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Literary Links

Is ‘devouring’ books a sign of superficiality in a reader?

Louise Adams discusses the history of the metaphor of eating as applied to reading. While the historical applications of the metaphor are informative, I’d like to focus on this point:

This metaphor, however, hasn’t always seemed so benign. Two hundred years ago, describing someone as ‘devouring’ a book would have been an act of moral censure. The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of ‘devouring’ idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished.

At the end of the article Adams comes back around to this same point:

The reading language of the past contains something precious that needs to be preserved, indeed celebrated, in the present. For centuries the rich contrasts of the reading-eating spectrum expressed a conviction that different kinds of reading mattered, and this conviction would serve us well in our media-fraught world. ‘Just reading’ is not good enough: we need to revive reading’s diversity. The language of digestion encourages slowed-down reading habits (along Slow Food lines). It reminds us to be more attentive to the subtle ways in which texts have been put together by their creators – to think before just bingeing upon pages.

In other words, she’s advocating that we slow down and consider while we’re reading. 

I’m a big fan of the slow reading movement. Although I never thought about the literal application of eating as a metaphor of reading, I do understand the distinction between devouring a novel (consuming it whole, quickly) and digesting it (reading deliberately, slowly enough to appreciate and analyze how it works).

And I admit that I always think of this distinction when people brag about reading 100-150 books a year. I’m retired, and I still can’t read anywhere near that number. And sometimes I can tell from comments on sites like Goodreads and Amazon that commenters have merely skimmed the book because they criticize the author for leaving out points that are in fact in the text. 

And see the next article for the latest research on “speed reading.”

Can People Really Learn to ‘Speed Read’?

“true speed reading — a boost in reading speed by at least three times without any loss in comprehension — isn’t supported by the science.”

Marcus Woo reports for Live Science. 

What happened when schools used science to revamp how reading is taught

Katherine Long reports in The Seattle Times on new methods of reading instruction showing promise in Pennsylvania.

Ralph Ellison’s Slow-Burning Art

Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, discusses the recent publication by Random House of Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison. In 1967 a fire at Ellison’s country house destroyed the manuscript he was working on, “the much anticipated and already belated follow-up to his 1952 début, ‘Invisible Man.’” 

Young sees the publication of Selected Letters, which covers 60 years, “as another Ellisonian magnum opus, one necessarily unfinished.”

How Chinese Sci-Fi Conquered America

The publication of Ken Liu’s translation of The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin in 2014 “opened the floodgates for new translations of Chinese science fiction. This, in turn, has made Ken Liu a critical conduit for Chinese writers seeking Western audiences, a literary brand as sought-after as the best-selling authors he translates.” Often Ken Liu has to proceed carefully because:

Some of the writers Liu translates use the framework of science fiction to explore the dystopian consequences of China’s rapid economic and technological transformation, setting a story in the distant future or on another planet in order to tackle taboo issues like the lack of social freedoms, the exploitation of migrant workers, government land seizures, economic inequality and environmental destruction. In an odd inversion, some of the stories he has translated into English have not been officially published in China, at times because of their politically sensitive nature.

Here Alexandra Alter interviews Ken Liu about his life and translation work for The New York Times.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown