Want to improve your writing? Read a lot. And slowly.

Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing.

The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature.

Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed?

Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.

More here.

Tablets are responsible for the rebirth of reading

A presentation by Andrew Rashbass, CEO of The Economist Group, calls the old publishing models of web and print “irredeemably broken,” with publishers requiring “urgent re-examination of everything that constitutes a media business.”

The concept of Lean Back 2.0 is relatively simple — the use of tablets and e-readers is growing at the expense of print and web use, with The Economist‘s iPad readers spending on average around 90 minutes with the app each week.

Unlike the desktop and laptop web experience, these devices are allowing users to read at their leisure.

Some key facts from the presentation:

  • 42 percent of tablet users regularly read in-depth articles, with another 40 percent reading them occasionally
  • Tablet users are three times more likely to read an article than watch a news video
  • A user’s eye activity is far more focused on an iPad app than on a website
  • Some users believe the content received in an app is even worth more than content received elsewhere, with a large majority saying they find it easier to learn new things and enjoy the news more when using apps
  • The Economist projects a fall of over 50 percent in the preference for paper over other formats in the next 2 years, with tablet preference growing to over 20 percent.

Connecting by reading out loud

THINK of it as an antidote to the electronic era. For 12 continuous hours last spring, 60 students and teachers at Hamilton College in upstate New York read aloud from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which spans a dozen volumes.

“Most of us became interested in reading because of being read to,” says Margaret Thickstun, a professor of English at Hamilton, who will orchestrate another “Milton Marathon” in February. She hopes to condense this one to 10 uninterrupted hours. “These readings revive the notion that poetry is not a private, silent thing you do in a room with a piece of paper,” she says, “but something you actually speak.”

The marathon, or long, read is giving new life to a centuries-old oral tradition. St. Olaf College and the University of Arizona have similarly hosted readings of epic works, start to finish.

In November, the Russian department at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, read aloud all 1,358 pages of “War and Peace” on the 100th year of Tolstoy’s death. It took 24 hours. Kathleen Macfie, a professor of Russian who organized the reading, describes it as a lesson in slowing down: “It’s not part of their generational experience, to share something in real time, face-to-face, in a group.” —via NYTimes.com.

American consequentialist meets Cuban poet

I read the following from Dworkin and it reminded me of a poem from Martí. Part of the poem is better known as lyrics of the song “Guantanamera“.

Ronald Dworkin in Justice for Hedgehogs:

“Without dignity our lives are only blinks of duration. But if we manage to lead a good life well, we create something more. We write a subscript to our mortality. We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.”

José Martí in his poem “Yo soy un hombre sincero“:

All is beautiful and right,
All is music and reason;
And, as with diamonds, all light
Was coal before its season.

(Todo es hermoso y constante, Todo es música y razón,
Y todo, como el diamante, Antes que luz es carbón.)