Reading. Fake news. And Donald Trump.

Reading is often recommended as a good pastime and a way to widen one’s mind. Sadly, though, today’s world is so filled with other alternative forms of recreation that people rarely have the opportunity to pick up a book and spend a couple of hours devouring its contents.

What we have plenty of, we take for granted. In earlier centuries, reading was confined to a priestly elite, with the rest of the laity deprived of even the skill of recognising letters. This was due in part to the cost of book-making. Early books were made of leather and parchment. They were sewn by hand and the words copied manually by meticulous scribes. Hence, owning a book was beyond the means of all ordinary folks.

In the past, unscrupulous political and religious leaders made use of the ability to read, or the lack of it, as a short leash with which they tyrannised the masses. Those who took up reading were punished, most times with execution, for fear that they might actually start thinking for themselves and expose some shortcoming of the governmental powers.

Latterly, comes about a problem of fake information being disseminated virally, misleading and misinforming the masses. Questions about Facebook’s role in spreading fake news were raised almost as soon as Trump shocked the world with his victory. BuzzFeed and other news sites began publishing reports about how a small town in Macedonia turned fake election news into a cottage industry.

It appears the authors of the fake news reports had no partisan agenda. They were just in it for the money. One creator claimed he could make US$10,000 per week in ad revenue from stories that were shared among Trump supporters.

US$10,000. Think about that!

Not to mention, during the campaigning with all the noises around, it’s not too difficult to get bits and pieces of truth, concocting all into something believable and official.

With no direct censorship or any authorities answerable to, this is very good money. Maximum benefits with minimum effort. Simply send it out, watch the numbers grow and count the advertising revenue increasing at an exponential rate.

BooksAvenue started as a site to garner all book lovers to come together, sharing interesting articles, videos and titles. And in the recent years, we have also started a forum with humble intentions to provide an avenue for the reading community to do book swaps and other related interests.

Although the team behind BooksAvenue are a group of non-US citizens (Singaporeans here), we do follow the recent US elections with great concerns and zest. Whether it fake news got a role in tilting the odds in favour of Trump, it is not important anymore.

What more important are 2 things of greater importance; political stability and economic progress. Not just for US or Singapore, but in terms of the regional and global context. We would be happy to elaborate more, but perhaps in another post in another day.

Peace.

 

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Books – more is often less and less is more

It is better to choose a small number of good books by good authors and study them intently, than to flit from book to book

When I was younger, I was keen on chess. I took it very seriously and was always looking to improve my game.

Being of a bookish disposition, I surrounded myself with chess books.

Books on openings, books on tactics, books on strategy, books on endgames, books about great players and their games, books on chess psychology.

Soon, I had so many books and spent so much time dipping first into one and then into another, that I ceased to learn anything of any real value from them.

Eventually, I realised that it is better to thoroughly digest the contents of one or two carefully chosen volumes than it is to romp through an entire bookshelf.

I learnt that, as far as books are concerned, more is often less and less is often more.

TOO MANY AUTHORS

In recent weeks, I have been slowly but steadily acquainting myself with the Moral Letters To Lucilius, a collection of letters by the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, ostensibly written to a younger friend.

In his second letter, entitled On Discursiveness In Reading, Seneca warns against reading too many books by too many authors.

He writes: “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.

“Everywhere means nowhere.”

That certainly rings true in my experience.

I suppose that if you are reading purely for pleasure, there can be no harm in reading as widely and as superficially as you like.

I realised that it is better to thoroughly digest the contents of one or two carefully chosen volumes than it is to romp through an entire bookshelf. I learnt that, as far as books are concerned, more is often less and less is often more.

But if you are reading because you want to increase your learning or to improve your understanding, then you have to adopt a more disciplined approach.

You have to resist the temptation to flit from book to book, like a butterfly among flowers in the meadows. You have to choose a small number of good books by good authors and study them intently.

Seneca writes: “When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.”

Of course, this is far more demanding – and not nearly so much fun as skipping from one book to another.

But when you have a serious purpose in your reading, there is no alternative but to adopt a serious attitude.

Seneca adds: “But, you reply, I wish to dip first into one book and then into another.

“I tell you that it is the sign of an over-nice appetite to toy with many dishes; for when they are manifold and varied, they cloy but do not nourish.”

AN UNCEASING STREAM

Seneca was writing in the first century AD, more than 1,000 years before the invention of the printing press and way before the advent of the Internet.

So if what he said was valid back then, how much more valid is it now?

Today, on our computers and smartphones, we have access to a never-ending stream of words.

Millions and millions of new ones every day, many of them hastily written and ill thought-out.

It is fun and easy to dip into that stream. But if we want to learn anything of real and lasting value, we need to step outside the stream and explore stiller, deeper waters.

•Gary Hayden is a philosophy and science writer. His new book, Walking With Plato, is out at major bookshops here.

 

Taken from: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/living-books-more-is-often-less-and-less-is-more