentor for 34 years, who published the largest circulation consumer newsletter in America, when he said to me:
“Fiction is not worth your time. We don’t need to escape but we always need to learn through business books. And the only way to read non-fiction business books is never to read them cover to cover. There is probably one thought or one chapter in every business book that is worth reading. Putting that into your computer (i.e. your brain), and then sharing it with the world, is the greatest service you can do.”
He had to read this way to serve his audience; I had to do it to survive my library.
Even if you disagree with him about the notion that you can skip reading all fiction, you still might agree with the “one paragraph/one chapter being meaningful” in every non-fiction book.
I know I do…especially with a bookcase like the one above (and being such a meticulous, a.k.a. slow, reader).
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the “one chapter per book theory” until much later in my career.
Which leads me to today when I have now conveniently manipulated the teachings of both Joseph Epstein and Marty Edelston to give me excellent cover for owning a lot of books, being a slow reader, and not reading most of them in their entirety.
While still getting a ton out of them.
And learning to write (if Epstein’s theory is sound).
I’m grasping at that because I want some benefit for being such a slow reader while looking for the big idea in every book I read.
On his two points I adhere to both of these:
1. How exactly did the author achieve his effects?
Is this something you do while reading?
I feel like it’s the only thing I do when reading non-fiction.
I’m obsessed with how the author created his or her thesis.
Was it from personal experience or observation?
How much was based on intuition and connecting the dots from a variety of sources?
Or did the author actually invent something themselves (the rarest form of achievement)?
2. What from his [her] work can I appropriate—a euphemism, of course, for “steal”—for my own writing?
I just did it with Joseph Epstein by reading his article slowly and writing this post. 🙂
Seriously, I would ask in response to this question, what isn’t derivative in all of our work?
Answer: Not very much.
This is not the same thing as saying that our writing is void of anything innovative.
I believe that invention is overrated…but combining everything in your experience, observations and connecting the dots gives you first mover advantage when writing to your audience on expressing a previously foreign concept and making it real (i.e. understandable).
You didn’t invent it but by becoming the messenger for that concept with your reader, that’s significant.
Note that I didn’t stay “steal” (which Epstein says is a euphemism for “appropriate”)…because if you are a regular reader of mine on Sundays you know that, “stealing is a felony but stealing smart is an art.”
And we all know that the worst thing we can do is take credit for someone else’s invention, innovation or even a quote…and you always receive more kudos and respect when you give the credit for the idea before putting your unique spin on it.
Your teacher, mentor (or even a stranger—I don’t know Joseph Epstein for example) gets some props and so do you.
I also believe that Epstein’s take on why a slow reader may be a better writer gives new meaning for someone who can’t get through a non-fiction book with ease.
Meaning yes…but does it really make you a better writer?
Regardless, at a minimum, reading slowly enables the reader to get a different take on what is read.
And reading slowly might be a reason why creative thievery is on the rise…or is that just because of social media and online pirates? 🙂
Now this doesn’t mean the reverse is true—that reading quickly will make you less than a competent writer.
Speed readers who can process the same insights as slow readers are out there—I am sure of that—and Marty was kind of a hybrid (slow to find the key idea and then fast to put the book down).
After “appropriating” Joseph Epstein’s essay into an essay of my own, I want to get your opinion.
If you see yourself as a competent writer, email me and let me know if you are a slow reader or a rapid reader…and how you see that affecting the way you write.
I think this particular online family (yes, that’s you) can give us all an interesting take.
If I get some insightful responses I will share them with you.
And of course you can tell me if this is a waste of time to explore…and then I can simply move on to looking for more essays to steal…er…appropriate…that might be more interesting.
I have no choice contemplating this since I’m afraid I will always be a slow reader…and now I have a reason (I think) to stay that way.
I am also content that I’ve gained so much from all I’ve read, even if it’s now mostly from an avalanche of just paragraphs and chapters.
P.S. No new P.S. this week…but I want to give you one more chance to receive “Titans Digital” for free.
It’s all the video plus a whole lot more support material from The Titans of Direct Response landmark event from 2014 (see below), with content that is as relevant today as it ever was.
“Titans Digital” is a $1,000 value.
Here are the details, same as last week, but this will be the final time I will make this offer available:
With this offer, both of us will receive the satisfaction of supplying clean water to someone in the world who has no access to clean water right now.
And your monthly donation—approximately $1.33 a day—supplies clean water for a year to someone who desperately needs it.
Seems worthwhile to me…and I hope it is to you.
One of the 6 speakers at Titans Mastermind last month was Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water.
He began his presentation with his mission…which says it all:
“Bring clean water to everyone on the planet”
Whether it’s building wells or creating water sources in other ways, bringing clean water to everyone in the world doesn’t require a miracle cure or a vaccine.
It’s a solvable problem.
I believe charity:water is an “uber charity”—that is, without clean water we can’t do anything.
It is a starting point for all civilization to move forward.
Without clean water, in the countries charity:water serves, something as common as dysentery becomes a fatal disease. And there is no way for people to make progress with their lives without this essential element which most of us take for granted.
For more about Scott and the story behind this amazing company, check out the P.S. in my post from last week and the donation page I have set up to make it easy for you to contribute.
One other thing I want you to know about charity:water and why it’s my favorite charity (in addition to their mission):
100% of all donations go to getting water to people who need it.
Scott handles the overhead for the organization through a different channel where wealthy friends to the organization give that money separately.
I love that.
Here’s my ethical bribe if you will join me in contributing to charity:water:
If you donate to “The Spring,” Scott’s “subscription based donation program,” and give a minimum of $40/month (which means that every month you will be personally responsible for bringing clean water to someone in the world for the first time for a full year), I will send you:
“Titans Digital,” a product I’ve sold in the past for $1,000–which encompasses all of the video (over 12 hours) from The Titans of Direct Response event (and much more).
Who spoke at “The Titans Event,” billed as the “event of the decade” by Dan Kennedy?
In order of appearance:
Dan Kennedy (of course!), Gary Bencivenga (the final presentation of his career before he retired), Eric Betuel, David Deutsch, Arthur Johnson, Parris Lampropoulos, Ken McCarthy, Perry Marshall, Jay Abraham, Joe Sugarman, Greg Renker, Fred Catona (the last public presentation before his untimely passing), Michael Fishman, Jim Kwik, Ryan Lee…plus an extended Q & A panel with many of those mentioned above…and yours truly.
Also included in this digital package is a collector’s item: “The Bencivenga Interviews.”
And “Titans and Tweets,” a compilation of the greatest hits during the conference as reported by Titan Ken McCarthy.
All you need to do is go to my donation page here:
You can watch the video from Scott on that page as well.
And after you donate, send an email to my wonderful assistant Carla, letting her know the email you would like your “Titans Digital” package sent to:
We will then send you a link to the entire digital product.
I expect you will stay on subscription to charity:water for a full year minimum (if not forever), and you will be on the honor system.
And the best part is that you can be part of our charity:water family in addition to our Titans family.
Don’t you want a bigger family?