Have you ever thought how life would be if you couldn’t read or write?
Tom Mole’s book “The Secret Life of Books” summed up our love of books and how they transformed us. I found this book was well written, humorous and convincing.
In Maryanne Wolf’s book “Reader come home: the reading brain in a digital world” she chronicles changes in the brains of children and adults as they learn to read while immersed in a digitally dominated medium and is concerned over the inability of young readers to concentrate completely and develop a deeper and questioning mind whilst reading. Wolf is a cognitive neuroscientist and an advocate for children and literacy around the world. The reviews on her book are mixed. The book is written as a series of letters to enhance a more personal feel for the reader. I found I lost interest and agreed with some of her reviewers. One stated “ Wolf never uses 15 words where she can use 60. She never uses a ‘common’ word when she can use a longer, lesser-known one.” Another reviewer stated “Almost every page in this book has a pithy quote or anecdote from three or four different literary/historical figures and it’s just so tiresome I can’t continue.” She blames digital interruptions, for example adverts, and wandering off topic, and skimming as reasons for loss of attention. As an adult I would argue that it is only true if one lets these distractions dictate one’s reading. The arguments weren’t balanced. There are good reasons for skimming. Learning to keep focused despite the distractions is a discipline but not impossible to achieve.
There is a school of thought that reading on e-readers or digital devices is the death of the paper books. I like both forms. I prefer the convenience of being able to carry several books on my e-reader and also being able to curl up in bed with a book in a lightweight device. Also I don’t feel reading on my Kindle stops me from being transported into the world the author has created. Wolf believes reading paper books in the early years leads to a better deeper understanding and better concentration.
Were our brains made for reading?
Human brains are naturally wired to speak; they are not naturally wired to read and write. With teaching, children typically learn to read at about age 5 or 6 and need several years to master the skill. Reading and writing are acquired skills for which the human brain is not yet fully evolved (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989). Sophisticated reading comprehension is the goal of 8 to 16 more years of schooling.
It’s been over a century since scientists identified an area of the brain that serves as its “letterbox.” The “visual word form area,” or VWFA, recognizes letter and word shapes before sending them on to the brain’s language regions for processing.
The researchers found that even in the newborns who were less than a week old, the VWFA was different from the visual cortex in that it already had connections to the language areas of the brain. While the VWFA and visual cortex share some characteristics — they both require high spatial resolution in order to accurately comprehend what they’re seeing — the study reveals that “the VWFA is specialized to see words even before we’re exposed to them.”
Students with a reading disability, including dyslexia, are not able to access the reading centres in rear left of the brain. Wolf argues that Dyslexia is the result of a brain that’s organized in a different way that needs different teaching methods. If they don’t receive tuition to read they show anxiety and frustration
Learning to read involves training our visual system to recognize patterns—the patterns exhibited by text. You can approximate the feeling of illiteracy by taking a page written in a familiar script and language and turning it upside down. Try this now and attempt to read the following paragraph. This exercise only approximates the feeling of illiteracy. You will discover that the inverted text appears foreign and illegible at first, but after a minute you will be able to read it, albeit slowly and laboriously.
˙ʞǝǝʍ ɐ sǝʇnuᴉɯ 06 ɹoɟ ǝnbᴉuɥɔǝʇ sᴉɥʇ ƃuᴉɔᴉʇɔɐɹd ʎlǝɹǝɯ ʎq sʞǝǝʍ 0Ɩ ɹǝʌo ǝʇnuᴉɯ ɹǝd spɹoʍ ϛƐ ʎq pǝǝds ƃuᴉpɐǝɹ uʍop-ǝpᴉsdn pǝʌoɹdɯᴉ ǝldoǝd punoɟ ʇɐɥʇ ʎpnʇs ㄣƖ0ᄅ ɐ uᴉ pǝlɐǝʌǝɹ sɐʍ sᴉɥ┴ ˙ǝʌoɹdɯᴉ uɐɔ ǝuoʎuɐ ʇsoɯlɐ ɥɔᴉɥʍ ʇɐ llᴉʞs ɐ sᴉ sᴉɥʇ ‘ɹǝʇʇǝq uǝʌƎ ˙pɐǝɹ noʎ ʇɐɥʍ ɟo sǝᴉɹoɯǝɯ ɹnoʎ sǝʌoɹdɯᴉ ʎlʇuɐɔᴉɟᴉuƃᴉs uʍop ǝpᴉsdn spɹoʍ ƃuᴉpɐǝɹ
Learning to read also involves training the brain’s systems that control eye movement to move our eyes in a specific way over text. The main direction of eye movement depends on the direction in which the language we are reading is written. Our eyes constantly jump around, several times a second. Each of these movements, called saccades, lasts about 0.1 second. Saccades are ballistic, like firing a shell from a cannon: their endpoint is determined when they are triggered, and once triggered, they always execute to completion.
When we read, we may feel that our eyes scan smoothly across the lines of text, but that feeling is incorrect. In reality, our eyes continue with saccades during reading, but the movements generally follow the line of text. They fix our fovea on a word, pause there for a fraction of a second to allow basic patterns to be captured and transmitted to the brain for further analysis. then jump to the next important word.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more, including a useful site for reviewing older website pages. They announced that they were fighting the right for libraries to lend books freely. Four large publishing companies have filed a lawsuit to criminalise lending. The Internet Archive and other libraries make and lend out digital scans of print books in our collections, subject to strict technical controls. Each book loaned via CDL has already been bought and paid for, so authors and publishers have already been fully compensated for those books, but the claim is that this violates their copyrights.
The question is “Should we stop libraries from owning and lending books?”