IVP - Addenda & Errata - Consider the Paragliders of the Air

July 6, 2011

Consider the Paragliders of the Air

For several years I ran a mountain trail that starts and ends in a grassy field where paragliders land. As I finished my run, I exited the trailhead and ran across that field to my car. But I quickly learned to look up, making sure I was not getting in the way of a paraglider about to land.

And this, for obvious reasons, leads me to speak of books and reading.

Some readers are paragliders. Chances are you occasionally paraglide into a book. That is, you don’t begin at the beginning but you drop in at a point you think might be interesting. Some books invite this kind of reading. IVP’s Spectrum, or multiview, books are a good example of this. You might not find yourself attracted first to View One or View Two, but View Three sounds like just your thing, and so you begin your reading there. Then you read the responses to that view. And if they sound interesting, you might read the primary essays of the most intriguing responses. In other kinds of books, with a sustained argument, you are looking for other points of orientation as you land on a patch of text.

If you’re an author, even if you’re hardcore linear and think paragliding is an irresponsible reading habit, there’s really not much point in trying to foil drop-in readers. They might in fact read the entire book if they like the cut of your landing field. Besides, if they bought the book, they rightly feel they can read it however they want. (This is the way I responded to Richard Hays’s just plea that his readers not just turn to the chapters on ethical issues at the back of The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Well, give me an updraft. I couldn’t resist!) When writing or editing a book, it’s always worth asking how you might accommodate those who paraglide into the text.

What can you do?

Refer back to previous points in the book on which your present argument depends. But try to avoid a pedantic tone when you do so.

Use clear chapter titles and subheads as clues to orient drop-in readers. Cute titles might be fun, but I’m thinking of a particular book in which the clever chapter titles utterly frustrate drop-in reading. And it’s a book that many readers will want to consult rather than read in its entirety.

Occasionally offer brief reviews of how the argument has proceeded so far. You might do this near the beginning of a chapter or at a point that marks a crucial turn in your argument.

Include summaries at the end of chapters. This is one of the least obtrusive and most effective places to offer assistance to your drop-in readers, and it can provide a segue to the next chapter for your linear readers. Practiced paragliders know to look here.

A well-constructed index, of course, is a virtual GPS for paragliding readers. If you are an author, the task of indexing comes at the point when you’re likely to be least engaged with your book. But if you think of it as an opportunity to display the hidden treasures of your book and point to connections that might otherwise be missed, you just might discover some new energy for your labor.

There are other strategies of course, but these are a start. And maybe some of you paragliders have pet peeves you’d like to share. (And if you paraglided into this blog and are confused, start at the beginning.)

Posted by Dan Reid at July 6, 2011 1:28 PM Bookmark and Share

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