Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Proust and the Squid

Now there's a title you won't easily forget! Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, has pulled together material from a huge range of disciplines into one highly readable volume. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

Proust and the Squid has something to offer everyone, whether you are a parent, an educator or just someone who is interested in language, history or the science of how the brain works. As Wolf points out, reading is not a natural or innate human activity; it is a relatively recent invention and not something that all human cultures have engaged in. Even among literate societies there is a tremendous range of approaches to writing, resulting in equally diverse challenges for the human brain. Different parts of the brain will be used when reading a highly regular phonetic language (such as Spanish or German) as opposed to a logographic language (e.g. Chinese) or a language that uses a mixture of logographic and phonetic writing systems (e.g. Japanese).

When you consider the many functions the brain must perform at incredible speeds to read even a simple line of text it is no wonder that children sometimes run into obstacles. Thanks to modern neuroscience we have a better understanding than ever of what form these obstacles take. The many reading challenges loosely grouped together under the heading "dyslexia" can actually be manifestations of very different problems, some of which are noticeable at very early ages while others may not become apparent until age 9 or 10.

Even if no one in your family has a reading disorder, Proust and the Squid will give you new respect for the amazing things that happen inside your child's head every time he or she picks up a book.

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