Coping: How to “Eat” a Book

Being a writer, as I half-ass am, there’s a terrible truth that comes out:  You can only write as well as you can absorb input.

This may be why “Everyone has one book in them,” but when you ask “How many people have four, five, or more books in them?” the field narrows considerably.

I’ve been  coping with this personal “I/O” (input/output) problem for decades.  Ever since the first holiday period when I was the youngest news director of a radio station in Seattle.  There, the problem was “With little reporting resource, what will we run that will be “fresh news” over the holiday?

Today, as the idiotic headlines to bash Trump (H2BT) of last week demonstrate, people just make-up or do news refritos. *Refried “news.”

The real answer – both in newsroom management as well as in life – is to understand that there is a balance to be maintained.  If you want to be good, whether at your job or anything else, you need to become something of an “expert.”

There are only a few ways to do this, but the main one is to turn on the inputs and start collecting as much information as you can.

Here’s the first place people who want to get ahead, get into trouble.  They don;t focus so much on data collection as they do on opinions-following.

Key point here:  If you want to get ahead, focus on the facts, and ignore the opinions of other.  Opinions are like your butt – everyone has one.  But facts and robust data sets are a different matter.  These take a little time to acquire, assimilate, and then integrate into your thinking, and even longer to melt into your “being.”

This all requires work – and once again, human laziness shows up to get in the way.

People don’t generally relish head-work.  Believe me when I tell you, there is a huge gap between superficial knowledge and really owning as piece of the data domain.

Short example?  Sure:

In flying, there is a “superficial” mnemonic that helpings pilots remember a key point of airborne navigation.  “East is Least.”

The superficiality is that it doesn’t mean a pilot actually KNOWS about magnetic compass readings under specific flying conditions. Instead, it only means they can answer a question based on rote.  Not knowing.

This is where the concept of “Recipe Collecting” in life came from in my book The Millennial’s Missing Manual: What School Didn’t Teach and What Old People Didn’t Explain.  ($2.99 eBook on Amazon for Kindle and other platforms.)

“Eating a Book” is a fine example of how people either grok the recipe collection concept, or don’t.

Thing is, there are two ways to read a book.  These are almost analogous to the  random or sequential mindsets used as part of the Gregorc Style Delimiter…which is still, for our money, one of the best self-discovery tools you can own.

You see, we’re “programmed” very young to look at books as “sequential sources.”

In a few extremely grand books – like the James A. Lincoln book “Metals and How To Weld Them” – as we talked about last week, this is a classic not only for its welding content, but in the superb organization of material.

In other words, it’s organized like a recipe book.  If I want to know how to “cook” a cast iron weld, that’s the topic of Chapter 16, or so.  Thus, when I run into that problem (haven’t yet) I know that the book is indexed in a sensible way.

While it is useful and downright enjoyable to read a book purely sequentially, it’s also one of the most time-intensive things you can do.  What slows people down is a process called “sub-vocalization” – basically hearing the words in your head – which is how many people learn – through their auditory processes.

To b e sure, 200 words per minute is slow – but read this way, a book – especially a Clive Cussler or Jack du Brul novel (and my novel, too) – takes a good while to savor.

I forget the word count of “DreamOver: Action-Adventure on the Frontiers of Reality” but I seem to recall about 80,000 words.  Which at 200 words per minute, after a pee break and a stretch, means about 7-hours.  Hopefully, more enjoyable time that some of the crap proffered in the video wasteland!

Reading by Objective

There is a different method to reading non-fiction.  I was explaining this a week or so back to someone in the insurance field.

Rather than studiously and diligently reading all the complexities along the way, how about constructing a “knowledge pyramid” to be filled-in with recipes?

This way, one can begin with a concept (insurance brokers want to keep the riff-raff out of their domain) and so to do this, how would they proceed?   Well,t he answer is the same as in any other economic business model.  You erect barriers to entry.

Thus, in insurance licensing, complex rule books are created that define how the industry works and the relationship between the governmentocracy and the industry.  The industry allows regulation because it’s part of the barriers they are trying to construct.  Why, if everyone could broker their own insurance, where would the high income be in that?

You’re following, aren’t you?  Barriers to income mean fewer “allowed to play” and so for a given industry size, scarcity builds price.  All in Econ 101.

OK, using this as your core assumption, you can now read all the insurance regulations of any state you choose and see how this business model framework is laid out.

In other words, every regulation on insurance out there as two or three parties to it – There’s the Industry, the Consumer, and the Regulators.

Now, confronted with a seemingly arcane list of (put you to sleep while reading them!) regulations, instead you can see the tug-o-war between interests and you can see how the brokers want this or that.

Of course, in the background, there’s the OTHER battle going on…namely the runaway propagation of computational horsepower.  Insurance is an easy one to visualize, since there is virtually NOTHING in the process than can’t be reduced to lines of code.

EXCEPT, of course, the incomes of insurance brokers would collapse, as would the need for regulators – and do you really think that the government will allow regulators to run out of jobs?

Of course not!

I worked in the “template industry” (higher education) where my company was the world’s leading development of code (and SQL and a Microsoft Gold Partner) that understood how to code regulations in an incredibly messy set of regulations (Student Loans based on the FAFSA) into something that would run elegantly and quickly.

What happened there was the Feds would look at the code…just like the government wants to know how automatic landing systems in aircraft work…or what the self-driving cars are going through right now…which you see, of course?

Self-driving cars are nothing more than coding a complex set of rules (physics are autos, state and local driving rules, speed limits and what-not) into something can can take the human out of the loop.  It’s a Master Template, if you will.

Which now gets us down to the absurdly simple concept on “How to Eat a Book.”

Leaning by Objective

This is ridiculously simple but it will save you hundreds of hourse later one.

In most knowledge domains, you already have the baseline knowledge required as a foundation upon which the New/Bigger Key Recipe will be built on.

The first task, in such a setting is to ask:

What am I trying to Learn?”

For example, in the Lincoln welding book, I already know some of the material.  I own a plasma cutter, so I can skip the cutting chapter.  I’m not trying to weld cast iron today, so I can skip that.

Now, however I want to weld some steel.  And the Lincoln book has three whole chapters just going deep on 1) low carbon steel, 2) medium carbon steel, and 3) high carbon steel.

Easy-peasy?  Not quite.  Because, you see, how do I know which of the steels I will be welding?

Spoiler:  In my baseline knowledge coming into “eat” this book, I learned that touching an example specimen of the steel I’m working with to a running grinding wheel – and observing the spark field created – is a very good indicator.

You just need to know how to put together the right keywords for Google (which in this case was {grinder sparks high medium low carbon} to find Spark Testing on Wikipedia.

The Second Question

After you figure out what you’re trying to learn, the next question is?

What recipe(s) am I missing?”

You make a mental note.

Then, as you pick up a book (*or source) you make a promise not to be deterred from your singular learning objective.

New Knowledge Domains

There is a special case if you are not expanding existing knowledge in a domain where you already have expertise:

It’s the survey of a domain.

This is where you pick up a non-fiction source book and you do a quick power-read to see 1) how the information is organized, 2) what is the “information density, and 3) is the information current enough to be useful or applicable.

1) Organization is revealed in two-ways:  By looking at the index, of course.  But then a glance at any chapter (after introductions, forwards, and chapter 1’s) will give you an idea of how a chapter is laid out.

3) Means while you’re looking at the chapter, see how dense the information is.  In flying books, or welding, the material is all meaningful.  But, when looking at the “soft sciences” like F.C. Constable’s book on Fortune Telling circa 1910 which I happened to eat last Thursday, you’ll find very little “meat” but lots of opinion and bloviation.

Key Point:  When you are “eating knowledge” skip the opinion.

As luck had it, the Constable book did has a useful discussion of Kant and space and time – where he reveals that the commonality between space and time is motion and its resultant effect on perception.  That was a very useful new recipe since I’m working in that domain (hacking space-time), as is a colleague on a different matter, but I digress.

The SCAN and Left-hand Read

Can’t say enough for this tool:  Once you know what you want to know and can made an educated guess about whether your source will deliver your objective, then all you need to do is find the information.

A “soft look” at each page works with some books.  With others, reading every third or fourth (left or right) page is the approach.

The left-hand read, as it was taught to me by a master of it, will inform you if the author is even warming up…or whether the book is merely rehashing old news and ideas.

And that gets us to the judgement of a book – website – column – newspaper – or anything else you lay eyes or ears on:

Is it fulfilling some objective you have?

And if it’s not, what the hell are you wasting your life for?

Back to the books now…

Write when you get rich,

author avatar
George Ure
Amazon Author Page: UrbanSurvival Bio:

6 thoughts on “Coping: How to “Eat” a Book”

  1. “” but when you ask “How many people have four, five, or more books in them?” the field narrows considerably.”
    George.. great thinking article.. I think the problem is time and the box of all things to magically turn your brain to jello.. television)
    kids today (45-and younger) they just don’t have time to sit and digest a book.
    I read to read, many of todays kids will read the daily lier and say that is the news, many don’t take time to research it. example there was someone that posted that since 1994 newspapers have written that other countries think we are a joke.. No.. I remember reading newspapers in the library of congress in the seventies where they were saying the same thing about how stupid we are and how we will let ourselves be used.. in 1994 comes to mind because of the internet that is when it started to become known and popular.. figuring out what I was trying to learn from my reading.. boy everything.. the recipes.. my big thing was.. I think I could just about walk in and do any position and after a few days to see how they function and deal with their work force I be able to work as good or better.A college education the studies just give you the outline the basics each position is unique and variable to what they do or produce each job and each employer is different. good lord knows I have had enough hats on and if you asked any of my old employers they will tell you I was one of their best employees. when I am at work I am theirs.. I did have to let a few know that part time is part time.. if they wanted me full time then they would pay and offer benefits if not full time got first crack at my work hours.Most of which didn’t like that but hey its the truth.. most of which were part time or temp jobs .. the recipe I couldn’t find was one for me to take the leap.
    I got stuck having a family young and extreme Health issues and medical expenses right out of the chute.( I thought I could conquer the world when I was a kid)..without a paper jobs were limited at best and during the recession of the eighties people changed jobs over the cost of a twelve pack of pop…
    from my perspective.. the kids today are always willing to learn.. the problem is they don’t have time.. our economic structure and our daily work life has changed so dramatically since the eighties that they just don’t have time.. many don’t even consider audio books.. ( ) I read funny though to.. I will read a page or a chapter then research what I have read.. so when I am reading one book.. I am reading ten.. or more at the same time.. this weeks books are merlins tour of the universe.. a short coffee time book.. and the elements of organic gardening.. another short coffee time book..
    I loved the book of fortune telling.. you can get the pdf from the library in Boston I believe.. or from that is a fun book.. the time of having time to sit after supper and reading a book are gone.. In todays demanding busy work a day world where most of the bottom feeders have to work longer and harder to survive. Mom and dad are so busy that children are left to let the computer or video games the internet and television to be their role models. the only thing that they see is the job at hand. of course that is only my opinion.. it is the same thing that will kill off the churches in the USA.. and social groups as well.

    • I here you loud and clear. Thing is, humans have only EVER had 24-hours a day. Staring into a phone is like pissing your life away if it’s not generating money. The sad fact is that if you’re not making money on your phone time, someone is making money off you.
      And that makes it a world full of suckers…

      • exactly…
        I get razzed a lot about my reading all the time.. I read fast to.. No time at all to squirrel away a two hundred page book.. heck that is a toilet reader..

      • I think a lot has to do with image.. back in the seventies and eighties.. you really didn’t get two shakes of a tail about what the neighbor had.. today’s kids want to show their success.. a friend of mine.. he spent fifty grand for a lamp..heck our congress spent fifty million to have a study done to see if they should add a lamp to their desks.. excuse me.. go down to the lamp store pick one up and call it good.. but the general cost of everything and the need to have has changed our society and economy.. before NAFTA and deregulation.. America was an industrial nation.. we built.. that has changed.. today we have changed from an industrial nation to a consumption service oriented nation.. jobs pay less.. ( well less according to the economy.) just had this discussion last night with some friends that stopped by. ( I don’t have a clue who it is but family on one side or other) wages are lower hours are longer and the cost of things are cheaper but more in the long run.. a tool bought today will fail faster than an old tool from fifty years ago.. back then.. you saved to buy the big thing.. today we buy it then pay for it.. our industrial nation has been moved outside our borders along with our corporate headquarters. if our youth of today were to start saving to buy it.. our economy would keep our country working we need the velocity of movement at this point. the cell phones.. another weak point.. so is the computer.. which makes it easier to take over.. since theres a rising majority of our younger people that cannot run math line or even do simple math for that matter..reading material is being simplified for the average high school graduate to be able to comprehend what is being said.. our laws and voting .. those are being written up in the opposite direction. in one I read it basically didn’t say anything either way.. what direction they wanted you to go then they flipped it.. some wouldn’t catch that simple maneuver.
        Our congress cannot even understand what they are voting on. since it is being written above their level of comprehension. many don’t even read the sales pitch line at the front.. just vote the way that someone tells them to. they should be writting these bills themselves.. OMG I am getting on a rant again.. sorry

      • George, I would generalize “making money” into “creating value”. Making money is a special case, and is usually taxed immediately. If I renovate my house in a serious way I’ve created current value and potential income going forward. I’ve not “made money”, but I’ve used the time effectively.

        The same applies to repairing your car or upgrading a shop.

  2. Well, one ‘could do’ like Marcel Proust and his ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ and write a very long book. (Actually I’ve never read it. Long books tend to make me wonder why they weren’t broken up into manageable size. Longest novel I’ve read was ‘War and Peace’ – famous and a bargain at the price.)

    Personally, I would suggest if you want to write (or just be an interesting person), have plenty of experiences about a wide range ‘of life.’

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