Critical Linking: October 5, 2013

In a series of experiments, participants read a short passage and then completed several tasks, including one in which they were asked to identify people’s facial expressions in photos. The findings are preliminary, the authors say, but show that when subjects read excerpts from literary works, their performance temporarily improved, more than when they read popular, more commercial fiction.

Despite their “preliminary” findings, reading makes you smarter and more perceptive – no matter what it is you’re reading.

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The bad news is that Proust’s novel is indeed very, very long, and that many of its sentences are also very, very long, and sometimes hard to follow, and that there’s not much of a plot, and there are a lot of characters, and that it’s hard to keep track of them all, and that he likes to engage in anticipatory retrospection, along the lines of “this moment was, for reasons that I will eventually reveal, to play a major role in my life,” and that the reader may confidently expect to slog, or sashay, or possibly zoom, through several hundred pages at least before learning exactly why that moment was to prove so important in the life of the semi-autobiographical protagonist. The good news is that what lies between the madeleine and the promise of redemption via the work of art itself is the best part.

I am one of those people who doesn’t even pretend to have read Proust. This writer, with that masterful run-on-ish sentence, has just demonstrated that she actually has read his work and liked it.

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This is why the little library in the neighborhood captivates me, because it suggests that the apparently minor act of dropping off a book or picking up a book is highly meaningful, a way of staying in touch. That we do this indirectly, with strangers even, only makes the whole thing more resonant.

Further proof that the community of readers is a thing.

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 “I saw this as an opportunity to explain to my daughter that it’s not always girls who are hurt by sexism, but boys too. For instance, the boys’ version of the book implies that all boys do is fight and deal with disasters. In reality they might actually benefit from a lot of the advice in the girls’ book, like ‘How to Survive Shyness’ or ‘How to be a Brilliant Babysitter’.”

Judging by the girl’s reaction, she already had her suspicions. Good on her for doing something about it!

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