Synopses & Reviews
The act of reading is a miracle. Every new reader's brain possesses the extraordinary capacity to rearrange itself beyond its original abilities in order to understand written symbols. But how does the brain learn to read? As world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist and scholar of reading Maryanne Wolf explains in this impassioned book, we taught our brain to read only a few thousand years ago, and in the process changed the intellectual evolution of our species.
Wolf tells us that the brain that examined tiny clay tablets in the cuneiform script of the Sumerians is configured differently from the brain that reads alphabets or of one literate in today's technology.
There are critical implications to such an evolving brain. Just as writing reduced the need for memory, the proliferation of information and the particular requirements of digital culture may short-circuit some of written language's unique contributions with potentially profound consequences for our future.
Turning her attention to the development of the individual reading brain, Wolf draws on her expertise in dyslexia to investigate what happens when the brain finds it difficult to read. Interweaving her vast knowledge of neuroscience, psychology, literature, and linguistics, Wolf takes the reader from the brains of a pre-literate Homer to a literacy-ambivalent Plato, from an infant listening to Goodnight Moon to an expert reader of Proust, and finally to an often misunderstood child with dyslexia whose gifts may be as real as the challenges he or she faces.
As we come to appreciate how the evolution and development of reading have changed the very arrangement of our brain and our intellectual life, we begin to realize with ever greater comprehension that we truly are what we read. Ambitious, provocative, and rich with examples, Proust and the Squid celebrates reading, one of the single most remarkable inventions in history. Once embarked on this magnificent story of the reading brain, you will never again take for granted your ability to absorb the written word.
"Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts University, integrates psychology and archaeology, linguistics and education, history and neuroscience in a truly path-breaking look at the development of the reading brain-a complicated phenomenon that Wolf seeks to chronicle from both the early history of humanity and the early stages of an individual's development ('unlike its component parts such as vision and speech... reading has no direct genetic program passing it on to future generations'). Along the way, Wolf introduces concepts like 'word poverty,' the situation in which children, by age five, have heard 32 million less words than their counterparts (with chilling long-term effects), and makes time for amusing and affecting anecdotes, like the only child she knew to fake a reading disorder (attempting to get back into his beloved literacy training program). Though it could probably command a book of its own, the sizable third section of the book covers the complex topic of dyslexia, explaining clearly and expertly 'what happens when the brain can't learn to read.' One of those rare books that synthesizes cutting edge, interdisciplinary research with the inviting tone of a curious, erudite friend (think Malcolm Gladwell), Wolf's first book for a general audience is an eye-opening winner, and deserves a wide readership." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Throughout, Wolf's intriguing combination of linguistic history, sociology, psychology, and neuroscience is engaging and clear." Library Journal
"[Maryanne Wolf] displays extraordinary passion and perceptiveness concerning the reading brain, its miraculous achievements and tragic dysfunctions." BookForum
About the Author
Maryanne Wolf is a professor of child development at Tufts University, where she holds the John DiBiaggio Chair of Citizenship and Public Service, and is the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.