Questions for Dalrymple

One of the greatest writers living today

Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Gavin » 04 Jan 2012, 21:24

I do not say we will have a chance to ask, and have any questions answered, but nonetheless it might be worthwhile listing our questions for Dalrymple. Do you have any? I have a simple one first of all:

How fast does he read? He reads a lot, quite clearly. He has undoubtedly read hundreds of books. Personally I read slowly, and probably not as much as I should. There always seem to be other things I have to do, which deny me the luxury of reading. I read at about the same pace as I would speak. But some, I understand, read faster. Perhaps he's one of those.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Caleb » 05 Jan 2012, 04:24

Gavin: Also on the topic of reading, I'd like to know if there are any modern writers he appreciates, and if so, which ones.

On the topic of reading speed and your trouble with reading, I would offer the following from a recent experiment I've been trying. I have also experienced the same difficulties as you with reading, at least fiction. I think a lot of it probably comes from a formative period to some extent. In this regard, as a child, I could practically inhale non-fiction, and still do to some extent. Yet I never really got into the fiction bug. In grade six, all of my friends churned through Tolkien. I got through The Hobbit okay, but could only get part way into The Fellowship of the Ring. Ever since I have struggled with fiction (not helped by the woeful books we often read in school and the way they were taught), though I have experienced brief spurts in my adult life. I've tackled some big books, but they've been hard, even when I've enjoyed them. About a year ago, I finished War and Peace in three main stretches over about a six month period.

Anyway, here's something to consider. Average novels tend to be somewhere in the vicinity of three or four hundred pages. I've heard some people claim to read 50 pages per hour, but I've always seemed to average about 25-30. Thus, an average book should take 10-16 hours to read. At one hour per day, that's 1.5-2 weeks, approximately. So, in a year, a person should be able to read about 25-30 books.

Yet I've always found it really difficult just to consistently do one hour of reading per day (I actually probably do at least a couple per day of general reading of blogs, articles, etc. online, but I'm talking about novels here) because there have always been too many distractions. Even worse, I have usually found myself too tired to really concentrate fully on anything that isn't light reading.

Here's how it relates to the experiment I am running. It's actually more like a lifestyle change. I don't know if you're familiar with the 10,000 hour concept as made famous by Malcolm Gladwell (look it up if you aren't), but a friend put me onto this blog:

http://thedanplan.com/theplan.php

In the first paragraph of that page, there's a link to a research paper on "deliberate practice", which can be found here:

http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/EricssonDeliberatePracticePR93.pdf

It's an interesting article and well worth reading. There were a few really interesting points. The first was that elite performers in any field tend to have accumulated about 7,000 hours by the time they're around eighteen, and then they hit their 10,000 hours in their early twenties. For us mere mortals, there were two relevant points still.

People people engaged in intellectual activities at an elite level (it talks about professional classical musicians, writers and scientists) basically do their most productive work as the first major activity in the day. It's a bit different for other disciplines such as particular sports and also chess, if I remember correctly.

The second was that a fundamental part of deliberate practice is adequate rest.

Over the past few years, I've really been struggling with the idea that I simply don't know enough about Western culture. Yet, as detailed above, I've struggled to consistently and systematically tackle that.

So, using the ideas of that research paper on deliberate practice, I've made reading a priority in my life. Because of the nature of my job (which is probably true for you also), I can't just take two hours at the start of the working day to pursue my own interests. So, now I get up every morning at 5am (which wasn't as hard as it might sound, though of course, I also try to be in bed by 9pm now) and read for up to two hours before I get ready for work and go to work. I've been doing this for about a month or so now and the effect has been amazing. Before, if I tried to read anything heavy in the middle of the day or evening, I would literally begin to doze off; now I feel really, really sharp and my mind is also unclutered and unstressed by the day's events at that point.

I've set myself the task of reading the Western canon (which is open-ended, I know, but certain core books do seem to appear regularly on any lists on the topic) within ten years. Over the past couple of weeks I've been reading non-fiction because a friend sent me some non-fiction stuff and my Kindle also malfunctioned, so I need a replacement, but I'm finding the process not particularly difficult, though I would say that it's not easy either, but that's okay. Things need not be easy, I'm just trying to remove certain biological and environmental limits to the process. Even based on one hour per day, I should get through at least 250 books in a decade. So you see, when you look at someone such as Theodore Dalrymple and think it's extraordinary that he may have read hundreds of books (in 40 years he could have read 1,000 easily), it's actually not really, and a person doesn't have to be a fast reader. All that is required is a certain commitment to the process, with lifestyle changes as necessary. For instance, I suspect he probably doesn't have a TV and probably doesn't spend much time online.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Gavin » 05 Jan 2012, 21:02

Hi Caleb. Yes, I wouldn't really say I have trouble with reading, I just read at about the same speed I would speak. I suppose I kind of read it aloud in my mind! I imagine many people read like this, but some can apply techniques to speed up their intake. Indeed there are even books that teach this. I remember one from my youth, and here it is. I suppose I should have read it ;) If I am looking for specific content, I can parse text fast, but if not I take my time.

It sounds like you are reading with some discipline now! I must try to do the same. I'm currently reading several books, including Atlas Shrugged (I think TD took a dim view of this but I'll see what I think). I do also dip into the Wikipedia a great deal (though I am aware, of course, that it is less reliable on social topics). Finally, I could not agree more that television is a thief of time. Fortunately, most of the programmes are not worth watching, which is why I don't have a TV licence (this has the added benefit of not funding the BBC's political correctness). Life is certainly about balancing one's time.

Regarding your question to Dalrymple (to keep this right on topic), he seems to quite like Mark Steyn. You can sometimes see who he likes from the book reviews he writes. I think he quite likes Peter Hitchens and possibly Melanie Phillips too. Though of course one hardly finds anyone with whom one entirely agrees.

I look forward to hearing what others would ask Dalrymple.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Rachel » 05 Jan 2012, 23:08

I also wonder what he thinks of Peter Hitchens. I suppose I'ed ask that.

I would ask:

Even though you haven't had a television for years, Was there ever any program you enjoyed watching as a young adult or child?


You never visited any Middle Eastern countires on all your travels - Why was that?
(I live in Israel so that interests me.)
Perhaps I'ed also ask him if he would ever be interested in visiting Israel or any other country in that region.

I know he does not believe in M.E (that's one of his medical points I disagree with him on) so I'ed ask if he believes in Gulf War Syndrome.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Caleb » 06 Jan 2012, 01:47

Gavin: Do you have a link to where TD discusses why he doesn't like Atlas Shrugged? I also think it's a terrible book, much to the chagrin of those people I know inclined towards libertarianism.

I'd be interested to know what TD thinks of modern fiction writers such as Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace or Tom Wolfe. Also, what he thinks of the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

Other questions:

Which modern society does he think is in the most robust shape, and why? It doesn't have to be a Western society, though if his answer isn't a Western society, I'd then like to ask him which Western society he thinks qualifies as the most robust Western society.

What should Britain's geo-political role be in the modern world?

How does he regard the relative decline of Western geopolitical power generally, especially in light of the growing power of nations such as China?
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Gavin » 06 Jan 2012, 21:50

Caleb, see Clinton and Steve's site here for this - it looks like the article is now behind a "paywall" though.

By the way, I read very little - almost no - fiction now. Mostly history, definitions, biographies, that kind of thing. I keep up with a fair few current affairs blogs via RSS too. I'd like to read more fiction, but it seems like a luxury I can rarely afford time-wise at the moment. Hence I listen to the radio a lot while doing other things (spoken books can be good for this too).
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Damo » 07 Jan 2012, 14:03

I would like to ask Mr Dalrymple:

What does he think of social media outlets like twitter and facebook and the people that use them?

Why do so many people put their faith in politicians and their policies?
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Caleb » 09 Jan 2012, 01:42

Gavin: Thanks.

Damo: That first one is a great question! In fact, I'm going to start a new thread on that.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Mike » 10 Jan 2012, 22:47

I've often wondered what his view is on the rise of China, since he seems oddly reticent on that topic. Does he feel that the economic boom there can continue apace without greater personal freedom? Does he think China can ever, in the medium term, be reinvented as a (quasi-)democratic state?

China and its rise have always interested me, but especially now that I've been there a few times. The system of government currently in operation could probably best be described as soft fascism masquerading as communism, but (in my view) there's an interesting paradox at the heart of their current situation: the exact same Confucian values that Mao was trying to crush during the Cultural Revolution (and before) are now, ironically, helping to keep social unrest there within bounds, becuase the majority of the population (the urban population, at least) seems to be quite happy to be at last obtaining due reward for devotion to work and family, and doesn't mind too much about the still considerable lack of personal freedom in some spheres of life.

That, at least, has been my impression, but it may be a false one.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Jonathan » 16 Jan 2012, 12:55

Mike wrote:I've often wondered what his view is on the rise of China, since he seems oddly reticent on that topic.


I would guess that perhaps he just doesn't know all that much about China, and is aware of his limits.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Elliott » 16 Jan 2012, 17:14

Does he have any children?

Does he have any favourite books?

What does he think of UKIP?

Does he think the underclass will eventually swallow our entire culture, or is there a future for the middle-class?

Would he prefer to have been born 100 years earlier?
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Gavin » 16 Jan 2012, 22:39

I'm going to have a go at answering these:

1) No. I wondered the same thing after a while and Clinton and Steve confirmed he does not.

2) I recall he has a liking for the plays of Chekhov and he also likes Dr Johnson. Beyond this he seems to like a lot of books.

3) Not sure (but personally I think all these small conservative parties need to sit down and unite themselves).

4) Good one, not sure. Hard to judge on current data, I think.

5) Good one, again. I think probably not. Although society is in a sorry and precarious state now, the advance of medical understanding and technology have made life more comfortable. He'd also be about to go through two world wars!

Let's hope we one day get a chance to ask these...
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Caleb » 17 Jan 2012, 01:09

I personally don't think the rise of China is a good thing at all, though admittedly, I am biased living in Taiwan. I think it's highly unlikely that China is going to become democratic any time soon. As such, both by example and soft power, in the best case scenario, it's going to offer a credible example of non-democratic economic improvement to countries all around the world. It will also continue offer open support for other oppressive regimes for economic reasons. Whilst I don't think Western (particularly American) foreign policy is the be all and end all, certain regimes around the world would almost certainly have collapsed by now if it weren't for Chinese support. In the worst case scenario, if the wheels come off Chinese growth at any point, there's the real potential for massive political and military instability in Asia, if not on a worldwide scale.
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Damo » 08 Mar 2012, 21:59

I would like to know what his views are on conspiracy theorists.

It seems to me that conspiracy theories are a pound to the penny these days. What do people get out of them; what is the 'psychology' that drives them on?
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Re: Questions for Dalrymple

Postby Michael » 08 Mar 2012, 22:10

I would like to know what his views are on conspiracy theorists.

It seems to me that conspiracy theories are a pound to the penny these days. What do people get out of them; what is the 'psychology' that drives them on?


Related to Damo's question, I would like to ask Dalrymple to what extent he believes modern political commitments are driven by a personal search for significance and meaning rather than a genuine concern for the issue.
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