Monday, December 18, 2006

A Good Read

Tyler asks we write (buy) books that could have, should have been a long article. That is, why are so many books padded?

He mentions marketing and the sense of satisfaction. I have two perhaps more substantive reasons.

1) Reading books is a leisurely activity. I read journal articles at my desk, usually on the computer screen, while sipping coffee. I read books either lying on the couch or bed, before sleep. The intensity with which many journal articles are written is too much for leisurely activity. Many magazine and newspaper articles are written in a style suitable to lazy reading, but then again I don’t think they could replace most books.

2) People absorb material more slowly than it takes to say it. This is a common problem in lecturing. I could give most lectures in 75 minute lecture in seven or eight minutes if the students absorbed every single word. However, they don’t. So, most of the lecture is saying the same thing over again, or giving examples of how it might work, or saying it in a different way to catch a different student.

A similair thing happens with books. People want to walk away from the reading feeling like they got something, not just scratching their heads. Saying the same thing over gives the reader a chance to absorb before you move on to the next topic. The reader could stop and think about what the author is saying before moving on but this is a much less satisfying experience because lifting your eyes form the pages exposes you to different stimuli.

If you can keep the reader “engaged” while going over the same point again the experience will seem more complete.