Sunday, February 17, 2013

Does It Count?


I've been reading this book, Antifragile, for almost four weeks. I call it reading. I've turned all the pages. I've read all the words. That's reading, right?

Or is it?

I started off pretty well, somehow managing to get my brain around the whole idea of antifragile, a word the author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, admits he made up. There is no real word in English that properly names this idea. Everyone understands the idea of fragile, something that is destroyed when stressed. But the opposite of fragile is more than just something that survives difficulties. Antifragility, Taleb tells us, is the idea of a phenomenon that goes beyond mere resilience; antifragility is the idea of something that actually improves with difficulties and uncertainty.


Taleb gives us lots of great examples of things that are antifragile: "...evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance...even our own existence as a species on this planet."

I'm high-five-ing him, right and left...love this idea of antifragile, Taleb.

That was the Prologue, however. Round about the second or third page of Chapter 1, I find that I'm reading along, with no idea what Mr. Taleb is explaining. He tries, he really does, and now and then I read a paragraph and think I'm back on the highway. The Soviet-Harvard Department of Ornithology, for example. (How well do I know that department, the people who lecture to birds about proper techniques for flying, observe and write reports about the birds' flying abilities, and then seek funding to ensure that the lectures will continue!) But, soon I'm back driving in the dark again.

I don't know if I really read this book. Can I add it to my 2013 Book Log? Does it count? Please don't ask me to summarize it or outline it or (heaven forbid!) don't test me on it.

But if I didn't really read it, why did I like it so much? And why can't I stop thinking about it?

Maybe what I did when I read Antifragile was antireading. Maybe antireading is the kind of reading where you turn the pages and read the words, but understand only a smidgen of what's there, and then you think about it for weeks, and come back to the book again and again, and maybe try to reread it, and it tweaks your map about this life, even through you really didn't understand much of what you read to begin with.

Maybe antireading is the best kind of reading of all.


Wilma Rudolph, born prematurely, 20th of 22 kids, had polio when she was four, 
and went on to become one of the world's greatest runners: 
Wilma Rudolph is antifragile, I think.




20 comments:

  1. Wow! Your post blows me away...and I like the concept of antireading, as some books can only be consumed in this manner.

    Thanks for sharing these concepts....

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  2. Well, there's reading, and there's reading.

    I'd say this counts as reading. To say you've read a book does not mean you're saying you understood it or even that you could follow it.

    What you're describing is sometimes called 'slow reading.' And you're right about it being one of the best forms of reading.

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  3. Yes, it's slow reading when it takes you four weeks to get through a book. But what about the truth that I really didn't understand much of what I read? And I didn't.

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  4. I think it definitely counts as some form of reading -- and maybe anti reading is an appropriate term given this book.
    I think there are many ways to read and each book requires something different of us. Once when just a teenager, having heard that James Joyce's Ulysses was a great book I decided to "read" it. I sat in a lawn chair that summer turning pages, stopping only occasionally to ask myself who was speaking? what was happening? Usually my answer was I had no idea.
    Still I was enriched by turning pages and absorbing words. I had a sense of what I didn't understand.
    That experience taught me a great deal about reading and informed the way I read.

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  5. Why do I agree with you, Barbara, and yet why do I still feel like any minute someone is going to slap my hands and send me to the corner for reading this way?

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  6. "Had I been still more articulate, I might have said that there’s a special readerly pleasure in approaching a book as you would a box. In its self-containment lies its ferocious magic; you can see everything it holds, and yet its meagre, often hackneyed contents have a way of engineering fresh, refined, resourceful patterns. And Emily might have replied that she comes to a book as to a keyhole: you observe some of the characters’ movements, you hear a little of their dialogue, but then they step outside your limited purview. They have a reality that outreaches the borders of the page."

    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/11/the-box-and-the-keyhole-two-ways-of-looking-at-fiction.html#ixzz2LAf8hWXd

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  7. Reading and Our Brains and a Blizzard: http://loucindy.typepad.com/blog/2013/02/readingandbrains.html

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  8. Sounds like Antifragile is an antifragile book, one that will be there till kingdom come, for you to refind again and again.

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  9. Oh yes, Antifragile is antifragile. What other books are antifragile?

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  10. I think I've read a few like that...maybe Stephen Hawking. I didn't quite get it all, but I felt like I gained something from it.

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  11. What a post!! Well you did read it at least you made the effort which is more than I would have done. Quite a subject to try to wrap your head around. I applaud you!!! and yes count it!!

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  12. I think it counts- it made you think! Maybe not in the intended way, but it definitely caused you to question yourself and reading habits, so I think it was worthwhile.

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  13. This is a good post! This book counts as reading especially since you keep going back to it to read passages. I like the concepts of antireading and antifragile.

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  14. even if you didn't think you were following it, something clearly sunk in otherwise you wouldn't keep thinking about it. So yes I'd say it counts..

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  15. I suspect you took more from it than you think.

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  16. I love this post. I've definitely felt this way with some nonfiction I've read.

    Also, this is why I rarely bother with audiobooks. It's almost guaranteed that some portion of it will zip right past my ears without stopping at my brain for even a brief "hello." At least if I'm reading with my eyes, I know I missed something.

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  17. Interesting post. I do think there is something like anti-reading as you explain it here. I do read books sometimes and don't register at all what it says. I admire that you managed to finish this book cause I usually give up on those. So yes you should be allowed to count it.

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  18. I'd say it counts as reading. Not only do you keep going back to it but you might have understood more than you thought and just need time to process the whole concept. It has certainly changed your thinking and if it has done that, I say it definitely counts as having been read.

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  19. What ever kind of reading it is - it doesn't really sound like fun reading; it sounds quite like a chore. It doesnt sound like your mind was all the way there. I say follow it up with something you can fall into next. cheers.

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  20. Most definitely, this is reading! I like to think of a first reading as just the initial introduction. Perhaps you go on to become great friends over time as you read and reread. Or perhaps you go your separate ways after merely a brief fling. This book sounds like one you could slowly develop a great relationship with as you get to know the book more and return to it over time. A lovely post!

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