Tuesday, May 03, 2005


In Japan there is tale about a monk and a gifted swordsman. The monk seeking to educate the swordsman tricked and imprisoned him in a library for several years. During his imprisonment the swordsman, due to boredom, was forced to read all the books. And when the time came for the swordsman’s release he hugged and thanked the monk saying that he had learn a lot during his incarceration. The swordsman’s name was Miyomoto Mushashi the legendary swordsman of Japan.

So how do you read?

Do you require total silence in the surroundings before you begin reading a book? On the other hand, do you need music in order to put you in the mood? Do you read differently a comic book from a novel of Tolstoy? Alternatively, does reading style differ when you read about the red masque of death and the Green Terror, a South American fish also called Aquidens rivulatus.

One of my first jobs in the information industry was that of an abstractor, one who makes abstracts. Now normally when we say abstract we mean the adjective means complicated, for example the painting of the descent is an example of abstract art. The abstract that I used to make as an abstractor refers to the noun, which means a summary of an article or study indicating the content and/or voice of the original. The reader uses an abstract to evaluate the content of an article.

Abstracts are an integral part of any research paper. This is because by reading an abstract the reader can already know nearly all the important information of the study.

Abstracts are also of great use to the largest depositories of articles. There are companies out there that collect and collate articles. These enormous numbers of articles are deposited in a huge database for storage and retrieval. Now these articles are indexed or tagged with descriptors. A search in the database uses these descriptors to collect these articles. The reader is left with an option to select the article he needs. An abstract shortens the selection time a reader has do when processing the article since he need not read the whole text only the abstract. In some cases the information in the abstract is all that is needed, the reader needs not go ay further.

As an abstractor, there two primary skills needed. First, the abstractor must have the ability to write grammatically correct, clear, and concise abstracts. Second, as important, or even more important than the first is the ability to comprehend the article. How can you write the abstract if you do not understand the article? If you do not understand the article, your article will be rubbish.

The way I read an article, as an abstractor is radically different from the way I read a book for pleasure or without time constraints. Reading in preparation for writing an abstract is a task of necessity; if you do not produce an abstract you will not get paid. When reading articles for abstracts the writer has to keep himself in focus, scan the article and identify the main points – in other words deconstruct the article quickly. Fortunately, abstractors relied on the five wise men used by Rudyard Kipling – who, what, when, where and why. Identifying the five Ws of the article, the abstractor could write down a good abstract. Unfortunately, not all articles were malleable to the five Ws; there were times when a complicated expository piece (an essay) or a highly specialized study needed to be abstracted. In such cases, there was no choice but to read the piece and identify the main points. I remember a time when I had to write an abstract for a study on the validity of a geometric formula, mathematical research maybe slim page wise but in terms of complicated content they do pack a wallop. Over time, all abstractors develop techniques to speed up the process of writing. Most abstractors had an arsenal of templates for news reports, essays, product releases, book reviews for all sort of articles.

Reading for abstracting is reading out of necessity, systematic and fast no time to enjoy and digest what one reads. Effective reading but without pleasure of discovery or the joy of self-epiphany.

The second way I read a book is to digest it, taking my time to enjoy the passages. And this type of reading I do not limit to fictional works but to a whole gamut of reading materials that has piqued my interest. The book I might be reading may be about fish keeping, the history of book publishing, “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien or Edgar Allan Poe’s short story with the unassuming title of “A Cask of Amontillado” as long as it keeps me interested I read it at leisurely pace. There are of course books, like cook books and atlases, that are not for leisurely read, however, from time to time you will discover some unassuming books or works that can be a treasure trove for one’s interest.

There is a pleasure one can only find in digesting the words of written work. While gobbling is effective in certain instances true enjoyment of a reading a written work is to mentally savor each bit.

So what are your reading habits?


Blogger eruannie said...

haha! got the wrong password. anyway, just wanna tell you that i wa sglad to have met you in the summit. also, asking permission to put you in my links under blogger friends of my blog - school librarian in action. TIA

11:09 AM  
Blogger eruannie said...

hey juned, i got you in my blog already, SLA (school librarian in action). :-D

10:12 PM  
Blogger juned said...


7:07 AM  
Blogger vonjobi said...

i hope you can post some more. check out Blograrians: Learning to Learn.

10:10 AM  
Blogger juned said...


12:49 PM  
Blogger Dante said...

very nice... a blog about books and reading... :)

i read just about anything... but usually i prefer non-fiction books. i have a very bad habit of not finishing books, because i can lose my interest easily and move on to another book.

3:39 PM  
Blogger juned said...

Same here, my taste in books tends to be all-embracing. I usually have set of old trading cards, not the expensive ones, that I use as book markers.

4:27 PM  
Blogger vonjobi said...

hi! can't seem to email you using the address on your calling card. please email me at von.totanes-atgmail-dot-com. thanks!

2:30 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Hi. I happily stumbled upon your blog today and enjoyed the post about types of reading. I think writing abstracts would be very demanding. I have a good Scottish friend who in her Aberdeen high school had to write a short precis every week in some subject. She said it was difficult and was also very good intellectual training.
When I read a book for pleasure (a novel) I have to have relative quiet. I can read with noise around me as long as it's a hum. Sometimes I go back and reread the beginning if it's been confusing. I reread more and more as I get older. Books you read at 21 are different at 61. Now I'm going to look at your other blogs.

10:11 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Bare Necessities? Do you mean the wonderful Massachusetts band that includes Peter Barnes and plays English country dance music????

10:15 PM  
Blogger juned said...

Hi Jane,
Thank you for your comment. Bare Necessities - a phrase I picked up a long time ago while watching the Disney adaptation of The Jungle Book. The song of Baloo the Bear.

10:28 PM  

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