September 4, 2007
The act of reading is a miracle. Every new reader’s brain possesses the extraordinary capacity to rearrange itself beyond its original abilities in order to understand written symbols. But how does the brain learn to read? As world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist and scholar of reading Maryanne Wolf explains in this impassioned book, we taught our brain to read only a few thousand years ago, and in the process changed the intellectual evolution of our species.
Wolf tells us that the brain that examined tiny clay tablets in the cuneiform script of the Sumerians is configured differently from the brain that reads alphabets or of one literate in today’s technology. There are critical implications to such an evolving brain. Just as writing reduced the need for memory, the proliferation of information and the particular requirements of digital culture may short-circuit some of written language’s unique contributions – with potentially profound consequences for our future.
Turning her attention to the development of the individual reading brain, Wolf draws on her expertise in dyslexia to investigate what happens when the brain finds it difficult to read. Interleaving her vast knowledge of neuroscience, psychology, literature, and linguistics, Wolf takes the reader from the brains of a pre-literate Homer to a literacy-ambivalent Plato, from an infant listening to Goodnight Moon to an expert reader of Proust, and finally to an often misunderstood child with dyslexia whose gifts may be as real as the challenges he or she faces.
As we come to appreciate how the evolution and development of reading have changed the very arrangement of our brain and our intellectual life, we begin to realize with ever greater comprehension that we truly are what we read. Ambitious, provocative, and rich with examples, Proust and the Squid celebrates reading, one of the single most remarkable inventions in history. Once embarked on this magnificent story of the reading brain, you will never again take for granted your ability to absorb the written word.
Maryanne Wolf is a professor of child development at Tufts University, where she holds the John DiBiaggio Chair of Citizenship and Public Service, and is the Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.