If you could read faster, would you?

Literature lessons from a bowl of chili

I approach reading books much like cooking a batch of homemade chili. Chili tastes best when you allow the flavors to build and gain complexity. Sure, you can churn and burn, but you’ll miss out on the meal’s potential, the character that develops only with time and care.

There will always be moments when you’re forced to settle for anything edible, with disregard for everything but convenience. I get that. Just, in those moments, don’t reach for chili.

I feel the same way about books, which is why I am a purposely slow reader. A methodical reader. A reader who will re-read the same paragraph three times if I think it contains cleverly concealed insight that needs careful examination before a deeper understanding will emerge from the text.

Most of my day-to-day life is spent in overdrive. Books represent a voluntary opportunity to change the pace and disappear into another world. I think that’s impossible to do if that world is blowing by at 600 words per minute.

Perhaps, therefore, my appreciation for detailed reading (or my disdain for superficial reading), led me to click on this headline today:

This insane new app will allow you to read novels in under 90 minutes

When I buy a book for my Kindle, I get a pretty good return on my investment, in terms of entertainment hours. If I borrow a book from the library, I’m usually good for multiple renewals before I return it. This new app, named Spritz, apparently seeks to relieve me of both of those qualities.

The technology is intriguing. You choose the pace, and the program displays the content one word at a time. The slower settings are like reading an electronic billboard. The fastest setting is like a literary strobe light. The rapid-fire nature is enough to leave you practically breathless after 30 seconds. I can’t fathom enjoying a novel read this way over the course of 90 minutes, nor am I sure there’s enough Advil to get me through the exercise. I am willing to give it a try in the future for the sake of edu-tainment, though I’ll probably have to shoot for a Dan Brown title rather than Dostoyevsky.

Spritz claims that when you are reading, only 20 percent of your time is spent processing content while the other 80 percent is occupied by moving your eyes from word to word and line to line. The app’s technology attempts to circumvent this by highlighting the “optimal recognition point” within each word to expedite your processing time. The Spritz website explains the approach more robustly.

Whether or not it works or works well, Spritz introduces a new offspring of the ancient debate: “Sure you CAN do it; but SHOULD you?”

That will likely boil down to personal preference. If you enjoy reading for pleasure, this technology may hold little interest for you. If you need a utilitarian solution for the rapid consumption of material, you may have a winner. Maybe Spritz will find a niche in helping people read the fine print of their 50-page mortgage application or the user manual for their new dishwasher.

More likely, Spritz will become useful for news consumption. I can see value in reading an entire newspaper in 10 minutes. I’ll also bet this technology will become the darling of college students worldwide. Countless undergrads hoping to tear through their required reading in record time will probably set the market. I could have used it for introduction to macroeconomics. Just don’t touch my Shakespeare.

Time will tell if this invention is merely a novelty or indeed a practical tool. I predict it will have staying power, at least in some segments. There are plenty of people who read only out of necessity.

When it comes to literature, however, I’d prefer this gadget stay out of my kitchen. I’ll take a slow simmer over fast food any day.

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A love letter to libraries, including the littlest lenders on the block

Books, like all knowledge, are meant to be shared

I’ve always embraced the belief that knowledge should be shared. Access to knowledge is requisite for our enlightenment as individuals and our advancement as a society. An ivory tower is about as beneficial as a silk paperweight.

I think my admiration for libraries is rooted in this notion. It really should be a source of national pride that Americans decided long ago that books are a resource so important that they must be made widely available to all people at no direct cost. Here, the written works of authors comprising every genre under the sun co-mingle and wait for an equally diverse clientele of community members to choose their next intellectual treat.

What other product or service do we treat quite like books? What other item in this world can one borrow from a nearly limitless supply with no obligation other than the promise to return it in three weeks time? The concept is a vestige of classic values, all the more valuable for its rarity.

A trip to the library is a family activity: academics, culture, entertainment and togetherness wrapped in one paperback package. I usually can’t escape our local library without the use of a bag or wheelbarrow for my kids’ selections, and that’s after reading two or three books right on the spot. You can’t manufacture that kind of enthusiasm, but you can cultivate it among children and adults.

It also helps to have a bit of whimsy, which was my immediate thought the first time I saw a Little Free Library®. Book exchanges and hand-me-down copies are nothing new, but something about that over-sized birdhouse of a library struck a chord. And once you notice one of them, you can’t help but spot them everywhere.

A Little Free Library® outside of a school in Greendale, Wis.

A Little Free Library® outside of a school in Greendale, Wis.

They carry an element of surprise. You never know what a given library will offer on a given day. It’s an ever-changing inventory sustained by generosity and caring for the common good. And no two libraries ever seem to look the same.

There is also some home-state pride here. Free Little Library® originated in Wisconsin through the creativity of Todd Bol of Hudson and Rick Brooks of Madison and has grown dramatically in four years. You can read their story at littlefreelibrary.org.

Most striking to me is their world map, which shows every registered Little Free Library® location. They blanket the country and have almost limitless capacity for growth.

Just a few blocks from where my family owned our very first house, in Milwaukee, Wis., a woman has a Little Free Library® in her front yard. HER FRONT YARD. In an era where people tend to be more open with strangers online than with live humans sharing the same sidewalk, this is a wonderful throwback to a simpler era. An open invitation to visit. A small touch that makes a row of houses feel like a neighborhood. A neighborhood like a community.

I love that there also is a Little Free Library® right outside the front door of my children’s school. I pass it most days and can’t help but peek at what’s inside. I wonder about who will be next to pick and book, and what stories they may have to tell. Which reminds me, I think I have a few books to share.