The quality of our reading

In the 1990 “Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity”, Ray Bradbury gifts us essays on a lifetime of writing 😊

In an essay on his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, which is about a society where books are outlawed (and burnt when found), Ray muses on some of the leading characters, and has one of them say: “”I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunch backed for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.”

Interestingly, Ray’s thoughts in Fahrenheit 451 were not just about the dangers of censorship, and people stopping reading. In a 2007 conversation with the LA Weekly, Ray reveals his prescience (envisioning in the fifties) that we are becoming people with a “hopscotching existence….a QUICK reading people,” and gradually becoming unwilling to reflect, ponder, and go deep into the hearts of opinions, ideas, and facts.

When we do not read with deep reflection, trouble brews. While not advocating against progress in Technologies, Maryanne Wolf speaks (in a 2018 conversation with The Verge) of our diminishing “cognitive patience”, as more and more, we become skimmers. This, the Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, cautions, leads to “The loss or diminishment of critical analysis and empathy,” and makes us “more vulnerable to misinformation, fake news, and false promises by demagogues.”

Perhaps more important, she points out in her book “Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World”, the way we read has a great influence on how our brains evolve: “The quality of our reading is not only an index of the quality of our thought, it is our best-known path to developing whole new pathways in the cerebral evolution of our species.”

Peace 😊

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