Tag Archives: Novels

Reading in the Age of Fake News

“In order to have an overall developed personality to cope with modern-day crisis, it becomes vital not only to study literature, but also see its relevance in economic, political and class terms. Such is the coalescing of radical sociology and the humanities, more so at a time when the old certainties are questioned and a civil society is being built around new identities and forms of empowerment.

“In Praise of Literature [the authors] argue for the redirection of sociology and literature towards active politics, justice and freedom. In other words, art and literature can never be cordoned off from social sciences and social theory. Literary scholars bring perceptive readings to bear upon social and political texts in the same way as sociologists throw light on the human condition. For instance, Greek Tragedy is aptly used in putting across a case in criminal law having direct bearing on social welfare, or Plato and Gibbon facilitate the understanding of diplomacy or important aspects of human value and the meaning of life, the chief concern of liberal arts.

“The crossing over from literary practice to social theory or vice versa gives a broader critical and philosophical grounding to the study of ideology and resistance, knowledge and power, the major concerns of humanities in a world overtaken by ‘pseudo modernism’ that spells disaster for our pulverised culture of ‘unreliable Wikipedia and blogs.’”

From, and more: https://www.tribuneindia.com/mobi/news/spectrum/books/words-that-drive-society/303323.html

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Survival of the Readest

Book readers enjoy longer, healthier lives. The results of a study 

“suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.

“While most sedentary behaviors are well-established risk factors for mortality in older individuals […] previous studies of a behavior which is often sedentary, reading, have had mixed outcomes. That is, some found that reading reduces the risk of mortality […] whereas others found that it has no effect […] However, previous studies often combined different types of reading material and have not compared the health benefits of reading-material type; also, the mechanism for the possible protective effect was not identified. We speculated that books engage readers’ minds more than newspapers and magazines, leading to cognitive benefits that drive the effect of reading on longevity. In the following study, we were able to build on previous studies by examining the potential survival advantage of books. We predicted that the survival advantage for reading books would be greater than the survival advantage of reading newspapers and magazines.

“Reading books tends to involve two cognitive processes that could create a survival advantage. First, it promotes “deep reading,” which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented […] Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books […] Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival […] Better health behaviors and reduced stress may explain this process […]

“The current study hypothesized that book reading provides a survival advantage, and that this advantage is mediated by cognitive engagement. To determine if the advantage is specific to the immersive nature of book reading, we also examined whether there is a survival advantage to reading periodicals (i.e., newspapers and magazines). Cognitive engagement might also occur while reading thought-provoking periodicals, however this engagement is more likely to occur when reading books due to the tendency of book authors to present themes, characters and topics in greater length and depth. Accordingly, we hypothesized that the survival advantage would be stronger when reading books compared to periodicals.”

From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5105607/#R3

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Simplicity and Clarity vs Complexity in Writing

“There are many plausible reasons that the use of million-dollar words would lead readers to believe that an author is smart. Intelligence and large vocabularies are positively correlated. Therefore, by displaying a large vocabulary, one may be providing cues that he or she is intelligent as well. Secondly, writers are assumed to be conforming to the Gricean maxim of manner, ‘avoid obscurity of expression’. If authors are believed to be writing as simply as possible, but a text is nonetheless complex, a reader might believe that the ideas expressed in that text are also complex, defying all attempts to simplify the language. Further, individuals forced to struggle through a complex text might experience dissonance if they believe that the ideas being conveyed are simple. Thus, individuals might be motivated to perceive a difficult text as being more worthwhile, thereby justifying the effort of processing. […]

Why might we believe that the experts might be correct in recommending simplicity in writing? One theory that predicts the effectiveness of straightforward writing is that of processing fluency. Simpler writing is easier to process, and studies have demonstrated that processing fluency is associated with a variety of positive dimensions. Fluency leads to higher judgements of truth, confidence, frequency, fame, and even liking. Furthermore, the effects of fluency are strongest when the fluency is discrepant — when the amount of experienced fluency is surprising. As such, it would not be surprising if the lower fluency of overly complex texts caused readers to have negative evaluations of those texts and the associated authors, especially if the complexity was unnecessary and thus surprising readers with the relative disfluency of the text.

Both the experts and prevailing wisdom present plausible views, but which (if either) is correct? The present paper provides an empirical investigation of the strategy of complexity, and finds such a strategy to be unsuccessful. Five studies demonstrate that the loss of fluency due to needless complexity in a text negatively impacts raters’ assessments of the text’s authors.”

From, and Read the study (PDF): http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/psy3001/files/simple%20writing.pdf

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Publishing is about much more than book sales

“When we talk about publishing these days, we have to talk about much more than book sales, even more than the written word and books themselves. We need to talk about all the things we do with and around books, our engagement with book culture.

In other words, we need to talk about publishing as a cultural practice, as something that contributes to or even constitutes who we are as individuals, who we are as citizens. We need to talk about publishing as a socio-cultural activity that helps us to understand our place in the world.

Publishing expresses and shapes our societies. It even plays a part in the kind of nations we live in. It would be wise, therefore, to broaden the conversation about it to more than sales figures.

In short, we need to shift our attention from publishing as a business process to thinking about publishing as an act of culture.”

From: theconversation.com/publishing-should-be-more-about-culture-than-book-sales-54173

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What is Literature

What is literature? — It Is the personal preference of a writer (or a reader) for the works of certain writers: his idea of what should be described for a larger circle of readers as worthwhile reading. Ford Madox Ford says so in almost as many words:

“Let us then sum up literature as that which men [and women, presumably] read, and continue to read for pleasure or to obtain that imaginative culture which is necessary for civilisations. Its general characteristic is that it is the product of a poetic, an imaginative, or even merely a quaintly observant, mind. Since the days of Confucius, or the earliest Egyptian writers a thousand years before his time, there have been written in stone, on papyrus, wax, vellum, or merely paper, an immense body of matter — innumerable thousands of tons of it. This matter is divisible into that which is readable and that which is unreadable except by specialists in one or another department of human knowledge. The immediate test for one’s self as to what is literature and what is not literature — the ‘biblia a-biblia,’ as the Greeks used to call this last — is simply whether one does or does not find a book readable. But if a book has found readers for 2000 or 500, or merely 80 or 2O years, you would be rash, even though you could not read it yourself, to declare that it was not literature — not, that is to say, a work of art. . . . But for the judging of contemporary literature the only test is one’s personal taste. If you much like a new book, you must call it literature, even though you find no other soul to agree with you, and if you dislike a book, you must declare that it is not literature, though a million voices should shout to you that you are wrong. The ultimate decision will be made by Time.”

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Reading, What is it Good For?

“Reading is a crucial practice in contemporary life. Reading helps us to better ourselves by educating our minds, enriching our knowledge, and exposing us to new and diverse ideas and perspectives, not to mention different lifestyles, worlds, and ways of being. This exposure to diversity and difference, in turn, helps enable us to better understand, not just ourselves, but the world around us.

Reading opens us up to new senses and possibilities. Manguel describes learning to read as “acquiring a new sense, so that now certain things no longer consisted merely of what my eyes could see, my ears could hear, my tongue could taste, my nose could smell, my fingers could feel, but of what my whole body could decipher, translate, give voice to, read”.

Reading makes it possible for us to attain higher levels of awareness, enhancing our other senses, enriching our knowledge, and augmenting and adding to our realities. It therefore opens up new possibilities for us to explore and experience.

There are many other great advantages of and to reading, including strengthening cognition and intellect, improving mental and physical health, and enhancing compassion and empathy.”

From, and read more about the importance of reading: timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151102/opinion/The-benefits-of-reading.590612

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Literature Can Bind a Split Nation

The “lack of meaningful connections among citizens is a complex problem. It contributes to the crippling partisanship”. …

“If the root of our problems … is a breakdown in communication and connection, literature has some incredibly powerful tools to help.” …

“learning how to engage with literature and, by extension, with others, is a very practical, widely-applicable skill.” …

“Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender or personality type. … Great literature allows one to think and feel from within how other cultures think and feel”.

“It’s not necessarily about the specific content of what you read; it’s the underlying practice of putting yourself inside another person’s head, inhabiting a narrative that is not your own, and considering perspectives that you do not share. Time spent actually exercising these skills and improving your capacity to connect and empathize with people – actually reading literature – is time well spent. It’s a concrete step to making you a more effective leader, better positioned to address the crises in our country today and cross the fault lines that have distanced us from each other.

Reading a book won’t singlehandedly bring about the end of American conflict – but it may make you better equipped to start.”

From, and read more: blog.acton.org/archives/80087-literature-empathy-and-american-prosperity.html

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Storytelling Hightens Moral Reasoning

Intriguing new evidence “shows a positive correlation between literacy and moral reasoning, most particularly between reading fiction and being able to take the perspective of others. Perspective-taking in novels requires a matrices-like rotation of relational positions combined with an understanding of what it would feel like if X happened to you, even though the “you” in this case is a character in the novel.”

“In a 2011 study, for example, the Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson and his team scanned the brain of a woman while she told a story out loud that the scientists recorded and subsequently played back for other subjects while their brains were being scanned. When the reader’s emotional brain region called the insula lit up during a certain portion of the story, so too did the listeners’ insulas; when the woman’s frontal cortex became active during a different part of the story, the same region in listeners’ brains was also activated. It’s almost as if the fictional story synchronized the reader’s and listeners’ brains.”

“This experiment is important because it nails down the direction of the causal arrow from reading literary fiction to perspective taking, eliminating the objection that perhaps people who are interested in and good at interpreting the mental states of others just happen to be people who read novels.”

From: reason.com/archives/2015/02/17/are-we-becoming-morally-smarte

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Infinite World Awaits Your Discovery

When we read books our world becomes infinite:

“We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books…. in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” C. S. Lewis, in: An Experiment in Criticism

From: lifehacker.com.au/2014/11/cs-lewis-on-reading-literature-those-who-dont-inhabit-a-tiny-world/

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The Last Untamed Medium: the Novel

“A novel can change lives. Reading fiction is a more intimate – and as a result a more potentially profound – experience than watching a film, or a television series, or even hearing new music.

It is one person talking to another. If it is the right book at the right time, it can convey an important message of comfort and reassurance: you are not alone.

However determinedly schools and universities instil the importance of reading critically, a novel can break through society’s carefully erected barriers of respectability, responsible behaviour and correct thinking. For this reason, it is unlikely to have been tamed and institutionalised by being included on a reading list for exams.”

From: belfasttelegraph.co.uk/debateni/news/no-it-is-not-fiction-a-novel-certainly-can-change-lives-30535160.html

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