Talking About Books . . .

Lapsing into a Comma

Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh died recently.  Linda Holmes writes fondly about him in an NPR article that also includes an excerpt from one of his books.

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What’s your “x” rating?  Mine varies from 1.0 to 1.5, but I hope it will reach 2.0 as time goes by.  But it will never reach the 3.0 that some people attain.  The “x” rating in this case is the speed at which you listen to an audio book.  If you read it at the recorded speed the “x” rating is 1.0.  If you read it at 1.25 times the recorded speed, then your “x” rating is 1.25.  The most amazing thing about accelerated listening speeds is that the narrator’s voice does not change its pitch.  It doesn’t sound like The Chipmunks.  You simply hear the narrator speaking faster.  An Audible Range article explains “speed listening” much better than I can.

I recently finished listening to T. H. White’s The Once and Future King which is a 639 page paperback book with small print.  I’m a slow reader, so it would have taken a long, long time for me to  read it.  Even in it audio book format it takes 33 hours to complete.  By listening to it at 1.25 times the normal speed I was able to cut the listening time to just over 26 hours without sacrificing my understanding of White’s masterpiece.  Strangely, listening at an accelerated speed added inflection to the narrator’s voice thereby making the narration more interesting.  That added inflection can turn many a plodding narrator into a peppy, interesting one.  The phenomenon is also discussed in the above mentioned article.

Another fascinating thing that occurs with speed listening is that your brain learns to accommodate higher and higher listening speeds as time goes by.  I could occasionally listen to White’s book at 1.5 times the normal rate.  The speed at which you can listen, however, varies with the complexity of the book.

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Largely because of Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s List, we are aware of Oskar Schindler’s heroic efforts  to save concentration camp Jews from death during World War II.  One of the existing lists of Jews working in Schindler’s factories will be auctioned soon.  The Guardian has the details plus a link to the auction site in case you want to put in a bid.  But beware, the list is expected to sell for over $2 million.

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Learn Better

We adults don’t learn as rapidly as we did when we were children.  So, is there a way to optimize the rate at which we learn?  In an Atlantic magazine interview author and  educator Ulrich Boser provides some learning strategies.

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Did you know that Danielle Steele has made a statement about the weather in the opening sentence of 46% of her novels? A Smithsonian article gives some interesting statistics about word usage and many other aspects of the novels of many well-known authors.  I’m not sure that the statistics form easily understood patterns, but they should be interesting to readers and would-be authors alike.

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Scientific Romance

Are you a science fiction fan?  Michael Dirda, book reviewer extraordinaire for The Washington Post, is, and in a recent article he reviewed two anthologies that feature early science fiction.

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“Watch your ps and qs,” is an old adage that probably began with typesetting.  When you look at a p or q while setting type, it is easy to confuse them because they are backward.  To that advice, one might now add, “Watch your Oxford commas.”  The Guardian relates a legal case where the lack of an Oxford comma made a difference in a court decision.

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The PBS Newshour occasionally features a segment called “The PBS Newshour Bookshelf”  In it, authors are interviewed about their books.  The subjects cover a wide range of topics, so you’re sure to find interviews that will interest you.

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