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new book – ‘The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and the World’ by Robert P. Waxler

September 22, 2014

The Risk of Reading
The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and the World by Robert P. Waxler (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

The Risk of Reading is a defense of the idea that deep and close readings of literature can help us to understand ourselves and the world around us. It explores some of the meaning and implications of modern life through the deep reading of significant books. Waxler argues that we need “fiction” to give our so-called “real life” meaning and that reading narrative fiction remains crucial to the making of a humane and democratic society.

Beginning by exploring the implications of thinking about the importance of story in terms of “real life”, The Risk of Reading focuses on the importance of human language, especially language shaped into narrative, and how that language is central to the human quest for identity. Waxler argues that we are “linguistic beings,” and that reading literary narrative is a significant way to enrich and preserve the traditional sense of human identity and knowledge. This is especially true in the midst of a culture which too often celebrates visual images, spectacle, electronic devices, and celebrity. Reading narrative, in other words, should be considered a counter-cultural activity crucial on the quest to “know thyself.” Reading literature is one of the best opportunities we have today to maintain a coherent human identity and remain self-reflective individuals in a world that seems particularly chaotic and confusing.

Each chapter takes up a well-known work of nineteenth- or twentieth-century literature in order to discuss more fully these issues, exploring, in particular, the notion of life as a journey or quest and the crucial relationship between language and our contingent everyday existence. Of particular interest along the way is the question of what literary narrative can teach us about our mortality and how stories offer opportunities to reflect on the ambivalent and profound meaning of mortal knowledge.

Comments (1) - language,new books,reading

new book – ‘What We See When We Read’ by Peter Mendelsund

August 5, 2014

What We See When We Read

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund (Vintage, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading—how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.

What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? The collection of fragmented images on a page—a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so—and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved—or reviled—literary figures. In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf’s Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature—he considers himself first and foremost as a reader—into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s blog

Comments (0) - new books,reading

new book – ‘7 Modes of Uncertainty’ by C. Namwali Serpell

April 1, 2014

7 Modes of Uncertainty

Seven Modes of Uncertainty by C. Namwali Serpell (Harvard University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Literature is rife with uncertainty. Literature is good for us. These two ideas about reading literature are often taken for granted. But what is the relationship between literature’s capacity to unsettle, perplex, and bewilder us, and literature’s ethical value? To revive this question, C. Namwali Serpell proposes a return to William Empson’s groundbreaking work, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), which contends that literary uncertainty is crucial to ethics because it pushes us beyond the limits of our own experience.

Taking as case studies experimental novels by Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis, Ian McEwan, Elliot Perlman, Tom McCarthy, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Serpell suggests that literary uncertainty emerges from the reader’s shifting responses to structures of conflicting information. A number of these novels employ a structure of mutual exclusion, which presents opposed explanations for the same events. Some use a structure of multiplicity, which presents different perspectives regarding events or characters. The structure of repetition in other texts destabilizes the continuity of events and frustrates our ability to follow the story.

To explain how these structures produce uncertainty, Serpell borrows from cognitive psychology the concept of affordance, which describes an object’s or environment’s potential uses. Moving through these narrative structures affords various ongoing modes of uncertainty, which in turn afford ethical experiences both positive and negative. At the crossroads of recent critical turns to literary form, reading practices, and ethics, Seven Modes of Uncertainty offers a new phenomenology of how we read uncertainty now.

Comments (0) - cognitive science,culture,new books,reading

new book – ‘The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm: The Reader as Metaphor’ by Alberto Manguel

July 25, 2013

The Traveler, the Tower and the Worm

The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm: The Reader as Metaphor (Material Texts) by Alberto Manguel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)
 
(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

 

As far as one can tell, human beings are the only species for which the world seems made up of stories, Alberto Manguel writes. We read the book of the world in many guises: we may be travelers, advancing through its pages like pilgrims heading toward enlightenment. We may be recluses, withdrawing through our reading into our own ivory towers. Or we may devour our books like burrowing worms, not to benefit from the wisdom they contain but merely to stuff ourselves with countless words.

With consummate grace and extraordinary breadth, the best-selling author of A History of Reading and The Library at Night considers the chain of metaphors that have described readers and their relationships to the text-that-is-the-world over a span of four millennia. In figures as familiar and diverse as the book-addled Don Quixote and the pilgrim Dante who carries us through the depths of hell up to the brilliance of heaven, as well as Prince Hamlet paralyzed by his learning, and Emma Bovary who mistakes what she has read for the life she might one day lead, Manguel charts the ways in which literary characters and their interpretations reflect both shifting attitudes toward readers and reading, and certain recurrent notions on the role of the intellectual: “We are reading creatures. We ingest words, we are made of words. . . . It is through words that we identify our reality and by means of words that we ourselves are identified.”

See also: Author’s website

Comments (0) - new books,reading

new book – ‘How Literature Saved My Life’ by David Shields

February 5, 2013

How Literature Saved My Life

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields (Knopf, 2013)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, and painfully funny book, acclaimed writer David Shields uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature.

Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature (from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Renata Adler’s Speedboat to Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past) to make life survivable, maybe even endurable. Shields evokes his deeply divided personality (his “ridiculous” ambivalence), his character flaws, his woes, his serious despairs. Books are his life, but when they come to feel unlifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness and self-consciousness–perfect, since so much of what ails him is acute self-consciousness. And he shares with us a final irony: he wants “literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this–which is what makes it essential.”

A captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

Comments (0) - culture,new books,reading