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new book – ‘How to Do Things with Fictions’ by Joshua Landy

July 6, 2012

How to Do Things with Fictions

How to Do Things with Fictions by Joshua Landy (Oxford University Press, USA, 2012)

(amazon.co.uk – July 2012)

Book description from the publisher:

Why does Mark’s Jesus speak in parables? Why does Plato’s Socrates make bad arguments? Why are Beckett’s novels so inscrutable? And why don’t stage magicians even pretend to summon spirits anymore? In a series of captivating chapters on Mark, Plato, Beckett, Mallarmé, and Chaucer, Joshua Landy not only answers these questions but explains why they are worth asking in the first place.

Witty and approachable, How to Do Things with Fictions challenges the widespread assumption that literary texts must be informative or morally improving in order to be of any real benefit. It reveals that authors are sometimes best thought of not as entertainers or as educators but as personal trainers of the brain, putting their willing readers through exercises designed to fortify specific mental capacities, from form-giving to equanimity, from reason to faith.

Delivering plenty of surprises along the way-that moral readings of literature can be positively dangerous; that the parables were deliberately designed to be misunderstood; that Plato knowingly sets his main character up for a fall; that metaphor is powerfully connected to religious faith; that we can sustain our beliefs even when we suspect them to be illusions-How to Do Things with Fictions convincingly shows that our best allies in the struggle for more rigorous thinking, deeper faith, richer experience, and greater peace of mind may well be the imaginative writings sitting on our shelves.

See also: article “Fiction books give a boost to the brain, says Stanford professor”

Comments (0) - fiction,new books,psychology,reading

new book – ‘Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction’

July 26, 2011

Such Stuff as Dreams

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction by Keith Oatley (Wiley 2011)

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

Product description from the publisher:

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction explores how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers.

    Demonstrates how reading fiction can contribute to a greater understanding of, and the ability to change, ourselves
    Informed by the latest psychological research which focuses on, for example, how identification with fictional characters occurs, and how literature can improve social abilities
    Explores traditional aspects of fiction, including character, plot, setting, and theme, as well as a number of classic techniques, such as metaphor, metonymy, defamiliarization, and cues
    Includes extensive end-notes, which ground the work in psychological studies
    Features excerpts from fiction which are discussed throughout the text, including works by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, James Baldwin, and others

From the back cover:

When we read fiction, we mentally create events and scenes from the words offered on the page by the author. Why is this such a pleasurable experience?

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction explores how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers. Drawing on an idea originally developed by a variety of historical literary figures including William Shakespeare, in this ground–breaking work Oatley richly illustrates how fiction is not simply a slice of life, pure entertainment, or an escape from everyday reality. While it does indeed incorporate many of these elements, at its core fiction represents a guided dream, a model that readers construct in collaboration with the writer. This waking dream not only enables us to see ourselves and others more clearly, but offers us revealing glimpses beneath the surface of the everyday world.

The book considers topics such as fiction’s ability to create vividly emotive experiences; issues of empathy and identification; creativity and externalizations of the mind utilized by writers of prose fiction; and the various effects of fiction on individual readers. Throughout the book, excerpts from fiction are also featured and discussed, including works by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, and James Baldwin. Informed by deep scholarly rigor, Such Stuff as Dreams is an illuminating and thought–provoking analysis of the transformative power of fiction to enter and engage the mind into revealing profound insights about ourselves and those around us.

See also: New Scientist review, Author’s Psychology Today blog

Comments (0) - fiction,new books,psychology,reading

new book – ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains’

May 29, 2010

The Shallows

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (W.W. Norton, 2010)

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

The best-selling author of The Big Switch returns with an explosive look at technology’s effect on the mind. “Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic—a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption—and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

See also: Excerpt at Wired.com, Website for the book, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” at theatlantic.com

Comments (0) - cognitive science,culture,reading

new book – “This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All”

February 3, 2010

This Book Is Overdue!

Hard to resist a book with a caped librarian superhero! Besides, it got a starred review at Publishers Weekly…

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson (Harper, 2010)

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

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?

See also: Webpage for the book

Comments (0) - culture,new books,reading

coming soon – ‘Reading in the Brain’

November 8, 2009

Reading in the Brain

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention by Stanislaus Dehaene is due out this Thurs (Nov 12) from Viking.

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

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 website for the book has chapter summaries and color figures.

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