Get More From Books By Not Reading Them!

Big Think is a TED Talk wannabe, and like TED it frequently features videos that are pablum for shallow thinkers (it does run extended monologues with authors about their books on occasion which is why I follow it and which makes the rest of this post so ironic).

On Sunday, April 28, Big Think outdid itself with a 4 minute video titled “Want to get more from books? Stop reading them cover to cover.”

The general tenor of the video is captured by the thumbnail which features an opened book and text that reads “Blah Blah Blah.” Because the problem with books is all of those words.

In the video, Shane Parrish of Farnam Street laments that people start reading a book and sometimes stop. Parrish recommends a contradictory approach in which the reader is supposed to essentially skim or view only select chapters, and then “extract” the basic arguments of the book without the context of reading the entire book,

It’s your job to extract what you need out of the book. And I think that extracting what you need, you can just read the table of contents, read the introduction, maybe read the conclusion, and skim a little bit. And is this a book that I want to read in its entirety? And most of the time, the answer is going to be no. A lot of the books that are published today could easily be 20 to 40 pages. You would get everything that you need out of that book. So it’s a big waste of time to read it cover to cover. But if you want to extract the general principles from the book, or the sort of like argumentation that the author’s making, you don’t need to read every little anecdote that’s put in there, or every story about Billy and Bob. You just need to know what is the framework for this argumentation?

Okay, first you don’t obviously need to read all books cover to cover. As someone pointed out in the YouTube comments, no one expects to read a cookbook from cover to cover, for example.

And, frankly, the sort of books that Parrish cites as examples–the poorly written and often nonsensical guides to “leadership”–may be the sort of books that are shallow enough that the best approach to reading them is, in fact, not to read them at all.

But there is value in reading books that goes well beyond trying to find the handful of pages that could be pulled out of context for a listicle or series of bullet points to add to yet another mini-manifesto. Understanding and even struggling with the nuances of an extended argument is an important part of learning and understanding.

The claim that you can get the same thing out of a serious book with a brief skim and maybe a chapter is the intellectual equivalent of thinking you’re going to be in top physical shape using nothing but one of those 7 minute workout apps.

There isn’t one weird trick. There aren’t just three easy steps. There are no shortcuts.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats is a 128 page filled with an infographic-style look at the world of BTVS.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats - Cover
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats – Cover
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats - Big Bad Lineup
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats – Big Bad Lineup
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats - Buffy Anne Summers Timeline
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats – Buffy Anne Summers Timeline

Generation Decks

This “unofficial history” of Magic: The Gathering has one of the more clever book titles I’ve seen in a long time.

Generation Decks tells the story of the mould-breaking fantasy card game, Magic: The Gathering. The brainchild of misfit maths genius Richard Garfield, Magic combines complex gameplay with collectability. When it came out in 1993 it transformed the lives of quiet braniacs who had longed for a way to connect and compete. It made millionaires of its creators, and it kick-started the era of professional gaming.

Titus Chalk tells the game’s story – from its humble origins to its continued success in today’s digital age. Prepare to meet Generation Decks, a community like no other.

Sam Harris and The Number of Books Translated Into Arabic

I was watching a video where Sam Harris was criticizing Islamic views of the Quran in which Harris made the same claim as this Tweet of his from 2015:

A quick Google search suggests that Spain’s current population is about 47 million, while there are about 366 million Arabic speakers, so that would an amazing statistic, if true. But is it true?

The source for this is Arab Human Development Report 2003 ?Building a Knowledge Society (2mb PDF)  which was spearheaded by Dr. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, director of the Arab regional office of the UN Development Program. According to that report,

Most Arab countries have not learned from the lessons of the past and the field of translation remains chaotic. In terms of quantity, and notwithstanding the increase in the number of translated books from 175 per year during 1970-1975 to 330, the number of books translated in the Arab world is one fifth of the number translated in Greece. The aggregate total of translated books from the AlMa’moon era to the present day amounts to 10,000 books – equivalent to what Spain translates in a single year (Shawki Galal, in Arabic, 1999, 87)3 . This disparity was revealed in the first half of the 1980s when the average number of books translated per 1 million people in the Arab world during the 5-year period was 4.4 (less than one book for every million Arabs), while in Hungary it was 519, and in Spain 920. (Figure 2.9.)

The Alma’moon era refers to the seventh Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813-833. So Harris appears to have good grounds for his claim.

In the United States, there are roughly 300,000 new and re-issued books published every year. Roughly 3 percent of those are translations, or roughly 9,000 translated books per year for a country that has roughly the same population as Arabic speakers.

Part of the issue in the Arab world is that it isn’t just that there are relatively few translations published, but that there are few books published in general. Accurate statistics are hard to come by, but the Arab Human Development Report 2003 and other sources estimate that only 7,000-8,000 books are published in the entire Arab world annually. This is due, in part, to high levels of illiteracy,

Literary production faces other major challenges. These include the small number of readers owing to high rates of illiteracy in some Arab countries and the weak purchasing power of the Arab reader. This limited readership is clearly reflected in the number of books published in the Arab world, which does not exceed 1.1% of world production, although Arabs constitute 5% of the world population. The production of literary and artistic books in Arab countries is lower than the general level. In 1996 it did not exceed 1,945 books, representing only 0.8% of world production, i.e., less than the production of a country such as Turkey, with a population one quarter of that of Arab countries. An abundance of religious books and a relative paucity of books in other fields characterize the Arab book market. Religious books account for 17% of the total number of books published in Arab countries, compared to 5% of the total number of books produced in other parts of the world.