One Schlep Forward
Let's say your father and you are going on a religious pilgramage ... to Uman, Ukraine. You're Jews. Your father came out as gay when he was 46. The father is a Reform rabbi. The pilgramage is a like an Hasidic Burning Man. Who needs to come up with a great idea for a story when this is your life? [more]
Alain de Bottom's new book on atheism and religion pays proper respect to both. I've seen the video from de Botton's TED speech and was quite impressed how it honestly presented the short comings of both theology and religion. From the book review today: "De Botton looks around and sees a secular scoiety denuded of high spiritual aspiration and practical moral guidance." [more]
Why Bilinguals Are Smarter
Terrific story about the benefits of speaking two languages. From the article:
The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving. [more]
The Way We Read Now
The Week in Review section has a raft of articles on readig and literature. This one, by Dwight Garner, is an ambivalent comparision of different e-reader platforms. Here's an excerpt: I’ve tried poetry on each of these platforms: Larkin, Dickinson, Philip Levine, Amy Clampitt. It’s not happening, at least not for me. There’s not enough white space, nor silence. The poems seem shrunken and trapped, like lobsters half-dead in a supermarket glass pen, their claws rubber-banded. Poems should be printed on paper, or carved onto the dried husks of coconuts, so one can hoard them.
The one bit of verse that charmed me, when read on the iPad, was Clive James’s brilliant and witty “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered.” This poem forces you to wonder: What will remainders look like in our digital future? Where’s the 99-cents bin going to be?
You can’t read an e-book in the tub. You can’t fling one across the room, aiming, as Mark Twain liked to do, at a cat. And e-books will not furnish a room.
Writing in The Times in 1991, Anna Quindlen declared, “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” [more]
Your Brain on Fiction
Another one of the article from this week's Week in Review on reading explores the brain / reading connection. From the article: Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells. [more]
My Life's Sentences
From the article: The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life. It is a habit of antiphony: of call and response. Most days begin with sentences that are typed into a journal no one has ever seen. There is a freedom to this; freedom to write what I will not proceed to wrestle with. The entries are mostly quotidian, a warming up of the fingers and brain. On days when I am troubled, when I am grieved, when I am at a loss for words, the mechanics of formulating sentences, and of stockpiling them in a vault, is the only thing that centers me again.
Constructing a sentence is the equivalent of taking a Polaroid snapshot: pressing the button, and watching something emerge. To write one is to document and to develop at the same time. Not all sentences end up in novels or stories. But novels and stories consist of nothing but. Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace. One in front of the other marks the way. [more]