Does the internet degrade our ability to read?

There is some evidence that the way we read on the internet–skimming, surfing, hopping from link to link–is interfering with the ability to read complex, content-rich books that require reading slowly and thoughtfully.

Do you think?  Having just finished the 1500 page unabridged Les Miserables for free on my Kindle (an overwhelming experience that I’ll blog about later), I say not necessarily.  But still, I can see the danger.  I wonder what the eye-bite approach would do to Bible reading.

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Good books

Summertime, and the living is easy.  A perfect time for reading.  It’s about time for me to reload my Kindle.  I have Lars Walker’s new novel, Hailstone Mountain, which  I’m looking forward to reading, but that won’t get me through the summer.   What books would you recommend?  (Feel free to recommend whatever you want–some one reading this blog is likely to appreciate it–but I myself will be looking not so much for scholarly tomes, of which I get enough during the school year, but lighter fare that is just fun to read.  The only limitation, Lit professor that I am, is that it needs to be well-written.)

Liberals have no books

Yale professor and political liberal Beverly Gage laments that conservatives have an intellectual tradition carried on in books, but liberals don’t.  They used to–and note what the key books were–but don’t any more, leaving them intellectually weak and poorly grounded:

We tend to think of the conservative influence in purely political terms: electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, picking away at Social Security, reducing taxes for the wealthy. But one of the movement’s most lasting successes has been in developing a common intellectual heritage. Any self-respecting young conservative knows the names you’re supposed to spout: Hayek, Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Albert Jay Nock. There are some older thinkers too—Edmund Burke, for instance—but for the most part the favored thinkers come out of the movement’s mid-20th century origins in opposition to Soviet communism and the New Deal.

Liberals, by contrast, have been moving in the other direction over the last half-century, abandoning the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools. This may seem like a strange statement at a moment when American universities are widely understood to be bastions of liberalism, and when liberals themselves are often derided as eggheaded elites. But there is a difference between policy smarts honed in college classrooms and the kind of intellectual conversation that keeps a movement together. What conservatives have developed is what the left used to describe as a “movement culture”: a shared set of ideas and texts that bind activists together in common cause. Liberals, take note

Once upon a time, the Old Left had “movement culture” par excellence: to be considered a serious activist, you had to read Marx and Lenin until your eyes bled. For better or worse, that never resulted in much electoral power (nor was it intended to) and within a few decades became the hallmark of pedantry rater than intellectual vitality.

The New Left reinvented that heritage in the 1960s. Instead of (or in addition to) Marx and Lenin, activists began to read Herbert Marcuse, C. Wright Mills, and Saul Alinsky. As new, more particular movements developed, the reading list grew to include feminists, African-Americans, and other traditionally excluded groups. This vastly enhanced the range of voices in the public sphere—one of the truly great revolutions in American intellectual politics. But it did little to create a single coherent language through which to maintain common cause. Instead, the left ended up with multiple “movement cultures,” most of them more focused on issue-oriented activism than on a common set of ideas.

Liberals have channeled their energies even more narrowly over the past half-century, tending to prefer policy tweaks and electoral mapping to big-picture thinking. When was the last time you saw a prominent liberal politician ascribe his or her passion and interest in politics to, of all things, a book?

via Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: Why don’t America liberals have their own canon of writers and thinkers? – Slate Magazine.

A book that changed your life

Booklover raised the ante on yesterday’s post about books that have influenced your political beliefs, asking if a book CHANGED your views, or just confirmed what you already believed. Let’s ramp it up even more: Has there been a book that changed your life in some way? Let’s not limit it to politics or ideology. Has a book changed your faith or your theology? Your approach to your family, your work, your everyday life? Not counting the Bible.

I’ll go first. C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” which I read as a high schooler, made me realize that maybe there is something to this Christianity. Having grown up in mainline liberal Protestantism, I had never even heard that Jesus was God in the flesh. Nor did I know of any other historic Christian doctrines. That book started me on a long road.

Books of influence

An interesting article on how most of our presidents have been big readers, and how the books they read have influenced their policies:  For Obama and past presidents, the books they read shape policies and perceptions.  Truman’s reading about ancient history led to his support of the founding of Israel.  Kennedy and Johnson read books on the poor in American that led to the “war on poverty.”  Nixon pored over histories in working through his foreign policies.  Jimmy Carter got his sense of national “malaise” from “The Culture of Narcissism.”   Reagan read Milton Friedman, which led to his free-market reforms.  Bush, contrary to stereotype, read extensively, and his reading of Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky’s books on democracy inspired him to attempt to spread democracy throughout the world.

What books have influenced YOUR political beliefs?


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