Aasof on Books


This week on Facebook: Follows on from the one I posted last week on cartoons and being more than just cartoons, I deciding to put the 35 funniest cartoons about ebooks and digital reading here. The access to books and ebooks¹²³ these days is phenomenal, but I do remember when it wasn’t always so and conditional on access to a good library. With technology offering access to digitised books through websites like Project Gutenberg, The Library of Congress and Project Muse, a new world has been opened. But where to start this post? Perhaps the blacklisting of Winnie the Pooh in China is a good place, especially as the article was really an homage to the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s death.

I have a both a hardback and a Kindle copy of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne and a Kindle version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which I have yet to read (though it’s unlikely that I ever shall). This, despite my wife being overcome by I know not what when the BBC adapted Pride and Prejudice for television. The world had moved on since Austen’s time and as erotic as the BBC’s depiction of Firth as Darcy in the lake scene became, it was a pure illusion that was not to be found in Austen’s novel. I wonder what Jane Austen would make of this modern world, I doubt that she could find a publisher for her novels without the inclusion of overt eroticism.

 Today, erotic attraction has become the basis for marriage, so we designate Darcy as ultra-marriageable through a different set of markers than Austen used. What makes Mr. Darcy desirable?

There is the contention that digitised books or online reading does not lead to a deep read. n a Guardian article that The internet isn’t harming our love of ‘deep reading’, it’s cultivating it. He writes: In our culture of excitable neuroscientist a lot of such arguments employ the sexy word “brain” and so sound scientifically objective, but they are really socio-cultural arguments. No doubt there are many kinds of task-specific neural developments (i.e. “brain” types) that have been lost in the mists of evolutionary time, and whose absence we have no reason to regret. Then Poole is a tad biased, providing a link to another article of his, the rise of popular neurobollocks, in which he writes: An intellectual pestilence is upon us. This is the plague of neuroscientism — aka neurobabble, neurobollocks, or neurotrash — and it’s everywhere.

Other than my personal taste, I don’t know what medium is best for a deep read! I now rarely buy fiction but don’t regard non-fiction as the domain of deep reads. What I regard as being a deep read  includes a number of historic fictional novels read and unread on my bookshelf, like those of Hilary Mantel that I have yet to finish and C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series that having read, I dip into again from time to time. To these I would add the innumerable downloads — both fiction and non-fiction — that I have made to my digital devices. My wife is an avid paper book reader who eschews the internet, she especially reads historical novels and it is only here that our reading paths occasionally cross. She is a reader of murder and mayhem novels which, when not historic pieces, is a readership that we do not share. Unlike her I am not an aficionado of Diane Gabaldon’s historic come science fantasy Outlander series but unlike me, she is not a lover of science fiction.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Sir Francis Bacon

If Francis Bacon can taste, swallow, or chew and digest a book, then I guess books can also be inhaled as the word was used on Radio 4 in the context of books in the programme A Good Read.

Incidentally: the blacklisting of Winnie the Pooh by China was not on literary grounds, having more to do with the characterisations of Walt Disney rather than the stories of A. A. Milne and the character sketches of E. H. Shepherd.


Monday 7/8/2017 Winnie the Pooh has been blacklisted from social media in China: Austen’s empathetic portrayals of women in love are just as powerful as her caustic wit. The entire plot of each book hinges on at least one potential love match, featuring well-developed, charming heroes and heroines, which makes it easy to engage with them on the level of a romance novel. The romantic angle of Austen is easier to pick up on, and to replicate, than her social commentary.

Tuesday 8/8/2017 How to Read a Book: In 1940, Mortimer Adler wrote the first edition of what is now considered a classic of education, How to Read a Book. There have been subsequent editions that contain great information, but the bulk of what we’ll be covering today is from Adler’s words of advice from nearly 75 years ago.

Wednesday 9/8/2017 The case for taking forever to finish reading books: What started as pragmatic laziness—leaving big books at home and traveling with slimmer ones—has led me to a different way of reading. The active ritual of reading one book extremely slowly, patiently, in the same place, over an unreasonably long time, has changed the way I see. It’s a measured meting out of a book, like nibbling one piece of chocolate each night in the same chair over a year. It’s a refusal to hurry up or to turn reading into a life hack; it’s the anti-summer reading, the anti-binge read. It’s site-specific, intensely slow reading, for no other reason than to bask in what’s good.

Thursday 10/8/2017 Being a Better Online Reader: Certainly, as we turn to online reading, the physiology of the reading process itself shifts; we don’t read the same way online as we do on paper. Anne Mangen, a professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at the University of Stavanger, in Norway, points out that reading is always an interaction between a person and a technology, be it a computer or an e-reader or even a bound book.

Friday 11/8/2017 Your Brain on Fiction: 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.


¹Digital vs. Print: Reading Comprehension and the Future of the Book(pdf): Cultural forecasters are again considering the possibility that print books will survive into the future, along with libraries as the ubiquitous brick-and-mortar institutions that lend books, in addition providing all the technology-based services that have come to define them in recent years. In an effort to determine what books and libraries might look like in the future, this article compiles current research on how reading comprehension is impacted by each of the three current reading platforms: print books, e-books, and books downloaded onto smartphones or computers.

²E-Readers and Visual Fatigue (article):  The mass digitisation of books is changing the way information is created, disseminated and displayed. Electronic book readers (e-readers) generally refer to two main display technologies: the electronic ink (E-ink) and the liquid crystal display (LCD). Both technologies have advantages and disadvantages, but the question whether one or the other triggers less visual fatigue is still open. To this end, participants performed a longitudinal study in which two last generation e-readers (LCD, E-ink) and paper book were tested in three different prolonged reading sessions separated by — on average — ten days.

³Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing (article): Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards “non-linear” reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page. “They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.”

One response to “Aasof on Books

  1. Pingback: Aasof on Essays | Aasof’s Reflections

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Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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An Anthology of Short Stories

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