Re: Samples

Rohit Khare (
Wed, 27 Aug 1997 22:26:02 -0400 (EDT)

> I Find Karma <> writes:
> > All I'm saying is that the experience of "reading the book" is
> > adequately approximated by the sum of reading the reviews, reading
> > the jacket, talking with friends about it, and checking out Web
> > pages about it.
> I completely disagree with this.

I completely agree with this. (I should, since Adam's describing me,
anyway... :-)

> You'll have learned enough about the book to discuss it with people,
> and to explain to someone what it's about. You'll have learned how
> other people reacted to the experience of reading it. You'll know
> details about the plot. But unless you're extraordinarily empathic,
> you won't know what it felt like to experience the book.

Granted. I can have *sympathy* for the experience of the book, but not
*empathy*. You are CORRECT!

> The pacing, the presentation, the phrasing, the background, the
> organization.. These things all add to what you would get from the
> book. This is especially true of fiction, which I'm guessing you mean
> to include since you also mention movies.

BUT, why do I need empathy? The pacing, the presentation, all add marginal
understanding to a skeleton, for most "normal" narrative arcs (I can't
say the same for Catch-22, but I can obviously feel I've heard quite enough
about that poisoned-coke book).

> One thing missing from a review is enjoyment. I enjoy experiencing
> well crafted communication in many forms. I enjoy a well written
> review. A review of a good movie would tell me it was good, but I
> wouldn't have enjoyed the presentation of it at all. I might enjoy
> some of the plot twists, but probably not as much as I would have had
> I learned of them in the intended context.

What's missing is enjoyment -- absolutely. By reading _Maus_, I'm denied the
enjoyment of doing *something else*. 'spoiling' the experience by vicarious
reviewing gives me the freedom to pursue something else.

I'm also spoiled that whatever art is *really* good enough I am goaded to see
it cannot be spoiled by review. Art is an incompressible experience. No matter
what reviews I got for Shall We Dance or Shawshank or Hudsucker, they can't
measure up to the timing, the suppleness, the visual luze of the story itself.

So I'll make a two-faced rationalization that I use reviews precisely
to substitue for experience and experience what for which no review
can substitute :-)

> Hearing about, reading about, and discussing the book might give you
> more value per unit time, but not linearly. You can get a little
> indirectly, but if you want to closely approximate the value of a good
> original work, I think it would take at least as long as reading it
> yourself. There is no substitute for personal experience.

First, "not linearly" is correct. Diminishing marginal returns to
authenticity. How much more do I learn from reading ALL of Infinite
Jest vs every other page? How much more can I be entertained instead
by stubbornly refusing and watching JoeIII get indignant? :-)

Second, what kind of personal experience? What about our wonderful
Around-The-World-In-Eight-Day tours? Is that not an efficient experience
of another sort? It beats tour guides; it's still a pale shadow of really
experiencing the place; but it's absolutely worthwhile. Perhaps even

> Of course, for books with only one or two noteworthy features, it's
> probably not worth getting the full value out of it for the time it
> would take to read. But anything worth reading more than two reviews
> of is probably worth reading yourself.

Conversely, there are some books I read again and again, the features are
so noted. It's not a greedy need to tick off the longest list of cocktail-
party-oh-I've-heard-of-that-book censuses (like some men who keep whisky
lists in the wallets...), but to experience incompressible ideas. I can't
count the number of times I've reread the postnuclear journalism of Warday
or the enviro-technical-religious future of Nature's End (both highly
recommended and hard to find now: Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka).

But even Julian Simon, someone I agree with wholeheartedly, isn't worth
my time precisely because I agree with him. At most, I want his tome on
my shelf as a pointer, pure metaknowledge.

And that's the rub: agreement is boring. A goal of life is community
-- the fundamental biocultural innovation that makes us
sapient. Community allows us to push back the frontier of what each of
us can experience to what the whole of us have experienced. 97% of
what's worth Adam's time to read is not worth mine. The more we read
alike, as a community, the more we come together. The more we read
alike, the more we're wasting each others' time.

Knowledge is an inkblot, spreading outward. The frontier, ah, that's
*knowing what you don't know*, and that's growing geometrically. If
we all link hands, perhaps we can span it. If we put our own fingers
in the dike, we are lost.


PS. Dug!!! I'm sorry I forgot ya baby! Now, how can I route all the way up
to Ann Arbor AND back down to Austin by way of Huntsville?? Argh...