Monday, November 5, 2012

Reading and Concentration

A few weeks ago I heard two authors on-stage, lamenting the fact that readers today expect more than just words on a page. That images help, that readers' attention spans are shorter and can't sit for too long without some kind of distraction or alternative interaction to help manage so many words.

This may or may not be true but I found it a fascinating assertion. I have to admit that long books are slightly intimidating (though they didn't used to be). I still read them but I have to break them up so that they are read like different books (Murakami's 1Q84 too me about six months to read, not because it was a particularly difficult book but because I read about 2-3 books in between each major part of the novel).

Biography: easier with pictures
I am not sure if this is just a natural extension of having a lot to read or if my brain has been rewired because of so much online reading. I do read a lot more graphic novels than I used to (a teacher of graphic novels told me once that he loved teaching this genre because he never had to convince his students to do the reading, that he never had to suggest reading was "good for you"). And I have to admit that I can certainly appreciate the interaction between image and text that this form allows. I never feel that I have to read a graphic novel (and sometimes I do feel that X book is a chore I wouldn't read if I didn't need to for work).

But reading with links on the page or pop-up windows with factoids is annoying. It's not that I am not tempted to follow the chain from these additional bits of information, but I don't want to be tempted. And it breaks my concentration in a way that is hard to recover from. Yet I do it. I do it when I watch movies, too (keep a device handy, read about the director, the main actors, the reviews of a movie: WHILE I'M WATCHING IT!).

I also find that authors who write 50 page chapters with no breaks annoy me. Sometimes I can sit for an hour straight without getting up but it's rare. Generally, I read in 10-20 minute spurts because I often read on the metro or with a phone next to me, etc. Shorter chapter breaks or natural dividing points keeps me moving but I find I read these books faster, too.

I have no idea what this means in terms of future readers, but the two authors I alluded to earlier on both suggested that the tendency to have images or illustrations in books will continue because people expect this now and readers need this now. I don't know if that's true but an illustration every once in a while certainly doesn't hurt!

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