The other day I heard a psychologist say that if you don’t doze off within the first half an hour after going to bed, don’t lie awake struggling to fall asleep. Instead get out of bed and read until you feel tired. My sister tried this, but would then stay up half the night reading. Her doctor advised her to stay in bed, keep the lights off and not be so impatient. I suppose, that if you do read, the trick is to find a book that is not very engaging– something where you don’t really care what’s going to happen next. Fon Boardman Jr. from the Columbia University Press, polled librarians, editors, authors, reviewers, and teachers and their consensus was that the world’s most boring author was George Eliot, so you might want to try reading Silas Marner. It certainly put me to sleep during sophomore English. One of my classmates referred to it as “Silly-Ass” Marner.
But without Mr. Boardman’s help, how could you find such a book? Most libraries classify their holdings using either the Dewey Decimal System or its rival the Library of Congress Classification. Both systems organize knowledge into major classes and subdivides them into divisions and sections. The Dewey System is purely numerical and assigns a decimal number to each book and can easily accommodate an infinite number of works. The Library of Congress System is an alpha-numeric mix with letters signifying the main divisions and double letters indicating subcategories. I can still remember that BF is the designation for psychology, but only because B.F. were the initials of arguably the most famous of American psychologists, Burrhus Frederick (B.F.) Skinner.
Because they are based on categories of human knowledge, neither of these systems, can help you locate written works that are appropriate for specific circumstances like trying to fall asleep. In addition to falling asleep there are also a variety of other situations and venues which might call for customized reading materials.
To remedy this problem, I’d like to proposed a new classification system based on the demands of the setting– the “Situation, Time, And Whatever, Analytic Reading System or the STAWAR system.
Instead of subject matter; such as science, literature, or philosophy; the STAWAR system employs other important attributes of reading material such as how boring or engaging the material is, its physical features (weight, size, appearance) and dimensions such as granularity. A blogger, named Pont, defined granularity as the “size of the semantic chunks of a work”. For example A dictionary or trivia book would have high granularity, a short story collection medium, and a Victor Hugo novel very little.
Below are a few proposed category descriptions from the STAWAR system:
AP (Airplane): Airplane reading material should be lightweight and easily tucked into a pocket or carry on bag. Since the seats are narrow, newspapers are not recommended unless you are angling to become intimate with your seat mates. Indigenous reading materials such as the In-Flight Magazine, weird catalogue, safety card, and barf cannot be relied upon for entertainment. This material should be moderately engaging as to distract your attention from strange engine noises and peanut crunching fellow passengers. Granularity should be based on the length of the flight or numbers of layovers. Excluded from this class are FAA safety reports and any stories regarding crash landings in the Andes or incipient cannibalism.
BB (Barber/Beauty Shop): In these settings there is often a gender divide in reading materials between sports magazines and newspapers vs. beauty and fashion publications. If you bring your own reading material to the barbershop, it should not be too pretentious or you run the risk of social humiliation. In college I made the mistake of bringing a textbook from a class on the psychology of learning to the barber shop. It was entitled “Principles of Reinforcement”. The fellow sitting next to me noticed what I was reading. I suddenly realized my mistake and prepared for the inevitable teasing. I was granted a reprieve when he looked at the title and just said, “Oh you’re studying construction.” Thankfully construction work was sufficiently testosterone drenched in a way that psychology couldn’t be.
BE (Beach): Beach reading is usually light guilty pleasures. The books themselves should usually be inexpensive since they will be exposed to water, sand, and suntan lotion. Low reflectivity is a plus. Occasionally larger volumes can be usefully employed. Although lugging them onto the beach can be a chore, they are serviceable as a makeshift pillow if you wrap a towel around them.
CA (Car): Talking on cell phones or texting while driving as been found to be quite distracting and dangerous. Reading, while driving, certainly must be just as bad if not worse. I once knew a woman who read while driving. She always kept a paperback on the front seat of her car, but to her credit she only read when the car was stopped at traffic lights or train crossings. I’m not aware that she ever had an accident, but other drivers were constantly honking their horns at her, as she would try to finish a paragraph before taking off. She said she preferred books with short chapters.
Reading in vehicles can be a difficult task even for passengers. Our kids always read in the car, but my wife Diane gets car sick. I believe that books with large type are best for car reading and can help reduce potential nausea, unless they are by Danielle Steel.
CH (Church): Except for church bulletins, hymnals, Bibles, and collection envelope doodles, reading in church, like cell phone use is seen as socially inappropriate by most Americans. For iconoclasts, who still insist on reading in church, the materials should either resemble or be easily inserted into an indigenous publications. Content should be serious enough so that facial expressions are not revealing. Laugh-out-loud and irreverent materials should be scrupulously avoided during the sermon.
Finally specialized reading materials could be identified for a variety of other venues such as doctors’ offices, courts, work, classrooms, and laundromats. In retrospect, I am afraid to speculate in what setting this piece might best be read.