Tag Archives: books

What is Fiction?

robert-fordAt one point in HBO’s Westworld (don’t worry, no spoilers) Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) gives a speech about stories, about the value of fiction. He references a belief that fiction elevates — or at least illuminates to good value — the human condition. The belief also holds that those who read a lot of fiction are in some sense “better” people.

The idea is controversial on several grounds. Firstly, it’s hard to define what makes people “better,” and you can’t measure or test what you can’t define. Secondly, even if “better” is defined, not everyone will agree with the definition. Thirdly, there’s a nature-nurture aspect that makes comparisons like this very hard to tease out of any data you can gather.

Maybe a place to start exploring the idea is to first define “fiction” and go from there…

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reblog: Slow Reading Makes You Smarter

So what are the odds of reading two posts in short succession, both of which just demand to be reblogged? As I commented on the original post, speaking as a life-long deep reader, I agree with every word.

James Kennedy

books open random pages“Why bother reading?” is a question I’m asked occasionally by students, and “reading makes you smarter” is my standard response. This week, I want to expand on this fact and give some evidence for reading being a major contributor not only to academic success, but to success in many other aspects of life as well.

Reading improves your IQ and EQ

Firstly, there’s convincing evidence by Mar et al., (2009) that people who read fiction have greater ability to understand others’ emotions, emphasise with them and view the world from their perspective. In other words, reading increases your emotional quotient (EQ).

Second, there’s convincing evidence that reading increases your vocabulary. Cunningham & Stanovich (2001) penned an excellent analysis that includes evidence from many other studies that a person’s vocabulary is increased fastest by reading, particularly reading books outside of school hours, than by learning lists of vocabulary on their own.

Improving your EQ has obvious benefits. But what are the advantages of increasing your vocabulary? Increased vocabulary has been…

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Suburban & Galactic Gods

Gilgamesh and EnkiduWhat if, suddenly, you found you could not only read minds but change them? What if the eponymous hero of the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh was real, was two-thirds god, was immortal, and — from sheer boredom — had divided his powers of mind with you just so he could have a really good war between the eastern and western hemispheres?

What if you and your brother, both young students, went along on a wild drunken graduation party that spanned a dozen galaxies and were left behind on some primitive no-account planet as a joke. What if, as extremely long-lived energy beings, it was millions of years before anyone remembered and came back for you? What if — from sheer boredom — you’d illegally tampered with the minds of the primitive indigenous apes?

This Sci-Fi Saturday: two authors, two tales, two books each.

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Storytelling, Chapter 1

This is the first of a series of articles that discuss something I believe is unique to humans. In fact, I think it’s one of the few things we can point to that does differentiate us from the animal kingdom. And it is something that goes deep into our past. It is our ability to use language to create and tell complex stories.

It is also one of my favorite topics. If you’ve read many of my posts, particularly those about movies and TV, you’ve seen me write about my love of stories.

There is an interesting continuum of storytelling modes. Books lie at one end; movies at the other. Plays and TV lie between. The continuum describes—in part—the experience of the audience. Here’s the deal…

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Sideband #24: B.O.O.K

I’m a big fan of books and reading.

I have a rather large library that I’ve been dragging around for almost four decades. It grew by leaps and bounds in my younger days, but the growth rate has slowed in the last decade or so. (Slowed, but not stopped!) One of the bigger parts of moving has been getting enough boxes to pack the books, packing the books, unpacking the books, and deciding what to do about book shelves.

The damn shelves are a topic of their own. Book cases never seem to quite do what I want. I like the technique of mounting bracket rails on the wall and hanging shelves in interesting patterns. But that raises the topic of whether to leave the rails mounted or take them down and patch the holes. And the shelves themselves are an issue; the inexpensive pressed particle board ones tend to sag, but the nice strong pine boards are more expensive and require sanding and staining.

It’s a great deal of work for the simple pleasure of curling up with a book!

The digital age offers a new take on the whole book library thing. Video has gone from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to streaming. Music has gone from vinyl to eight-track to cassette to CD to iTunes and streaming. In both those cases, I’ve now purchased the same damn thing multiple times. (A favorite movie line of mine is Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black, “Now I have to buy the White Album again!”)

I’m still on the first generation of book technology, and it’s looking like it’s time to buy the White Album with regard to reading material.  With that in mind, along with a life-long love of books, here’s a piece that’s been taking up bits on various hard drives for a long, long time (author unknown, and much edited by m’self):


Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device (BOOK™)!

Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere—at the beach, on a bus, or even sitting in an armchair by a fire. Even small children are able to operate one with almost no training. Yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc. Here’s how it works:

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fitted device called a cover, which keeps the pages in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet of paper, doubling the information and cutting costs. BOOK sheets can store images as readily as they store text, and no special software is required.

Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now, a BOOK with more information simply uses more pages. Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into the user’s brain. A flick of the finger takes the user to the next page.

BOOK may be taken up at any time and used merely by opening it. BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting. Like other devices the data can become corrupted if coffee or soda is spilled on it, and generally BOOKs will not survive immersion in water. Severe misuse can also cause permanent damage rendering the BOOK unreadable.

BOOK is random access: the “browse” feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet and move forward or backward as quickly as you wish. Many BOOKs come with an “index” feature, which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional “BOOKmark” accessory allows the user to open BOOK to the exact place last used in a previous session, even if BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs of various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOKmarks can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once; the number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

The user can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with an optional programming tool, the Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Inter-communication Language Stylus (PENCILS). A Portable non-Erasable Nib Stylus (PENS) may also be used to store permanent notation.

Portable, durable and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as the precursor of a new entertainment wave. The appeal of BOOK seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking to invest.

Look for a flood of new titles soon!