Reading Makes You Smarter?

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There’s been a lot said and written in past years – particularly since the advent of tweets, blog posts, and e-mail – about the value of snippet reading. It’s a great way to amass information, they say.

But let me work the other side of the fence for a moment. Yes, those snippets will allow you to be a walking encyclopedia. But will grabbing headlines, dashing off tweets or speed reading e-mails enable you and your end users to use make use of such information? Better, will this gulping down of information make you smarter? Or by inference, more valuable to your nation, your community, your family, your place of work?

Here’s a blog post to help you think this through.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/23/can-reading-make-you-smarter.

Note, near the end on the Guardian post the comment on reading literary fiction.

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But why would literary fiction engage your latent intelligence so well? That’s a subject to be dealt with in depth on another day. But my short answer is that literary fiction presents you with conflicts that are all too human without providing solutions to those conflicts. This enables readers to consider possible resolutions from each reader’s experience and level of understanding. In other words, in a complex era of human development, there are no easy answers; each person must arrive at such understandings as if truth were relative. Perhaps in some future time we’ll  have the ability to see such complexity as a unified whole, and literary fiction will, I feel sure, lead us there.

 

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Dangerous But Beautiful

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If you’re a writer, has your writing seemed milk-toasty at times? Or if you’re a reader, has a book disappointed because it is, well, milk-toasty?

Then if you have access to the January/February issue of Poets&Writers, Jan/Feb 2016, turn to Tom Spanbauer’s essay, Dangerous Writing. I’ll leave it to you to discover from his essay what dangerous writing is. But there’s a rather unsubtle hint in a paragraph on the third column of page 41.

Basic to Dangerous Writing is the belief that by going on this journey from blood to bone, by laying out hard truths, through our own intelligence, intuition, and ability we will make a personal discovery of reality. The discovery will be something that is ancient, but because it is we who have been on the front lines, this discovered reality is truly personal—completely fresh and new.

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This is the reality of literature, I believe—it takes ancient truths and spins them out in the context of the time and the author. This has been the truth of literature, more particularly of our modern, secular literature than of any writing throughout the ages.

But what does this mean? What does it say to humanity?

We live in a superficial age. This bouncing about on the surface of life allows us to hide behind style, posturing, the confidence of knowing too little, especially about ourselves. But by participating  in Spanbauer’s delving, we discover, first, something enduring about ourselves, not just as a storyteller but as a human being. Then we discover how that personal something finds its place in the human condition as a whole.

It may frighten, dear writer, and it may hurt peeling away those superficial confidences, but think of the story you are deep within. Think of its value to your readers. In that light, it’s not dangerous at all, is it?

 

As a postscript, I had to dig deep to write a story as provocative as the one advertised on page 134 of this edition of P&W, “We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.” If you haven’t read it, take a chance with it. I believe it is at least one version of our time. If you have read it, please let your reading friends know about this book. Thanks.

Poverty and Violence

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Literature is rarely taught or even thought of as a socio-political device, but it often is, has been since Homer. The best writers are the best, most legitimate observers of society, and Cormac McCarthy has been the best of both in recent years of these United States. In his novel, Child of God (click for a previous review), he grapples with the consequences of generations of abject Southern poverty, a poverty from which there seems no escape. As these generations of the poor wear on, violence becomes the overwhelming consequence, the only escape from servile humiliation.

What’s the answer to such lives? McCarthy, correctly, doesn’t say; that’s not the novelist’s responsibility. His responsibility is only to pose the problem.

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Find Truth, Tell It

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With today’s media having been gobbled up by bottom-line-must-be-in-the black types, it’s hard for the book game to cultivate writers, and so we must do it ourselves. As I implied in this early post, writers have always found it hard to comment on their various societies, their foibles, their fledgling promise. We feel the pressure of politics, religion, and customs, aspects that support creaking social structures and deter us from looking at the unvarnished truths of our world. But this we must do; the power of the written word endures while politicians, preachers, and purveyors of the status quo wither and turn to dust. We writers and the fruits of our labors are the closest thing to immortality available in this evanescent world.

So be strong, writers. Don’t be swayed by the temporary comforts of politics, of religion and custom. Tell the truth, as you see it. Even though we’re mere chroniclers, our dedication to Truth, as Plato would have termed it, will outlast them all.

 

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Good Fortune in Dystopia

 

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I’m truly fortunate in being able to keep writing and in having my work published. This Saturday, March 15, 2014, a dystopian novella of mine will be launched as an e-book. The name? We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

It’s something of a fable, a cautionary tale, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the U.S… oh, what the heck, I’ll just give you the cover blurb:

2090 A.D. — The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

 Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

 

I’m rather proud of this story for a number of reasons, foremost among them that I began with a vague idea of what I wanted to write and let my subconscious lead me into the morass of modern culture and the dangers it poses to us personally and to civilization itself.

And the book trailer was developed in similar fashion by my film ace, Kevin.

If you’re interested in buying the e-book after reading this and investigating it on my website, please wait until the 15th to do so. A number of sales on a given day are something you can collectively do to help the author. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Thanks,

Bob

‘I Don’t Believe In Writer’s Block’/The Atlantic

 

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The article linked below is one all writers should read, and it’s one that certainly speaks to me. I’ve spent years lost in the woods (read: another career) while writing virtually nothing. But what I subsequently discovered is that those woods did indeed leave me with much soil from which stories might grow. And, to espouse a cliche, it’s a process. At first, unsure of my ability to extract stories from these raw experiences, I outlined, organized, and after I wrote I analyzed what I’d written. Now I favor taking off as Steinbeck did in To A God Unknown, i.e., I write without knowing where the writing will take me. This is truly being lost in the woods. Dear writers (and readers) you always find your way out of the woods if you’re determined to do so, but it’s a path you can never retrace and walk a second time.

 

TheAtlantic

 

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Learning Old Lessons Anew

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The Writer’s Chronicle, March April, 2014

Sometimes the lessons writers learn keep coming back, ever new. In Sarah Ann Johnson’s interview with Richard Bausch, he tends to pan manuscript workshopping as a sort-of assembly line way of producing writing. Of course, there are ways out of that, one being to respect the writer’s work enough to amplify his/her style without changing it to titan instructor’s style. Bausch, in explaining his manner of deepening characterization, falls back on the old writer’s chestnut of involving the senses as much as possible in such a depiction. And finally, Bausch tells us once more that fiction must be about something. i.e., “the true subject of fiction, whether it’s comic or tragic or somewhere in between, is trouble.”

And you needn’t be a Southerner to give your writing a strong sense of place. Cynthia Neely, in her piece, ” Making Sense of a Sense of Place,” recognize foremost that place has a strong sense of power in all our lives – and she gives examples of how this plays out in poetry.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece in this issue is Tony Hoagland’s “Je Suis Ein Americano – The Genius of American Diction.” Hoagland reminds us that diction – even the blurred diction of the U.S.’s multi-language influences, is the main instrument of tone, that it serves to focus the story’s emotions and underlying concept. Too, besides nailing down cultural characteristics, diction can be used comically. Natsha Saje’s interview with Wanda Coleman tends to bear out Hoagland’s views on diction.

As has been the case of late, this issue focuses largely on poets and poetry. IF you’re feeling good about your own poetry, you may very well come to understand your writing in the montage of other modern poetry.

 

 

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