Puppies, Spies, and Brains

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October 11, 2018 by libroshombre

Last week two fellow Osher Lifelong Learning students passed along some library-related amusements. One item, a Peanuts strip showing Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally smiling while thinking “Happiness is your own library card,” harkened back to the “Peanuts” comic anthology that inspired the “happiness is” fad that began in 1962 with the cover drawing titled “Happiness is a warm puppy” next to a cartoon of Lucy Van Pelt embracing Snoopy. Once ubiquitous, today first editions can be had for $200.00. Please note that the Encyclopedia of Historical Metrology, Weights, and Measures, “jocularly” refers to a “puppy” asunit of happiness that derived by holding a one kilogram beagle puppy whose body temperature is 310 kelvins in skin contact for one second.

This fit neatly with the other classmate’s gift, an article titled “A Literal Poetic Device” which described how some British libraries’ book check-in machines print receipts of the returned titles, and how the lists sometimes produce serendipitous verse. For example, “Holding You, I Found You, In Deep Water, Before We Say Goodbye”; and “Daddy and I, Motor Miles, I Feel Sick!, A Great Big Cuddle.”

There some truth in Max Frisch’s statement, “Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” Nonetheless, even dated technology like compact discs still allow good books to be pleasurably experienced. Being old school, I just returned the library’s CD audio version of “The Pigeon Tunnel,” John LeCarre’s outstanding autobiography although the library also has print, downloadable e-book, and MP3 audio versions. LeCarre’s the penname of David Cornwall, a Cold War spy in real life whose novels are inevitably cynical and depressing. Sample a bit of the author’s fascinating life storyand that’s understandable. Consequently, LeCarre’s rich, lugubrious reading voice (which he varies rather well to capture Russian, German, and other accents) makes for a more compelling literary experience than simply reading him in print.

Having listened to many of his novels, reading them now I hear the author’s own voice. I’ve always enjoyed audio books differently than print, and discovered I can often thoroughly enjoy experiencing both. “Your Brain on Books: Ten Things That Happen to Our Minds When We Read,” an article from Open Education Data Base, reported that “research has shown that the act of listening to a storycan light up your brain. When we’re told a story, not only are language processing parts of our brains activated, experiential parts of our brains come alive, too.” Other mind-bending reading facts include studies showing “We make photos in our minds, even without being prompted … visual memory is simply automatic. Participants were able to identify photos of objects faster if they’d just read a sentence describing the object.” Moreover, “diving into a great novel is an immersive experience that can make your brain come alive with imagery and emotions and even turn on your senses … there’s real, hard evidence that supports these things happening to your brain while you read books. In reading we’re actually changing our brain structure.”

Most humans prefer print reading to digital, especially when they read challenging material. That’s because “e-books lack what’s called ‘spatial navigability,’ physical cues like the heft of pages left to read that gives us a sense of location. Evolution has shaped out minds to rely on location cues to find our way around, and without them, we can be left feeling a little lost.”

Some readers strongly prefer the ease and portability of e-readers, some want audio, and others need Braille, and in this land access to all forms of reading are espoused in the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. Originally drafted in 1938 by Des Moines Library Director Forrest Spaulding, it was adopted by the ALA the following year with the opening lines, “Today indications in many parts of the world point to growing intolerance, suppression of free speech, and censorship affecting rights of minorities and individuals.” The world was a scary place in 1939, followed by world war, Cold War, and an interminable Middle East war. The Library Bill of Rights was subsequently revised in 1948 and 1967; perhaps it’s time to a new revision is considered.

Before leaving Texas in 1990, I tried for several years to have the state library association print the Library Bill of Rights in Russian and mail it to as many Soviet libraries as possible just to spread the good word, but in vain. The idea was referred to a committee, then a subcommittee and another subcommittee, and finally an ad hoc committee. Within three month of landing in Fairbanks and suggesting the idea to the Alaska Library Association, the translated document was in the mail to hundreds of Soviet libraries. The document included concepts such as providing relevant materials for everyone in the community, representing all points of view, challenging censorship, and providing the same level of service to everyone, regardless of “origin, age, background, or views.”

The late, lamented Gulliver’s Books used to post a “Reader’s Bill of Rights,” including “the right not to read,” “the right to skip pages,” “the right not to finish,” and “the right not to defend your tastes.” Library and reader’s rights are worth defending, and even buttressing. As poet Ted Hughes wrote, “Even the most misfitting child/ Who’s chanced upon the library’s worth/ Sits with the genius of the Earth/ And turns the key to the whole world.”



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