Archives for category: Reading

An article on PubMed brings us the vital news that the reading of books will lengthen your life.

The abstract of the article, “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity” reads thus:

Although books can expose people to new people and places, whether books also have health benefits beyond other types of reading materials is not known. This study examined whether those who read books have a survival advantage over those who do not read books and over those who read other types of materials, and if so, whether cognition mediates this book reading effect. The cohort consisted of 3635 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study who provided information about their reading patterns at baseline. Cox proportional hazards models were based on survival information up to 12 years after baseline. A dose-response survival advantage was found for book reading by tertile (HRT2 = 0.83, p < 0.001, HRT3 = 0.77, p < 0.001), after adjusting for relevant covariates including age, sex, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression. Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines (tT2 = 90.6, p < 0.001; tT3 = 67.9, p < 0.001). Compared to non-book readers, book readers had a 23-month survival advantage at the point of 80% survival in the unadjusted model. A survival advantage persisted after adjustment for all covariates (HR = .80, p < .01), indicating book readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers. Cognition mediated the book reading-survival advantage (p = 0.04). These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.

So get reading. Even the longest books may be started with the confidence that we’ll be around to finish them. Is it possible that eternal life may be achieved by a combination of speed reading and a vast library?

Thanks to Philip Weimerskirch via the SHARP listserv for this notification.


It’s comforting to see scientific research which tells us we’ve been doing the right thing all along. NPR has a story What’s Going on in Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them a Story? which reports on research into the reaction of kids to different types of stories as measured by fMRI. It seems that “just right” lies exactly where Goldilocks has always told publishers it should: text which a parent can read out, accompanied by pictures a child can look at. More digital “enhancements” end up being too much; text alone, too little.

Such is our eagerness for this sort of comforting news that we are willing to discount the awkward fact that the research is actually only based on a sample of 27 kids. Still, it sounds true, doesn’t it?

Link via The Passive Voice.

Oh my God.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Can we please put it all down to performance anxiety? Please. Please.

Link via Book Riot’s Today in Books email.

This poster claims that only 55% of people can read it. Can’t believe that: surely everyone (every reader of English) can.

You do have to read it fast; if you spend too much time admiring the scrambling, you begin to introduce uncertainty. The claim that the first and last letter of a word need to be in the right place is undermined by the three letter words. I dare say we wouldn’t be held up by ti or ni either, and I bet we’d even slide happily over no if on was really intended.

If you Google the title of this poster you’ll find that this is a widely distributed piece. Here’s another example which shows how keen we humans are to discern patterns in any chaotic field.


I recently wrote about this and other typographical oddities in Mind games.

Cambridge Core blog has a piece by Matthew Eddy of Durham University about the development of the school notebook, something we’ve all experienced as a prime site for perfecting the craft of doodling. Using a handsome example from Perth High School, he demonstrates that eighteenth century school notebooks were assembled sheet by sheet. A large sheet of paper was folded to make a four page section. No doubt few students took the ultimate step of having their notes bound up in book form, as someone has done with his example volume. I wonder if all students were as neat as this guy — I assume a male but Scotland was aways a liberal place in education policy, so it may have been a girl I suppose. This notebook’s survival may be down to its exceptional neatness.

I rather regret the loss of my old school notebooks, though what was written (and drawn) in them would probably make for pretty boring reading now, and was certainly nothing like as neat and tidy as the text Dr Eddy shows. But schoolboys (and schoolgirls) did write down a lot of stuff in bound (wire stitched) notebooks in those days. Most of my university stuff was on loose pages and was abandoned in an attic in Cambridge. I don’t think my notes and essays would have been much help to anyone who may have unearthed them in the subsequent half century. I observe my granddaughters referring to notebooks they’ve created: they look more formal than the ones I remember from my time, but clearly the notebook still thrives.

Erik Kwakkel tweets this picture of pages from a student’s notebook written by Heinrich von Weinfelden who was following a course of lectures by Peter Lombard in Vienna in 1399-1400. The full manuscript, from the University Library, Basel, can be found here. (The navigation arrows can be found above the image area on the left hand side.) It looks like Mr von Weinfelden must have written down almost every word. This surely must have been done after the event: it’s so tidy that one is tempted to believe it can’t have been done at the pace of the lecturer’s words. However there are marginal inserts, plus, as shown, a partial page which has been inserted later (?) which would suggest the main text being done live. Maybe lecturers talked slower back then, knowing that all students would be trying to transcribe their words. Always notorious are the good note takers: some undergraduates would not bother to turn up for lectures, knowing they could find out all about it from their assiduous friend. (Others just wouldn’t turn up at the lecture!) Maybe Mr von Weinfelden’s notes were funded by students with more money than energy, who’d just copy what he wrote into their own notebooks.

It is argued by some cognitive scientists that the use of hand and eye together to write things down improves our powers of memory. Certainly it’s the only way I can get close to memorizing a poem, but then of course the notebooks I grew up with weren’t powered by electricity, so hand-eye interaction was drilled into me at an early age. Tim Parks, at that same link, says he recommends to his students that they make a note in the margin of every page, something Bill Gates recommends too. I suspect that this linkage between hand, eye and memory is something we have inherited, even though the time since the origins of reading is perhaps rather short for evolutionary effects to have taken hold. I suppose we could lose this trait if notebook computers change the way we relate to the written word.

You may say I’m a cock-eyed optimist but the news that a quarter of Americans adults hadn’t read a book during the past year seemed to me most heartening. You’re saying three quarters of them (74% really) actually did? The Pew research is reported on by The Digital Reader.

The Digital Reader raises another optimist’s point of view: why assume that a book is the only form of reading that is worthwhile? Reading is a skill which we all strive to acquire because it’s useful. It’s use is certainly not restricted to the reading of literary novels and non-fiction. This has always been a minority interest, and surprise, surprise still is. The same sort of people who inveigh against the split infinitive like to sneer at the masses who don’t read (the “proper” sort of) books. The book publishing industry is not of this mind: we publish many, many trashy, catch-penny books, and are delighted when those who rarely crack a book enjoy them.

Let us not look at this graph and see the steady rise of audiobooks as any kind of threat. Books are made available in various formats. As long as they are being read we should rejoice.

Imagination Library was founded in 1995 to encourage kids to read. Each month they send a free book to member children, up to the age of five. It all started, as a tribute to Ms Parton’s dad, in her home area Sevier County, in eastern Tennessee, and has steadily expanded throughout the USA and internationally. They now have 1,243,671 members, and recently presented their 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress, which ceremony may be seen in this You Tube video. Ms Parton reads the book, which she wrote, and even sings part of it. Brooke Boynton Hughes who illustrated the book is somewhat awkwardly introduced. The interview is conducted by Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. Coat of Many Colors is published by Grosset and Dunlap. The video is well worth a look.

If you don’t see a video here, click on the title of the blog post so as to view it in your browser.

I wonder who gets to print these books? They all appear to have the Imagination Library logo on the front cover. Probably the rights-holding publisher gets to order a reprint from their regular supplier, though I suppose it’s possible that Imagination Library has their own suppliers to whom orders are channelled. Either way, a nice piece of business, though of course they do have a different monthly title for each of the six groups into which they subdivide their members.

Another nice link from David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

What is it that makes us want to express everything in terms of polar opposites? Why do we love either/or, when most things actually turn out to be both/and? In reality new technologies do replace old ones, but not completely. Now we have to suffer under an onslaught of think-pieces warning us that the Internet marks the end of reading.

Well, this is obviously nonsense. Quite the opposite really — kids spend hours reading and writing stuff to and from one another. Most of it may tend towards the idle chatter end of the scale but discussion of books is far from absent. The Horn Book carries a brief discussion of this by Christina Hobbs, who comments “I see my own students making fan art for their favorite books using quotes and visual art, and then that work gets passed around Tumblr as fans find one another and build communities. I see kids making book trailers and talking about their favorite books ad nauseam on a variety of platforms. And, I confess to being a true and longtime follower of Nerdfighteria, a community that began with YouTube that now comes together around John Green and his brother Hank Green, to talk books and science and soccer and charity and all around love of learning.”

There are still people who think reading on a cell phone doesn’t really count as reading, and view those who do it as slightly insane. But it does have its advantages: Sarah Boxer writes in The Atlantic about her experience reading Proust on a cell phone.

Although Proust knew exactly where he was heading when he put together his masterwork—he began with the first and last parts, then turned to the middle—the same cannot be said for his readers, no matter how they tackle his text. They are at sea. This is what makes reading the novel such hard going, particularly in the middle. It is also what makes the experience extraordinary.                                                           Knowing where you are, physically, in a bound book keeps you from feeling this oceanic feeling quite so much. It keeps you grounded. But reading the book on your cellphone emphasizes your own smallness, your at-sea-ness, in relation to the vast ocean. There you are, moving along without any compass. How brave you are in your little dinghy, adrift and amazed.

This seems to me absolutely right. In one way what discourages you in a very long book is the constant reproach delivered by the thousands of pages which you can see you’ve still not read: the e-reader walks right past that.

Of course long books are not the only thing getting read on phones. Writing specifically for the smartphone is gaining traction. For example the Twitter hashtag #poetry features discussion, reaction and new and quoted poetry. The character number restriction can be avoided by taking a photo of your longer work, and tweeting that. Mira Gonzalez published a poetry book called Selected Tweets. The Guardian’s Bookmarks has a story which features her work. There is of course a hashtag #twitterfiction where people write 140 character stories with more or less success. I know that R. L. Stone has done a story in tweets, but I can’t really imagine that the results are superior to a proper book. Different, yes; better? — well we probably don’t have the right to ask for that. But different is fine enough. And who can say a work of genius will never turn up on Twitter?

Looking to the Future of Narrative another of Joe Esposito’s posts at The Scholarly Kitchen discusses innovation spurred by digital media. The thing so many commentators seem to forget is that innovation like this has to come from the authors. Publishers can be more or less receptive to such work, but are not going to be the initiators. Publishers are there to connect authors tor readers, and they will only do so if they can see a profit in the linkage. This is not because publishers are greedy bastards, folks, it’s just how business works.

For an extensive examination of this whole area go to Writing in the age of the web: This is not a book. (Link via The Digital Reader.)

I also flogged this poor old horse (despite the success of the internal combustion engine we still have a few of them around) at Death of reading? Give us a break!

This is new tech but not high tech. Call Me Ishmael is a site where people can phone in and leave a message about any book.

Ishmael appears to type out responses and share them over Twitter, Facebook etc. I wonder who apart from “Ishmael” is actually paying attention to these voice mail messages, but that’s probably not really the point. The fact that lots of people are willing to spend a few minutes recounting their reactions to reading a book is surely a great sign of literary engagement. You might be reluctant to stand at the water cooler telling a colleague how much you liked Catcher in the Rye, but here you can unburden your soul to the ever attentive Ishmael.

They are now offering a phone which goes in retail locations and provides stories to customers.

Link via The Hornbook.

Saturn said: He who tastes the power of books will be strong; he who has possession of them will always be wiser.

From a Tweet from Dutch Anglo-Saxonist, @thijsporck, via Erik Kwakkel.