Maureen's Reviews > Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf
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's review
Nov 22, 08

it was amazing
bookshelves: brain, science
Recommended for: readers
Read in January, 2008

This book deals with the evolution and mechanics of the reading brain, an absolutely fascinating topic. I did not know until I reading this that the human brain is not set up for the process of decoding letters and phonemes. It has had to develop intricate synaptic pathways utilizing many different parts of the brain in order to cope.

The earliest symbolic representations were clay tokens, and knotted ropes. We then move on to cunieform and hieroglyphics, which made for more diversity, but limited the number of people who were able to read to the most educated classes. The more complex the symbols became, the fewer people could read them. Then came a breakthrough: the Sumerian and Egyptian alphabets, where letters were used in combination to produce polysyllabic words. Moore uses a wealth of diagrams to chart the changes made as the brain evolves from the primitive tokens to the alphabetic system.

This is where it starts to get really interesting: she discusses Socrates fight against reading and writing. Another part of the story with which I was not familiar, Socrates thought that the written word would rob man of his ability to memorize, and would also hamper the dialectic process through unsupervised access to information. Many parallels may be drawn between Socrates' dilemma, and the world today, which has turned from the printed page to the digital screen.

Wolf goes on to describe in intricate detail the developmental process of the modern reading mind, from that of emerging pre-readers, all the way to the expert reader. Anyone who has ever taught another person to read, or vividly remembers the process of learning to read will find this section particularly riveting.

She ends with an overview of dyslexia, using it to describe the types of disruptions that take place in the brain when a person cannot learn to read in the normal way. No doubt, this study benefits from the fact that one of Wolf's children is dyslexic. It is a fascinating look at recent research into the topic.
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