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Thursday, September 20, 2007

How to read backwards, upside down, standing on your head, or standing on someone else's head

I once knew a person who claimed to read magazines by starting at the beginning and stopping at the end. That struck me as strange then and bizarre now; but then, it's true I have a very haphazard way of reading things. It's not as if I'll take up a magazine, starting at the end and stopping at the beginning. But I will skip to favourite sections, read a column here that looks interesting, flick through to catch some of the cartoons, before going to the starting pages to read one or two of the opening news-style articles.

I mean, don't most people read magazines that way, randomly? I find it almost congenitally possible to read magazine articles consecutively. By the time I've put the effort in to read one article, and I turn to the next, I find my eye keeps on sliding off. Maybe there's a version of dyslexia that applies to paragraphs and opinion columns as well, ensuring that a magazine or newspaper will always be read in this way.

The strain is hard enough actually reading a column or an article, anyway. Everybody must skip the occasional sentence or paragraph or table or page or... well, people who skip occasionally will know what I mean. (We've got Sir Walter Scott on our side, by the way: he suggested that readers adopt "The laudable practice of skipping.") Sometimes, I've got to admit, it gets so bad with me that I actually do find myself reading an article backwards. It's not as if I actually set out to do this: I just happen to be glancing over a magazine, and my eye is naturally drawn towards the final paragraph. I will read that, and be drawn to the paragraph before it - partly out of curiosity, to see how the writer had got to that final paragraph. Thus, by gradual degrees, my eye and brain will be drawn through the article, often without having actually made the effort or commitment to read it in the first place.

I'm not sure whether it says more about me or the writers of such articles that I don't notice any difference in quality from reading them this way. But I really would be seriously surprised if other people didn't occasionally find themselves reading like this, anyway.

And reading haphazardly certainly has got something to recommend it. Think of it as a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' style of magazine reading. It would actually save a lot of time when you're reading something like a True Crime magazine or whatever; you could skip past a lot of that superfluous character detail until you get to the real blood and gore. Or something. You could even read the same article in different ways, rating it differently each time. You know: 1) Back to Front (Starts off with a great cliffhanger! Disappointing ending) 2) Skipping every second paragraph (Reads quickly, a little light on the detail).

I suppose you could go on and apply this reading-haphazard method to great works of literature, but you wouldn't want to do it to every book. Imagine what the results could be with Romeo and Juliet:

Never was a tale of more woe
Than that of Juliet and her Romeo
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene!

Though I think you could have a great deal more fun with some of the great modernist writings, which you can arrange any which-way you like and still not know what it means:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Well, that's cruel, but I'm sure a lot of people who read Finnegan's Wake found the book cruel on them as well.

But seriously: reading a novel from start to finish is one thing, but a magazine? Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy talk?

19 comments:

colonel eggroll said...

People read magazines from beginning to end? That's crazy talk! I skip around, look at the pictures, and just read whatever catches my fancy. It's more fun that way. I would think reading it all the way through would feel more like work, pressing on through the boring parts to get to sections you like. Or maybe I just need instant gratification.

nailpolishblues said...

It depends on the magazine.
I read The Monthly cover to cover [occassionally I'll skip to the lightwight last page]. I find reading that magazine any other way frankly irritating.

Caz said...

With trash mags I flip through to look at all the pictures and read randomly. Eventually I go back to the beginning and look at / read anything that took my fancy the first time around.

With serious mags I do a flip through, a sort of visual review of what's in there, then I read from beginning to end.

With newspapers I'm worse: seriously anal retentive. The various superfluous sections must first be carefully removed, folded, and put into the recycling pile. The sections of value are then placed in a pile, in a strict reading order. Then, and only then, do I commence reading, from beginning to end, systematically working through one section at a time.

Mags are likewise placed in a pile in a specific reading order. I always, for example, read the Weekend Australian mag prior to the Age Saturday mag. While the Friday centre lift out from the Fin Review is always underneath everything else, because it is "heavy" reading, therefore reserved for when I have the mental stamina.

I have been known to skip to the end of books, long before getting through to the last chapter, but I still read the whole book.

Did I mention that I have this weird habit of reading magazine articles backwards? I often start at the end, and meander backwards. I frequently lose interest before I reach the beginning of the piece, so I abandon it at some random point in the middle. (This especially occurs with trash mags, but can happen with any disposable reading material.)

TimT said...

The weekend newspapers are toooooooooo big. Seriously, now The Age and (I think) the SMH have split them up into two sections, things have gone too far. I only ever really read three out of the 20-odd sections in any weekend newspaper, anyway. The rest, straight into the recycling bin.

I never read a magazine front to back, though I did read The Spectator fairly thoroughly, when I got that (the quality of the writers is worth it). Now I subscribe to the New Yorker but hardly ever read all of the long essays in the middle.

If a magazine has a substantial letters section, then I'll read that first. You get some delightfully geeky letters in the Spectator, like one I still remember from an old British local newspaper hack, who wrote in on the resignation of one Hugh Green from a bureaucratic position:

We were waiting for him to take up a position in the human service industry so we could run a headline, 'Hugh Green was my Valet'...

Dale Slamma said...

I love magazines but only good quality ones. Sometimes I have a miniature invisible points awarding system for the excitingness or loveliness of different pages.

TimT said...

Can't say I go that far. What do you consider a quality magazine? I think Viz is a quality comic magazine, though it's pretty out there compared to New Idea or Cosmopolitan or The Bulletin.

Mitzi G Burger said...

As an erratic reading commes mes amis de c'est commentateuriat, I skipped straight to the italicised opening lines of Finnegans Wake. The Wake is not a cruel read, as it is a performance which my reading group combines with scones, monthly. It's funny, witty, dirty, salacious, enrapturing, delightful and Joycey: and yes, somewhat frustrating at times; it's a fetishistic dynamic one develops with the Wake.

TimT said...

I have trouble understanding the first two chapters of Ulysses. I'd have a heart attack if I tried to understand The Wake - some day I may try to read it, at least. I'm sorry, it's an obvious example of that kind of modernism, and just had to go in this post!

David said...

... and let it be an easy way out for anyone who Dr Nitschke can't get to.

"Take three chapters and call me if you're still alive tomorrow, Mrs Snodgrass."

"Oh, thank you Doctor!"

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