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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary, Historical, Biological, Cognitive, and Futurist Insights into Reading, Creativity, and Brain Development
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...
Published on 5 Oct 2007 by Donald Mitchell

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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). Having studied reading, I can appreciate how difficult it must be to write about, given its interciplinary nature and burgeoning literature.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I have to...
Published 9 months ago by C. L. Dixon


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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary, Historical, Biological, Cognitive, and Futurist Insights into Reading, Creativity, and Brain Development, 5 Oct 2007
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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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. At other times, Professor Wolf engages in a penchant for long, abstract sentences: "What is historically humbling about Sumerian writing and pedagogy is not their understanding of morphological principles, but their realization that the teaching of reading must begin with explicit attention to the principles characteristics of oral language." This sentence could be rewritten as "Most impressively, Sumerians developed a written language that made reading easier to learn by visually reproducing what was spoken." Obviously, her rendition is more creative . . . but I like mine better.

Here is what was new to me: Reading involves complex mental processes that are not natural to the brain's earliest functions. As a result, new neural connections need to be developed in the right order if someone is to be a good reader. Various brain scan tests have illuminated this finding and those neural pathways are well illustrated and described in this book. But there are different ways that those neural connections can be made, some of which will make reading difficult.

The book's strength is in providing you with a sense of how humans learned how to develop written language and read it rapidly . . . and gain greatly from reading. The book also is good in the area of making the case for those who can't read aren't deficient, rather than are different in ways that offer other potential advantages such as creativity. If someone in your family doesn't read well, you'll love that part of the message.

Where I thought the book was weakest was in worrying about the implications of highly condensed (and possibly inaccurate) online information substituting for traditional reading of books and articles. To me, it seemed like much ado about nothing. Human curiosity will always drive forward learning, something that Professor Wolf doesn't address. Provide that curiosity with more tools and resources, and more learning will take place. Here's an example. Today I was finishing my proofreading of my latest book. In the past, I had researchers diligently check each quotation for accuracy and source. Inevitably, there would be mistakes that weren't caught and made it into my books. By using the internet to crosscheck the sources this time, I was able to do the task much better and in less time . . . correcting many mistakes in the reference sources in my library. Having had this experience, I'll probably do more seeking of quotations directly from the internet in the future . . . and that will probably improve the quality of my quotations.

Bravo, Professor Wolf!
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining explanation of the reading process, 28 Jun 2008
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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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. "We bring our life experiences to the text, and the text changes our experience of life". Whenever we read, our original boundaries are challenged, teased and gradually placed somewhere new. An expanding sense of "other" changes who we are.

The section on the development of alphabets and reading systems is fascinating. Different types of brain activity are needed to read say Mandarin Chinese than are required for the Western alphabet. The style of writing shapes the culture to a degree, and certainly changes the reading experience. "Learning to read changes the visual cortex of the brain. The expert readers visual areas are now populated with cell networks responsible for visual images of letters, letter patterns and words". The eye moves ahead with a Western text, but moves leftward with a Hebrew text, gathering advance information about the text before it even reaches it.

The section on dyslexia was less interesting to me, but no doubt with be of great interest to educators and parents of dyslexic children. I am sure however that these chapters fit well into the book as a whole because they do actually illustrate what happens when for most of us, reading works flawlessly.

For those, like me, who are interested in "books about books", and the reading process Proust and the Squid would be an excellent addition to their library, a book to refer back to and to re-read. It is a little difficult to take in all the scientific material about brain processes, but there is much of immediate interest, the more complex neuro-science being available for study at a later time.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mystery behind being able to read (or not) explained., 18 April 2008
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
3.0 out of 5 stars The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, 27 Sep 2013
By 
C. L. Dixon (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
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). Having studied reading, I can appreciate how difficult it must be to write about, given its interciplinary nature and burgeoning literature.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I have to agree with a lot of what Donald Mitchell says, especially as regards the writing style and the weakness of the 'Proust and the Squid' metaphor - it's nothing more than an attractive title to pique interest. I also found that the author liked to blow her own trumpet a little too much - naturally, she focuses on her own research and any other work that backs it up, but unlike true scientific spirit and philosophy would decree, she does not admit much to the great inaccuracy and inconsistency in the field. Her theory does not represent the consensus in the literature, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that was the case by the way she writes about her work! At times the book felt like a desperate attempt to impress the reader, either with her research, her family history, or her use of vocabulary.

The big focus on neuroscience and brain imaging is hardly unsurprising given her background, but neuroscientific findings are so limited on their own. There is good evidence for the Phonological Deficit Hypothesis as an explanation of dyslexia, which, as a cognitive-level theory, is not mentioned in the book.

The book did teach me about the development of writing systems (cuneiform, hieroglyphics, etc.) and about Socrates' contention with written language, representing "unguided and uncritical access to information". I'm not sure whether to view the internet debate as positive or negative - it certainly speared me on to further work on the subject (e.g. Untangling the Web, Aleks Krotoski), although on the other hand it did seem as though perhaps the book had enough on its plate as it was.

Above all, the book reinforced the message that "reading never just happens" - learning to read is a long and onerous process that relies on so many 'primitive' capacities. As a result, there is a lot of possibility for malfunctioning and cross-wiring, which have disasterous consequences in societies that place huge emphasis on decoding and extracting meaning from text.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 16 July 2009
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
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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3.0 out of 5 stars promises, promises, 24 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
Book promises a lot but reads like a university dissertation. I think it is more geared towards professionals rather than amateur inquisitors
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5.0 out of 5 stars proust and the squid, 14 Jan 2012
This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
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 or who have children with reading difficulties.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Read, 31 Dec 2009
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H. Fox (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
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?" Maryanne Wolf has been involved in clinical psychology for a long time and has done much research to try to answer this question, including brain imaging. The information she gives is detailed and fascinating and includes contrasting the processes in the brain for reading an alphabetic, phonetic language and a more visual one such as Mandarin. She also compares what goes on in the brain of a dyslexic when reading with that of the more usual brain.
My own interest was aroused when my three year old daughter, seeking to copy her older brother, asked for a book she could read herself. I provided her with what seemed to be suitable materials, starting with a folded sheet of card with "Janet's Book" written on the outside and one short sentence and one picture inside. She got a new book of this type the next day with two sentences and this continued. Each day I wrote what she told me to write so she knew what the words were saying and long before she went to school she was reading real books.
Wolf's book is very readable and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject which must be almost anyone who can read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My Kind of Book, 13 Nov 2009
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M. Slocombe (U.K. LL29 9ED) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
I love language(s) and to read someone who has spent a working life studying how languages evolve, and work, for me, is facinating. Here we have a scientific explanation for something we all take for granted, every day and never stop to wonder at. Not to everyone's taste, but certainly mine.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject, disappointing book, 4 Jan 2009
By 
Peter Biddlecombe "peterbiddlecombe" (Bucks, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Paperback)
This book addresses some fascinating topics, but my impression was that it skimmed the surface. There are three subject areas: how writing systems developed, how we learn to read, and why some of us don't read well. All to be covered in 229 pages? It can't really be done. The explanations about the workings of the brain didn't satisfy my curiosity, and the brain features shown in the various diagrams didn't seem adequately explained, so the diagrams were not 'worth a thousand words'. (At a fundamental level, the location of the various lobes of the brain is never illustrated explicitly.) I was happier with the material about writing systems, but then that's something I've read about before.

You will learn lots from the book, but I felt that I could have learned more.
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