Yogi, Gene, and Norman

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January 9, 2016 by libroshombre


Once Yogi Berra was asked to explain a particularly awful Yankees outing. “We made too many wrong mistakes,” he said. Although I’ve always admired George Bernard Shaw’s argument that “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing,” I have to wonder about people who make mistakes while actively doing nothing. A case in point was reported in the Washington Post article titled, “Londoners Accidentally Pay For Free Wi-Fi with a Firstborn, Because No One Reads Anymore.”

That’s right, “In an experiment sponsored by security firm F-Secure, an open Wi-Fi network was set up in a busy public area. When people connected, they were presented with lengthy terms and conditions. But to see just how little attention we pay when checking that agreement box, F-Secure included a ‘Herod clause,’” that meant checking the “I agree” box gave the company rights to your firstborn child. A few years earlier another British company pulled the same terms and agreements trick in which those agreeing signed away “their immortal souls.” The problem is that “Internet users actually read only about 20 percent of the words they ‘read.’ We’ve concinved ourselves that we’re master speed readers, but we’re actually just skimming … when presented with a solid wall of text in the form of a contract that also happens to be on a screen, people use their skimming skills instead of the line-by-line reading that might protect them from legal snares.”

A ScienceDaily.com article from a week ago cites research from the Journal of the American Medical Association that “[e]lectronic toys for infants that produce lights, words, and songs were associated with decreased quantity and quality of language compared to playing with books or traditional toys … Children also vocalized less while playing with electronic toys than with books … These results add to the large body of evidence supporting the potential benefits of book reading with very young children.”

Another common digital mistake was reported in another Washington Post article titled “study Confirms That Ending Your Texts With a Period Is Terrible.” Ending with periods is “perceived as being less sincere, probably because the people sending them are heartless.” However, follow-up research found “that exclamation points – once a rather uncouth punctuation mark – may make your messages seem more sincere than no punctuation at all.”

An overwhelming number of studies have shown that using digital devices to teach reading is a big mistake, but so is putting all your literary eggs into one basket. Not long ago many people thought that the e-book innovation meant the end of print books, and today more print books are being published and being sold that ever before while sales of e-books and readers has plateaued or declined. Nonetheless, digital books are far easier to store, transport, and sift through for specific words. I own an e-reader that’s great for traveling with a small library of beloved books, but I also own print copies of many of them, because I want to remember them better than digital reading allows.

“Books In 2015: From Coloring Books to Harper Lee, A Good Year For Paper,” a recent News Miner article, noted that “Paper all along has been especially popular for nonfiction and children’s books.” That’s one reason the Alaska Guys Read program introduces local 4th grade boys to heavily-illustrated print books that brim over with fun. Local men volunteer to read these books during school lunchtimes while projecting the pages so everyone can follow along, and then they donate copies of each book to the school library. This week those interested in volunteering can stop by Noel Wien Library between Noon and 2 PM for a 30-minute orientation to the process and the books that will be featured when the latest two-week edition of Guys Read begins on January 25.

It’s fitting that cartoonist Gene Yang has been appointed Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. Mr. Yang is known for his graphic novel, “American Born Chinese, about Jin Wang, a boy who has trouble fitting in when he moves to a new school,” according to the NY Times announcement. He’s “the son of Chinese immigrants, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He began drawing at 2, he said, and ‘I basically never stopped.’ His gateway comic book was Superman, which he began reading in fifth grade.”

One of Yang’s boyhood pals is Jason Shiga, author of “Meanwhile,” which is the best choose-your-own-adventure book ever. “Meanwhile” was featured by Guys Read several years ago, and Mr. Shiga came to Fairbanks, at no charge, to appear at the Guys Read parties held at the public library. That’s because he, too, realizes that reading ability is something you don’t want to mess up. Guys Read has proven exceptionally good at exciting boys about reading just as they’re most likely to stop reading for pleasure. And as Norman Vincent Peale noted, “We’ve all heard that we have to learn from our mistakes, but I think it’s more important to learn from your successes.”

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