I frequently start at the back of a book and read a few pages near the end. I confess, that’s not a good strategy if the book concerned is a murder mystery, but it’s not a bad place to start with non-fiction, as you can get a pretty good idea of where the author has been heading through the inch or so of pages you currently hold in your hand.
A couple of publishers have started to include an ‘About the Book’ section, which I suppose is the literary equivalent of the bonus extras that you get on a DVD. It was in such a section that I came across Daniel Gilbert’s lovely notion of being a ‘spoondigger’.
In “Stumbling on Happiness”, Professor Gilbert describes the agonisingly slow process of putting words on paper. He recalls ‘long, rambling conversations’ with a friend in his student days. The friend had a talent for taking a helicopter view of their discussion and summing up the big picture in a highly articulate fashion. Gilbert argues that the work of a scientist doesn’t usually allow the luxury of zooming out to take in the bigger view. “Doing science is a bit like flying in an airplane over a vast landscape for an hour, and then landing the plane, getting out and digging in the dirt with a teaspoon for twenty years.” Writing the book was Gilbert’s way of flying overhead to get some sense of perspective.
Having spent the day spoondigging into statistics, I definitely feel the need to put down the teaspoon and take to the skies …