Your brain on books

From Laura Miller, in a Salon book review of Susan Jacoby's new book, The Age of American Unreason:

"I believe that reading fosters a particular mental stamina, discipline, creativity and flexibility that can't be acquired from other media. In a future dominated by complex social systems, technology and science, only people who can think in this fashion will have enough understanding of how the world works to actually run it. And to remain truly democratic, America should be made up of citizens who are able to think that way."


"As Jacoby astutely points out, reading does not "constitute a continuous invasion of individual thought and consciousness ... printed works do not take up mental space simply by virtue of being there; attention must be paid or their content, whether simple or complex, can never be truly assimilated." Unless you make a point of turning off the TV and putting the computer to sleep, they can easily fill up your day and mind, gradually atrophying the mental muscles uniquely exercised by reading. Abstaining, for many people, turns out to be as easy as bypassing a cupboard stocked with chips and cookies and snacking on carrot sticks instead. To hope that the American public will pick the nutritious but difficult over the easy and tasty is to bet on a losing horse."

Related links:
Twilight of the Books, New Yorker
Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading, Harpers (by Ursula K. LeGuin; subscription required)
How Reading is Being Reimagined, Chronicle of Higher Eduation


From "Living Without Regret"

Happy Friday, everyone! Thanks again for all of your good thoughts and energy -- it means a lot. My dad is now out of the hospital and back into a rehab center. I think it will be more of the same for a while. Meantime, my mom is pretty much in meltdown. She is not visiting my dad, she lashes out verbally at everyone, and she is sinking into paranoia. Very difficult situation.

In the midst of all the struggle, there is reading. I am so grateful to have it in my life! (And you too, dear bloggers!) I am so grateful that people who have gone before me were courageous and strong and generous enough to put their words on paper.

Here are some excerpts from a painful yet helpful book, Living Without Regret: Growing Old in Light of Tibetan Buddhism by Arnaud Maitland. What makes this painful is the book's genesis: Maitland wrote it as a way to come to terms with his beloved mother's descent into Alzheimer's. He offers the wisdom of his own Buddhist practice as a way to readers to cope with the aging process (and life in general).

We can foster an attentive and interested mind by asking ourselves neutral questions, free from hidden prejudices or emotions: “How can I do my work better?” “Is there something we still need?” “What would benefit (the situation/person)?” Neutral questions like “what,” “why not,” and “how else” awaken awareness.


The capacity for compassion is inherent in every human being, but it lies beyond the domain of the I. In the same way as egocentrism is a feature of the small mind, compassion is characteristic of the great mind. When we practice compassion, the boundary between self and others begins to dissolve, and the grip of I relaxes. We feel clear and at ease.


Change is the dominant flavor of reality. What if we could take taste change as if it were a delicacy? No longer would be have to cling to the illusion that ignoring time lets us hold it at bay. We could let go of the need for control, knowing that it serves only to mask fear of the uncertainty inherent in change. Instead, rejoicing in the fact that nothing is fixed, we could allow ourselves to yield to transformation. Change offers wonderment and vitality. Since everything is open, things can always improve: we can take refuge in that knowledge. Time is our partner and our teacher.


Happy Valentine's Day!

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me

Emily Dickinson