How Is Tech Changing the Way We Read?

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With the rise of social media and smartphone use, we are all reading fewer books than we once did. All, not just those pesky millennials. Some people are worried about what this means for the future of literature and, well, our brains. But is it true that we are really reading less? And should I care?

Above The Noise recently did a video in which Myles covers some of the research on reading.

I always appreciate it when a Youtuber or Journalist manages to discuss a topic without devolving into head-shaking admonishment, especially when it comes to the topic of reading and books. Too often these sorts of videos and articles cite bad research or buy into industry propaganda.

I’ve previously discussed the misrepresentations made about reading ebooks, the overstating of the benefits of reading – when there are some well-researched benefits documented –  and even the way we write. And the Pew Research into reading was one of several references I’ve used in my discussion of Who Reads, something I cover quite a bit here.

And yet, there were still some things in the video that I hadn’t been aware of. So I think it is worth sharing. Enjoy.

From the video:

Reading has been an important part of the human experience for thousands of years, but believe it or not, that’s not a long time on the evolutionary timescale. Before the internet, it made sense to read long texts in a linear fashion, but that’s now changing as people are adapting to skimming shorter texts on their computers or phones. But what does this mean for the future of books?

What is literary reading?

Literary reading is, quite simply, the reading of any literature. This includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.

Are we reading less?

The rate at which Americans are reading literature for fun is down around 14% from the early 1980s. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are reading less, however. Many people still have to read for school or work. Then there are all the words, sentences, and messages we read on the internet from emails to texts to tweets. Some people believe that this means we are possibly reading more individual words than ever. It’s just being done in a different way. I’ve also discussed the decline of literature.

And this is changing our brains?

Some neuroscientists believe that scanning shorter texts the way we do on the internet, often jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, is actually changing the wiring in our brains. We are becoming better at searching for key terms and scanning for information, but this means it can become more difficult to read a longer text all the way through without missing major points.

SOURCES:
Children, Teens, and Reading
The long, steady decline of literary reading
Who doesn’t read books in America?
Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

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Why did I have to read that book in high school?

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This month Lindsay Ellis discusses the Literary Cannon, or how books become “worthy“, in It’s Lit.

I swear that when I started posting these videos that I didn’t know the series would cover one of my pet topics. Worthiness, important books, snobbery, guilty pleasures, are all things I love to bang on about. This video feels like a worthy addition to my posts on the topic.*

Let’s explore what makes a book “important.”

Literary critics, writers, philosophers, bloggers–all have tried to tackle where and why and how an author may strike such lightning in a bottle that their works enter the pantheon of “Classical Literature”. Why this book is required reading in high school, why other books are lost to history.

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favourite novel. Learn More Here: https://to.pbs.org/2IXQuZE

*Pardon the pun, it was father’s day recently.

Elves with swords

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Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see… Some really awesome stories.

This month’s It’s Lit with Lindsay Ellis covers the much-maligned genre of fantasy.

Fantasy is a lens to explore what we as a society find important to our pasts, our presents, and future. Fantasy and science fiction often fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction” – as a result they are often grouped together, especially in bookstores. But science fiction is a forward-looking genre propelled by the possibilities of technology (and the things that worry us about it), fantasy is … more backward looking.

Vote on your favorite book here: https://to.pbs.org/2Jes2X5

An ode to the romance novel

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Romance is one of the biggest selling and most popular genres, that apparently nobody reads…

The closest I come to reading romance is the Mercy Thompson series, so I’m not qualified to discuss it. Fortunately, PBS’s series It’s Lit has Lindsay Ellis to discuss it.

What actually makes a romance novel?

The romance novel has been the subject of intrigue, derision, and shame in literary discourse long before the modern genre as we know it today existed. Romance novels are relegated to your Aunt Muriel’s bathroom, thrift store book sections, and that one aisle in Barnes and Noble that you pretend to walk through because you got “lost” looking for cookbooks. But it deserves a closer look than that – it is after all the highest grossing of all literary genres, out-selling its next nearest competitor twice over.

Vote on your favorite book here: https://to.pbs.org/2Jes2X5 It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favorite novel. Learn More Here: https://to.pbs.org/2IXQuZE

Where’s my hoverboard?

Ever wanted a six-minute overview of American science fiction? Well, here is Lindsay Ellis doing just that.

The History of Science Fiction!

Stories, tales, and myths from all around the world posing speculative questions around technologies have existed long before Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert, from the time-traveling Japanese fairy tale “Urashima Tarō” to some of the speculative elements of 1001 Arabian Nights. But there are a few eras that begin to shape what we’ve come to know as science fiction today. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis.

Vote on your favorite book here: https://to.pbs.org/2Jes2X5

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favorite novel. Learn More Here: https://to.pbs.org/2IXQuZE

Correction: At 1:49, we accidentally said that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published in 1918, when it was published in 1818.

Also, recently I called Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a horror novel, whereas here it is called a science fiction novel. Technically it is both a science fiction and a horror novel. Moreover, it was written as a Gothic novel, a genre which is mostly known by its sub-genre of Gothic Horror. So while you could say Frankenstein is both science fiction and horror, you’d probably lean more toward horror if you had to pick between the two whilst ignoring the Gothic genre label.

Because accurate genre labels are very important. And novels are always composed of only one genre. Apparently.

The Evolution of YA Fiction

Young Adult fiction is a term whose meaning has varied wildly over the years. It can apply to coming of age tragedies or serialized adventures of babysitters, or insert really dated twilight joke here. But where did this young adult genre come from? And why did it get so big?

The voting referred to in the video is here, but it is for North American people only. I mean, it is about the Great American Read after all. Which obviously means that the rest of the world’s opinion on that doesn’t count. Neither does South America’s.

Book vs Movie: When the Book Is Better

'We are making a film of the book.'

PBS Digital Studios have a new video series It’s Lit! which is part of The Great American Read, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Featuring one of the premiere video essayists in Lindsay Ellis, this series should be brilliant.

The first video briefly discusses a topic I’ve frequently discussed here, what makes a good adaptation and why the book is so often regarded as better.

Lindsay has very concisely summarised why movies so often don’t make for good or faithful adaptations of the source material. But she also touches on why they can sometimes improve the book, or make an adaptation that uses the source material in an interesting way to tell a different story.

If you aren’t already subscribed to Lindsay or PBS Digital Studios, you may want to do so now.