What I attend to

This week I’ve been experimenting with a simple speed-reading technique, inspired by this how-to. It’s definitely increased my page-count. As for comprehension and enjoyment, the jury’s still out, but I’m hopeful. The novelty of the technique (basically starting and stopping each line a few words in, relying on your peripheral vision to pick up the rest) does make me attend to what I’m reading much more: there’s less room for my mind to wander.

Here we have the paradox, since in giving up control we somehow gain it, by being brought in contact with ourselves. “My experience,” William James once observed, “is what I agree to attend to” — a line Winifred Gallagher uses as the epigraph of “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life” (Penguin Press: 244 pp., $25.95). In Gallagher’s analysis, attention is a lens through which to consider not just identity but desire. Who do we want to be, she asks, and how do we go about that process of becoming in a world of endless options, distractions, possibilities?

These are elementary questions, and for me, they cycle back to reading, to the focus it requires. When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, my grandmother used to get mad at me for attending family functions with a book. Back then, if I’d had the language for it, I might have argued that the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without; I was reading both to escape and to be engaged. All these years later, I find myself in a not-dissimilar position, in which reading has become an act of meditation, with all of meditation’s attendant difficulty and grace. I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It’s harder than it used to be, but still, I read.

from “The lost art of reading,” by David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times, 9 August 2009 :: via The Curator

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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