Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: Reading In The Brain
Author: Stanislas Dehaene
Publication Info: Penguin 2009
This not really a review, it's more of a report. I'm in the middle of reading Reading In The Brain: The New Science of How We Read. I wanted to let the Bitches know about this book, as it is the ultimate meta reading experience for a nerd.
However, I haven't finished reading the whole book - and in case you're wondering why I don't just write the review when I'm done with the book, it's because clearly this is a book I'll pick up and put down for the rest of the year, and I hate to make the Bitches wait around for me to finish chapters like "Toward a Culture of Neurons" in between reading chapters of the oh-so-much-more engrossing webcomic I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space (really - go on, click on the link - it's AWESOME!).
Stanislas Dehaene is a cognitive psychologist. In The Number Sense, he examined how people develop a way of perceiving and thinking about numbers. In Reading in the Brain, he talks about what happens in the brain while we are reading - and what this means in terms of things like how reading and writing was developed, how the experience of reading varies between languages, how reading separates us from other animals, how it affects and is affected by culture, etc.
Reading In The Brain is written accessibly enough for a layperson such as myself to follow. It's very well organized and clear. However, its purpose is education, not entertainment, although it's written with enough anecdotes and in a sufficiently conversational style to avoid being dry. It's far more academic that most of the science I read, hence my taking a very long time to get through it. I don't intend to make it sound dull as the topics covered are fascinating - check out the passages regarding pure alexia in the chapter "The Brain's Letterbox". Amazing stuff!
Of special interest to me is the chapter "Learning to Read". In this chapter, the author examines what happens neurologically when we are learning to read, and what science tell us about the best way to learn. I learned to read through what is commonly described as "The Whole Language Approach", which is where you grow up surrounded by books and the next thing you know you have magically learned how to read and are sitting in kindergarten reading the Little House on the Prairie series. Alas, I seem to have been something of an outlier, because in general the author is scathing about the whole language approach and claims that science is overwhelmingly in favor of phonics - which I have to admit worked for my daughter when the words from her book collection failed to magically crawl into her head. So, if you have an opinion abut phonics, or you want to develop an opinion about phonics, this is your chapter! There's also a lot of information about dyslexia and other learning and reading disabilities.
I'm not sure it's fair or ethical to assign a grade to a book without having read every single word, but I feel pretty confident giving this book a solid B, with the caveat that only those who really want lots of detail about reading and brains need give this book a shot. The biggest problem with assigning it a grade before finishing it is that for all I know, the author may suddenly start making wild and unsubstantiated claims that discredit the whole book. However, this seems unlikely. The book is clearly meticulously researched, with an extensive bibliography. While I'm sure stuff comes up that is theoretical or controversial, I'm fairly comfortable assuming that it is at least well thought out based on the substantial portions of the book that I have finished. Let the nerds among us enjoy!