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Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain [Paperback]

Maryanne Wolf
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.99
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Book Description

6 Nov 2008
'We were never born to read', says Maryanne Wolf. 'No specific genes ever dictated reading's development. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago. And with this invention, we changed the very organisation of our brain, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species.' In "Proust and the Squid", Maryanne Wolf explores our brains' near-miraculous ability to arrange and re-arrange themselves in response to external circumstances. She examines how this 'open architecture', the elasticity of our brains, helps and hinders humans in their attempts to learn to read, and to process the written language. She also investigates what happens to people whose brains make it difficult to acquire these skills, such as those with dyslexia.Wolf, a world expert on the reading brain, brings both a personal passion and deft style to this, the story of the reading brain. It is a pop science masterpiece on a subject that anyone who loves reading will be sure to find fascinating.

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Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain + Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (6 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310307
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310308
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 80,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'An inspiring celebration of the science of reading.' -- The Guardian, April 2008

'For people interested in language, this is a must. You'll find yourself focusing on words in new ways. Read it slowly - it will take time to sink in.' -- William Leith, Sunday Telegraph, March 2008

`Everything about her book, which combines a healthy dose of lucid neuroscience with a dash of sensitive personal narrative, delights ... a beautifully balanced piece of popular-science writing' -- Boyd Tonkin, The Independent, February 2008

`This is a paean of praise for, and a rewarding exploration of, the creative reciprocities between writing, reading and thinking, it is especially good on dyslexia.' -- The Times, November 2008


'For people interested in language, this is a must. You'll find yourself focusing on words in new ways. Read it slowly - it will take time to sink in.'

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
In Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf, an expert on the reading brain, describes how our brains manage to read. Reading is not an innate activity, but it is an invention, and only a few thousand years old at that. It does not come naturally to humans in the way that walking or eating does and on the first page of this book, we learn that it is only because of the remarkable "plasticity" of our brains that we are able to achieve an understanding of the written word.

The book is divided into three parts. Firstly the history of how humans learned to read, secondly how reading is learned and how it develops, and thirdly what happens when in cases like dyslexia, something goes wrong in the "learning to read" process.

The reference to Proust in the title refers to passages from Proust's writings in which he describes the pleasure of reading, the memories that are evoked by thinking back to special books from childhood (how Proustian!), and the "reading sanctuary", that place of escape, a refuge from the world and its troubles. If Proust is a metaphor for a particular approach to reading, so the squid in the title refers to early neruo-scientific investigations of that creature which found how neurons fire and transmit to each other, adapting when things go wrong, repairing and compensating along the way. The squid analogy refers to the way reading required something new from existing structure of the brain, only possible because of the "plasticity" referred to earlier.

Wolf describes how reading actually changes us. We interact with books, both making them our own (everyone reads a text in their own way), but we are also permanently changed by them.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
I was attracted to this book by the title: What could Proust and a Squid have in common? As it turned out, squids make only two cameo appearances in the book on pages 5-6 and 226 (probably to justify the title in references to the early use of squids in neuroscience studies and for conjecture about passing along genetic traits that make survival more difficult), but Proust in pretty mainstream throughout the book as a resource and reference for describing the richness that reading can bring to individual experience.

Professor Wolf has written a multidisciplinary book that is mind-boggling in its breadth. You'll learn everything from how writing and alphabets developed to why Socrates disfavored reading to how mental processes vary among dyslexics who are reading different languages to the best ways for diagnosing and overcoming reading difficulties.

Yet unlike most multidisciplinary books, this one is very brief and compact. But that compactness is misleading; Proust and the Squid is a challenging book to read and contemplate. Only good readers with a lot of background in literature and neuroscience can probably grasp this book. What's more, there are vast numbers of references that you can pursue if you want to know more.

The writing style makes the book denser than it needed to be. Professor Wolf makes matters worse for lay readers by insisting on the correct scientific names throughout, when the ordinary names would have made the material easier to grasp. As a result, at times you'll feel like you are taking a course in disciplinary vocabulary.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Maryanne Wolf provides a fascinating insight into how we learn to read and the amazing things our brain does to make it happen. She also gives a comprehensive explanation of all the things that can go wrong. We expect our children to master in a couple of thousand days (from scratch as our brains aren't wired for reading at birth) what it took humanity several thousand years to develop. An important book for parents, teachers and anyone interested in one of humanities main achievements.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 16 July 2009
Sometimes you literally stumble upon a book and think I'll give that a go. The title of this book was the first thing that attracted my attention and after reading the back cover I was intrigued.

Maryanne Wolf here provides an illuminating insight into the art of reading, with illustrations provided by Catherine Stoodley. This brilliant and fascinating book on the science of reading offers an insight into something that we daily do without any thought to how or why. As Wolf points out (and a lot of people do know) reading is not something that is hardwired into us, it is something that has to be acquired, that we are taught as children. Reading this review you would be amazed at how many and what parts of the brain is used. Reading uses a number of parts of the brain, depending on how advanced your reading skills are, and even what language you are reading in.

Wolf takes us on a journey through how writing and reading first developed, to how alphabets etc. evolved. She shows us how the way that we read changes as we get better at it and then she goes on to look at dyslexia and learning difficulties; what causes them and why they can occur.

For teachers and parents of dyslexic children, or those interested in reading and the written word, this book will make a great addition to your bookcase.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Richly informative...
Maryanne Wolf has written a richly informative work, which covered a number of areas that I had very limited knowledge of. Read more
Published 1 month ago by John P. Jones III
4.0 out of 5 stars Must try harder!
Felix Dennis posted this on FB. Thought I'd check it out. Fascinating, tough reading...(if you can get your head around it, you're doing alright),
Published 2 months ago by Papa George
3.0 out of 5 stars The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
Let me preface my brief review by saying that I've just finished my masters degree in Educational Psychology, in which I wrote essays about dyslexia (and Wolf's own research). Read more
Published 13 months ago by C. L. Dixon
3.0 out of 5 stars promises, promises
Book promises a lot but reads like a university dissertation. I think it is more geared towards professionals rather than amateur inquisitors
Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious title, but zero fulfilment
Ambitious title,zero fulfilment, I am sorry - waste of time.

I bought this book, flowing an article (advertising?!). Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2012 by Bella Stone
5.0 out of 5 stars proust and the squid
A fascinating book telling the story of reading and then discussing the dyslexic brain. It is beautifully written and would be tremendously encouraging for those who are dyslexic... Read more
Published on 14 Jan 2012 by janet
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Read
This book gave me the answers to a question I have been asking primary school teachers for a long time, namely "How does a child learn to read? Read more
Published on 31 Dec 2009 by H. Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars My Kind of Book
I love language(s) and to read someone who has spent a working life studying how languages evolve, and work, for me, is facinating. Read more
Published on 13 Nov 2009 by M. Slocombe
1.0 out of 5 stars intriguing subject; dull as dishwatzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
good grief. i've picked up this book and put it down again, after only a few sentences (not even "pages", note) so many times, i've got RSI. Read more
Published on 25 Aug 2009 by wordophile
4.0 out of 5 stars Proust and the Squid
I bought two copies for my son by mistake and decided to start reading one of them. I found it so interesting that I kept it and my son had the other one. Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2009 by Mrs. M. Jenner
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