Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of paper and discs, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians! They want to help. They’re not selling a thing. And librarians know best how to beat a path through the googolplex sources of information available to us, writes Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book, The Dead Beat, breathed merry life into the obituary-writing profession.
This Book Is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the clichés and stereotyping of librarians. Blunt and obscenely funny bloggers spill their stories in these pages, as do a tattooed, hard-partying children’s librarian; a fresh-scrubbed Catholic couple who teach missionaries to use computers; a blue-haired radical who uses her smartphone to help guide street protestors; a plethora of voluptuous avatars and cybrarians; the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI; and a boxing archivist. These are just a few of the visionaries Johnson captures here, pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.
Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us—neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled—can get along without human help. And not just any help—we need librarians, who won’t charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age?
A renowned cognitive neuroscientist’s fascinating and highly informative account of how the brain acquires reading
How can a few black marks on a white page evoke an entire universe of sounds and meanings? In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene provides an accessible account of the brain circuitry of reading and explores what he calls the “reading paradox”: Our cortex is the product of millions of years of evolution in a world without writing, so how did it adapt to recognize words? Reading in the Brain describes pioneering research on how we process language, revealing the hidden logic of spelling and the existence of powerful unconscious mechanisms for decoding words of any size, case, or font.
Dehaene’s research will fascinate not only readers interested in science and culture, but also educators concerned with debates on how we learn to read, and who wrestle with pathologies such as dyslexia. Like Steven Pinker, Dehaene argues that the mind is not a blank slate: Writing systems across all cultures rely on the same brain circuits, and reading is only possible insofar as it fits within the limits of a primate brain. Setting cutting-edge science in the context of cultural debate, Reading in the Brain is an unparalleled guide to a uniquely human ability.
The invention of writing was one of the most important technological, cultural, and sociological breakthroughs in human history. With the printed book, information and ideas could disseminate more widely and effectively than ever before—and in some cases, affect and redirect the sway of history. Today, nearly one million books are published each year. But is the era of the book as we know it—a codex of bound pages—coming to an end? And if it is, should we celebrate its demise and the creation of a democratic digital future, or mourn an irreplaceable loss? The digital age is revolutionizing the information landscape. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexandria, making available millions of texts for a curious reader at the click of a button, and electronic book sales are growing exponentially. Will this revolution in the delivery of information and entertainment make for more transparent and far-reaching dissemination or create a monopolistic stranglehold?
In The Case for Books, Robert Darnton, an intellectual pioneer in the field of the history of the book and director of Harvard University’s Library, offers an in-depth examination of the book from its earliest beginnings to its shifting role today in popular culture, commerce, and the academy. As an author, editorial advisor, and publishing entrepreneur, Darnton is a unique authority on the life and role of the book in society. This book is a wise work of scholarship—one that requires readers to carefully consider how the digital revolution will broadly affect the marketplace of ideas.
The shadow life of reading begins even while we have the book in hand—begins as soon as we move from the first sentence to the second and start up a memory context. The creation and perpetuation of this context requires that we make a cognitive space, or “open a file,” as it were. Here is the power, the seductiveness of the act: When we read, we create and then occupy a hitherto nonexistent interior locale. Regardless of what happens on the page, the simple fact that we have cleared room for these peculiar figments we now preside over gives us a feeling of freedom and control. No less exalting is the sensation of inner and outer worlds coinciding, going on simultaneously, or very nearly so. … The book is there, waiting, like one of those rare dreams that I half-awaken from and then reenter. Knowing that I have the option of return, this figurative space within the literal space I occupy, changes my relation to that literal space. I am still contained in the world, but I don’t feel trapped in it. Reading creates an imaginary context which then becomes a place of rescue.
In The Polysyllabic Spree, p 124-125, Nick Hornby is commenting on ‘So Many Books’ by Gabriel Zaid: “Zaid’s finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that ‘the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.’”
Hornby continues: “That’s me! And you, probably! That’s us! “Thousands of unread books”! “Truly cultured”!…. I suddenly had a little epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. …. With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”
And now, with LibraryThing and similar services, I can create a library that isn’t limited to the books I own, but can include books I’ve borrowed from the library, or no longer own, or those I just might want to read some day.