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Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

I just finished Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains—not a cheerful read. Citing study after study and using his own experience as a case in point, Carr argues that we are ceding the best of being human to—as Ken Jennings said of Watson—“our new computer overlords.”

Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

As we click from link to link, we simultaneously erode our ability to read deeply. Ever try to read a book and find yourself distracted? It’s not because you’re getting older—it’s because you need something to click to. Me, you, all of us—we’re addicted to distraction now.

I, for one, will not give in or give up on books, even as I make use of the web for what it offers. Little did I suspect when I cracked open a fresh paperback edition of Nicholas Nickleby earlier this year that I was doing my brain a favor—keeping my deep-reading neural pathways well-greased.

I try to read Dickens on a regular basis, but it was still a struggle at first, plunging back into his torrent of words. Nickleby is new to me, and I almost gave up as Dickens set up the storylines and main characters  that will play out over 65 chapters, 769 pages. But now I’m hooked on a tale that features both a dastardly rich uncle and an “infant phenomenon.”

A different kind of distraction.

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Jamberry by Bruce DeganOnce upon a time two little girls snuggled next to their mom every evening for bedtime stories.

When they were very young, they giggled at “raspberry, jazzberry, razzmatazzberry” and bid goodnight to the moon. As they grew older, they dodged drizzling meatballs and chased the stinky cheese man. Enchanted not only by words but also by pictures in their storybooks, the girls hunted for hidden hedgehogs and stopped in the woods on a snowy evening.

It’s been a long time since I read aloud to my daughters—both are now in their twenties—but lately I’ve been thinking about that time we spent together.

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Photo source: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Jamberry-Bruce-Degen/?isbn=9780060214166

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Some people check into Boston’s stately old Parker House Hotel while on business or as tourists. Others frequent its restaurant to sample the famous rolls and the original recipe for Boston Cream Pie. I visited the Parker House to peer into an old mirror, hoping that Charles Dickens might peer back out at me.

I’ve loved Dickens since I read A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations in junior high. I’m hardly alone, of course—there are thousands of Dickensians around the globe. Venturing beyond the books, Dickens’ fans also frequent fellowships and fairs, memorials and museums, pubs and web pages and even a theme park in Kent, England. When I discovered there was a Dickens Room at the Parker House—in the midst of those dedicated to Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow—I wanted to see it for myself.

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On reading

The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

A warm spring day—April school vacation, bright sunshine and not yet enough leaves on the trees to supply much shade—and my mother is taking all four of us for a long walk. My brother and baby sister are riding in the stroller while my younger sister Mary Anne and I tag along. My mother is taking us to Toytown, a narrow strip of a shop with shelves of cars, trucks, dolls, and stuffed animals stretching all the way to the ceiling. My parents must have received their income tax refund and, in typical fashion, my mother is lavishing some of it on treats for us.

While she picks out toys for the babies, Mom tells me to help Mary Anne find a toy. I immediately let my four-year-old sister wander away while I concentrate on my own selection. A Barbie outfit seems like a natural choice; I could never have too many. But on my way to the Barbie aisle, I’m sidetracked by a shelf filled with books: the yellow and green spines of the Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames series, the Bobbsey Twins (both the classics and the mysteries), Heidi, Louisa May Alcott, anthologies like American Heroines (Dorothea Dix, Ida Lewis) and To Dance, To Dream (Isabella Duncan, Maria Tallchief).

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Westport Free Public Library borrowers downloaded 250 e-books last year—and that number is expected to rise dramatically in 2011, as more patrons discover the online service.

Anyone with a library card and an Internet connection can borrow the free e-books, which are digital versions of printed books. After downloading the required software, patrons can search for and borrow e-books just as they would a book in print. But there’s no need to return an e-book—it disappears from your virtual “bookshelf” once its due date is reached.

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