Monday, 27 August 2018

Should we be concerned with the new normal in reading??



Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound


When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. We need a new literacy for the digital age
Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing - a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.

As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading

 There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: "use it or lose it"

This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as  a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.                    We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.                        This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as  a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.                    We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.
"The negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade"              
Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.                              Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading comprehension in older high school and college students. In Stavanger, Norway, psychologist Anne Mangen and her colleagues studied how high school students comprehend the same material in different mediums. Mangen’s group asked subjects questions about a short story whose plot had universal student appeal (a lust-filled, love story); half of the students read Jenny, Mon Amour on a Kindle, the other half in paperback. Results indicated that students who read on print were superior in their comprehension to screen-reading peers, particularly in their ability to sequence detail and reconstruct the plot in chronological order.                                            Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.                    Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes, human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.”                                                              US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade - with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.                                                                     We need to cultivate a new kind of brain                  The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.
To survive our high-speed society, cultivate 'temporal bandwidth'
Alan Jacobs                                                          There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice. The story of the changing reading brain is hardly finished. We possess both the science and the technology to identify and redress the changes in how we read before  they become
readingentrenched. If we work to understand exactly what we will lose, alongside the extraordinary new capacities that the digital world has brought us, there is as much reason for excitement as caution.                               We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a good society.                                        Maryanne Wolf is the author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. 




Tuesday, 27 March 2018

For those that asked: here are the answers to have you ever heard of?


l will spare you the agony of guessing. Both groups were authors who published approximately during the same time period; however the first group were all awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and the second group not.

It even gets worse than this as there was something of a scandal when Tolstoy was snubbed for the inaugural Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901, which resulted in 42 Swedish writers and artists (among them the playwright August Strindberg) writing to the Academy complaining about their misjudgement. But in spite of this he was he was nominated no less than 10 times for the prize but was passed over each time, and thus never received it.

But it isn’t only the Academy who get it wrong – publishers are sometimes not much better as the following example will illustrate.

In 1900 Miss Beatrice Potter, a London spinster with a penchant for painting watercolours of toadstools, wrote a book called Peter Rabit which was rejected by six publishers. She then published it herself, whereupon one of the publishers who initially rejected the manuscript, decided to publish any further editions but on condition that she had to finance it herself – well, she did, and three years later the sales topped 75 000 copies. I’m sure there was a publisher who could kick himelf. However, in later years some of her coleagues didn’t do much better. For instance

M.A.S.H. was turned down by 21 publishers

Lorna Doone was turned down by 18 publishers

The Silent Spring was turned down by 5 publishers

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull was turned down by 18 publishers

Kon Tiki was turned down by 20 publishers

The Peter Principle was turned down by 16 publishers

But the biggest miscalculation of all was when Frederick Forsyth gave up his job in the News Department of the BBC and wrote a thriller which he submitted to the publishers W.H. Auden. Eight weeks later they rejected it as they were of the view that it had “no reader interest”. He then tried his luck with four other publishers, also with no luck. Eventually one of these publishers, Hutchinsons, changed their mind and agreed to publish it. By 1982 The Day of the Jackal had sold over 8 million copies. Just the American rights were sold to Vicking Press for $365 000 (the equivalent of over $2 000 000 today) - the money being shared 50/50 between Forsyth and Hutchinson. Since then it has been translated into 30 languages.
We even have an example of this type of misjudgement in our own publishing world. Kook en Geniet was originally published by Mrs S.J.A. de Villiers in 1951 in her private capacity after South African publishers had expressed disinterest in it. In 1961 an English version appeared and it is estimated that by 2005 over half a million Afrikaans copies had been sold. Until 1990 she handled everything from printing to distributing of these immensely popular recipe books and at the time of her death in 2010, sales in both languages far exceeded a million copies, making it the most successful South African cookbook ever.

But sometimes even publishers in fact get it right.

On the 1st of June 1938 there appeared the first issue of ‘Action Comics’ which introduced the character of Superman. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel who created the character believed that “a birdman in the hand is better than two in the bush” and sold all their rights for $130, $65 each. In 2014 a pristine edition of Action Comics No. 1, which had introduced Superman, and had cost a dime (10 cents) in 1938, was sold for $3.2 million in an auction conducted on eBay.

Did you know: Edgar Allan Poe, Margaret Mitchell, and Oscar Wilde each had only one traditional novel published

Sources

David Frost’s Book of the World’s Worst Decisions, Andre Deutsch, 1982

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_of_the_Jackal

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cook_ 

Contributed by senior member Dan Steyn of Somerset West. ( Professor emeritus)



Friday, 29 September 2017

Coffee route 2018 for the Mother City now available



Yvette and Nicky added:
"In this, our fourth edition, The Coffee Route 2018, we have updated our offerings to reflect the exciting and changing coffee scene in Cape Town. 
There is a real coffee culture in and around Cape Town.  Coffee shops are where Capetonians meet up with friends, catch up on emails, read, write, contemplate the view, contemplate the carrot cake, contemplate life…
In 2015 we published our first The Coffee Route as a guide to the coffee shops that we thought were special and that we wanted to put on the map. We’ve now decided that an  annual update is called for as the coffee scene grows, improves and changes. In this 2018 guide there are updates of some favourites, and some fabulous new additions. 
The shops are still grouped geographically, with a helpful map for each area. Information on what kind of coffee is served,  whether there are plug points and wi-fi, how easy parking is, and what to do in the area, is all still included.
Things just get better and better in the Mother City and surrounds. 
The publication is available at several stockists (Exclusive Books, Wordsworth Books, Bargain Books, Biblophelia Bookshop, Clarke's Bookshop, to name a few) across the Cape Peninsula, including the featured coffee shops.

Gauteng: Available from www.honeybunch.co.za

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Have you ever heard these names in literature?

Ever heard of the following crowd?
·         René Sully-Prodhomme
·         Theodor Mommsen
·         Björnstjerne Björnson
·         Frederic Mistral
·         Henryk Sienkiewicz
·         Ciosue Carducci
I’ll admit the first time I saw these names I had no idea who they were, and I suppose many of you will also not recognise them.
So let us try something easier, do you recognise anyone of the following lot?
·         Leo Tolstoy
·         Henrik Ibsen
·         Henry James
·         Emile Zola
·         Joseph Conrad
·         Thomas Hardy
·         Marcel Proust

·         Anton Chekov

Contributed by Dan Steyn. There is more if you are interested, we will post it.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The dodgy profession - An insight by reader Dan Steyn

Thank you senior citizen Dan Steyn for this contribution. Dan is a Professor Emeritus and a prolific writer of fact , history and useless information.  
He is currently busy with a book on the history of the Kenyan Highlands during the period of British East Africa and subsequently Kenya. Dan grew up in Kenya where his father was a farmer, He is undoubtedly suitably qualified to tackle this enormous task. 

But over to Dan: This is what he wrote:
                                  The dodgy profession

 Below is a list of characters who all wrote.

 Some were full-time writers and some only published a single book. However, they had something else in common – see if you can guess what it was.

- Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) was a Spanish writer who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world's pre-eminent novelists. He wrote Don Quixote, which some regard as the first modern novel and the founding classic of Western Literature. 
Someone (unfortunately I cannot remember who) once said that if he had to choose the two best novels that had ever come out of Europe it would be Don Quixote and The Good Soldier Svejk by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek. I’m sure there are many who won’t agree, but the crazy old Spanish knight and the good-natured, garrulous Svejk (officially declared an idiot) are definitely two my favourite fictional characters. 
-  John Bunyon (1628-1688) was an English writer and Puritan preacher best remembered as the author of the Christian allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, cited as the first novel written in English. In addition to this he also wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons. The Pilgrim's Progress became one of the most published books in the English language; 1,300 editions having been printed by 1938, 250 years after the author's death. It is also regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, it has also been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print. 
On the other hand back in 1950, Columbia University Press polled hundreds of editors, writers, booksellers, librarians, literary critics, and general readers in order to produce a list of the 10 most boring books among the great classics – here is a list of the winners: Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan Faust, Goethe Don Quixote, Cervantes Ivanhoe, Scott Silas Marner, Eliot Pamela, Richardson Life of Samuel Johnson, Boswell Faerie Queene, Spenser Paradise Lost, Milton Moby Dick, 
- Melville Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was an English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer, and spy. Most people in the English-speaking world know that he wrote Robinson Crusoe, on the other hand probably very few are aware that he wrote two follow-up books: The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe was a huge success which in the 300 years since its publication has been translated into more than a 100 languages, including Inuit and Coptic. At least it was more successful than one of his other ventures which involved harvesting musk by extracting it from the anal glands of cats. 
-  Voltaire (1694 – 1778) was the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet, a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher who was famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church; his advocacy of freedom of religion and speech; and also the separation of church and state. 
Of all his quotes my favourite is: Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies. 
- Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was one of the stalwarts of Russian literature, whose books have been translated into more than 170 languages. He was best known for Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). However, not everyone thought him so great. Thus H L Mencken, one of America’s best known journalists and editors of the 20th century, put Dostoevsky at the top of his list of ‘the ten most boring authors of all time’.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was the master of off-the-cuff biting wit, thus for example when asked by an American customs officer whether he had anything to declare he answered: I have nothing to declare but my genius. Personally I prefer his irrelevant, quips such as the following: Murder is always mistake. One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner. Even when lying mortally ill in a Paris flophouse, his wit was still going strong as he announced, I am in a duel to death with this wallpaper. One of us has to go. O. 
Henry (1862-1910) was the nom de plume of William Sydney Porter, an American short story writer. He was a remarkable man who had very little education as he didn’t even attend high school; furthermore he also had serious health problems, suffering from consumption. And yet he became known as the master of surprise endings. Read Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet and While the Auto Waits and see if you don’t agree with me that they are in the same league as The Open Window by Saki – cited as one of the short-story masterpieces of all time. 
- Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) probably seems an unlikely candidate for our list. However he also wrote a book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) which was published in 1925. I once tried to read it and I doubt that I got to page 5 as I found it the most boring book I had ever come across. It starts with a 400-plus page diatribe on the problems besetting Germany and their lack of lebensraum and then goes on to set out his agenda for a Third Reich - a clear exposition of the nightmare that eventually enveloped Europe from 1939 to 1945. Initially sales of the book were rather slow, and it was not until 1933, the first year of his tenure as chancellor of Germany, that sales soared to over 1 million. Its popularity reached the point where it became de rigueur in Nazi Germany as the gift to newlywed couples. 
 Hitler himself had a few little secrets that did not exactly fit the Fuhrer of the German nation. In the first place he was anything but the tall blond, blue eyed Aryan model of the Herrenvolk, probably as he in fact had a good dollop (some put it as high as 25%) of Jewish blood in him. Furthermore, during his early days in Vienna he was quite a dandy, spending the little money he had on fancy clothes and day after day cooling his heels in the opera houses. But perhaps his greatest secret has to do with the popular view that he was wounded in WWI and thus found himself in hospital when the war ended. That he was in hospital was so, but not for any physical wounds, as he was admitted to a psychiatric institute where he was treated for hysterical blindness. Afterwards the poor doctor who treated him had to flee for his life as the Nazis could not afford this little bit of information to see the light of day. 
- Jeffrey Archer (born 1940) is quite a colourful character. Before becoming an author he was a Member of the British Parliament from 1969 to 1974, but did not seek re-election after a financial scandal that left him almost bankrupt. He revived his fortunes as a best-selling novelist; his books having sold around 330 million copies worldwide. During 1985–1986 he was the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and was also made a life peer in 1992. Subsequently he became the Conservative candidate to be the first elected Mayor of London. However he had to resign his candidacy in 1999 after it emerged that he had lied in a1987 libel case. 
If you have not guessed the answer by now the following lines by Richard Lovelace (who could also have been included on the list above) should give you a clue. 
           "Stone walls do not a prison make, 
             Nor iron bars a cage, 
             Minds innocent and quiet take That for a hermitage, 
              If I have freedom in my love,
              And in my soul am free, 
              Angels alone, that soar above, 
              Enjoy such liberty. 
Have you guessed yet?
 All of our friends above did time in jail. 
 John Bunyon was thrown in jail because of his religious teachings Oscar Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” (i.e. homosexual activity) 
Miguel de Cervantes and O. Henry were convicted for embezzlement
Fyodor Dostoevsky and Daniel Defoe were jailed for circulating pamphlets and essays critical of the government 
Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months for writing satirical verses about the aristocracy and the
Régent Jeffrey Archer was sent to prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice 
Adolf Hitler was jailed for leading a failed Putsch (coup) in Munich in November 1923 

 Dan Steyn 2017/08/19 

Echoes of War by William Riviére

The author weaves his story of the two world wars and the uneasy years of peace between the lives of a British family.
 Charles Lamas, a war hero and an accomplished artist in his forties lives in Eddingthorpe Manor.  After WW1 he bought a gentle property with a grand old house, outbuildings, a stable, a paddock, an orchard and a small woodland.  He lives there with his wife Blanche, their children Jack and Henrietta as well as their goddaughter  Georgia Burnly whose father works in the British colony of Burma..

There are other family, neighbours and friends and through their lives and actions one gets a pretty good idea of the way the gentry lived. Good people doing good things, living happily and contented lives but with the constant threat of "Echoes of War"
Through the life and times of Charles and Blanche Lamas, their friends, family and staff  William Riviére tells us of the first World War, its aftermath and how it affected and influenced everybody.
The story is skilfully told through the minds of  the characters that make up the community.  
They take up life where they left off with the advent of WW1, stubbornly denying that the world has changed for ever. Their social calendar is resumed with the annual shoot followed by lunch when the best wines are hauled up from the cellar, hosting elegant dinners, happy and gay parties and dancing. 
The men retire to smoke and discuss  politics, business, the price of produce and the merit of their shotguns, The women remain behind to talk fashion, the right marriage and the latest scandal.
In many ways it will remind you of Downton Abbey.
The author's description of the stirring uneasiness is not restricted to England: Life in Italy and the rise of fascism is discussed during visits of the Lamas family to Italy to stay with close friends and family. Charles Lamas has a passionate love affair with the beautiful and rebellious daughter of a close Italian  friend, much younger than him.
Blanche Lamas's rather eccentric brother and father of their rebellious god child Georgia, in service of the Empire in Burma, is locked in a loveless marriage. Riviére vividly describes their expat lifestyle and the local Burmese population. 
Despite British arrogant self confidence, Burma is overrun by the Japanese and everything falls apart for the expats  with  the Japanese invasion.The horror of the brutal Japanese occupation, the war crimes, killing, raping and brutality of the Japanese occupying forces leaves nothing to the readers imagination.
The story continues to  the end of WW2,  its aftermath and how the gentle lifestyle of the privileged in England is changed for ever. Their own version of the "Belle Epoque' is something of the past and they are bewildered and almost puzzled by the dramatic change and new world they have to live in.
Echoes of War is a formidable book and will not only keep you occupied for many hours but will also remind you again of the futility of war.
We highly recommend it to every serious reader

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Standard Bank executive tell people to stop buying book.

According to News24, Standard bank’s head of financial services, Nitesh Patel, recently said that folks should spend less on books; seriously p*ssing off authors, intellectuals – you know, the folks that read and write books, Mr Patel – and civil organisations around the country.
In an open letter to Standard Bank, local author Sophia Kapp said that Petel’s comments undermined the work the bank has been doing in promoting the arts.
“Local authors depend on local publishers to see their work published; if the industry should suffer because of his remarks, their work will never see the light of day. How undermining local writing would benefit the country or its people, I truly fail to see,” she said.
“I find that regrettable, if not reprehensible. I would have thought that in this country, where illiteracy, poor education and the lack of exposure to information are such massive impediments to social and economic development, Standard Bank and its representatives would be eager to foster a culture of reading and writing.”
That’s not all though; PEN Afrikaans has taken it a step further, saying that it would “encourage book lovers, authors, booksellers and publishers to withdraw their business from Standard Bank”.
Thankfully Patel later apologised – he must have been taken out of… context – and PEN didn’t have to punish the bank for one man’s silly slip-up.
As reported in "The South African.