Monthly Archives: March 2013

Altered State of Consciousness?

This guy on a YouTube video claims that being involved in a good story means you are in an “altered state of consciousness.” Actually he’s a professor, not just some guy off the street. It doesn’t mean he’s right, but it means he probably did some research to back up his statement. I’ve acquired his dissertation to find out whether the research works or not.

If true, it explains a lot: reading being addictive, my difficulty in settling to reading in many public places, the unawareness of surroundings that a reader can have (see Mom it is legit that I don’t hear when I read!). If not true, that means I’m still looking for some explanations.


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Language, a tangled web woven about us

I am reading some interesting non-fiction at the moment. I’ve progressed very slowly through James K.A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation. I’m not sure exactly why I am reading this quite so slowly as I am, but the contents of the book interest me. I’m provoked to rabbit-trails of thought, which is a good thing. It does, however, make for slow reading. In Smith this morning, I read some discussion of language in Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine (alternate English title: On Christian Teaching). My transit reading for the day was Northrop Frye’s The Educated Imagination, the Massey Lectures for 1962. I made it through the first two of Frye’s lectures. They are fascinating reading. I imagine they are also fascinating listening.

The interplay of first reading Smith writing about Augustine writing about language, then reading Frye’s words on literature as opposed to other uses of language has set my head spinning. I’m not sure how my brain will land on this. More thought is needed. Here, as food for your own thinking, are some quotes that have me thinking hard on how to teach a class on telling stories in religious education.

From Frye:

This allusiveness in literature is significant, because it shows what we’ve been saying all along, that in literature you don’t just read one poem or novel after another, but enter into a complete world of which every work of literature forms a part. This affects the writer as much as it does the reader.

From Smith (on Augustine):

Language is required in order to express that which is interior to the soul by means of something external (verbum); thus language “makes public” the “private” intentions and desires of the self; words are therefore “common property,” belonging to a community. Language must span a gulf between interiorities, precisely because the other has “no means of entering into my soul.” The “space” between souls requires the mediation of signs, which in turn requires interpretation.

Shared stories are essential to community, particularly a community of faith. We need to tell these stories, using language well, in order to share faith with others.

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Emma: A Media Mash-Up

I was listening to Emma by the incomparable Jane Austen last week. Then there was a glitch. Somehow the final files of the recording didn’t get properly downloaded from the library. I’m not sure what happened. After some failed attempts to download the missing files, I decided to finish the book by reading the copy that I own. I thought that this would be an interesting comparison of audio vs text on a single book.

True confessions: I don’t like Emma much. There are too many people who talk far too much. I don’t even find the over-talkers funny. Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton are the worst offenders. They would be more comic if they got less air-time. Mr. Woodhouse I can tolerate as a mildly amusing eccentric old man, but even he gets tiresome by the end. And don’t get me started on the romantic relationships. Not Interesting.

Given that I don’t like the book much, I found it pleasant and easy to move through the book while listening to it. I could do what I’ve decided I really like doing — play a silent and slow puzzle game while listening to the book on my iPad. I enjoyed having Emma read to me by a person with a nice British accent who gave the characters different voices. I found it tedious to pick up and read the final third of the book. I found the difference interesting. The momentum of someone reading the book aloud kept me moving through the tedious and unending visits and parties, the foolishness of Emma’s internal thoughts, and the not very interesting appearances of Mr. Frank Churchill. When I had to move my own eyes across the page I found it much more difficult to continue. I did finish. My initial opinion of the book, however, was confirmed. I think that this ranks near the bottom of the Austen oeuvre in my estimation. I know my friend the Canoe-Head English Teacher will be disappointed.

Conclusions regarding audio books: If you find something difficult to read, try the audio version, maybe the momentum will help you get through it.


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Random Readings

I was lurking in the stacks in the Large Research Library on the university campus where I work. Sometimes, when I’m in Fort Book (unofficial name of the Large Research Library) in the early stages of research on a new project, I lurk in the stacks looking for material. Today I lurked in the bound copies of Very Old Journals area. I pulled down The Monthly Review volume 70, 1813, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine volume 93, 1863. I browsed the six months of articles and reaped the following excerpts for your interest.

From Blackwood’s, and an article entitled “A Month’s visit to the Confederate Headquarters,” by An English Officer, I took this quote from the first paragraph:

“But the desire of knowledge, or the promptings of curiosity, as the case may be, determined me upon running all risks, and making my way into the forbidden land of Dixey [sic], despite all the blockading, gunboats, and Federal patrols along the Potomac river. There was, however, one great drawback to my happiness in starting upon this expedition—namely, the necessity which existed for my being back in New York by the 20th of October, and it was already the 11th of September when I left that city.”

In The Monthly Review, I found a review of Hannah More’s latest work. I have excerpted a small bit of it which thoroughly trashes Mrs. More as one of those writers who has not one unpublished thought:

“We shall not be so rude as to say to Mrs. More that she ought to learn ‘the art to stop:’ but we may venture to observe that the work before us is not in substance so different from her last, as to intitle [sic] it to praise on the score of novelty of sentiment. Whether her professed theme be “Practical Piety” [her previous work] or “Christian Morals” [the work under review], her essays or dissertations have precisely the same substratum and character; her thoughts all flow in the same channel and to the same point; and over the whole a sameness of feature is thrown. A new repast is presented to us: but in substance and essence it is the same with its predecessor; it is served on the old family plate, recast; and, though it assumes a new shape, every ounce of it has been on the table before. With great fluency and occasional eloquence, she prolongs her serious theme; and, whether sick or well, she employs herself in administering religious advice and admonition. With other authors, she has an indisputable right to offer her opinions boldly and without disguise; and though an attempt to mend the world is a very discouraging undertaking, we nevertheless applaud her for not desponding.”

Having satisfied myself that there is nothing really related to my research in these two volumes, I must now go back to work. Ok, the Hannah More review is sort of related to my research in very vague and general terms. But it is not the thing I’m working on right now. Must. Stop. Procrastinating.

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This is your brain on Beacon?

Yesterday I was procrastinating browsing the photos people have been uploading to the Beacon Bible Camp facebook page. Beacon is the camp I’ve volunteered at for as long as I’ve been old enough to do so, is the place I went to camp as a camper, and where I was a camp staff kid before that. The old photos are out in force as Beacon is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Many of the old photos bring back memories of situations not shown in the pictures, but which may have happened with the people in the pictures. I thought briefly about the old record player at camp, and the Very Limited Selection of records available to put on the turntable.
This morning I woke up with a song in my head from those very vinyl albums we played over and over again on that record player. B.J. Thomas, I haven’t heard from you in a while! Memory is a funny thing isn’t it? How on earth did a fleeting memory of the silly record player produce B.J. Thomas singing “Home Where I Belong” in my head? Why do I remember the lyrics after (mumblemumble) years? Who knows.
What weird sound tracks has your brain come up with lately?


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The effects of War, part 1

I’m reading books I got for Christmas. Yes, it is March — but we still have snow. I’ve been saving some of these books. Some books need the right frame of mind. I got two books from 1Mom for Christmas. I just finished the first of these, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. It is pretty interesting. It contains a lot of German Guilt over the Third Reich. I’ve encountered this before in some friends of German ancestry. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I’m still not sure what to do with it.

At one point during the war crimes trial described in The Reader one of the defendants asks the judge an honest question: “What would you have done?” I’m sure we’d all like to think we’d be part of the heroic underground or that we’d have stood up and said No in the face of monstrous injustice, but would we? Do we? Are there not monstrous injustices in our own society that we ignore? How will we be judged by history?

On the book vs the movie question, I saw the movie before I read the book. The book is slightly different than the movie, and, I think, gives better insight into the moral questions and moral ambiguity that the narrator faces. The movie is very well done, though, and Kate Winslet is brilliant in it. I recommend both equally.

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Apparently it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Really. Go look at the article. I’ve heard 10 years to become an expert, no hours per week attached, but my understanding was ten years of full-time hours. That is more than 10,000 hours, so something is funny somewhere. Whatever, it takes a long time. It also means that many of us aren’t really experts at anything because we don’t do hours and hours of intentional practice at much of anything. Things I’m probably an expert at:

1. Sleeping.

2. Watching TV, even though I grew up without one.

3. Reading fiction, especially mysteries.

4. Teaching.

5. Reading other texts, but I’m not sure that I’ve read enough non-fiction. Though I may have.

6. Writing/editing academic work. Maybe I’ve got close to 10,000 hours on that. Not sure, but I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years so it is likely up there.

How about you? Where is your expertise in the 10,000 hour definition?

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An Internet Reading List

I’ve found some interesting bits on the interwebs this week.

1. A blog post about flow and academic writing. My main issue with this piece is how to get into the “flow” state. I’ve been there, but it has been a while. I’ve been thinking my working environments have been too noisy as late, but I may also be a bit hypersensitive to sound. Maybe.

2. Some notes on boosting creative thinking. I particularly like the point that if one is to use the daydreaming/napping methods of ruminating on something, one must have done some work to have something to chew on. One cannot ruminate without grazing. If one puts an empty pot on the back burner to simmer, one ends up with a scorched pot and a big mess. I think the over-abundance of analogies in this case should now cease.

3. Just in case you hadn’t heard, the internet influences the way our brain works. It is unclear whether this is good or bad. There seem to be both pros and cons for the native digital generation. I wonder how we can help people navigate without their phones? That seems a bad thing. But then, I’m good at directions and finding my way. Others are not.

4. In other brain-related news, Scientific American Mind has a new website and blog. True confessions: I’m sort of an amateur neuroscience junkie. Just in case you hadn’t figured that out from this set of posts.

5. Back to books. I found some really cool photos of poetry using book titles. If you click on nothing else, check this out. It will make you smile and go look for the poetry on your own shelves.


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LOST reading, part 2nd (or so)

In a previous post I mentioned that I might use the books in LOST (the TV show) as a guide to my pre-1970 reading. So far I’ve read two from the list, The Chosen, by Chaim Potok (reported on here) and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The Chosen seems to be on the show mostly for the title. It appears in the sixth season as people are debating why they were “brought” to the island by the mysterious Jacob. Somehow they are all “chosen.” The book itself is about father and son relationships, and there are lots of father/child relationships that unravel in LOST, so I can also see it fitting in with the show based on the content, not just the title.

I’m not sure why Fahrenheit 451 is on Ben’s shelf and seen in the fifth season. That is not obvious to me. Possibly it isn’t an obvious reference. Who knows. I’m not sure what I actually think of the book. Bradbury is a bit of a misogynist. This assessment is based on an epilogue to the book written years after it was published. In this epilogue he lumps women as a unit with other minorities and special interest groups. Not impressive. This means the default setting for all humanity is white men with all others being fringe groups. The numbers do not bear this out. Setting this aside, I’m not sure the book was actually that interesting. Some of the ideas are interesting, and telling in an internet-connected world unimagined by Bradbury. But I’m not sure the telling of this particular story is all that interesting. I tried reading it before and quit. I think I made it to the end this time because I listened to an audio book. I was carried along by someone else’s actual voice, not the story itself. I realize that this is heresy to many SciFi fans, but there it is. I don’t think Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is that great. Have you read it? What do you think?

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Required Reading

Once upon a time, the Playwright, the Norwegian, and I tried a book group. It didn’t work. Why? you may legitimately ask. We are all people who love to read and talk about what we read. It was the Required part of the reading that made it all fall down. As soon as we decided on a book we all wanted to read it became undesirable because required. Oh the oddity.

I was put in mind of this failed experiment in reading by two incidents recently. First, I read a blog post in which the blogger decided to read the top selling book for every year from 1913 to 2013. Because some books made the top spot for more than one year, the reading list is 94 books long. I looked at the list and thought that is interesting. It sort of goes with my reading old books resolution. But not quite. You see I resolved to make sure I read books first published before 1970 1/3 of the time in 2013. I did not specify which old books I’d read. There are many possibilities. I own many possibilities. I just have to look around and select one of the possibilities. There is no requirement that I read any one particular book.

The second incident occurred in the bookshop where I work. A gentleman came in toting his recently published book to find out if we’d carry the book. He asked me if he could leave the book with me. I said NO very firmly. He made his pitch to my manager. My manager came back and put the book on my desk and informed me that it was my turn to assess a book as two of my colleagues already had reading assignments. Ugh. Required reading. How irksome. Oh well, I’d better give it a try.

Do you find that making a book “required” in some way deters you from reading the book? Or does it give you incentive to read? I wonder if it is a personality thing. Probably.

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