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?
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