Slow-reading; practice reading difficult texts on paper

I listened to this audio excerpt from WNYC’s New Tech City about reading on screens versus slow reading on paper. It’s hard not to conclude that digital media (like this blog?!) is an enemy of our brains insidiously dulling our comprehension.

Digital reading leads us to skimming and jumping around on the screen. The current thinking is that this changes our brains and the ways we think. Research shows that people reading on e-readers miss important details about sequence and cause and effect.

Slow-reading means reading closely and reading on paper. I prefer this kind of reading, and, unlike Popova of Brain Pickings who is interviewed in this piece, I am not challenged by the note-taking and annotating process from paper texts. The physical and material quality of a book helps us focus our attention on difficult and demanding texts. By pushing ourselves daily to try reading challenging and deep texts on the page, we can re-gain and hone the skills and cognitive abilities to do this kind of reading. It’s like exercising the other parts of our bodies—we improve doing things by continually and daily practicing it.

The assumption in this analysis is that reading on paper is somehow normative, when really it’s only been a dominate practice for humans for about 500 years (or a few hundred years more if you count papyrus and parchment manuscripts.) Sure, I’m a medievalist and 500 years seems like it was almost yesterday, but really, if you put this in to context within the 200,000 years our species has been in existence, 500 years is almost no time at all.

The physical operations involved with holding at text, moving our eyes across the page, and processing the visual data about where words are placed on a page and within the book are all fundamental to the cognitive processes of comprehension and retention.

I wonder if anyone is doing research on the changes in cognitive processes 500 years ago when printed books emerged as a new dominate way of reading? Do you have a bi-literate brain that can jump between skimming and slow-reading? I remember things better when I read them on paper, do you?



The Aga Khan Museum (in Toronto) collection catalogue to be published September 2014

Pattern and Light: The Aga Khan Museum

Title: Pattern and Light: The Aga Khan Museum
Text: Philip Jodidio, Ruba Kana’an, Assadullah Melikian-Chirvani and Luis Monreal, Preface by Henry S. Kim
Price: $50.00
ISBN: 9780847844296
Publisher: Skira Rizzoli
Language: English
Available: September 16, 2014

Blurb on

“An introduction to 1,400 years of Islamic art and culture as seen through the stunning and diverse masterpieces of the new Aga Khan Museum. Opening in 2014 in Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum will be a showplace for Islamic art and culture unlike anything in the Western Hemisphere. This richly illustrated volume features the new museum and park complex and more than one hundred rare treasures from one of the most important collections of Islamic art and objects in the world, assembled by His Highness the Aga Khan and his family. Masterpieces of design, texture, and artistry created from 600 AD to the 1800s in Spain, North Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, India, and China, the works include radiant illuminations and calligraphy; marvels in ivory, wood, glass, and metal; and exquisite paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and textiles.

Recent publications: Maguire on iconoclasm, nature, and abstraction

Henry Maguire
Series : Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture
New York : Oxford University Press, 2012.
240 pages, CDN$61.95
240 pages, CDN$61.95


“Nature and Illusion is the first extended treament of the portrayal of nature in Byzantine art and literature. In this richly illustrated study, Henry Maguire shows how the Byzantines embraced terrestrial creation in the decoration of their churches during the fifth to seventh centuries but then adopted a much more cautious attitude toward the depiction of animals and plants in the middle ages, after the iconoclastic dispute of the eighth and ninth centuries. In the medieval period, the art of Byzantine churches became more anthropocentric and less accepting of natural images. The danger that the latter might be put to idolatrous use created a constant state of tension between worldliness, represented by nature, and otherworldliness, represented by the portrait icons of the saints.

“The book discusses the role of iconoclasm in affecting this fundamental change in Byzantine art, as both sides in the controversy accused the other of “worshipping the creature rather than the Creator.” An important theme is the asymmetrical relationship between Byzantine art and literature with respect to the portrayal of nature. A series of vivid texts described seasons, landscapes, gardens, and animals, but these were more sparingly illustrated in medieval art. Maguire concludes by discussing the abstraction of nature in the form of marble floors and revetments and with a consideration of the role of architectural backgrounds in medieval Byzantine art. Throughout Nature and Illusion, medieval Byzantine art is compared with that of Western Europe, where different conceptions of religious imagery allowed a closer engagement with nature.

ISBN-13: 9780199766604

Byzantines, Latins, and Turks in the Eastern Mediterranean World after 1150

Another book for my wish-list from the Oxford University Press Canada’s website:

Edited by Jonathan Harris, Catherine Holmes and Eugenia Russell

Series : Oxford Studies in Byzantium

Byzantines, Latins, and Turks
$168 Hardback, 416 pp, December 2012

“The late medieval eastern Mediterranean, before its incorporation into the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century, presents a complex and fragmented picture. The Ayyubid and Mamluk sultanates held sway over Egypt and Syria, Asia Minor was divided between a number of Turkish emirates, the Aegean between a host of small Latin states, and the Byzantine Empire was only a fragment of its former size.

“This collection of thirteen original articles, by both established and younger scholars, seeks to find common themes that unite this disparate world. Focusing on religious identity, cultural exchange, commercial networks, and the construction of political legitimacy among Christians and Muslims in the late Medieval eastern Mediterranean, they discuss and analyse the interaction between these religious cultures and trace processes of change and development within the individual societies. A detailed introduction provides a broad geopolitical context to the contributions and discusses at length the broad themes which unite the articles and which transcend traditional interpretations of the eastern Mediterranean in the later medieval period.

Table of Contents:
List of contributors
Note about transliteration
List of illustrations and maps
Catherine Holmes: Introduction
1. Catherine Holmes: ‘Shared Worlds’: Religious Identities – A Question of Evidence
2. Jonathan Shepard: Imperial Constantinople: Relics, Palaiologan Emperors and the Resilience of the Exemplary Centre
3. David Jacoby: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Later Middle Ages – An Island World?
4. Jonathan Harris: Constantinople as City State, c. 1360-1453
5. Eurydice Georganteli: Transposed Images: Currencies and Legitimacy in the Late Medieval Eastern Mediterranean
6. Teresa SHawcross: Conquest Legitimised: The Making of a Byzantine Emperor in Crusader Constantinople (1204-1261)
7. Dimitris Kastritsis: Conquest and Political Legitimation in the Early Ottoman Empire
8. Christopher Wright: Byzantine Authority and Latin Rule in the Gattilusio Lordships
9. Christopher Tyerman: ‘New Wine in Old Skins’: Crusading Literature and Crusading in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Later Middle Ages
10. David Abulafia: Aragon versus Turkey – Tirant lo Blanc and the Conquerer: Iberia, the Crusade and Late Medieval Chivalry
11. Robert Irwin: Palestine in Late Medieval Islamic Spirituality and Culture
12. Kate Fleet: Turks, Mamluks and Latin Merchants: Commerce, Conflictand Co-operation in the Eastern Mediterranean
13. Judith Ryder: Byzantium and the West in the 1360s: the Kydones Version