Great post by Robin on reading:
Hunting has two main modes: searching and chasing. With searching you look for something to chase. With chasing, in contrast, you have a focus of attention that drives your actions…
while reading non-fiction, most folks are in searching mode. Most would be more intellectually productive, however, in chasing mode. It helps to have in mind a question, puzzle, or problem…
In searching mode, readers tend to be less critical…keep reading along even if they aren’t quite sure what the point is… more likely to talk about whether they enjoyed the read…In chasing mode, you continually ask yourself whether what you are reading is relevant for your quest…
Also, search-readers often don’t have a good mental place to put each thing they learn…Chasers, in contrast, always have specific mental places they are trying to fill…
…People often hope that search-mode reading will inspire them to new thoughts, and are disappointed to find that it doesn’t. Chase-mode reading, in contrast, requires constant thinking…
I’ve noticed this most strongly before in the context of fleeing more than chasing. That is, genuine near mode fear helps a lot. If you really want to find out if that spider was poisonous, you probably have a wonderfully efficient intuitive research strategy. This may be useful for researching more abstract potentially frightening topics such as societal catastrophe, if you can drum up some proper fear.
I think Robin’s dichotomy goes a long way to explaining why reading is disappointing relative to thinking. In thinking it’s much easier to chase. Refraining from following a line of inquiry, and filling in gaps, and jumping to conclusions, can be harder than doing these things. There is usually some interesting path open to chase down. You don’t have to page through all your memories and concepts to catch a glimpse of your prey.
Reading on the other hand is usually designed for search, with chase-friendly features added sometimes as an afterthought. If you want to chase something, you basically face the tedium of skimming lots of material without understanding. What would books look like if they were designed for a chase? For instance:
- They would have good tools for finding narrow topics within book (very thorough indexes or keys)
- Arranged for easy conceptual narrowing to the area of interest.
- In many small standalone modules, assuming no knowledge of the rest of the book
- If it were going to be a read through affair, laid out so as to constantly fill in the answers that you should want to fill in at that point, and lead you to the next questions.
Some kinds of books and writing are laid out this way to varying extents. Reference books and websites, some text books, search engines, and books with many short standalone entries on modular topics.
Note that none of these are romantic things to have read. People don’t often mention to their friends what an enlightening google search they did the other day unless it was surprisingly disgusting, or how informative their encyclopedia is. The sort of popular non fiction books that people tell you that they just read are usually the opposite of all the above things, with the common exception of an adequate index. Why is this? Is it related to why most books aren’t set out for chasing ease? Do people who tell others about their thoughts more try for less directed thoughts?
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Yes, it is interesting that reading that supports chase isn’t considered as romantic. An obvious explanation is that readers seek status affiliation with authors, and to bond with other readers who share their reading tastes. Reading broken into small stand-alone modules is too numerous to be canonical, and less allows authors ability to shine through.
Maybe readers who mention the search-type reading they’re doing are trying to brag about their focusing abilities. This seems way more “obvious” to me than Robin’s explanation :) For example, his explanation doesn’t explain why people would emphasize the *number* of books they read, or the speed with which they read them.
I agree with both of you.
It’s interesting that author ability doesn’t shine through as well in chase writing. Presumably there are greater and lesser abilities to explain something clearly and organize it efficiently. It seems we are not very sensitive to, or impressed by them.
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I would posit that the very cultural meaning of a book surrounds the enjoyment of the search. Great books take you on the full experience of the hunt (sometimes several) — with many pages being rushed through in the excitement of the chase and others being read with the alert senses of the search.
I certainly agree that chasing is the more “productive” aspect of hunting, its where you actually bag the game, but that I enjoy a great search, with its heightened awareness.
I think that we are seeing a shift in our culture though from searching to chasing. The internet is a very chase-oriented space and Google is the ultimate chasing tool. Many are no longer interested in – or even capable of – holding their attention on searching (or reading a whole book) anymore. You can see this in the news, speeches, advertisements, music — our pop culture has been reduced to sound bites.
Anyways, thanks for the thought-provoking read.
As a book critic, I often read in Search and Destroy mode.
I completely agree with rebeccarapple. Chasing is more productive, if you know what you’re looking for. But how do you know what you’re looking for? Sometimes – assuming you find someone who writes good, thought-provoking non-fiction – you just need to go along for the ride and see where it takes you.
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I have to say that I am a little different in my non-fiction reading in that although I read to search a lot of the time, I also love reading to chase. I love indexes and huge bibliographies and often go through adding books to my wishlist from the bibliography. I love reading multiple books on the same or similar topics to get more in depth knowledge or different sides of the issue. I love the chase, and agree, it is so much more fulfilling!
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