Long form reading builds strong minds in a myriad of ways. But it is being supplanted by short form reading and video. Once that gets built into culture by a generation of early childhood development, the societal implications will be profound.
About 200,000-100,000 years ago our ancestors experienced a mutation in the FOX2 gene. It is believed that evolutionary breakthrough allowed our ancestors more complex vocal expression and control of facial expression, a large part of nonverbal communication. We have not yet decoded the genetic basis of the accompanying advancing neocortex, giving humans the capability to integrate the senses, planning and abstract thinking.
Art and ritual objects are found about 100,000-50,000 years ago. So it is likely that language as we know it would have been well established by that time.
We have an archaeological record of written language beginning about 10,000 years ago in the fertile crescent.
A good friend started to write a book interweaving the entire history of all of our branches of language and the variation in dyslexia between languages. Unfortunately she was unable to complete the project as she developed dementia. It breaks my heart to never be able to read that book.
For eons our brains were oriented to passing knowledge by oral storytelling. The clay tablets, ink on strips of bamboo, writing on leather, papyrus and eventually paper has been with us for at least 4000 years. But they did not play a significant role in the everyday language of a life lived beyond governments, scholars and monks. Many great works, such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Epic of Gilgamesh, Mahabharata, the Songlines of Australia come to us from oral tradition.
Where literature has been copied by hand, it evolves, albeit at a slower pace than the evolution of an oral narrative, which may change in each telling.
Only a few artifacts of the great historical libraries in China, India, the Eastern Mediterranien and the Fertile Crescent remain. Written Western literature was carried through the Middle ages in Europe by monasteries. Those isolated monastic libraries of hand copied books began to give way to the first universities and their libraries about 1000 years ago.
Wood block and even movable type printing emerged in Asia. For the West, it was Guttenberg who brought movable type and mechanized printing about 575 years ago. For several hundred years more, books were for the wealthy and the great libraries which emerged. Few people could read; oral narrative predominated.
Now we live in an era of infinite reproduction. In long form books, we have access to vast libraries, bookstores and electronic books.
But we have a way to go even in the United States to achieve our potential in literacy, especially for complex material. Key are the principles of Ready to Read: being read to daily as small children, learning the alphabet and parental vocabulary. We have libraries at the ready to help with that. (Where is Ready for Math?, Ready for Science?)
Today, now, we have ample social reinforcement for experiencing reading in 140 character chunks, political sound bites low in information content, along with Buzzfeed-worthy short writing which passes for journalism.
The building blocks for literacy are our entire human history of brain development, language, writing, printing, books and libraries. What it builds in an individual is best maintained in good working order by long form reading. See 1, 2.
Where is the social reinforcement for long form reading? Where is its pleasure?
It is right here in Portland!
Silent reading has been the raison d'etre of libraries since the beginning. A quick search shows silent reading parties in bars in Seattle as early as 2010.
In Portland, there is one now at the Beech Street Parlor, monthly.
It is tonight.
Bring a paper book, or an electronic book reader. Experience a drink or a snack. Bring a friend. Leave behind the chit chat for an hour or two. And immerse yourself in a book.
Lighting provided, free!
Silent Reading Party www.silentreadingpartypdx.com at www.beechstreetparlor.com 412 NE Beech 6PM-8 Free