"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hakuin Ekaku in New York: Monkey Writers at the Ink Stone

In the days before typewriters.

"What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realize I have spent whole days before the ink stone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head." -- Yoshida Kenko.

While this may make the 14th century priest sound like a writer's patron saint, he is satirized as a monkey by Hakuin Ekaku, as reported by a NY Times article about the Zen master's art, now at the Japan Society thru January 9.

He may well have thought writers were and are like monkeys, but master Hakuin is revered and perhaps best remembered for his famous koan:

An ant goes round and round without rest
Like all beings in the six realms of existence,
Born here and dying there without release,
Now becoming a hungry ghost, then an animal.
If you are searching for freedom from this suffering
You must hear the sound of one hand.

Clapping, or perhaps, in NYC, waving down a cab.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The final word on genre

Should probably go to Margaret Atwood:
Genres, anyway, are inventions of people who need to rank things on bookshelves. Genres aren’t closed boxes. Stuff flows back and forth across the borders all the time. You know that part on the back of the book where it says “Romance,” for example? That’s so somebody knows what shelf to put it on. It has nothing to do with anything else, really.

from Narrative. You may have to log in to read the interview, but it's free.

The Literary Fiction Argument vs. Stieg Larsson

I don't really get the point of the lit fic vs. genre argument-for-argument's-sake -- people are going to read whatever we want, anyway -- but I love the comments on this article:
It's ridiculous to assert that literary is the most difficult genre to write in. It's the easiest. The world and the people you write about are at your fingertips, at your disposal, everywhere you look; you spend twenty-four hours a day living and breathing them; it frees you to focus on the mysteries of the human heart. Writers of science-fiction and fantasy have to do everything writers of literary fiction do, they just have to re-imagine the entire world as well -- the language, the history, the future, the science and technology, biology. You know, the universe. Those who write in the literary genre get all that pre-packaged for them gratis.

Pick up any three literary magazines at random and give the fiction a read. You will find a few good stories that stick with you, a few that are somewhat memorable even if you don't like them as a whole, and a lot that sound as if they were written by the same person: the narrator is a self-afflicted, self-obsessed loser drifting aimlessly through awkward, ugly, and annoying encounters narrated in flat, listless prose that reflects the flat, listless lives in which they are trapped. The other end of the spectrum is the hyper-observant story whose every detail is a mildly offensive grope at profundity. I've read those stories a thousand times, and they never get any better in the retelling. And it demonstrates that 'literary' is very much a genre of fiction: if re-using the same character types, the same narrative techniques, and the same faux-artistic description isn't 'genre', then I'd like to know what is.

Silly article by man with silly name.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reading Yenta

I love knowing what other people are reading and visualizing who they are. That is why I love these:

Book Spy

and at the NY Times. I hope the Times makes a regular feature of this.

I want to *know*, dahling.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dostoyevsky, Ken Follett and Scott Turow

"Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire."

Michael Cunningham, at NY Times.

Also, you can't imagine what people will make of it -- the author describes how he found his ideal reader, the one he writes for:

"...some years ago, when I was working in a restaurant bar in Laguna Beach, Calif., ...I discovered a better method. One of the hostesses was a woman named Helen, who was in her mid-40s at the time and so seemed, to me, to be just slightly younger than the Ancient Mariner. Helen was a lovely, generous woman who had four children and who had been left, abruptly and without warning, by her husband. She had to work. And work and work. She worked in a bakery in the early mornings, typed manuscripts for writers in the afternoons, and seated diners at the restaurant nights.

"Helen was an avid reader, and her great joy, at the end of her long, hard days, was to get into bed and read for an hour before she caught the short interlude of sleep that was granted her. She read widely and voraciously. She was, when we met, reading a trashy murder mystery, and I, as only the young and pretentious might do, suggested that she try Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” since she liked detective stories. She read it in less than a week. When she had finished it she told me, 'That was wonderful.'

"'Thought you’d like it,' I answered.

"She added, 'Dostoyevsky is much better than Ken Follett.'


"Then she paused. 'But he’s not as good as Scott Turow.'”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paralyzing Inhibitions and Middle-Aged Emerging Artists

One of the great things about getting older is that other people's opinions have less power over us than they once did. I work with a physical therapist who recently told me, "When I turned 40, I stopped worrying about offending other people. When I turned 50, I started enjoying offending other people." In many ways this is the best time to do something that others might view with skepticism, and to risk a little ridicule that might once have been unendurable.

Robin Black, at Oprah.com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

For the love of ...books

Confessions of a Used-Book Salesman at Slate.

Writing by Hand

"Writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development."


Let the Reader Do Some Work

Humor works best when the reader has to connect some dots. The smarter your audience, the wider you can spread the dots.
Scott Adams telling a risque story about a friend who never had any children, in the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Posts that almost weren't II

A paean to Chekhov, 150 years after his birth.

There had been sceptics, agnostics, doubters, questioners of every kind before Chekhov, but perhaps no writer in whom the utter mysteriousness of existence was felt so deeply, or counterpoised by such ­inexhaustible interest in the teeming variety of forms – human and otherwise – in which it manifests itself.

"What kept these sixty-five thousand people going? That's what I couldn't see . . . what our town was and what it did, I had no idea."

Posts that almost weren't III

On Drinking What You Know:
“Drink, damn you! What else are you good for?” (Joyce) -- er, I paraphrase.

When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.

Leave the desk while you can still stand. Sounds good to me.

Posts that almost weren't

Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, courtesy of Mark Twain (whose autobiography can finally be purchased, 100 years after his death.

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "Deerslayer" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "Deerslayer" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

I'll try to do better next month, but here are some of the posts I would have written about, if I'd had the time this month.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Margaret Atwood Writes Like...

Stephen King, or James Joyce, according to I Write Like -- the popular website that told William Gibson he writes like Haruki Murakami, and based on my blog entries, told me I write like J.D. Salinger. Fun. Try it. Read Atwood and Gibson's results at the Guardian.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Janine Pommy Vega and Andy Clausen

Happy to report that I saw these two excellent Beat poets read in Woodstock, NY, yesterday. You can look them up on youtube -- it was an amazing reading, and even more so to see them together, Janine drawing on personal mythology and her work in the prisons, Andy with political and humorous work. People who really believe in poetry are inspiring. It's good to be reminded that poetry can be a force.

Weirdly, only a lot of older folks in the audience. I hate being the youngest person at these things. Where is everyone?

I bought Janine's Mad Dogs of Trieste, and Andy's 40th Century Man, as well as a copy of Long Shot, with a tribute to Gregory Corso. Andy signed, and when I got it home, I realized it had already been signed by Ferlinghetti. Nice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

He loved invective.

“It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.” Mark Twain, quoted in his new, unexpurgated autobiography. Review at NY Times. Title quote from Justin Kaplan, author of an earlier bio, and also of the acclaimed bio of Walt Whitman. This is volume one, and I'm sure it's a good read. Three volumes are planned, based on material Twain dictated to a stenographer over four years before he died in 1910.

“From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,” Twain instructed them in 1906. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beauty of Procrastination

"I have often asked myself whether those days on which we are forced to be indolent are not just the ones we pass in profoundest activity? Whether all our doing, when it comes later, is not only the last reverberation of a great movement which takes place in us on those days of inaction." ~Rilke

The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination. From Book Bench at the New Yorker.

Or, if you don't want to spend $50+, you can read the review.

I wonder if, like Dyer, we have chosen the wrong project when we procrastinate. He started with an academic study of D.H. Lawrence, then tried a novel, and finally gave us the funny and neurotic Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dark, Smelly Bedroom

Of adolescence. Article about the darker side of YA fiction. I keep wondering what young adult readers see in the stuff when they can just as easily read adult fiction. A lot of the attraction is that it's fantasy, but also, according to this author, the obvious: young adult protagonists. Oh, makes sense then.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who's Making Money in Publishing?

Icky Glenn Beck.

Maybe conservatives don't have as much to read?

Amusing but Sad: Paris Syndrome

Paris Syndrome affects around 20 tourists a year, mostly Japanese, for some reason. It appears to spring from the shock of the disparity between the popular image of Paris – of accordions, flowers and cobbled streets – and the exposure to, say, the Place de Clichy at night. They do not know that, within our lifetimes, those cobble stones have been prised up and thrown in anger; they require immediate psychiatric help.

Parisians, by Graham Robb.

I think it's touching that someone would have such a romanticized view of Paris that he or she would need psychiatric help upon finding out that the city has a modern, even seamy side. I'm always pleased when a place I visit lives up to its reputation in a good way. I kind of expect the overdeveloped and seamy stuff -- and that tourists will get the worst of it -- but then, I lived in New York for a long time. Once, returning from a trip to Europe, I was mistaken for a tourist myself by a limo driver who tried to con me into an expensive ride home in his car. Being a New Yorker, I flagged a legitimate cab under his very nose, just as he was saying that cab would never stop for me. I looked at him as the cab drove away. He shrugged. That was in the shadow of charmless, barely distinguishable downtown office towers. Not a carriage horse in sight.

Beg you read this.

My favorite grammar problem: Begging the question. It has a fine meaning here, or here, having to do with faulty logic. Of which there is no end.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Not Quitting Your Day Job

Although the NEA reports that "full-time writers and authors" earn a median annual salary over $50,000, it's a bit hard to believe, unless they are talking about corporate and technical "writers." Check out the comments to this NY Times blog entry, a couple of published authors have something to say.

The NEA report is here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bizarre Book Observation of the Day

At the library: The new Ray Carver bio has arrived (Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life) per my order -- but I had to wipe the cover off! It had unidentified yucky stuff all over it, and a distinct plate-ring. Shocking! To think that the same person who would read such a book would also defile it. I mean, come on, it's brand new and expensive. How inconsiderate can someone be? I'm going to start it asap, altho I am a little afraid now to look inside at the pages. *I hate when there is gross stuff in library books* So much for tax dollars at work -- I, personally, would never lend my books to a slob. I guess I feel that library books are communal property, so in some sense "my" book *was* lent to a slob.

I am going to try to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog first -- it's not renewable because someone has requested it, and even tho I have no idea who -- the same slob? -- I feel conscience-bound to hurry up. This volume has also been defiled -- now I remember why I buy so many books. This one has water damage. Is nothing sacred?

I love my library and I am not the only one in my house who does. Sachi enjoys our visits very much and goes directly to where the dog biscuits are kept, sitting patiently until someone can attend to him. He has so favorably impressed one of the librarians that she brought him a bag of rib bones. They were delicious, according to all evidence. (They disappeared.) If he were a human child, I'm sure that a treat of that magnitude would be a great strategy for getting him to love books. As he is a young canine, I am not sure where the karma will lead. Maybe he'll cease the occasional ear-splitting yip of protest while I am browsing the shelves and the $.25 bin.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tips, Rules, Rules, Tips - More lists, etc. Part Two

Now it's Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.

1. Get an accountant. (Hilary Mantel)

2. Trust your creativity (but if you are not good, accept it). (Jeanette Winterson).

Part two, here.

I hope no one will follow these rules without a bit of editing. I'm more interested in what individual writers do than in copying their systems. Not all of us have to deal with "bowel-curdling terror" (Sarah Waters), or want to listen to Schubert (Colm Toibin) or can go back in time and make sure to read a lot of books "when a child" (Zadie Smith).

But they're still fun to read. The lists, I mean. Books, too.

Tips, Rules, Rules, Tips - More lists from writers we like

Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, and AL Kennedy weigh in with rules ranging from:

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. (Margaret Atwood)


2. Don't have children (Richard Ford).

Part one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Margaret Atwood's Ten Tips for Writer's Block


In #5, she recommends chocolate. In other tips, she recommends sleep, a bath, reading a book. I've just found her excellent blog, and have added it to my list to the right.

In another post, she is a fan of paper books. Always one of my favorite authors, I think she must now be my idol. One feels the world is in good hands (unlikely, I know, but still comforting).

Email, Privacy, Social Networking and Copyright Protection

Am I right in seeing a connection between Google obnoxiously signing up all its email users for Buzz without asking and the German teen author who thinks plagiarism is cool?

I think the answer really is that if there is the technology to do something, there is the likelihood that it will be done. Teens have always wanted music to be free, e.g., and once DVDs came out, movies, too. We only start to respect the idea of copyright protection when we have to pay our own bills and can identify with not being paid fairly for our work. Realizing this may not end violations, but we all understand that it is wrong/illegal. The German author is arguing that it's not wrong at all: "'There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,' Hegemann pronounced in a statement to the press." She goes on to state, disingenuously, that she meant it to be a collaboration, but, oops, forgot to mention the other author. Oddly, the jury of the Leipzig Book Fair doesn't see anything wrong, either.

In the same way, Google is perfectly capable of signing everyone up for Buzz, so they figure, why not? Maybe it's wrong, maybe it's not. They can always backtrack, which they are now doing, adding opt-outs after the fact, just as Hegemann is claiming collaborative intent. Fortunately, technology has also given us the ability to search text for plagiarism much more easily than before, and Google can make global changes to its gmail network in a matter of days. Scary, isn't it?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

And take that.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) removes Amazon buttons after Amazon's removal of Macmillan's buy buttons. Their goal is not retaliation, but to keep members' books available for purchase. If Amazon refuses to sell them, then links must, of course, go somewhere else -- indiebound.org, Powell’s, Barnes and Noble, and Borders, which I thought was owned by Amazon, but apparently still has its own online storefront and identity.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amazon goes to the mattresses.

A bitter pricing row between Amazon and the publishing industry intensified this weekend as the online retailer stripped books from Macmillan, including Hilary Mantel's Man Booker prizewinner, Wolf Hall, from its website in the US.

The drastic move, which could be followed around the world including in the UK, followed tense talks between the two parties over the price of ebooks last week. Fresh from a deal to become one of a handful of publishers in Apple's new ­iBookstore, Macmillan sharpened its demands on Amazon to help ensure the "long-term viability and stability of the digital book market".

The world's biggest online retailer and home of the Kindle ebook store and reading device has long been under attack from publishers for selling digital books at $9.99 (£6.25) a title, which they argue risks undermining hard copies. Apple, which is potentially providing Amazon's biggest ebook challenge yet with the iPad, is expected to allow publishers more freedom to set their own prices.

From the Guardian.

More coverage at the NY Times blogs.

There seems to be a lot of concern about the e-book pricing strategy. Some, including perhaps Macmillan, are arguing that Amazon is making so much money from its Kindle reader that it can afford to lose money on books, whereas publishers like Macmillan obviously can't. So Amazon is striking back by removing buy buttons from new products (but allowing people to buy the books used, which gives the publisher no income).

Q: What price does an 800-lb gorilla charge for e-books?
A: Any price he wants to.

Would this be a good time to point out that Barnes and Noble online is now offering all buyers its members' discount?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


RIP J.D. Salinger. The man who wrote Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenters, and Seymour, An Introduction, Nine Stories *and* The Catcher in the Rye has died.

I guess you can tell his most famous was my least favorite. Maybe its appeal -- and its story of a disaffected wealthy kid on the outs with his boarding school -- were somewhat dated, like its language. It seemed like pretty tame stuff when I read it in high school, even more so now. I wonder how much cool language affects what we think about what we read. Maybe Catcher is suffering from the same syndrome that keeps most readers away from book written before 1940 or so. Unfamiliar language syndrome?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Knishvendors fearsome charswaths

blaggards assbaths and no apostrophes, but not in a weird way.

The comedic version of The Road, at The Millions.

The boy stood in the road with the pistol while the man climbed an old set of limestone steps and walked down the porch of the farmhouse, peering in the windows. He pushed his way in through the kitchen door. Lucy, I’m home, he shrieked, the Cuban accent poor from disuse. Trash in the floor. Broken saucers, a heap of old magazines. He looked them over. Jen’s Revenge. Kendra’s Baby Bump. J.Lo’s Booty Wars. The shelves bare save for a chipped Garfield mug, two rough spots where its handle had been. I too hate Mondays, he whispered. He went down the hallway, regarding himself in a broken woodframed mirror. The eyes haunted and sunk. Weatherbeaten cheeks, a matted gritty beard. He looked like Viggo Mortensen.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Letter from Santa Satan

to Pat Robertson, via NPR.

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

He left out "press coverage."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thumbthing Special: Paperback Reader Must-Have


Office Worker Must-Haves

Nondairy creamer land mines.

Also, if you go to the Dilbert store, you can read through all the comics and pick which one you absolutely must have on a coffee mug. I have about five contenders to decide among.

Plus, it's a great way to procrastinate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reaching through the Web

I found this blog post about an author defending her work, anonymously, against a critical review. It escalated quite a bit, even after the author was identified. Although she eventually deleted all her posts, they were archived elsewhere by interested parties. You can read them if you want, or just read the comments in the article, such as this, from author Neil Gaiman:

And yes, it's a horrible car crash, and I post it here not because it's funny in an Oh God Make It Stop kind of way, but because, if any of you are ever tempted to respond to bad reviews or internet trolls etc, it's a salutary reminder of why some things are better written in anger and deleted in the morning.

I had an experience something like this not long ago, when I compared two products in an online review. I thought the review was unoffensive, but the seller of the losing product contacted me at my home email repeatedly, and had many unpleasant things to say in print on the website, as well. Rather than politely ask me to reconsider, she went ballistic, even accusing me of working for the competitor. I'm not even in the same state. So I know a bit about this tendency to feel like 1) we are writing for ourselves, although the internet is very public; and 2) we can reach through the internet to directly contact a person with whom we disagree. The internet gives us a false sense of intimacy with strangers. How far we take that is something that not everyone agrees on. Even famous authors (Anne Rice, Alice Hoffman, Alain de Botton) have reacted in this way.

I think that doing so breaks an unspoken agreement about how far we may go and in what venue. While in my case, the seller's comments on my review were nasty and her comments about the competitor even actionable, the thing that really bothered me was that she looked up my personal information and contacted me directly and angrily. She also has my home address, since I had the product shipped by ground delivery, something you might consider not doing with with individual sellers on sites like Amazon or ebay, and something I will never do again. From now on, everything goes to the PO box.

Science: Making Science Fiction Obsolete...

Green Sea Slug Is Part Animal, Part Plant, at Wired.com.

And Msnbc.com.

Cf. the souped-up soldiers in Old Man's War, by John Scalzi.

...and possibly ending world hunger. I'd go green.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book Sales: Not Bad = Good

Book sales were surprisingly not bad, recession notwithstanding, selling at the same numbers as in 2008. This according to Crains New York. The best news was that sales of adult fiction held their own.

There are several theories for this: people look for affordable entertainment in a recession; big blockbusters like Stephen King's immense Under the Dome and Dan Brown's thriller The Lost Symbol came out; and retailers' price wars drove book prices down.

The article also mentions John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Although I like to think people would have bought other books if not for these -- out of a desire for books, or maybe as a result of publishers' pushing other titles. Or maybe it's just what I like to think. If I can't find exactly what I want at the bookstore, I'll usually try something new. But maybe less dedicated readers spend their book money on lunch and a latte?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Your Mind on Reading

Socrates feared that reading would undermine interactive dialogue. ... reading is different from talking.

Reading changed the nature of education completely, from the Socratic method of face-to-face dialogues to lectures supplemented with large amounts of reading. I think most of us feel that reading characterizes education now even more than classroom experience, at least after the early elementary grades. It's funny that Socrates feared that reading would ruin things. Nowadays, we're afraid that people will stop reading. I wonder what the next educational paradigm will be? And how we will work it into education, alongside lectures and assigned reading.

When a monkey sees a T shape in the world, it is very likely to indicate the edge of an object — something the monkey can grab and maybe even eat. A particular area of its brain pays special attention to those significant shapes. Human brains use the same area to process letters. Dehaene makes a compelling case that these brain areas have been “recycled” for reading. “We did not invent most of our letter shapes,” he writes. “They lay dormant in our brains for millions of years, and were merely rediscovered when our species invented writing and the alphabet.”

An alphabet in the shape of trees, fruits, etc., and people who read instead of swinging in trees and foraging for food. We read for excitement. We read recipes. As children, we draw triangular A- or M-shaped mountains and round O-suns shining on T- or Y-shaped trees. It's intriguing.

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention
by Stanislas Dehaene, reviewed at the NY Times.