On Reading

Everything Science Knows About Reading On Screens

This article summarizes research into how we read differently on screens than in books. Of course not all screens are the same: A smartphone screen is much smaller than a laptop or desktop computer screen, a Kindle is different from an iPad. “But many researchers say that reading onscreen encourages a particular style of reading called “nonlinear” reading—basically, skimming.”

KindleResearch by Ziming Liu, a professor at San Jose State University, has found that “sustained attention seems to decline when people read onscreen rather than on paper, and that people also spend less time on in-depth reading.” When we read on a computer, hyperlinks, ads, media (such as videos), and other text draws our attention away from the material we’re reading.

Any discussion of the difference between electronic devices and books must take into consideration the kind of material being read:

Nonlinear reading might especially hurt what researchers call “deep-reading”—our in-depth reading of text that requires intense focus to fully understand it, like the works of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf.

I find reading nonfiction online much easier than reading fiction, particularly if the content I’m reading has been maximized for on-screen reading with headings dividing the sections.

One thing most researchers on this topic agree on is that “the screen-reading vs. traditional reading question has nuances that scientists have yet to fully understand.”

Ultimately, it may be that both print and screen have unique advantages, and we’ll need to be able to read equally well on both—which means keeping our distracted habits onscreen from bleeding into what we read on an e-book or paperback.

If you click on the link to this article, you’ll see that it contains two animated gifs comprising lines moving across the screen. Many commenters at the end of the article asked why these annoying distractions were included. Any content producer interested in actually exploring the question of how well we can read on screen surely would not have included these. For an article claiming to examine the science, this trick is disingenuous.

The 7 Types of People You See in EVERY Bookstore

If you choose to read printed books, Amy Sachs assures you that, when you go to the bookstore, you’ll find these seven types there as well:

  1. The Aisle-Sitter
  2. The People Who Make Themselves At Home
  3. The Kid Being Dragged by Parents
  4. The Kid Who Wants ALL THE BOOKS
  5. The Time Waster
  6. The Guy Who’s Only There For Coffee
  7. The Student

The article illustrates each of these categories with an animated gif. Unlike the annoying distractions in the article above, these at least pertain to the article’s content and are amusing to boot.

100 Must-Read Books on English: Essays, Writing, and Literary Criticism

According to the introduction, “Mixed in there are many superb books on journalism, film criticism, and literary theory.”

There’s a lot to choose from here, although some of them are more in the “must read” category than others.

HOW CHANGING YOUR READING HABITS CAN TRANSFORM YOUR HEALTH

Michael Grothaus writes that reading War and Peace during a downturn in his life “changed something in me. It’s almost impossible to explain why, but after reading it I felt more confident in myself, less uncertain about my future. I became more assertive with my bosses. I got back on the horse, so to speak.”

For an explanation of how this happened, he turns to Dr. Josie Billington, deputy director of the Centre for Research into Reading at the University of Liverpool:

“Reading can offer richer, broader, and more complex models of experience, which enable people to view their own lives from a refreshed perspective and with renewed understanding,” says Billington. This renewed understanding gives readers a greater ability to cope with difficult situations by expanding their “repertoires and sense of possible avenues of action or attitude.”

And, according to Billington, the subject of the book doesn’t have to mirror one’s own life situation for this effect to occur. “People who read find it easier to make decisions, plan, and prioritize,” she says.

Grothaus also talked with Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agency, a U.K. charity that develops and delivers programs to encourage people to read more.

“Reading for pleasure in general can also help prevent conditions such as stress, depression, and dementia,” says Wilkinson. “Research has shown that people who read for pleasure regularly report fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers. Large scale studies in the U.S. show that being more engaged with reading, along with other hobbies, is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incidents of dementia.”

To encourage yourself to read more and take advantage of the benefits of reading, Billington and Wilkinson offer these suggestions:

  1. Read what interests you, not what you think you “should” read.
  2. Find just 30 minutes a week to read.
  3. Create a challenge for yourself.
  4. Don’t stick with a book if you’re not enjoying it.

In my younger days I used to think that I had to finish every book I started. But about the time I turned 40 I realized that my reading life was nearly half over and I no longer had time to waste reading a book that wasn’t working for me. Admitting that it’s OK to put a book aside was tremendously liberating. Life is too short, and there are too may other books waiting to be read. I do, however, believe that I shouldn’t review a book I haven’t completed, although I do reserve the right to say I didn’t finish the book and to explain why.

The Virtues of Difficult Fiction

Cover: Cloud AtlasJoanna Scott writes “Complex literary works demand an effort from the reader that is becoming harder to justify, given the sink-or-swim pressures to make profitable products for a global marketplace.” But, she contines, fiction gives us knowledge: “This is the case that must be made for fiction if the genre is going to survive as an art.”

For support of this assertion, Scott turns to Virginia Woolf:

When we read actively, alertly,opening ourselves to unexpected discoveries, we find that great writers have a way of solidifying “the vague ideas that have been tumbling in the misty depths of our minds.” For Woolf, fiction provides an essential kind of knowledge that can only be acquired by careful reading.

And, Scott warns, “serious reading is in serious danger of being lost to future generations.” Although we may seem to be reading more, she writes, “The surprising problem arising in our culture is that good, active, creative reading is on the decline.”

In making her argument, Scott refers to the following books:

  • The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood
  • Nobody Grew but the Business by Joseph Tabbi
  • Words Onscreen by Naomi Baron
  • Slow Reading in a Hurried Age by David Mikics

Finally, Scott reaches this conclusion: “Let’s not give up on the intricacies of ambitious fiction. Let’s not stop reading the kind of books that keep teaching us to read.” We should continue to challenge ourselves as readers by spending the time necessary for slow reading, for immersing ourselves in complex fictional worlds.

5 Common Reading Mistakes You’re Making That Could Ruin Your Literary Life

To end on a light note, I give you Emma Oulton, who believes that no hobby holds more potential pitfalls and perils than reading:

there are a ton of things that can go wrong when you’re reading. You might find out how the book ends. You might fall in love with a character who dies and breaks your heart so badly you can’t leave your room for weeks. You might have your nose so stuck in your book that you don’t look where you’re going, and then you trip over and a bookcase lands on you.

To avoid coming to such harm, do not commit these common reading mistakes:

  1. Googling the book you’re currently reading
  2. Telling somebody what you’re reading
  3. Not bookmarking responsibly
  4. Not bringing enough books on vacation
  5. Finishing every book you start

And, to lighten the mood even more, the article illustrates each one of these points with—you guessed it—an animated gif.

Happy reading!

Monday Miscellany

Because I am currently in the process of leaving my heart in San Francisco, this week’s Monday Miscellany is short.

10 of the Best Independent Bookstores Across the U.S.

Barnes & Noble will always be there with a stack of bestsellers, and Half Price Books is likely to have the novel you’re looking for in a pinch. But for travelers, little will beat the act of stepping inside a small, local bookstore, being greeted by the owner and guided through the collection by an employee who actually loves literature as much as you do. Maybe it’s their independent spirit (reading, after all, is a form of freedom), or maybe it’s that they’re connected with local authors, but the independent bookstore manages to live on in an era of Kindles and chain resellers. So, if you’re like us, and agree that a good trip deserves a good book, then just for you, here are 10 of our editors’ favorite independently owned bookstores throughout the United States.

Are you lucky enough to have one of these stores nearby?

  • The Booksmith, San Francisco, CA
  • Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
  • Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
  • Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café & Grill, Washington, D.C.
  • Mercer Street Books & Records, New York
  • Powell’s, Portland, OR
  • Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA
  • Square Books, Oxford, MS
  • Strand Book Store, New York
  • Women & Children First, Chicago, IL

Cheyenne literary club vibrant after 112 years

Then there is the Young Men’s Literary Club of Cheyenne, still going after an incredible 112 years.
Established in 1902, the capital city’s organization is something of a relic and only one of a handful of literary clubs from that era that survive today.
It is an elite men-only organization with 30 active members who must be invited to join.

The rules of the club state that its purpose is “to provide benefits from the training of the mind in literary pursuits and the advantage to be gained by the interchange of ideas and discussion of topics of public interest.”

But isn’t it too bad that no one has realized, during those 112 years, that women read and discuss literature, too? See how the exclusive members reacted to a couple of different attempts to incorporate women into the group.

Shel Silverstein’s Unlikely Rise to Kid Lit Superstardom

Shel Silverstein—the late cartoonist, singer, songwriter, playwright, and mega-selling author of such classics as The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends—didn’t like children’s literature. Spoon-feeding kids sugar-sweet stories just wasn’t his style. Fortunately for generations of young readers, someone convinced him to do something about it—namely, break the mold himself. Using edgy humor, clever rhymes, and tripped-out drawings, Silverstein achieved the impossible. He bridged the worlds of adult and children’s art, while becoming wildly popular in the process.

More of the usual good stuff from Metal Floss.

Monday Miscellany

Gillian Flynn: By the Book

Gone Girl: cover

In this interview with The New York Times, the author of the wildly successful thriller Gone Girl reveals what books she’s currently reading, who is her all-time favorite novelist, what makes a great thriller, and how she’s faring with the self-imposed project of reading every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in chronological order.

Why We Lie About Our Favorite Books

Author Gabrielle Zevin, whose most recent novel is The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, confesses that she has sometimes lied when asked what her favorite book is. In fact, just about everybody does. (And yes, we all know she’s not lying about this.)

And why do we do this? It’s probably a matter of the image of ourselves that we want to present:

I don’t mind when people “lie” about what they read. I think the lie itself is revealing and the more I consider the matter, I’m not even sure it’s a lie. On some level, I think we want our reading self to represent our best self.

Some books are too cool to be bought

Unable to find a copy of a work by Samuel Beckett, Arifa Akbar discovers that some authors’ books are routinely stolen from bookstore shelves:

There are , famously, certain authors and titles that are prone to getting stolen – William S. Burroughs, Italo Calvino, Raymond Chandler, Jack Kerouac, et al. Terry Pratchett, a refreshing departure from the usual, über-trendy suspects above, has joked about being the most stolen author in Britain. I knew Charles Bukowski always featured highly on America’s most pilfered – but I didn’t know he was a big-hitter here too. Yeah, the women at Waterstones said, there was a time when they couldn’t put him on the shelves. He’d have to be sold behind the counter, like contraband. It sounded outlandish, like something from a Woody Allen film.

. . .

The women at Waterstones didn’t think it had anything to do with price. They reckoned that certain authors were cooler to steal than to buy.

How novel: books about books and the joy of reading

Most avid readers probably have their own list of favorite books about books and reading, but here’s The Irish Times‘s list of 10.

Monday Miscellany

Additions to Your TBR List

woman readingJust in case your TBR (to-be-read) list isn’t long enough, here are two articles with recommendations you can add.

10 overlooked novels: how many have you read?

Most novels come, have their day, and are gone. For ever. Most deserve their “do not resuscitate” label. Every so often, though, a novel rises from the grave to claim its belated fame. On 5 July last year, addressing the nation on the Today programme, Ian McEwan did a revival job on Stoner – a novel published to modest praise in 1965 and long out of print. John Williams’s bleak, but exquisitely written, chronicle of a second-rate prof in a third-rate American university went on to become the 2013 novel of the year.

What other dead and forgotten works would one dig up from the dusty vaults of the British Library? Everyone will have their own overdue for resurrection list: here’s my top 10. Not all of them are what the critics would call “great novels” (a couple most certainly are) but they are, I can guarantee, great reads. And what more do you want from a work of fiction?

I have to admit that I had only heard of one of the novels on this list, and I haven’t read any of them.

9 Contemporary Authors You Should Be Reading

Despite rumors about the death of the literary novel, there’s never been more fantastic literary fiction and non-fiction being produced. As readers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the flood of well-crafted books demanding our attention.

Don’t despair, however; in celebration of HuffPost’s 9th birthday, we’ve compiled a list of 9 truly brilliant contemporary authors who shouldn’t be missed. Each of these authors has a book out this spring, but many have a larger oeuvre to explore, and all are must-reads for literature lovers today.

And I’m doing only slightly better with this list. At least I’ve bought Leslie Jamison’s essay collection The Empathy Exams.

 

Does Literary Fiction Challenge Racial Stereotypes?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the press recently about whether reading fiction makes us more moral or more empathetic. Some of the research into these areas is open to criticism because its terminology and methodology are too vague and ill defined. But a recent study “Changing Race Boundary Perception by Reading Narrative Fiction,” led by Dan Johnson of Washington and Lee University, focused on a specific question: Could the reading of a fictional narrative change the perception of racial stereotypes?

Jalees Rehman, M.D., reports on this study in The Huffington Post. His conclusion:

This study is the first to systematically test the impact of reading literary fiction on an individual’s assessment of race boundaries and genetic similarity. It suggests that fiction can indeed blur the perception of race boundaries and challenge our stereotypes.

In addition to information on this study, Rehman offers a summary of, with links to, reports on other research about how reading fiction affects us.

Amazon-Hachette spat draws writers’ ire

Amazon’s secret campaign to discourage customers from buying books by Hachette, one of the big New York publishers, burst into the open Friday.

The uneasy relationship between the retailer and the writing community that needs Amazon but fears its power immediately soured as authors took to Twitter to denounce what they saw as bullying.

 

Monday Miscellany

Top 10 books about missing persons

Gone Girl: cover
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

Top-notch mystery writer Laura Lippman discusses “the 10 best books about mysterious disappearances”:

And while most missing person stories centre on those left behind, the “disappeared” have their stories to tell as well. These are often crime stories, and always love stories.

In fact, the most satisfying ones are those in which a bereft loved one becomes determined to track down the missing person, at any cost.

Not surprisingly, at the top of her list is Gillian Flynn’s recent run-away best seller, Gone Girl. See what other books made the list.

Bookstores in Seattle Soar, and Embrace an Old Nemesis: Amazon.com

SEATTLE — A love of books and bookstores runs deep in the sinews of this city, where gray skies and drizzle can drive a person to drink, or read, or both. A long-running annual survey ranks Seattle the country’s second-most literate big city, behind Washington, D.C., as measured by things like the number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and education.

Amazon.com Inc. also calls Seattle home. And in recent years, as many small independent bookstores here and around the nation struggled or closed their doors, owners often placed blame for their plight on the giant online retailer’s success in delivering best sellers at discount prices, e-readers and other commodities of the digital marketplace.

The New York Times reports on the irony that “local bookstore owners have seen a surprising new side of the company they loved to hate: Many Amazon employees, it turns out, are readers who are not shopping at the company store.”

Books that inspired punk

Punk began in the mid-1970s as a total rebellion against rock music of the time. Rock had become overdone, with long complicated guitar solos that were accompanied by full orchestrations; the rock stars were flying in private jets with the Queen; and fans had to pay a fortune to squint at the act from the back of a stadium. Punk aimed to bring the music back to the people. To play punk all you needed was to, as Sid Vicious said, “just pick a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music.”

Unfortunately, that lack of emphasis on expertise has caused many to regard punk as not the most intelligent of genres-yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Aside from the advanced political attitudes that punk came to represent, the genre is bursting with literary influence.

Read how writers as diverse as George Orwell and William S. Burroughs have influenced punk rock.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and the literary spouse

The 75th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath on Monday April 14 is a reminder of the potentially key role of literary spouses. Steinbeck didn’t like his own ideas for the title, so when his wife Carol proposed a phrase from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” he adopted it at once.

This set us thinking about the impact of other partners on the history of literature. As the following examples show, though usually either dismissed as humble help­meets or complained about as posthumous image-protectors, they can sometimes decisively shape a book or career.

4 Anti-Heroines in Literature Who Are Inspiring, Admirable and Tough as Nails

There’s nothing unexpected in Alexandra Israel’s list:

  • Tess from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles 
  • Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey
  • Anna Karenina from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
  • Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

More interesting is the concept of anti-heroine she discusses:

By definition, an anti-heroine is “a female protagonist, as in a novel or play, whose attitudes and behaviors are not typical of a conventional heroine.” Flavorwire had a more up-to-date definition, inspired by author Leslie Jamison: “Fairy tales introduce us to certain standard breeds of heroine: beautiful innocents, homely martyrs, and plucky tomboys. These heroines aren’t those ones… they make it hard to look away.” This definition is true; anti-heroines are sometimes what keep us going in long novels.

Be sure to click through to the Flavorwire piece Israel references to see more of Leslie Jamison’s definition and her longer list of literary anti-heroines.

And what other female fictional characters would make your list?

Barnes & Noble Stores Have Credit Card Data Breach

Barnes & Noble Stores Have Credit Card Data Breach – NYTimes.com

Hackers have stolen credit card information for customers who shopped as recently as last month at 63 Barnes & Noble stores across the country, including stores in New York City, San Diego, Miami and Chicago, according to people briefed on the investigation.

If you shop at Barnes & Noble, you might want to check if your location is on the list.

Amazon Announces the Most Well-Read Cities in the U.S.

Amazon Media Room: Press Releases.

Alexandria, VA, tops Amazon’s list, with Richmond, VA, rounding out the list at #20. In between are, well, a lot of other cities, including my own current hometown, St. Louis, at #18.

Berkeley, CA, residents bought the most travel books, while Cambridge, MA, can boast the most entrepreneurs.

 

Steve Jobs Biography and Other Hot Titles Bookstore Lures

Steve Jobs Biography and Other Hot Titles Bookstore Lures – NYTimes.com

the initial weeks of Christmas shopping, a boom time for the book business, have yielded surprisingly strong sales for many bookstores, which report that they have been lifted by an unusually vibrant selection; customers who seem undeterred by pricier titles; and new business from people who used to shop at Borders, the chain that went out of business this year.

Despite all the news about the growing popularity of ebooks, readers seem to be returning to traditional books–and traditional bookstores–this holiday season.

“This year so far, it’s been the year of nonfiction,” said Peter Aaron, owner of the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, citing “The Beauty and the Sorrow,” a history of World War I by Peter Englund, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, an exploration of thinking and intuition. “What’s extraordinary about the books that are out there is that they’ve been so well written and such a pleasure to read. Maybe people have an appetite for nonfiction right now, just for some sort of grounding in reality.”

What My Book Group Is Reading

This article about a book group originally formed at a Borders store prompted me to post about my own formerly-Borders group. We are a general group. Although fiction probably dominates, we read both fiction and nonfiction. We originated about 12 years ago in a Borders store that went down in the first round of closings. Still lead by our former Borders employee, we have relocated to the cafe of a nearby Barnes & Noble store. We meet once a month.

Right now we are focusing on books about Hemingway’s expat experience in Europe in the 1920s. Hemingway has been much in the news because of  the 50th anniversary earlier this month of his suicide. And there’s a lot of current interest in Paris–for example, Woody Allen’s new movie Midnight in Paris.

Here’s what we’re reading now:

  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: his’s account of life in Paris in the 1920s.
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: a novel narrated in the first person by Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife, about her life with struggling-writer husband.
  • The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway: his first published novel, covering life in Europe in the 1920.
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough: the story of how famous Americans brought back their findings about Paris between 1830 and 1900.

Why Borders Failed While Barnes & Noble Survived : NPR

It appears to be all over for the Borders bookselling chain. The company will be liquidated — meaning sold off in pieces — and almost 11,000 employees will lose their jobs. The chain’s 400 remaining stores will close their doors by the end of September.

Say what you like, it’s a sad day for book lovers when any bookstore closes. And here’s another piece from NPR explaining ramifications of the demise of Borders.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, someone created the hashtag #ThankUBorders asking people to post their memories of and tributes to Borders. Mine was that at my local Borders I met many people through book groups who are now my best friends.

So yes, I will miss my local Borders. How about you?