Posted on Leave a comment

How Reading Makes us Better People

Every day more than 1.8 million books are sold in the US. Despite all the other easy distractions available to us today, there’s no doubt that many people still love reading. Books can teach us plenty about the world, of course, as well as improving our vocabularies and writing skills. But can fiction also make us better people?

The claims for fiction are great. It’s been credited with everything from an increase in volunteering and charitable giving to the tendency to vote – and even with the gradual decrease in violence over the centuries.

Characters hook us into stories. Aristotle said that when we watch a tragedy two emotions predominate: pity (for the character) and fear (for yourself). Without necessarily even noticing, we imagine what it’s like to be them and compare their reactions to situations with how we responded in the past, or imagine we might in the future. Be an epic reader!

If You Don’t Use it You Lose it

This exercise in perspective-taking is like a training course in understanding others. The Canadian cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley calls fiction “the mind’s flight simulator”. Just as pilots can practice flying without leaving the ground, people who read fiction may improve their social skills each time they open a novel. In his research, he has found that as we begin to identify with the characters, we start to consider their goals and desires instead of our own. When they are in danger, our hearts start to race. We might even gasp. But we read with luxury of knowing that none of this is happening to us. We don’t wet ourselves with terror or jump out of windows to escape.  

Having said that, some of the neural mechanisms the brain uses to make sense of narratives in stories do share similarities with those used in real-life situations. Reading the word “kick”, for example, areas of the brain related to physically kicking are activated. If we read that a character pulled a light cord, activity increases in the region of the brain associated with grasping. Even if it’s an eReader versus a paperback book!

The Plot Thickens

To follow a plot, we need to know who knows what, how they feel about it and what each character believes others might be thinking. This requires the skill known as “theory of mind”. When people read about a character’s thoughts, areas of the brain associated with theory of mind are activated.

With all this practice in empathizing with other people through reading, you think it would be possible to demonstrate that those who read fiction have better social skills than those who read mostly non-fiction or don’t read at all.

The difficulty with conducting this kind of research is that many of us have a tendency to exaggerate the number of books we’ve read. To get around this, Oatley and colleagues gave students a list of fiction and non-fiction writers and asked them to indicate which writers they had heard of. They warned them that a few fake names had been thrown in to check they weren’t lying. The number of writers people have heard of turns out to be a good proxy for how much they actually read.

We have some fiction horror as well as non-fiction being available as an eBook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and Kobo.

The Neuroscience Behind Reading

Next, Oatley’s team gives people the “Mind in the Eyes” test, where you are given a series of photographs of pairs of eyes. From the eyes and surrounding skin alone, your task is to divine which emotion a person is feeling. You are given a short list of options like shy, guilty, daydreaming or worried. The expressions are subtle and at first glance might appear neutral, so it’s harder than it sounds. But those deemed to have read more fiction than non-fiction scored higher on this test – as well as on a scale measuring interpersonal sensitivity.

At the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab, psychologist Diana Tamir has demonstrated that people who often read fiction have better social cognition. In other words, they’re more skilled at working out what other people are thinking and feeling. Using brain scans, she has found that while reading fiction, there is more activity in parts of the default mode network of the brain that are involved in simulating what other people are thinking.

So the research shows that perhaps reading fiction does make people behave better. Certainly some institutions consider the effects of reading to be so significant that they now include modules on literature. At the University of California Irvine, for example, Johanna Shapiro from the Department of Family Medicine firmly believes that reading fiction results in better doctors and has led the establishment of a humanities programme to train medical students.

It sounds as though it’s time to lose the stereotype of the shy bookworm whose nose is always in a book because they find it difficult to deal with real people. In fact, these bookworms might be better than everyone else at understanding human beings.

Posted on Leave a comment

Digital Libraries You Can Visit From Your Home

Is your state still on shut down? Kids still out of school? Many libraries, museums and organizations are offering some of their content for free online. Here are just 7 digital libraries you can visit from the comfort of your own home.

Digital Public Library of America Digital Library

The DPLA is an online collection of over 36 million free digital materials from libraries, archives and museums. Its digital exhibitions and primary sources cover everything from the 1918 influenza pandemic to the golden age of comic books.

Nautical Archaeology Digital Library

If you’re fascinated by shipwrecks, the Nautical Archaeology Digital Library has you covered. The library, a collaboration of Texas A&M University and ShipLAB, contains searchable shipwreck databases and ancient ship models.

CIA’s FOIA Electronic Digital Libraries

Looking for digital data to make you feel like a secret agent? Look no further than the Central Intelligence Agency’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room. The online collection houses items from FOIA and CIA release programs, including more than 50 years of CIA information on UFOs and a collection dedicated to the oldest classified documents in the US.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Biodiversity Heritage Library provides open access to biodiversity literature. The archives are home to curated collections with books from Charles Darwin’s personal collection to field diaries from explorations of Antarctica.

Digital libraries you can visit from home from Mind on Fire Books

New York Public Library Digital Library

The New York Public Library’s online collection contains nearly 890,000 digitized items. Its archives and manuscripts cover books, prints, photographs and more unique collections, like a massive database of over 17,000 historical restaurant menus.

National Library of Medicine Digital Libraries

The History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine contains a vast collection of digital materials related to health and disease. Through its online resources, patrons can view the earliest anatomical drawings, read about the history of forensic medicine and explore an exhibition dedicated to the accomplishments of women physicians.

Transcending
Thank you for your support!

Getty Publications Virtual Libraries

The Getty Publications Virtual Library hosts an impressive collection of art books, with more than 300 publications that can be read and downloaded for free, including some that are out of print.

Posted on Leave a comment

Happy National Bookmobile Day!

Celebrate National Bookmobile Day! Every day, bookmobiles help transform the communities they serve, providing everything from access to books, magazines and videos to job search assistance and much more.

Today our nation celebrates National Bookmobile Day. For more than 100 years, bookmobiles have delivered information, technology and resources for life-long learning to Americans of all walks of life. Each year, it is celebrated on the Wednesday of National Library Week. Which is your favorite?

Posted on Leave a comment

Happy Birthday Charlotte Bronte

Born on this day in Yorkshire, in 1816, the third of six children.  After their mother and two sisters died, the young Bronte’s were educated at home. They developed a rich fantasy life amongst themselves, constructing together the imaginary world of Glass Town and writing of it in dozens of microscopically printed ‘books’.  Charlotte and her brother Branwell invented their shared kingdom of Angria in 1834. In 1846, at Charlotte’s instigation, the Bronte sisters published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, was rejected by several publishers and not published until 1857. Jane Eyre appeared, and was an instant success, in 1847. Then… Branwell Bronte died in September 1848, Emily in December of the same year, and Anne in May 1849. Charlotte, the onluy survivor of 6 siblings, continued to live at Haworth Parsonage with her fater. Shirley was published in 1849 and Villette in 1853, both pseudonymously. In 1854 Charlotte married her father’s curate. She soon died on March 31, 1855.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Home Can Be a World, by Jonathan Leaman

I thought this was fitting for today’s social distancing restrictions. I know we’re used to the daily grind🏃‍♂️, but honestly, I have come to appreciate being home more often. I have spent more time with the family, with myself, and I am enjoying the home I recently purchased more than ever. Even with Spring blooming around us, I’m still happy to be home. Fortunately, I am still employed; and still, work is the only task preventing me from being 🏚️ even more.

A Home Can Be a World, by Jonathan Leaman

Posted on Leave a comment

8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you’ll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren’t good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on the region and what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. In recent years, the tradition has spread beyond Europe, and many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

A representation of Jólakötturinn in Iceland

A representation of Jólakötturinn in IcelandATLI HARÐARSON

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat; in fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this was mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores. A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It’s no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

Transcending
Thank you for your support!

3. FRAU PERCHTA

A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta circa 1910

A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta from 1910 WIKIMEDIA // PUBLIC DOMAIN

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta’s story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn’t really a monster: she’s an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

Getting Smarter
Thank You for Your Support!

4. BELSNICKEL

An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm Museum

An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm MuseumGSHELDON/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another “anti-Santa” who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to “Father Whipper,” begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas’ servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

Transcending
Thank you for your support!

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out … if they are good boys and girls, that is.

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don’t obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn’t crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

This story was published by Mental Floss, written by Miss Cellania. You can follow her on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/MissCellania

A version of this list originally ran in 2013.

Posted on Leave a comment

What Henry David Thoreau Teaches us About Travel

As we prepare for limited travel and mobility restrictions, know that Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location.

“I have traveled a great deal in Concord,” said Henry Thoreau, a native of…wait for it…Concord, Massachusetts.

primary-source-thoreau-civil-disobedience-c52d6a6b

In fact, Thoreau traveled far and wide for his day and age, vagabonding to Cape Cod and the vast wilderness of the Maine Woods. However, the great prophet of enlightened self-reliance claimed to have done most of his traveling in his own hometown.

Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location. With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.

I’m writing in El Calafate, a tourist boomtown in Argentine Patagonia. I am, admittedly, a long way from home. But, just the same, at the moment I’m not really traveling.

With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.

Neither, sadly, are many of my fellow tourists here in El Calafate. Every hour, buses segregated by wealth and nationality pull up to the viewpoint overlooking the Perito Moreno glacier.

Things-I-learned-as-a-travel-photograher

Tourists disembark – they Ooh and Ahh in their respective languages, snap a few trophy photos, nap in the bus back to the hotel and fly thousands of miles back home on airplanes that belch carbon into the sky.

Meanwhile, the famous glacier shrinks, but that’s OK – I already have my ice-climbing photo.

What Makes A Traveler?

Now, the tourist / traveler distinction has already been beaten into the ground, and I’m not so sure of its validity in the first place. But it IS clear that coming all the way to Patagonia does not make one a traveler.

How did Thoreau manage to travel in Concord when so many of my fellow tourists never leave their comfort zones?
bay-1867834_960_720-960x530

So what DOES make a traveler, I wonder? How did Thoreau manage to travel in Concord when so many of my fellow tourists here in El Calafate never leave their comfort zones?

Well, Thoreau rambled. He walked the country roads and stopped to talk to anyone he met along the way. He followed fox tracks through the snow, and wondered at their meaning. He approached the fields and homesteads of Concord with an open-ended sense of curiosity.

He looked at things, and thought about them, and tried his best to place them within the context of his broad experience. He moved slowly, and he paid attention.

Into The Hills

I remember one time, back when I worked an office job.

It was a Tuesday, and after work I just couldn’t take it any longer: with nothing but the clothes on my back I set off into the hills behind my house, trekked across the coal fields and into the valley beyond. The sun started to go down, but I just kept walking.

I came upon a small stream, which I resolved to follow until it led back to civilization. The night was dark, and there was no moon. I traveled by feel, my mind wide open, my nerves on edge. Once, I stepped on a sleeping turtle – and believe me, that was a shot of adrenaline on par with a virgin view of the Mayan Temples, the Egyptian Pyramids and even Angkor Wat.

travel-photography-career-sahara-morocco-camels-hillary-fox

 


The next day at work I couldn’t stop grinning. I had gone on a TRIP. Beyond that, I now knew what was 
Out There, over the hills, and by understanding what was Out There, I had a better appreciation for home and work – the comfortable routines to which I was able to return.Four times I came to dams, and had to scramble around them through thick bamboo grass. When I finally emerged into a village, covered in mud and cobwebs, it was past midnight.

My carbon footprint for the journey? Zero.

A Sense Of Wonder

The truth is, we travel every time we open our minds to a new possibility, every time we open our hearts to a new emotion, every time we take a new track, read a new book or just look at a rock and wonder how it got there.

There is comfort in routine and stability, but when we stop traveling we lose the sense of wonder that equates to joy, that carves new channels in our minds and makes us feel alive. So go. Go on. Go.

Take a notebook and a pen and a camera – see what you find. Then come back, and tell me the story.

Henry-David-Thoreau2

ORiginally written by Tim Patterson on https://matadornetwork.com/bnt/what-henry-david-thoreau-taught-me-about-travel/.

BNT contributing editor Tim Patterson travels with a sleeping bag and pup tent strapped to the back of his folding bicycle. His articles and travel guides have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Get Lost Magazine, Tales Of Asia and Traverse Magazine. Check out his personal site Rucksack Wanderer.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Homeless Man Reviews Books for Sale

This young man sits on the side of Empire Road in Johannesburg and instead of begging, he provides book reviews. He collects books, reads them, and provides reviews for people passing by. If you like the review, he will try to sell you the book. This is how he makes a living. Have you seen this amazing individual?