Tag: reading

Gates and Gatz

Tuesday, 31 May, 2016 1 Comment

Don’t want to let the month of May end without mentioning the Top 10 Books chosen by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, billionaire, philanthropist and avid reader. Aaron Hicklin, proprietor of the bookshop and website One Grand Books, has been asking people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stuck on a desert island and Gates responded with a mix that ranges from sci-fi to business to biology. Included is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The novel that I reread the most. Melinda and I love one line so much that we had it painted on a wall in our house: ‘His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.'”

Think about that sentence for a moment:

“His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

How many good people and how many awful people have shared the same dream of success only to see it slip from their reach? Some accepted defeat with grace; others were driven mad by failure. Jimmy Gatz failed vulnerably, unflinchingly, memorably.


Seven questions with Parag Khanna

Friday, 13 May, 2016 1 Comment

After five days of posting about CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, it’s time to talk to the author, Parag Khanna, about his book. Here goes!

1. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What inspired you to write Connectography?

Parag Khanna: My love of geography and travel, and my obsession with geopolitics going back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and my introductory class in Geopolitics taken 20 years ago at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. All of the many ideas that had not yet found expression in The Second World and How to Run the World needed to be contained and also wrapped in a meta-theory that also encompassed these previous books. I also wanted to update these with new insights as these countries evolve, and include more recent travels.

2. Eamonn Fitzgerald: For writers, geography remains a very popular science for interpreting our world. Four years ago, Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate described how countries’ histories have been shaped by their relationships with water and with land. Last year, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography explained how a nation’s geography affects its internal fortunes and international strategies. Is that kind of terrain-based approach outdated? Are you saying in Connectography that geography is no longer destiny?

Parag Khanna: Not at all. Robert Kaplan is a dear friend and mentor and inspiration for me. Connectivity doesn’t invalidate geography but builds on it. Connectivity is how we make the most of our geography. Some places turn their geography into an advantage — for example Singapore and Dubai — while others don’t. China is surrounded by 14 countries but now it is using connectivity across terrain to extend its geopolitical influence in non-military ways. Connectivity is now a deep part of our relationship with geography, and that is what this book explores.

3. Eamonn Fitzgerald: One of the hottest new words coined during the last decade was “crowdsourcing,” which means getting people to contribute to a project via a website where they can make contributions. Why should “connectography” be part of our vocabulary a decade from now?

Parag Khanna: Connectography should be part of our vocabulary because geography alone assumes that geography is an unchangeable force. However, we now use topographical engineering to modify our geography, and that tells us a great deal about the fate of human civilization than geography alone.

Parag Khanna

4. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Responding to a journalist who asked what is most likely to blow a government off course, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reputedly said, “Events, dear boy, events.” Did you encounter any unexpected events when writing Connectography that forced you to rethink a chapter or change a section?

Parag Khanna: Great question. In fact, I only found events that reinforce my conclusions. During the time of writing, Russia invaded Ukraine, but the gas pipelines are the really important long-term contest, and it is building a bridge to Crimea. In other words: Infrastructure is a key tool and battlefield. China began dredging sand to build up South China Sea islands — yet more topographical engineering. Every day I see more examples of the thesis coming to life.

5. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What’s the most surprising response (positive or negative) you’ve had so far about the book?

Parag Khanna: I’m so pleased with people’s appreciation of the maps. It has been a global outpouring of excitement and admiration for the maps made by two truly amazing teams of digital cartographers whom I worked with at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m so gratified that their intense work has received such widespread recognition.

6. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you sum up the three key points you’d like the reader to take away from reading Connectography?

Parag Khanna: Rather then enumerate takeaways, I simply want readers to gain an appreciation for the categories of connectivity (transportation, energy and communications) that we have ourselves built and have such a profound impact on our lives. This premise plays out in so many ways in the book (economics, climate change, geopolitics, urbanization) that I hope readers will learn about many issues they are not personally familiar with.

7. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Connectography has been published and you’re busy right now promoting it, but what’s next for Parag Khanna?

Parag Khanna: That’s a great question. This was a trilogy, and I don’t know the word for a series of 4, so I will not write another one. I intend for this to have a long shelf life, so we shall see!

Our thanks to Parag Khanna for taking the time to answer these questions. CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization is a useful guide to globalization and its impact on trade, communication and culture. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” says Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, but where we’re going, we do need maps and Parag Khanna is pointing us in the right direction.


The Deceiver by Forsyth

Saturday, 5 March, 2016 0 Comments

Browsing this evening in a rather topsy-turvy second-hand bookshop run by an ex-banker and came across a thriller stamped “First English Edition.” Unusual, that. Especially unusual as the author is the great Frederick Forsyth. His “first editions” tend to be in English.

Anyway, The Deceiver is a page turner of the best kind and is full of ripping-yarn stuff. Rich dialogue, too. “Sam, I know you’ve been in more tight places than a shepherd’s right arm.”


BeeLine Gray for Rainy Day

Wednesday, 2 March, 2016 0 Comments

“BeeLine Reader makes reading faster and easier by using a color gradient that guides your eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. With BeeLine Reader, you can finish your work faster — and with less eyestrain.” So claim entrepreneurs Nick Lum and Andrew Cantino, whose research in perception led them to create this browser plugin that they believe helps readers to read faster. Here’s a portion of yesterday’s post here rendered in BeeLine Gray.

BeeLine

This is an interesting idea and it may help people with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, but the only way to become a good reader is to do lots of reading. Every day.


Recommended reading

Friday, 5 February, 2016 0 Comments

The reader

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” — Alan Bennett, The History Boys

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.” — Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


Rain: Too much and not nearly enough

Monday, 8 June, 2015 0 Comments

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards,” said Vladimir Nabokov. His comment is atypical as rain rarely earns a good punch line. Worse, in a rapidly urbanizing world, rain is regarded as a nuisance and few people have a kind word to say for it. The stuff that fills shoes, wrecks hairdos and allows unscrupulous umbrella sellers to practice a form of surge pricing that would make Uber envious lacks a lobby. But that should change soon thanks to Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Using humour and science she examines rain’s role through the ages, and what emerges is a unifying force of nature that has nourished our planet for more than four billion years. Snippet:

“Rain brings us together in one of the last untamed encounters with nature that we experience routinely, able to turn the suburbs and even the city wild. Huddled with our fellow humans under construction scaffolding to escape a deluge, we are bound in the memory and mystery of exhilarating, confounding, life-giving rain.” Cynthia Barnett, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

Rain


The debatable future of reading, and writing

Monday, 26 May, 2014 0 Comments

What does the consumption text snippets on portable devices portend? Does scrolling represent the erosion of concentration? Is the constant clicking on links leading us into a cul de sac? Are the skimming and scanning and grazing enabled by our digital devices scrambling our heads? Maryanne Wolf of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University fears that our treasured tradition of contemplative reading is being compromised:

“The omnipresence of multiple distractions for attention — and the brain’s own natural attraction to novelty — contribute to a mindset toward reading that seeks to reduce information to its lowest conceptual denominator. Sound bites, text bites, and mind bites are a reflection of a culture that has forgotten or become too distracted by and too drawn to the next piece of new information to allow itself time to think.”

That’s from Wolf’s stimulating essay titled “Our ‘Deep Reading’ Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions — Poses-Questions.” There is a counter-argument to be made, of course, that the new devices are opening up reading for an entire public that previously had little to do with the written word. All is not lost just because form and formats are undergoing change.


Fighting illiteracy with e-books: There’s an app for that

Monday, 28 April, 2014 0 Comments

The San Francisco-based non-profit organization Worldreader distributes e-books in poor countries. Its app, which has more than 300,000 users in the developing world, lets people choose from over 6,000 e-books on low-end mobile phones, and Worldreader says it’s delivered nearly 1.7 million e-books since its launch in 2010.

A new UNESCO study (PDF 1.6MB) based on interviews with 5,000 Worldreader app users looks at reading habits in seven countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe — where the average illiteracy rate is 34 percent among adults and 20 percent among children, and the conclusions are uplifting. Snippet:

280414reading “The tendency of digital reading to increase overall reading is not limited to Worldreader Mobile users. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in the USA observed that the overall reading consumption of individuals tends to increase following the adoption of digital reading. The Pew report shows that, over the course of 12 months, users reading e-books read 24 books on average, while the average number of books read by non-e-book readers was 15 (Pew Internet, 2012). For champions of literacy this trend is extremely promising, as it suggests that the benefits of mobile reading are exponential and may accelerate literacy development.”

Without a decent educational system, greater access to books won’t necessarily raise literacy levels, but greater access to books can nurture a love of reading and writing and expose readers to unimagined new worlds. UNESCO puts it like this: “While it is true that books, by themselves, will not remedy the scourge of illiteracy, without them illiteracy is guaranteed.” The Worldreader e-book initiative deserves our support.


Summer reading

Sunday, 15 July, 2012

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral […]

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