Being an alert reader requires a lot of work

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

With so much in print these days, a person really has to apply oneself to be considered well read. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters and journals compete with a huge volume of educational non-fiction books and insightful novels. Not to mention the Internet. There aren't enough hours in the day to read it nor enough brain cells to absorb it. We have to be selective.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at

What should a modern information seeker, your basic alert reader, read? Well, for general, keep-you-out-of-jail knowledge, the local newspaper works well. If you don't have time to read the news, hit the news commentary, the police blotter, foreclosures, legal notices and the ads to give you the basics. For useful health and safety stuff like tide tables, street maps, who to call for all manner of emergencies and the telephone prefix for Pump Station No. 7, try the front sections of the phone book.

To command the intellectual respect of your coworkers at break time, you need to dig a little deeper into reports of current events for insight into the human condition. I clipped an item from a recent Sunday's paper on new technology to make clothing out of plastic optical fibers that you can download images and text onto. I'll carry the clipping around for a few weeks in case I need a meaty tidbit of information to share. To be able to contribute to discussions on national politics, always read Doonesbury.

I ran into a gold mine recently in The World Almanac and Book of Facts, a must-have reference book. I was looking in my 2001 edition for the name of the island in the Caribbean that was covered by lava a few years ago, wondering if there might still be hot real estate deals. I found Montserrat, but forgot all about going to look up Realtors on the Internet when I discovered that the global version of the Euro is the chicken. Who knew? The Almanac compares the economies of dozens of countries in terms of common commodities. The most common commodity is chickens. Liberia has 3 1/2 million, Fiji nearly 4 million, Iran claims 230 million and Vanuatu reportedly hosts 320,000. It's nice to have a quick, easy and uniform way to evaluate the wealth of the nations of the world. I realize I'll need to keep current on those numbers, so will rush out and get the 2002 edition.

The Almanac gives tons of other useful information such as the birth dates and places of noted personalities and entertainers. It also lists top news stories of the year, but that would take a lot of time to read. It's really worth getting this book every year, I just wish it were pocket size so I could carry it with me more easily.

If you're ever stuck in a waiting room for long periods of time, use that time wisely by reading all the magazines. They may be old, but they're chock full of interesting reports and commentary. If you're trolling for jokes in the Readers Digest, the older the issue the better. People will have forgotten them. I pick up medical information by reading the posters and charts in doctors' office exam rooms. Always take your reading glasses in with you, even when they say the doctor will be right in.

What to read and how thoroughly to read it is always a tough call. You never know what situation you'll be in and what information you'll need at your fingertips. You may be stuck in an elevator with a botany professor or sharing a taxi with a sports professional. An alert visitor summed it up well last summer, "You can never know too much." I agree and would be interested to learn, if an alert reader happens to know, what it would cost to raise chickens on Montserrat.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at

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