Brains on Books

Friday, December 21, 2007

The New Yorker's Caleb Crain imagines the end of reading.


Caleb Crain

Comments [32]


If there's one thing you should learn, along with living, it's reading. Maybe more of us would be more honest in expressing ourselves, instead of hiding behind and relying on technology too much. I'm not a ludite, but technology is a tool, not a appendage.

Dec. 21 2007 01:52 PM

A particularly rich discussion on this message board.

Interesting how little we know of the mechanics of how individuals read.

I'm also reminded of the recent study that found chimpanzees' ability to remember numerals is better than humans'. Just one among several cognitive abilities in which chimps excel.

Theorists assign humans' sometimes weaker memorization skills to, uh, reading. . . .

Dec. 21 2007 01:48 PM
World's Toughest Milkman from the_C_train

Bloom is a pompous windbag, his how to read was the worst book I have ever read.

Unfortunately we are turning into a tv-nation, no one has "time" anymore; which is what's great about the subway.

Dec. 21 2007 11:44 AM
Al from Queens

I recently read a scientific article that states that multitasking amoung the young, ie. texting/listening to music/studying, actually slows brain function due to not actually finishing a single task. Therefore the brain isn't given to following through and as we know, reading requires a lot follow through. I think we should start discouraging multi-tasking. I know I have. Oh wait, I'm writing this while working and listening to your show. Oh well, bye bye brain cells.

Merry Chrismas

Dec. 21 2007 11:42 AM
Robert from NYC

I was read to by my mom as a child but I am not a very avid reader. I have to force myself to read because, very sadly--and I wish it weren't so-- reading, that is the "act of reading" as I call it is a tiring ordeal for me. Though never tested for this, I honestly think I have an attention disorder. I read 2 pages and you think I just ran up a mountain. I got my way thru 3 degrees and had to read a lot but it was always such an ordeal for me. I wish so much it were not the case because sometimes I want to go on when the text is interesting but for whatever reason the "act of reading" is very tiring for me.

Dec. 21 2007 11:42 AM
Frank from MSHeights

I never read in public school, even when required. I started to read in College because I realized that I was missing a lot of social references made by other students. Now I love to read and always have a book open.

Society (parents, bosses, etc.) needs to value reading more and challenge people to be aware of the great books out there and the benefits of reading, which are reflected in our vocabulary and means of communication.

Dec. 21 2007 11:41 AM
elizabeth from monmouth county nj

My 6 year old son and I just finished reading the Wizard of Oz. Then we borrowed the movie from the library and made a chart of what was the same and what was different, and why we thought the movie makers changed so much of the story. My kid loved the whole process so much he will now get into very detailed discussions with anyone who will listen about why books are better -- the essential point for him is that what you imagine is often times much more vivid and compelling than what's on a screen. Now, at his insistence, we're reading chapter books with movie adaptations, and (so far, anyway) books win!

Dec. 21 2007 11:41 AM
Maya from Brooklyn

Gene - I agree too that being a book-lover can be expensive and I've had to make a real effort to rein in my book purchases. So when I'm in the bookstore, it's with a pad and pen to jot down titles and then I go to the library.

Dec. 21 2007 11:40 AM
Libby from Upper West Side

My mother took me to the library when I was very young and I got a library card. I've been a reader ever since--even before...I was precocious. I like holding books in my hand, so I will most likely not buy a Kindle. I also read a lot online (blogs, etc.). But always books...

Dec. 21 2007 11:39 AM
Marie Lerch from Manhattan

I wonder if books would be more popular with children if the textbooks did not have to be shlepped back and forth in overweight back packs

Dec. 21 2007 11:39 AM
ellie from sleepy hollow, ny

I am an avid reader and read to my children faithfully when they were young children. One of my sons is now 15 and recently declared that he hates reading. He is a slow reader and finds reading tedious. I am trying to figure out how to deal with this problem and am wondering if any of your guests addressed the issue of audio books and whether they are as effective as actual books.

Dec. 21 2007 11:39 AM
Sara from Long Island City

As a 25 year old I might be considered "the younger generation," and I am an avid reader. I am by no means a luddite but I do prefer to read hard copy. Reading a whole book online (and I have tried) is exhausting and not nearly as satisfying as the feeling of finishing a book page by page.

Dec. 21 2007 11:39 AM
Eric from Manhattan

I'm 27 and I can attribute my love of reading to my parents reading to me every night while a child. Esp Shel Silverstein. READ TO YOUR CHILDREN!!!

Dec. 21 2007 11:38 AM
chestine from NY

McLuhan actually said to me once, "don't unplug" - in the 70s when he thought we had already crossed the line. Reading is great but only one medium ergo one message. Linear logic isn't all there is.

Dec. 21 2007 11:37 AM
Leo in NYC from NYC

"What is the value of taking time to read lengthy non-fiction? Most good non-fiction can be summed up into a few concepts, which can easily be done online."

Holy Gawd you couldn't be more wrong!!! The difference between the depth and textural detail -- which I promise you REALLY MATTERS when learning about issues and ideas -- present in a 1000-page book, vs. a wikipedia entry is huge and vital. I have been following politics closely for years, and I can say that the difference between my understand of politics after reading Robert Caro's multi-volume Lyndon Johnson biography and before is like night-and-day.

Dec. 21 2007 11:37 AM

There is a sort of beautiful irony in radio discussing the possible demise of the printed word and literature. I mean, there was a time when information and ideas were principally shared by speech and spoken language. Then with the advent of the printing press our culture was radically changed by the popular dispersal of the printed word instead of spoken. Now once again perhaps the way in which our culture shares ideas and information is changing. But is that such a bad thing? Or maybe it will simply give us greater options for communicating and interacting?

Dec. 21 2007 11:37 AM

I agree partly with Maya--going into a book store I just want to _absorb_ all sorts of books, right then and there.

Thus, I buy more often than I should, and I am currently in the middle of about 20 books. It kills me that I read so slowly.

Yet I do value appreciating how an author writes, and what is being written. Thomas Frank's "What's the matter with Kansas," for example, is spectacularly well-written, each paragraph chock full of info, witty and insightful. You just can't sum that up.

Please address the _speed_ at which people read books.

Dec. 21 2007 11:37 AM
miriam from stamford, ct

Isn't is possibly wrong that we're still testing children in the same ways (SATs and other typical standardized tests) when their lives have changed so dramatically (the internet, globalization)?

Maybe the problem isn't that our children aren't testing as well as they used to, but rather that the tests themselves should change to accurately reflect the kinds of things children are learning these days?

Just beacause reading has been done for hundreds of years, doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be the best way to learn forever, right?

Dec. 21 2007 11:37 AM
chestine from NY

What would Marshall McLuhan say about this? I doubt he'd be so ruffled.

Dec. 21 2007 11:36 AM
Missy from Brooklyn

Recently, the great book designer Chip Kidd was asked what he thought about the Kindle, and whether he thought it was the death of the printed book- I love his response:

"On Monday November 19th, Amazon released something called Kindle, the latest “e-book” reading device. I’ve been asked to comment on what effect I think this will have, if any, on book design as we know it. Here goes.


Chip Kidd" *

*Definitely click the link above, though, to read his lengthy post script...

Dec. 21 2007 11:36 AM
judith from Park Slope, Brooklyn

I have a tutoring business and just this week I was noting that many of the kids are seriously lacking in "cultural literacy" which is related to reading ... meaning...sometimes they cannot understand the headlines of the newspapers because they have no context for what the commentary refers to...historically, literarily, etc.

Also, I have kids coming to me who LOVE books and LOVE to read and are always buried in them. One of my students has already been quoted on WNYC ... the kids are all amazing but I am amazed myself, by the number of kids who read read read...they like having the book, they like the covers, they like the feel of the paper and marking off how much they have read (esp. the younger ones take tremendous pride in their book reading.)
So, my experience falls on both sides of the spectrum...

Dec. 21 2007 11:35 AM
Carmen Borgia from Bronx

The point about the brain being efficient while reading is interesting. I've long thought that activities that use one sense at a time (reading, listening to music, viewing art) are much more conducive to working the imagination than watching movies or TV, which tend to leave little room for imagining.

Dec. 21 2007 11:35 AM
Graham from Paris

What is the value of breathing?

If one holds one's breath long enough while sitting or standing right on the edge of an exterior ledge many stories up, one may pass out, fall, and save uncounted hours of breathing in and out.

Dec. 21 2007 11:34 AM

This discussion says that illiterate cultures are somehow lacking. Huh?

Dec. 21 2007 11:33 AM
Maya from Brooklyn

I cannot fathom a life without books. I walk into Borders or B & N and go into a trance. So many books, so little time. I love new books - the crack of the spine, the smooth pages, the smell. And I love old books, the read and re-read ones, tattered, dog-eared pages and the coffee stains and penciled remarks....I wouldn't be caught dead with a Kindle.

Dec. 21 2007 11:32 AM
Tom from Soho

Non-fiction rules.
I am reading at this moment one of the best books I've ever read and I found it by picking it up almost at random. "The Open Society and It's Enemies" by Karl R. Popper. It covers 25 centuries of philosophical thought from before Plato to the mid-sixties. It covers every issue we are arguing about now from science and global warming (dualism natural laws/normative laws) to freedom and totalitarianism. It is so clearly written that every junior high school studant can easily grasp the great philosophical concepts and understand the state of world discourse and democracy. It takes one quite far beyond the simplistic labels of left and right.

Dec. 21 2007 11:32 AM
Zach from Upper West Side

I doubt that anyone really prefers reading off a screen than actual text. The screen strains your eyes in a way that text does not. I am 26 and have always prefered reading hard copy, though I read on the internet prodigously.

Dec. 21 2007 11:31 AM
Derek Tutschulte from Brooklyn

Perhaps we are also writing and reading (i.e. collaborating) more, which can be far more valuable than reading a book for our own selfish pleasure.

Dec. 21 2007 11:30 AM
Cathi Kim

Regarding the correlation between internet use and literacy, I think it would be interesting to hear about studies regarding same in Korea, which has one of the highest literacy and internet use rates...

Dec. 21 2007 11:28 AM
seth from Astoria

In my entire schoolastic career, I might have finished 3 books. Mainly because it was a chore, and I had a timeline before a test, and I didn't like it. That turned me off of reading for pleasure too. I responded to my mother's question of "how can I get you to read more?" by saying "get closed captioning on tv." that was before it was standard. THEN at age 23, Senior in college, I read Harry Potter, skeptically, to see if it was really that great. And because of it, I always have a book going, from fiction to Non, Satircal to mystery. But my favorite is still The Boy Who Lived.

Dec. 21 2007 11:23 AM
Derek Tutschulte from Brooklyn

What is the value of taking time to read lengthy non-fiction? Most good non-fiction can be summed up into a few concepts, which can easily be done online.

I think the case should be a different one for fiction, where it is the process of empathizing with a central character that requires a submersive experience, best enable with a good, tactile book. perhaps this can be recreated online with adventure gaming, as well.

Dec. 21 2007 11:15 AM
Mary Beth from NYC

Re: Lack of compelling things to read...There are plenty of compeling books for children to read besides Harry Potter! Get thee to a library! get the parents to a library!

Dec. 21 2007 11:11 AM

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