Banned Books: A Reading Challenge For 2015


New Measure of Literary Unpopularity: ‘The Picketty Index’

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“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty 

Yes, it came out just three months ago. But the contest isn’t even close. Mr. Piketty’s book is almost 700 pages long, and the last of the top five popular highlights appears on page 26. Stephen Hawking is off the hook; from now on, this measure should be known as the Piketty Index.

So take it easy on yourself, readers, if you don’t finish whatever edifying tome you picked out for vacation. You’re far from alone…

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Orwellian eBooks Reveal More Than We Realize

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John Hurt holds a book in a scene from the film, 1984. Photograph: Atlantic Releasing Corporation/Getty Images

Although the Kindle highlights function is publicly anonymous, there are still serious privacy concerns as it allows Amazon to track and store the reading statistics of customers

For The Irish TimesSarah Gilmartin writes:

‘The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden.”

Winston Smith’s description of reading in the totalitarian world of 1984 may be satirical, but there’s also some truth to it.
We know the feeling of identifying with a book. It is one of the most satisfying aspects of reading, when a character says or does something that we ourselves think but are unable to articulate so eloquently or with an image that really expresses the sentiment.

Reading 1984 as a traditional book, I might have reached for a pen to underline that quotation. Reading it as an ebook, I have access to an enhanced version of this highlighting process. Since Amazon launched its Kindle Popular Highlights, in 2010, readers have been able to leave their own stamp on their favourite ebooks and can publicly share their insights if they want to. Tracking the scattered thoughts and similar minds of readers around the world, Amazon also gives its Kindle customers the option of viewing the most popular highlights of whatever book they’re reading.

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Plato is Smarter Than You

President Theodore Roosevelt, considered one of the most well-read American politicians of all time, reads a book with his dog Skij on his lap in Colorado in April 1905. (AP)

President Theodore Roosevelt reads a book with his dog Skij on his lap in Colorado in April 1905. (AP)

Paradox of the Book: The Chaos of the Internet Makes Reading Easier

Thomas L. Jeffers writes: Plato is smarter than you. That’s how an experienced teacher once began a series of lectures on the Greek philosopher. And a good beginning it was, for it put students on notice that, as they read, their first duty was to attend and learn. Plato didn’t have the final word—there would be Aristotle, Epicurus, and others—but no one could enter that ancient conversation without conning the books.

Same with us, only we have a problem: Compared even with people half-a-generation back, we lack the necessary time and patience. We read plenty, but it’s mostly skimming online news and compressed Twitter or Facebook messages. What’s needed, David Mikics argues, is a return to the close-reading practices inculcated by teachers whose influence might be said to have peaked in the 1950s and declined in the late ’60s, with the shift to a politicized pedagogy. That shift changed the game, and many English departments now prefer the label “cultural studies,” not least because it allows them to jettison traditional poems and stories for the sake of TV, hip-hop, fashion ads, graphic novels, and comic books—whatever facilitates (as in “makes facile”) sloganizing about gender, race, and class.

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The number of Americans reading print newspapers, magazines and books is in rapid decline

Less Than A Quarter Of Americans Read Newspapers

Only 29 percent of Americans now say they read a newspaper yesterday – with just 23 percent reading a print newspaper. Over the past decade, the percentage reading a print newspaper the previous day has fallen by 18 points from 41 percent to 23 percent. Somewhat more 38 percent say they regularly read a daily newspaper, although this percentage also has declined, from 54 percent in 2004.

Also according to the recent Pew Research Center poll, Americans enjoy reading as much as ever – 51 percent say they enjoy reading a lot. This is little changed over the past two decades, but a declining proportion gets news or reads other material on paper on a typical day. Many readers are now shifting to digital platforms to read the papers…

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via CBS Houston