Monday, June 15, 2015

Proust and the Squid: the story and the science of the reading brain - overview

Came across this book by Maryanne Wolf (2007) published by Icon Books, at the local public library

Positive reviews from the guardian and a recent one from hastac encouraged me to work my way through the book over several evenings.

The book reads well, Wolf intersperses her own challenges with a dyslexic son, with the latest interpretations through neuroscientific research, of how the brain learns how to read. The book uses metaphors from the recent media and the western literature corpus, to bring light to concepts on learning, neuroscience and philosophy. An audience, unexposed to the delights of classical books like Charlotte’s Web, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Dr. Seuss etc. may have a bit of work to do to unravel some of the explanations.

However, of importance is the explanation of how reading evolved in different cultures. How writing is organised, whether logographic (Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese, Japanese Kanji) or alphabetical / phonetic (Germanic languages), affects how people learn how to read. Different parts of the brain are activated when language is presented in different ways.

Three parts:
Part 1 presents book overview and two chapters of how the first writing systems evolved and the development of the alphabet. Socrates argument of writing replacing the rigours of the oral tradition is also presented and discussed.

Part 2 reviews neuroscience studies on how the brain learns including how children learn to read (or not). Much of relevance here in understanding how parts of the brain are used for different aspects of reading.

Part 3 presents latest perspectives on why some people find it difficult to learn how to read, including discussions on the causes of dyslexia and how the present move to ‘screen reading’ and the ‘google’ generation may lead to changes in which reading develops. This section is on the weak side but the points discussed are important.

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