The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Maryanne Wolf, an expert on the science of reading, was worried—as perhaps you have worried—that she might be losing the knack for sustained, deep reading. 

She still buys books. “But more and more I read “in them rather than being whisked away by them,” she wrote.

Wolf told herself that it wasn’t the style of her reading that had changed, only the amount of time she could set aside for it. 

So, she decided to set up an experiment on herself.

She decided to set a time every day to reread a novel she had loved as a young woman. It was Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi. (Hesse received a Nobel Price in Literature in 1945.) It was precisely the sort of demanding text she once loved.

The experiment went yuck!

She hated the book. She hated the whole so-called experiment. She had to force herself to wrangle the novel’s “unnecessarily difficult words and sentences whose snakelike constructions obfuscated, rather than illuminated, meaning for me.” 

The book’s narrative was intolerably slow. She said she had “changed in ways I would never have predicted. I now read on the surface and very quickly; in fact, I read too fast to comprehend deeper levels, which forced me constantly to go back and reread the same sentence over and over with increasing frustration.” 

She had lost the “cognitive patience” that once sustained her in reading such books as Magister Ludi

She blamed the internet. 

Remember how English teachers admonished us to “develop our paragraphs?” Now, most all paragraphs need to be about two sentences long. In fact, large blocks of text soon lose their reader.

And now I read that the GPT-3 equipment they are installing in cell phone prompts will give our phones the quality everyone pretends to but does not actually want in a lover — the ability to finish your thoughts.

 Have you ever written a message where the damn messenger writer decides what your next word ought to be? For crying out loud, now it wants to write for us. 

The GPT-3, instead of predicting the next word in a sentence, as our messaging appts do, would produce several paragraphs in whatever style it intuited from your prompt. 

If you prompted it Once upon a time, it would produce a fairy tale. If you typed two lines in iambic pentameter, it would write a sonnet. If you wrote something vaguely literary like We gathered to see the ship and all its splendor, like pilgrims at an altar, it would continue in this vein: 

If you wrote a news headline, it would write an article on that topic, complete with fake facts, fake statistics, and fake quotes by fake sources, good enough that human readers could rarely guess that it was authored by a machine.

OMG, is this true?

But then I come upon this quote by Geralyn Broder Murray. He greatly anticipated the arrival of a new bookstore in her neighborhood: Good News!

 “And, for all the traumas bookstores have faced, they don’t appear to be going anywhere, which to me means there is hope for everything and everyone.”

Remember when bookstores started having coffee shops in their facility? 

I was in heaven.

I miss bookstores. Oh, we still have Barnes and Noble in town, for which I am grateful. However, when I read Geralyn Murray’s thrill at having an independent bookstore move into her neighborhood, I was taken back to how I felt walking into a bookstore—all that adventure, all that knowledge, all ability to spin yarns. We used to have a wonderful Metaphysical bookstore in town that had a sign, “You want a book about what?”

“So, writes Murry, “the next time I feel the world crashing down around me,” I know exactly where to seek refuge: through the doors of my very own neighborhood bookstore, where the beauty and promise we all have within us is waiting to be picked up, purchased, and brought home in the form of a book — reminding me that all is not lost. Far from it.”–Geralyn Broder Murray Sep 22, 2021. 

We used to frequent Libraries when we were kids. (And remember Ray Bradbury said he educated himself by reading from one side of the library to the other. And then, look what a writer he became. And he reveled in it. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― Ray Bradbury)

But think of a bookstore and how thrilled you were with your new purchase. You couldn’t wait to get into it. You would carry your book home, and it would be yours. And you wouldn’t have to pay any Library late fees.

And then when the coffee shops arrived, well imagine, you could choose a book from the shelf, sit at a table and gently peruse the book—careful to keep it pristine, no coffee drips or anything.

In the days of bookstores, I would plunk down twenty-five bucks on a book and think nothing of it. Now I’m used to the $2.99 prices of Kindle, and even with my own book, The Frog’s Song, I feel it’s overpriced, but it is what the publisher demands. (Hey, they have to make money; otherwise, they will not stay in business. Which was the reason bookstores closed.)

I read on my Kindle. I order books online, but there is nothing like the thrill of walking into a bookstore where the air zings with the excitement. It’s a feeling not present in a library.

Oh, I take that back—some libraries. I went into the Oregon State Library in Corvallis, Oregon, once to research the horse’s brain and was overcome with their beautiful building–windows along one side, floor to ceiling, lots of light, a small food court, and a restroom. I could live there.

After reading Ms. Murray, I thought of the first book read to me by my mother, Anne of Green Gables. And in the second grade, there was a special reading time where we put our heads on our desks, and the Sister-nun read Heidi. That was the best time of being in the second grade. In the middle of the year, I had entered a Catholic School, a new kid, and was thrust into academia–I was embarrassed when asked to read aloud and stammered over my words. And you had to stand beside your desk. Horrors.

Before that, what I remember from the first grade and half of the second was that we played, and I was a darling because I could draw. In Catholic School, I made a special friend, a non-Catholic who was there because her mother, a doctor, thought it was the best school. 

The point I’m getting to is this, those first books we read as children are etched into our soul. Perhaps they help form who we are. How I loved The Black Stallion series. I have read many books since, but none are as special as those first reads. 

See ya. I’m going to have a glass of wine and pick up my current novel. (I just completed: Where the Forest Meets the Stars, by Glendy Vanderah Loved it.)

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” –Ray Bradbury

Do you have any comments, feedback, gripes, or suggestions on improving my service? (Yeah, Jo, open a Bookstore—in my dreams.)

Vitamins of the Air?

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” 

― Albert Einstein

Well, I tried to explain to my 12-year-old grandson that his showers make him feel better because they were giving off negative ions. 

He thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard. That was until I pressed upon him that it was real science, not some pie in the sky stuff.

Of course, I couldn’t explain ions because I didn’t understand them. My physicist husband said something about the rushing of water creates negative charges in the molecules of water. That rather turned my grandson to my side, but understand it? I still don’t.

To quote Einstein once again, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” 

According to my grandson, if the internet doesn’t confirm it, it can’t be valid. Lucky me. Internet confirmed that, yes, running water somehow charges the charge of an atom or molecule.

And those negative ions have a magical effect on our bodies.

Vitamins of the Air?

Generally speaking, negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy,” says Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D., author of The Owners Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research and director of research at the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C.

“They also may protect against germs in the air, resulting in decreased irritation due to inhaling various particles that make you sneeze, cough, or have a throat irritation.”

And for a whopping one in three of us who are sensitive to their effects, negative ions can make us feel like we are walking on air. You are one of them if you feel instantly refreshed the moment you open a window and breathe in fresh, humid air. (Shucks, I thought everyone could feel the effects.)

“You may be one of them if you feel sleepy when you are around an air-conditioner, but feel immediately refreshed and invigorated when you step outside or roll down the car window,” Howard tells WebMD. “Air conditioning depletes the atmosphere of negative ions, but an ion generator re-releases the ions that air conditioners remove.” 

There’s something in the air, and while it may not be love, some say it’s the next best thing.

Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in specific environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase the mood chemical serotonin level, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy. 

By Denise Mann Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD From the WebMD Archives 

Science 101

Ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electrical charge. They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to sunlight, radiation, moving air, and water. You may have experienced the power of negative ions when you last set foot on the beach or walked beneath a waterfall. While part of the euphoria is simply being around these wondrous settings and away from the everyday pressures of home and work, the air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions — Much more than the average home or office building, which contain dozens or hundreds, and many register a flat zero.

“The action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions, and we also see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods,” says ion researcher Michael Terman, Ph.D. of Columbia University in New York.

Updated September 04, 2019

Generating Negative Ions: Every home has a built-in natural ionizer — the shower.

While we are on the subject of science, I would like to introduce my husband, Neil. 

Here is his new website: If you are an inventor, a hobbyist, or a doodler, you might be interested.

“When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”

― Albert Einstein