Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Back on February 22, 2017 this informative article appeared at The Federalist website. Written by senior contributor Jennifer Doverspike, the article is a call to read entire books in addition to all the short reading we do on the Internet and elsewhere.

While it is easy to keep quoting statistics on the decline of reading and lamenting its demise, we have to keep encouraging ourselves and our children to read books. So take this article that way too. Find the positive inspiration from what this writer says to read an entire book this year. And while you are at it anyway, read more of the same!

Here are her opening points:

I encounter this meme a lot on social media: “Surprising Book Facts!” It begins with the disturbing statistic that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives and ends with saying reading one hour a day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in seven years.

Needless to say, there are some major difficulties with this graphic. You can even say the proliferation of this meme demonstrates why we should turn away from silly shares on Facebook and instead read a real book once in a while.

Misleading statistics aside, reading has indeed declined in the last few decades. The Pew Foundation reports that as of March 2015, 73 percent of Americans read a book at least partly in the previous 12 months, a figure lower than the 79 percent reported in 2011 but statistically in line with more recent years. This reading can be in any format—print, electronic, or audio.

Comparing to past decades, that number has dropped. Gallup polls from 1978 reported 88 percent of Americans had read a book at least partly in the past year. The numbers were 81 percent from a 1990 poll, and 85 percent from a 2001 poll.

But Doverspike also adds these thoughts to point us in the right direction:

In “Life Together,” World War II-era theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented the common practice of reading daily devotional passages from the Bible without context and advocated a consecutive reading of biblical books, thereby allowing the reader to “become a part of what once took place for our salvation” and “forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, [passing] through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.”

Immersive, slow, deep reading not only retrains your brain to read again, but assists in “empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence.” Many studies and articles on this subject focus on the benefits of print books versus e-readers, as opposed to Internet scrolling versus novel reading, but the common theme of limiting distractions remains the same.

Source: Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

The library: “an oasis of bookish tranquility”? – N.Carr

A particularly striking illustration of how the Net is reshaping our expectations about media can be seen in any library. Although we don’t tend to think of libraries as media technologies, they are. The public library is, in fact, one of the most important and influential informational media ever created – and one that proliferated only after the arrival of silent reading and movable-type printing.

A community’s attitudes and preferences toward information take concrete shape in its library’s design and services. Until recently, the public library was an oasis of bookish tranquility where people searched through shelves of neatly arranged volumes or sat in carrels and read quietly.

Today’s library is very different. Internet access is rapidly becoming its most popular service. According to recent surveys by the American Library Association, ninety-nine percent of U. S. public library branches provide Internet access, and the average branch has eleven public computers. More than three-quarters of branches also offer Wi-Fi networks for their patrons’ use. The predominant sound in the modern library is the tapping of keys, not the turning of pages.

shallowsbookcover-222x300Taken from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), chapter 5, “A Medium of the Most General Nature,” p.97 (slightly edited).

I am thankful to report that the dominant sound is our Seminary library is still the turning of pages and the dominant sight that of students reading in their carrels. In the classroom, however, the tapping of keys is prominent (the sound of the professor’s voice is still dominant – 🙂 ).

“They thought deeply as they read deeply.” N. Carr, The Shallows

shallowsbookcover-222x300On vacation this week, I have some extra time for reading, and one of the books I longed to get back to was Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010).

Chapter four of the book is titled “The Deepening Page,” really a history of how society changed from an oral community to a literate one by the advent of writing and the codex (book). With this “intellectual technology” change came a major transformation of how people thought.

Today I give you a brief section from Carr on how this worked out (there is much more to this fascinating history – and to the main point of the author, and you are greatly encouraged to get this book and read it!):

To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object [as opposed to the oral-tradition culture in which memory played the dominant role]. It required readers to place themselves at what T.S. Eliot… would call ‘the still point of the turning world.’

And then he further explains the development:

Many people had, of course, cultivated a capacity for sustained attention long before the book or even the alphabet came along. The hunter, the craftsman, the ascetic – all had to train their brains to control and concentrate their attention. What was so remarkable about book reading was that the deep concentration was combined with the highly active and efficient deciphering of text and interpretation of meaning. The reading of a sequence of printed pages was valuable not just for knowledge readers acquired from the author’s words but for the way those words set off intellectual vibrations within their own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply (pp.64-65).

But then, even on vacation those “quiet spaces” for “prolonged, undistracted” book reading can be easily interrupted by one’s surroundings. 🙂

reading-on-deck

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 11:08 AM  Comments (2)  

“‘Take your time,’ the books whispered to me in their dusty voices. ‘We’re not going anywhere.'” ~ N.Carr

That was just a digital dalliance [That is, spending time in the computer room while a student at Dartmouth College]. For every hour I passed in Kiewit [the computer room], I must have spent two dozen next door in Baker [the main library at Dartmouth].  I crammed for exams in the library’s cavernous reading room, looked up facts in the weighty volumes on the reference shelves, and worked part-time checking books in and out at the circulation desk. Most of my library time, though, went to wandering the long, narrow corridors of the stacks. Despite being surrounded by tens of thousands of books, I don’t remember feeling the anxiety that’s symptomatic of what we today call “information overload.” There was something calming in the reticence of all those books, their willingness to wait years, decades even, for the right reader to come along and pull them from their appointed slots. Take your time, the books whispered to me in their dusty voices. We’re not going anywhere.

shallowsbookcover-222x300This wonderful, personal description of the powerful influence of libraries and books comes from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), p.12.

We will have more to say on the powerful message of this book later (one Prof. B. Gritters read and recommended this summer), but for now relish the serene and soothing experience of the world of books and the library. 🙂

High Tech Shelf Help: Singapore’s Library Robot

This news item appeared yesterday in one of my library emailings, and I judged it worthy of a “Friday fun” post.

Librarians are a sensitive bunch, especially with so many tech geeks and digital gurus predicting our irrelevance and demise. Now we find out that we may be replaced by robots!

Although, I will say, this one serves a very useful purpose – finding misplaced books in the library – an annoyance any librarian would want help with!

So, enjoy this little news item about a Singaporean library robot; go ahead and take a poke at us librarians. But, remember, to err is not only human, but robotian. This cool device will make mistakes, and library patrons will still be looking for assistance from that real, physical, personal librarian. 🙂

Here’s the beginning of the article; find the rest of it at the link below.

Library holdings are only useful if they’re findable. For print collections at least, even recommending the most relevant titles ultimately falls short if they’re not on the right shelf. However, the process of finding out if things have been properly shelved is time-consuming and never ending, as materials are continuously moved even if they don’t circulate outside the building. The task is often handled by support staff, interns, or volunteers, but Singapore’s National Library Board has a new alternative: a library robot, developed by researchers at the infocomm research branch of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Source: High Tech Shelf Help: Singapore’s Library Robot

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Published in: on August 12, 2016 at 10:04 AM  Comments (1)  

Thinking about Change: How about the book? – Tim Challies

codex-1In this month’s Tabletalk, Tim Challies has an interesting and important article on how we as Christians face change in this world – especially in the light of God’s sovereignty and our hope for the return of Jesus Christ.

Challies demonstrates from several examples of history how change has worked for the good of God’s cause and kingdom in this world, as well as for the coming of Christ. He comments:

With all of the changes—not to mention the speed at which they occur—we can develop a deep uncertainty about the future. Whatever we know about our current situation, the future will be very different. We know that we cannot predict future changes with any degree of accuracy. After all, the technologies we consider so normal today existed only in the realm of science fiction just twenty short years ago. And as a result, many Christians have a nascent fear of the future, wondering what it may hold both for them and their families.

Understanding the past allows us to identify trends and to see that even though the pace may have changed, the pattern has not. Seeing history through the lens of God’s Word comforts us with the sure knowledge that all change is unfolding only and exactly within God’s good and perfect will.

KindleereaderOne such example is that of the book. Here are his thoughts on that:

Consider the book as well. The book—printed pages bound between two covers—is a relatively new innovation, a new technology. For the vast majority of human history, the book as such did not exist. King David never read a book. Jesus never read a book. They read scrolls. The book as we know it today is a product of developments in the centuries after Christ’s life. First the codex, an ancient form of the modern book, was invented, and then the printing press was invented many centuries later. Yet the book has become so deeply embedded in our society that we cannot imagine the world without it. We even call the Bible a book, as if it had always existed in this format.

It seems comical now, but when the book was introduced to society, people feared it, just as they had feared the rise of writing centuries earlier. People feared that the book would take ideas too far, too fast. They tied knowledge so closely with memorization that they feared the ramifications of recording words on paper instead of in human minds. After all, why would we ever want to store something in our memories if we can store it on paper? And yet today we can see how the book was used to record God’s Word and to spread it across the world. We can see that it sparked a great Reformation. We can see that it sparked revival and awakening. We can see that the Bible quickly became the best-selling book of all time. That technology changed the world. God used that technology for His own purposes.

To read the rest of Challies’ thoughts on this subject, follow the link below.

Source: Thinking about Change by Tim Challies | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

A Thousand Hands Will Grasp You with Warm Desire: On the Persistence of Physical Books – A.Christie

The Millions : A Thousand Hands Will Grasp You with Warm Desire: On the Persistence of Physical Books.

Gutenberg_Bible,_Lenox_Copy,_New_York_Public_Library,_2009._Pic_01bigThis is a great piece of writing on the importance and permanence (humanly speaking) of the classic codex (book). It was posted on the website “The Millions” on March 2, 2015 and is written by Alix Christie, “a writer and journalist whose debut novel Gutenberg’s Apprentice (2014) tells the story of the invention of printing. …She currently lives in London, where she reviews books and arts for The Economist. Visit her at www.gutenbergsapprentice.com.”

I include here the wonderful image of the Gutenberg Bible that was on her post, a reference to which begins her article. To read the entire post, visit this page.

The Gutenberg Bible is a book of extraordinary beauty. One might even say it exudes beauty: its gleaming hand-tooled leather cover beckons to the hands to touch, to open, to reveal what lies inside. The day I saw it, it was sitting on the library table like a fat monarch laid in state, a foot wide by nearly a foot and a half long, light reflecting off the metal cornerpieces a binder had affixed for its protection half a millennium before. I asked Paul Needham, the librarian at Princeton’s Scheide Library, if I should put on gloves. He shook his head. Linen rag is not disturbed by finger oils, while calfskin in fact thanks them. I raised the solid wood-and-leather board. It opened right onto the text: two perfect jet-black columns, the ink still glossy after all this time. I turned one massive page, and then the next, intoxicated by the touch, the smell, the grace of that black block against the broad and creamy margins. To my amazement, I was leafing through the most famous and valuable book in the world, the first major volume made with metal type — the Ur-book of the age of print. Yet beyond all these superlatives, it was simply beautiful.

This volume, one of 48 that survive, was crafted with exquisite care roughly 560 years ago. Its makers — one inventor, one scribe, and one merchant who dealt in books — chose for each page the crispest letterforms, the purest linen, the ideal proportions of the golden section. In short, they selected the finest possible form to clothe the most sacred text of their age, the Christian Scriptures. I studied this book for several years, and have come to think that it has much to tell our age as well. For this Biblia latina, more than any other book, makes one thing clear: the more we value a text, the more we desire to fix it in the world, to grant it permanence. Today, as we rush headlong into the digital age, it seems to me that a similar tendency can be discerned. For against all expectation, we readers maintain our stubborn attachment to physical books, as though what they contained were somehow sacred.

Help Yourself Read Slowly and Attentively – A.Jacobs

PleasureofReadingBkThis is a situation… which seems to lend itself to advice, to recommendations [Jacobs is referring here to the distractions our modern technology forces on us daily with regard to good reading.]. But what would be the point? We all already know what we need to do if we want to get back to reading slowly and attentively. Shut down the computer; put aside the cellphone. If the temptation to check email or texts or Twitter is too strong, then take yourself somewhere where the gadgets aren’t. Lock them in the car before you enter the coffee shop with your book; give them to your spouse or partner and request that they be hidden, and then go into a room with a comfortable chair and close the door behind you. It’s not hard to come up with handy-dandy practical suggestions; what’s hard is following them – or rather, even wanting to follow them. What’s hard is imagining, fully and vividly, the good things that happen when we follow through.

Alan Jacobs in The Pleasures of Reading in a Age of Distraction (Oxford, 2011), 84.

Can a Kindle Help Keep You Reading?

As promised in my earlier post today, I also want to post something positive about e-reading. While digital reading and e-readers may not be best for young readers, they can actually help some adults become better readers.

AJacobsPleasuresofReadingSuch was the experience of Alan Jacobs, as he describes it in his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford, 2011). In a section headed by the words “True Confessions”, Jacobs tells about how he came to use and came to love to use his Kindle. It happened in a book store, as he sat down with arms full of books – large books, with small print – good books he wanted but didn’t have room for at home without giving up other books.

So he bought a Kindle. And he discovered that it not only solved his immediate space and storage issues, but also helped keep him reading. Here’s his story and explanation, something perhaps you can relate to as well.

And that’s how the Kindle worked for me when I first got it, and for the most part still works today: it kept me reading. Think how easy it is, and how tempting, when you’re reading a novel to look ahead to the end. Maybe you just want to see how many pages there are in the book, to know how much you have left to read – but, of course, you might just sneak a peek at the last paragraph while you’re at it. You can do this on the Kindle, but it’s difficult. Similarly, when reading many different kinds of books you might want to take a look at the table of contents, to check how many chapters there are, whether they have titles, what the titles might mean, and so on – and again, you can do that on the Kindle, but only by moving your hands in a different and less natural way than you employ to turn the pages as you follow an argument or narrative (81).

And then Jacob’s goes on to state:

In short, once you start reading a book on the Kindle – and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried – the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else. E-readers, unlike many other artifacts of the digital age, promote linearity – they create a forward momentum that you can reverse if you wish, but not without some effort (81).

To which he adds these thoughts yet:

I don’t think that e-readers are going to be a cure-all for everyone in need of cultivating better and longer attention. But I do think that my experience suggests it’s not reasonable to think of ‘technology’ – in the usual vaguely pejorative meaning of that word – as the enemy of reading. The codex [book] itself is a technology, and a supremely sophisticated one, but even digital electronic technologies vary tremendously: e-readers are by any measure far less distracting than an iPad or a laptop. It’s at least possible for new technologies to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (82).

Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ

Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ.

slow reading clubAn alert (slow?!) reader in Illinois sent me this link yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, and it is a fine piece promoting quiet, slow reading. I thank Ted for pointing this out. By all means take the time today to read through this article and benefit from its wisdom. I have provided a few paragraphs below to get you started.

And may you find such peace and quiet for some slow reading today. And if not, make some time this week to do so. The benefits are tremendous!

And to my own reading club I say, “What if we tried this? Would it defeat our purpose?” Think about it. Maybe we need this to allow ourselves time to finish the books we assign ourselves! 🙂

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore.

…Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

The benefits of reading from an early age through late adulthood have been documented by researchers. A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years.

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships. A piece of research published in Developmental Psychology in 1997 showed first-grade reading ability was closely linked to 11th grade academic achievements.