What you lose by not reading

"I asked a room full of M.A. English students about the reading they were doing outside the curriculum. At least a third did not do any, which makes them functional aliterates. Aliterates are people that can read but do not. They read just enough to get by. If a language and literature department can have so many of them, then what about students in other disciplines?

What do you lose by becoming an aliterate? Quite a lot, actually. According to Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in the United States, while reading “we are forced to construct, to produce narrative, to imagine. Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight. By and large, with oral language — when you watch a film or listen to a tape — you don't press pause.” Hence, the mind receives a far more vigorous workout whilst reading than consuming any other form of media. It is not surprising that avid readers tend to possess better memories and minds more equipped to resist the exigencies of ageing than those who do not read. Their capacity for learning also tends to be far more advanced. In addition, since reading requires more concentration than other media, an avid reader's mind tends to be more focused which allows him or her to make good decisions."

More: http://www.thehindu.com/education/issues/article3232453.ece


Why reading matters

"By challenging — through reading — our imagination to engage and embrace ever changing, often alien, characters, circumstances, and dilemmas, we expand our ability to empathize and understand; to be human, that is.

Does it matter? What use is the imagination — as opposed to, say, the kind of mental agility, the quick-reflex thinking, that video games encourage? What is the argument we make for reading and daydreaming and cultivating inner resonances? I would say, to put it in the simplest terms, that imagination nourishes the primary self. As much as our skills and practical accomplishments bolster a sense of independent identity, imagination fills out the inner counterpart. It consolidates the "I" by making plausible the other. Imagination enables empathy, and imagination exercised through reading, through the work of inhabiting the language and sensibility of created characters… pushes continually against the solipsism fed to us by a marketing industry selling consumption as the index of our worth."

More: http://m.voiceofsandiego.org/mobile/cafe-san-diego/poe/article_5ca0cd90-779a-11e1-9a3f-001871e3ce6c.html

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Reading fiction no different from real-life encounters

"Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. 

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters."

Fiction, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

More: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1

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A world in a book

"Ever since I was a small child, I never felt anything but pure love for reading books of all shapes and sizes. It was not until later that I realized that reading books was not just a form of entertainment but also a powerful tool that humans have used to communicate and gain knowledge as early as people could write.

A good book can open up minds to new ideas that seemed impossible before. Doctors, teachers, psychologists, mothers, cooks, students and every occupation imaginable requires proficient reading skills to succeed at what they do not only in their jobs but in their lives as well

This is because reading is the basis for all the other communication skills, such as writing, speaking, and even listening. Books are the key to the hearts of thousands of people. They record who we essentially are as humans. Books have the power to create riots, to calm stressful days, or to inspire new movements in the world. A world can be contained within a book’s pages."

More: http://my.hsj.org/DesktopModules/ASNE/ASNE.Newspapers/Mobile.aspx?newspaperid=48&editionid=0&categoryid=0&articleid=508090&userid=0

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Authors responsible for high cost of books

"In his forthcoming book [...] the American author Robert Levine has an excellent chapter on publishing in which he interrogates the forces driving the pricing of books, in both their paper and digital forms. And some of the explanations he gives are (to me at least) surprising. For example, it turns out that "publishers only spend $3.50 to print and distribute a hardback". (Let's say it's £3 in Britain.) So when, this autumn, you go into your local bookshop and spend £30 [...] you really are just putting a large amount of profit into the hands of [...] publisher, with some knocked off for the retailer. Right?

Well, yes and no. If you think of books primarily as physical objects, then off course they'll seem a rip-off, because printing and distributing them is cheap. But as Levine points out, what you're really paying for when you buy a book is something different. You are buying the "text itself". And why is that so expensive? Because the publisher will, in many cases, have paid the author a considerable sum for the right to sell it.".

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/aug/04/price-publishing-ebooks



That "considerable sum", dear reader, amounts to somewhere between 4-8%.

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When does a novelist retire?

"The fact is that authors seldom retire. Many don’t want to; others couldn’t afford to. So they keep going till death drags them from their desk or they lose their marbles, whichever fate strikes earlier. Unfortunately they may find that while they still have their marbles, they no longer have a public, those who used to buy their books having already suffered one of these fates, or having simply stopped reading new books – even new books from old authors. Losing their public, they are likely, quite understandably, to lose their publisher too. This may grieve, but not entirely surprise, them; it began to seem likely when they discovered a couple of books back that their new editor was a decade or two younger than their own middle-aged children.

“We used to live on royalties,” Anthony Burgess once said to me, “but now we live on advances.” This was true in his time, but now the advances are shrinking, and the royalties disappearing. So they go on working, but do so, if they are honest, in the knowledge that what they are writing in their old age is not near as good as the best of the books they wrote thirty or forty years ago. This is sad but not surprising. They no longer have either the physical or mental energy that used to drive them on. Moreover they have probably exhausted their material, and any new material they happen on may be thinner than the old stuff.

Occasionally they pick up a novel they wrote long ago, and read it with surprise, admiration, and then pain. And then they think: “Fielding and Jane Austen and all the Brontës were already dead at the age I was when I wrote that – and so they didn’t have to find matter for a new novel in their sixties, seventies, eighties…”

More: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/allanmassie/100061155/novelists-used-to-die-young-now-they-must-confront-and-write-throughout-their-old-age/

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Writing allows you to see through darkness

Writing in pursuit of truth lets you see through darkness.

"Once you have entered that dungeon, and raised your lamp, and seen the injustice residing in there, nothing can ever be the same again. No matter how far away you run, that image, that knowledge will be with you. And this is the difference between the true writer and the non-writer: The true writer cannot forget. The true writer in us will be haunted by that image until he or she writes about it. It will keep him awake at night; it will visit his waking hours. The writer is fascinated by evil, not mesmerised or attracted by it, but he is fascinated by it, by the fact of its existence, and by its sheer banality. It is a slippery slope, and we all stand on its edge. The writer is like that dragon slayer of legend who tirelessly seeks after dragons, from town to town, village to village, tormented by his passion; he knows that once he stops to rest, or to reflect on how perilous his vocation is, he will be overtaken by the very evil he seeks to exterminate.

How can literature act to increase our vision, to enlarge our sympathies? And this is where I want to make a link between literature and truth: truth as a concept has always existed side by side with fiction, way back to the earliest days of fiction. Before the advent of the novel, the English novel in particular, the dominant form of narrative was life writing, that is, biography and autobiography, or “histories” as they were then called. The earliest writers of the novel, in order to be taken seriously, pretended that their tales did actually happen (although in this deceit I like to imagine more the hand of printers and marketers than that of the authors themselves.)

The writer enlarges our sympathies by making us see ourselves better, but first he must see himself better in his own work. For regardless of how extroverted and socially oriented we may be in our writing, we write first and foremost for ourselves; we write to answer the most niggling questions bothering us, and so, in a way we are raising that lamp not just to see the poor boy in that dungeon, we are raising it to a mirror, to see ourselves."

More: http://dailytimes.com.ng/opinion/literature-way-seeing-12

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How to hide from Big Brother's Online Eyes

We're all online, and everything we do there leaves a trail. Big Brother left a blueprint for the type of information you need to protect if you want to hide your tracks:

"Further proof has emerged of the United States secret Grand Jury investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks."

The secret Grand Jury demanded the following information from WikiLeaks' DNS host:

1. Subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities;
2. mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, e-mail addresses, and other contact information;
3. connection records, or record of session times and durations;
4. length of service (including start date) and typos of service utilized;
5. telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity; including any temporarily assigned network address; and
6. means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records.


1. records of user activity for any connections made to or from the Account
2. non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses.
3. Correspondence and notes of records related to the account."

From: http://rabble.ca/news/2011/08/us-espionage-investigation-against-wikileaks-patriot-act-order-unsealed

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The Urban Literary Dictionary

"*Hemingway (v.):* Writing a paper under the influence of alcohol, like noted author Ernest Hemingway. Ex: It's due tomorrow. I totally have to hemingway that term paper tonight.

*Faulkner: *To go from being a nerd to getting all the hot girls.

*Tolstoy:* To make significantly longer than is necessary to convey the relevant message; derived from Leo Tolstoy, whose classic literature is quite long and wordy 
Ex: Hey man, I just asked for a light, not your life story. You didn't have to Tolstoy me.

*Dostoyevsky: *A favored author of hipsters and other assorted pseudo-intellectuals, most of whom have never actually read a word he wrote (outside of possibly a synopsis from sparknotes.com), but being ever hip as they are, understand how important it is to have the memorization of names of 19th century Russian authors down to a science.

*Zola:* The act of simultaneously spamming multiple chat channels with a greeting in order to make them blink or ping."

More: http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/2012/03/going-on-a-hemingway-the-urban-dictionary-history-of-western-literature

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The book for the Occupy Movement and the 99%

A book that was published in 1943, but... "One chapter in particular might have been written in 2012, not 1943. Its title: "Political Action for the 99%."

"Many of us have become cynical where politics is concerned. Corruption, class legislation and political irresponsibility no longer move us to indignation. Instead, we shrug our shoulders, as if to say, 'What can you expect?' This attitude threatens the whole democratic fabric of our country.

'The people's will must be made effective'

"Let there be no mistake: the political life of the country will be controlled, if not by the people, then by the vested interests. Indifference on our part is precisely the guarantee that special privilege will continue to rule. The people's will must be made effective. To achieve this end, they must gain control of economic and political power."

From: http://thetyee.ca/Books/2012/01/06/Prophets-Of-The-Occupiers/

Prefer a novel? Here's one, published in 2012, for the Occupy Movement, the 99percenters, and whistleblowers: WikiJustice.

What literary biographies teach us

"The literary bio is an oddly enduring genre. People who read have always been interested in the story behind the stories, but you’d think that of all the people you might want to know more about, writers would probably be somewhere near the bottom of the list. After all, most of them don’t actually do very much but sit at a desk somewhere and write. That’s their job. And aside from what can be gleaned from autobiographies and memoirs (an entertaining but not very trustworthy genre that becomes even more doubtful when penned by people who have spent their lives making things up), an author’s rich inner life, crucible for the imaginative alchemy that transforms experience into art, has to be pieced together mainly from circumstantial evidence.

So what’s the take away? One of the reasons we read biography is for the life lessons they offer. While there are infinite paths to immortal literary fame, what helpful hints can be gleaned from the lives of the greats:

First, experience a traumatic episode early in your childhood or youth that you will then be able to draw upon for inspiration and raw material for the rest of your life.

Second, find yourself a self-denying partner who will support you and accept your eccentricities, moodiness, alcoholism and infidelities as expressions of your genius.

Finally, have a lot of kids and give up other hostages to fortune so that you will be compelled by financial necessity to keep writing."

More: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/bookreviews/article/1140789--dickens-tolstoy-j-g-ballard-and-kurt-vonnegut-were-literary-geniuses-in-these-bios-other-writers-try-to-capture-what-made-them-so-writerly

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Literary self-censorship

"The suppression of literature is an ancient tradition that probably started with the invention of writing and which thrives today all over the world. In the west we generally venerate those authors who stand up against acts of silencing by the authorities. But what are we to think when an author suppresses himself?

The easiest form of self-suppression is to have an idea and not write it, and we may well wish that more authors would exercise this prerogative. It gets more complicated once the book exists, however – even in unpublished manuscript form. Since we usually don't know about the successful suppressions, the most famous cases of authorial efforts at self-silencing are those of writers who attempted and failed to quash the publication of works they had written but did not wish to see the light of day."

Here are some examples of self-censored writers and their works: http://m.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/28/authors-censor-themselves-martin-amis?cat=books&type=article

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Writing as a manufacturing job

Writing books is a job, not unlike that of a worker on a  manufacturing line, where the publishing model forces one to churn out books as mass products (consider a certain suspense writer who signed a publishing contract to produce and deliver 17 novels in 3 years):

"Since when did being a writer become a career choice, with appropriate degree courses and pecking orders? Does this state of affairs make any difference to what gets written?

In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed.

One of the myths about creative writing courses is that students go there to learn how to write. Such learning, when and if it takes place, is a felicitous by-product that may or may not have to do with the teaching; the process of settling down to write for a year would very probably yield results even without teachers. No, the student goes to the course to show himself to teachers who as writers are well placed (he imagines!) to help him present himself to the publishers. Most creative writing courses now offer classes on approaching agents and publishers and promoting one’s work. In short, preparing for the job."

More: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/feb/28/writers-job/

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The benefits of reading fiction

Why is literature important to us?

"literature develops critical thinking skills.

The reader can observe from multiple points of view and is allowed to freely develop ideas about the plot and characters. Readers can be skeptical about actions taken by the characters or of plot points.

As critical thinking is sharpened by literature, those skills can be used to solve everyday life problems, allow a person to see different points of view and call into question set standards.

Literature extends out of the English class and into virtually any study. By adding reading to one’s daily routine, we find that we become well-rounded people in thought and in ideas. It can be applied to almost any discipline and cannot possibly be a hindrance."

More benefits: http://www.coscampusonline.com/2012/02/27/literature-and-our-life/

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Leftist beliefs cause cancer (with a little help from the CIA)

"The gun fired a frozen liquid poison-tipped dart, the width of a human
hair and a quarter of an inch long, that could penetrate clothing, was
almost undetectable and left no trace in a victim’s body."

"It was a case destined for the X-Files and conspiracy theorists alike, when Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez speculated that the US might have developed a way to weaponise cancer, after several Latin American leaders were diagnosed with the disease. The list includes former Argentine president, Nestor Kirchner (colon cancer) Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff (lymphoma cancer), her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (throat cancer), Chavez (undisclosed), former Cuban president Fidel Castro (stomach cancer) Bolivian president, Evo Morales (nasal cancer) and Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo (lymphoma cancer). What do they have in common besides cancer? All of them are left-wing leaders. Coincidence? In his December 28, 2011 end-of-year address to the Venezuelan military, Chavez hinted that the US might have found a way to give Latin American leaders cancer.
“Would it be so strange that they’ve invented the technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years?” Chavez asked. “It is very hard to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some leaders in Latin America. It’s at the very least strange,” he said. Chavez said he received warning from Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro, who has survived hundreds of unsuccessful assassination attempts. “Fidel always told me, ‘Chavez take care. These people have developed technology. You are very careless. Take care what you eat, what they give you to eat … a little needle and they inject you with I don’t know what’,” he said."

More: http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2012-02-27/cancer-secret-weapon



Reading novels cover to cover helps students build confidence

"Literary fiction is an art that seeks to create an immersive experience for the reader, but we often don't approach it that way with our students. We parcel out books in pieces and ask students to analyze them along the way without the ability to understand a work in its entirety. This is sort of like asking students to interpret a corner of a painting. Without the entire context, it lacks meaning and can become frustrating."

So, this 7th grade English teacher came up with an idea, and put it into action in her class:

"Let students read novels in their entirety. Then let them talk about what they find interesting in the book, facilitating the group's exploration of the text."

"Leading a whole-novel study is like throwing a boomerang. If the boomerang is carved well, and I aim it properly, it will take a journey and come back to me. If the literary work is artfully written and meaningful to students, and I support the class well, they will arrive at all the learning objectives I am responsible for teaching and then some. What's more is that they build stamina, confidence, critical thinking, and the habit of reading whole books by themselves."

More: http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2012/02/29/02sacks.h05.html

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