039_14080~Get-SmartAnother letter, now from a student in my CCAD class

Uh, Artie?

My name is [Student ID 00006XXXX].

During tonight's Marketing class, I thought of some questions not about the course.

Just curious: what do you do and how you do it? How do you know so much? Do a lot of research? How much time will you suggest a student to spend on reading/researching?

I was born in America but moved to [a distant land] and then moved back for College. And so I spend most of my time studying for exams, but not really being knowledgeable. Any suggestions?

I hope my questions don't sound impolite, and won't cause any inconveniences.

Thank you, you make an evening class exciting.

[Student ID 00006XXXX]

Dear [Student ID 00006XXXX],

Your questions are not impolite. They are music to my ears. There are many motivations for teaching, but there is something especially delightful about appearing smart — only because I've seen more road than most students.

Stuart Handelman Answers Your Question
I once worked with an art director named Stuart Handelman. Stuart was a hard-working, tasteful fellow. (An endearing trait: he'd always stay at his desk at lunch, eating Saltines with peanut butter on them.)

Stuart was especially fond of an advertisement that he'd seen for The New York Times. Designed to drive a target audience (people who are looking for jobs) to a behavior (using the job listings in the Times), it said, "Get your job in The New York Times."

Stuart would say, "Every job I have ever had, I got in The New York Times, but not through the classified. I got my jobs by being informed about the world, which I do by reading The New York Times every day."

I was already reading the Times, because it helped me to understand my adopted home of New York City. But Stuart's words made me understand the larger, longer-lasting value of reading the Times: it would help me be informed about the world.

How To Read A Newspaper
Some folks say, "I don't have time to read a newspaper."

To them, I say, "Piffle. Do you have time to watch television? Yes? Well, do yourself a favor and turn it off and read the newspaper."

I don't read fast enough to read the entire Times word for word. So, here's how I read it in 20 pleasant minutes:

  • I read the headlines, photo captions and first paragraphs of all items on the front page, the editorial page, and the op-ed (the page opposite the editorial page). I read more of each article only if I'm interested.
  • I read the headlines and photo captions throughout the paper.
  • I quickly scan all the letters to the editor and the obituaries. Living and dead people — who are in the newspaper by the mistake of writing a letter or dying — are often very interesting.  
  • I read one or two articles inside the paper that are interesting to me.
  • I don't punish myself for leaving the rest of the paper unread. I got my $1.25 worth. I'm happy. I move on.

By reading the paper this way, I learn about the topics that are near and dear to me. Of course, I study the topics in which I have a keen interest:
obituaries, public opinion, the economy, certain arts, Israel, the
daily life of the president. (I really love stories that provide the
detail of how our president — the current one at any time — goes about
each day. The Mundane Of The Mighty is so fascinating.)

And I also learn — and here's the real answer to your question — all about topics that are surprisingly interesting to me. Odd stories of odd ambitions, odd achievements, odd discoveries.

In the end, I have a fun and — to you, at least, my dear — entertaining reservoir of tales and metaphors.

But Newspapers Are Expensive
And they aren't environmentally healthy.

So I go to my hometown library — or any library that I am passing during the day — to read the Times. I don't get there every day. But I try to pass by — and drop in.

Reading at the library has an unexpected benefit. I bump into people I like. (I generally like people who visit libraries.) Like my tenth grade English teacher. He's a great guy and I see him — and chat with him — far more frequently now because we often visit the library at the same time. That's nice!

Catch Them While You Can
Your opportunity to read the newspaper is quickly ending.

I don't think there will be more than three newspapers in the United States in three years.

More's the pity. As Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opines in a piece called "The Daily Me" this week, we'll quickly turn into a nation of people who read only what we want, rather than people who happen upon the unexpected. We'll become narrower rather than more open-minded.

In The End
You ask how much time should one spend "reading" or "researching." Frankly, if you have to ask, then those activities must not sound like much fun. To you, R+R might seem only like the means to an end. They sound like work — which is something to avoid when one isn't actually at work. (Lest one becomes nothing more than a working stiff.)

If you are simply interested in the subject, however, reading and researching become the fulfillment of your natural curiosity.

So I recommend a daily dose of the Times, as a daily shopping trip through potential topics in which you have a natural curiosity. Then, as you find topics you love, reading and researching them won't merely be an investment in future knowledge. It will be a joy.