bibliography 1
college students and
the new literacy

compiled by danielle igra stanford university
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bibliography 2
the history of reading and the way we read now
compiled by lynn huang
uc berkeley
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bibliography 3
neuroscience and reading:
an annotated bibliography
of recent sources

compiled by shannon sears michigan state university
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bibliography 4
annotated reading list for what is a reader?
teagle event
26 january 2012
compiled by laurel peacock
uc santa cruz
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compiled by

Alvermann, D.E. & Wilson, A.A. (2007). Redefining Adolescent literacy instruction. In B.J. Guzzetti (Ed.) Literacy for the new millenium. Westport, CT: Praeger.


This chapter outlines the New Literacy Studies (NLS). It summarizes the historical and conceptual shift from Literacy to “literacies” and the notion of “vernacular literacies” of adolescents on computers. It examines the implications of social/situated notions of literacy. It examines ideological and philosophical shifts, and then offers implications for instruction.


Baer, J., A. Cook, et al. (2006). The Literacy of American College Students, American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from:


NSACS used tasks to measure literacy along three dimensions: prose literacy(e.g. editorials, news stories), document literacy (e.g., job applications), and quantitative literacy(perform computations - balancing checkbook, figuring out tip). Documents included: an almanac, a mock newspaper, a pamphlet about testing for colon cancer, and an informational booklet about medicare. N=1827 graduating students nationwide.


Bulger, M. (2006) Beyond search: A preliminary skill set for online literacy. Retrieved from:


The transliteracies project website (Alan Liu et al.) offers a definition for online literacy. This particular paper offers a nice concise review of the literature that defines literacy (and how it differs from print literacy) but does not elaborate on the skillset for online literacy.


Gallik, J.D. (1999). Do they read for pleasure? Recreational reading habits of college students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 42(6), 408-488.

This piece offers a summary of research on pleasure reading. It reports on a survey of college students' recreational reading habits. The survey is limited and problematic because of the small N and design flaws (noted here and by others) It did not bear out previous research on differences among groups in recreational reading, but this could be design flaw. The survey found small significant difference in GPA correlation to amt of time spent on vacation reading (though not with reading during school session. The survey found that students read less for pleasure than previous studies suggested.


Hartman, D. K.,  Morsink, P. M., & Zheng, J. ((2010). From Print to pixels: The evolution of cognitive conceptions of reading comprehension. In E. Baker (Ed.,) The new literacies: Multiple perspectives on research and practice. New York: The Guilford Press


Reviews conceptions of reading comprehension (including reader-text-task/author/ context). Suggests that nature of reading comprehension differs when higher -level processes are compared; therefore, one can’t overlay former frameworks for understanding reading comprehension.


Hawisher, Gail E., & Selfe, Cynthia L. (2004). Becoming literate in the information age: Cultural ecologies and the literacies of technology. College Composition and Communication, 55(4), 642–692.


Article that later becomes the book. Engaging case studies and personal stories of literacy development. Not specific to the population in the Teagle study.


Jolliffe, D., & Harl, A. (2008, July). Texts of our institutional lives: Studying the "reading transition" from high school to college: What are our students reading and why? College English 70(6), 599-617.


The authors discuss a survey of reading practices that they administered to students at their home institution, the University of Arkansas, as well as logs that students at the school kept of their daily reading acts. An important finding was that, contrary to possible belief, students at this university are reading quite a bit, although they are not spending much time on materials assigned in their courses. The authors propose some methods for boosting students’ interest in academic texts, and they call for other institutions to conduct similar studies. Uses different methods than other studies in this bibliography.


Jones, S. and Lea, M. R. (2008). Digital literacies in the lives of undergraduate students: Exploring personal and curricular sphere's of practice. Electronic journal of e learning, 6(3), 207-216.


The study reports on interviews and artifacts from 45 British undergrads at different kinds of institutions. The analysis is mostly focused on generating texts rather than reading; that is, what kinds of texts students produce in what contexts. The study also looks at how technology is used in the curricular sphere; however, some students draw a sharp line between school and social communication, using different email accounts and practices. While universities may want to use these technologies to harness and align these technologies with formal learning, students may be resistant to blurring boundaries.


Lewis, C., Leander, K., Wang, X. (2007). Digital literacies. In B.J. Guzzetti (Ed.) Literacy for the new millenium. Westport, CT: Praeger.


Discussion of identity formation and multiple identities facilitated by the online environment; however, the discussion focuses more on writing than reading. In thinking about implications for school settings, one can't overlay offline practices (as has often been done when giving students laptops).


Mokhtari, K., Reichard, C.A., & Gardner, A. (2009).The impact of internet and television use on the reading habits and practices of college studentsJournal of adolescent and adult literacy, 52(7), 609-619.


This piece offers a concise review of the (dearth of) research on college reading habits and of the impact of internet/television on reading habits. Offers an explanation of why survey results vary in different studies. Uses a time diary survey for more precise analysis. Examines two hypotheses that the internet either displaces time for other things or makes for efficiency. The time spent reading reported was higher than in previous studies. Although there is a high use of internet, this does not seem to affect time on other activities. They value recreational reading but are not choosing to do it.


Rowlands, I.,  Nicholas, D., et al. (2008) "The Google generation: the information behaviour of the researcher of the future", Aslib Proceedings, Vol. 60 Iss: 4, pp.290 – 310.


This piece is focused on how library research is done and how this has shifted with online technologies. The audience is librarians. It debunks myths about “the google generation.”


Sanchez, C. A., & Wiley, J. (2009) To scroll or not to scroll: Working memory capacity, and comprehending complex texts. Human Factors 51(5), 730-738.


This piece compares the scrolling format to reading separate pages in online texts. The latter is easier to comprehend for people with low working memory capacity. The broader issue may be that format affects comprehension.


Time To Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success (2009). Carnegie Corporation of New York. Retrieved from:


This report is aimed squarely at school teachers, teacher educators, and administrators for grades 6-12. The topics are removed from the particular of this study.


Tracey, D. H., Storer, A. W., Kazerounian, S. (2010). Cognitive processing perspectives on the new literacies. In E. Baker (Ed.,) The new literacies: Multiple perspectives on research and practice. New York: The Guilford Press.

This article presents a concise definition of "new literacy" and four models of cognition. Suggests that cognitive processes vary with text and context. The article advocates for a model of new literacy.


Baker, N. (2009, August 3). “A New Page: Can the Kindle Really Improve on the Book?” The New Yorker.


An anecdotal cultural perspective on current reading practices of a general audience, comparing the experience of reading a codex vs. an electronic reading device (specifically the Kindle).


Bazin, P. (1996). “Toward Metareading”. In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (pp. 153-168). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


The material conditions of the codex reified the roles of author, book, and reader into stable categories that digitization challenges. “The digitization of information defies at least three essential boundaries: that of the text itself…that which separates reader and author; that…which distinguishes text from image” (160). Bazin argues for a move towards a reader-centered assessment of media and a more self-referential reading process. Of the articles in The Future of the Book, this is a less sharply focused essay.


Blair, A. M. (2010). Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Pages 46-74, 251-268.


A historical perspective on “information overload” and “info-lust” dating back to antiquity. Selected sections discuss the impact of printing on information management, the theme of the abundance of books, note-taking as information management, complaints about reference books, and the shift from ancients to moderns. Each section presents examples of readerly engagement analogous to contemporary concerns.


Blair, A. M. (2003). Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700. Journal of the History of Ideas, 64 (1), 11-28.

Blair discusses information overload as a phenomenon that existed well before the digital age. In her words, “The premise of this study is that the experience of overabundance not only fostered the diffusion and development of various aids to learning or ‘reference genres’ but also affected the way scholars worked, from reading and taking notes to composing books of their own. What I propose here is a pre-liminary survey of some of the methods of reading and note-taking deployed by early modem scholars under the pressures of too many books and too few resources, notably of time, memory or money.” (12). This is clearly an earlier version of Blair’s 2010 book, and discusses the same themes, although in slightly less detail and with fewer direct analogies and connections to contemporary reading practices.

Bolter, J. D. (1996). “Ekphrasis, Virtual Reality, and the Future of Writing." In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (p. 253-272). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Discusses “the breakout of the visual” from text as computers and multimedia demand a renegotiation of the relationship between word and image. Bolter argues for an inversion of traditional rhetorical practice—while ancient rhetoric subordinated the image to the spoken word, modern rhetoric controlled the written or printed word. Now the ekphrasitc model has been reversed; the visual is tasked with accounting for words. This results in a Derridian yearning for a “natural sign” and a search for it in the visual. The coexistence of arbitrary signs (both verbal and visual) in web documents means that “the verbal text must now struggle to assert its legitimacy” as it competes with the visual (271).

Carr, Nicholas (2010). The Shallows. What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton. Pp. 58-77, 115-142.

This is a trade book that draws on material from cognitive science and the history of reading to argue that print culture shaped our minds in one way and that the transition to digital media is reshaping them again.

Cavallo, G., & Chartier, R. (1999). Introduction. A History of Reading in the West. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. (Original work published 1995).


This introduction presents a useful overview of the history of reading practices, with particular emphasis on the influence of technology and other material conditions.


Chartier, R. (2004, Autumn)." Languages, Books, and Reading from the Printed Word to the Digital Text". Critical Inquiry, 31(1), 133-152.


Non-digital discourses are differentiated based on their material conditions, but digitial texts resist this kind of codification and are fragmented and stripped of context. The change in the order of discourse brought about by the “digital revolution” is a trifecta: it involves a revolution in (1) the material means of production, (2) in the medium of the written word, and (3) in the reception of texts (143-44). Orders of reasoning have also shifted as what counts as knowledge and the sources of it are no longer determined by the author in a linear fashion. Finally, the malleability of the electronic text lends itself to repeated instances of collaborative writing and thus challenges authorial presence and the extant categories of literary property. All of these factors demonstrate that “a morphological analysis of the materiality of texts and a social and cultural analysis of readers and reading must necessarily be combined” (149). Chartier may raise more questions than he answers here, but he does discuss issues unique to digital media that must be considered in approaches to histories of reading.


Chartier, R. (2003). “Labourers and Voyagers: from the Text to the Reader.” In D. Finkelstein & A. McCleery (Eds.), The book history reader (2nd ed., pp. 87-98). New York, NY: Routledge. (Original work published 1992).


This takes a far more reader-centered approach than Chartier’s other works. He specifies the need for a history of reading and delineates a method for producing one, but also explicates the attendant challenges inherent in his own methodology as well as in other approaches to the field. This article does not, however, address digital media. This article is about method, with an intense focus on readers but does not discuss digitization.


Chartier, R. (1994). The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. (Original work published 1992).


This may be useful as a background to the issues because Chapter 1 discusses “Communities of Readers.” The question becomes for Chartier, How did people of varying social and economic backgrounds read the same texts and why did they read them differently? One possible answer lies in the form the texts took, the physical object of the book. If there is no text apart from the physical support that offers it, as Chartier states, then comprehension and appropriation depend in part on that physical form.


Clanchy, M. T. (1982). “Looking Back from the Invention of Printing”. The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, 39(3), 168-183.


The technological shift from manuscript to print involved concerns similar to current ones regarding the move from codex to electronic texts. Manuscripts were regarded as complete (libri perfecti), and early printers experienced pressure to generate books of comparable quality. Clanchy explains what was printed, the logic of anticipated demand behind those choices, and the uses of books. He delineates the differences between “Sacred,” “Learned,” and “Bureaucratic” forms of literacy and “cautions against technological determinism by showing how many of our assumptions about literacy and the book predate the invention of print” (Price 316).


Crane, G. (2003). “Historical Perspectives on the Book and Information Technology." In D. Thorburn & H. Jenkins (Eds.), Rethinking media change: The aesthetics of transition (pp. 117-136). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


This essay posits that classicists are most comfortable with new reading technologies because of their familiarity with similar shifts that occurred in antiquity. Rather than compare the codex to a computer screen, Crane argues for a comparison between the codex and the scroll.


Darnton, R. (2009). The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future. New York, NY: Public Affairs.


This book is a collection of Darnton’s essays on the Google Book Search and the Google Settlement, especially in relation to libraries. Chapter 2 reviews the history of communication from a book history perspective, noting four fundamental changes in information technology since the advent of speech: the invention of writing, the codex, printing with movable type, and electronic communication. The questionable reliability of a given medium renders the information it presents unstable. Darton goes on to argue that the Google Book Search project will render research libraries even more important. (p.149-173)


Darnton, R. (2003). "What is the history of books?" In D. Finkelstein & A. McCleery (Eds.), The book history reader (2nd ed., pp. 9-26). New York, NY: Routledge. (Original work published 1982).

Useful background. A seminal work on the history of the book as inclusive of all stages of production through reception. Darnton’s model of the “communications circuit” tends to focus on the production cycle more than reader response, but nevertheless complicated and informed subsequent studies on the history of reading.


*Dijck, J. van. (2010, November 1). "Search Engines and the Production of Academic Knowledge." International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13(6), 574-592.


This article argues that search engines in general, and Google Scholar in particular, have become significant co-producers of academic knowledge. Knowledge is not simply conveyed to users, but is co-produced by search engines’ ranking systems and profiling systems, none of which are open to the rules of transparency, relevance and privacy in a manner known from library scholarship in the public domain. Inexperienced users tend to trust proprietary engines as neutral mediators of knowledge and are commonly ignorant of how meta-data enable engine operators to interpret collective profiles of groups of searchers. Theorizing search engines as nodal points in networks of distributed power, based on the notions of Manuel Castells, this article urges for an enriched form of information literacy to include a basic understanding of the economic, political and socio-cultural dimensions of search engines. Without a basic understanding of network architecture, the dynamics of network connections and their intersections, it is hard to grasp the social, legal, cultural and economic implications of search engines.


Duguid, P. (1996)." Material Matters: The past and futurology of the book.". In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (p. 63-102). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


This chapter critiques both supersession and liberation as teleologies that do not fully account for textual digitization. Instead of a dualistic model that separates form from content, Duguid argues that “information and technology [are] mutually constitutive” and that books are part of a larger “social system of information.” We ought to consider the transition to electronic media as a shift towards “demassification” or “dematerialization”—increasingly individualized and privatized material forms of information, which lead to a reduction of commonly shared material artifacts. A genealogical history of hypertext can be traced back to bookkeeping practices and reveals that new forms may be more dependent up on old ones than we think.


Erickson, P. (2003)." Help or Hindrance: The history of the book and electronic media." In D. Thorburn & H. Jenkins (Eds.), Rethinking media change: The aesthetics of transition (pp. 95-116). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Erickson begins by demonstrating how the changing material formats of the dime novel in nineteenth-century America constructed different readerships. He then argues that book history cannot account for electronic media in the same way that it does print because “whereas print culture was for the most part of its history a known medium in search of a distribution system, modern electronic media...tend to be distribution systems in search of content” (101). In order to understand how readers read, book historians need to break away from a perspective that considers all text media in terms of the codex, and also look beyond normative conceptions of reading as “intense, private, emotionally involved” (103). Similarities between television watching and computer reading suggest collaborations with scholars of television would be productive.


Hall, D. D. "What was the history of the book? A response.". In C. Capper, A. J. La Vopa, & N. Phillipson (Eds.), Modern Intellectual History, 4(3), 537-544. Cambridge University Press.

This article demonstrates the need for a history of reading to bring meaning and context to production-oriented accounts of the history of the book. Hall takes a critical perspective on the field and its relationship to literary criticism, history, intellectual history.

Hesse, C. (1996)." Books in Time." In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (p. 21-36). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

This chapter characterizes the similarities between the textuality of eighteenth-century periodicals and electronic texts as a consequence of a common “mode of temporality.” The difference between periodicals of the old regime and books of post-revolutionary France is not so much due to a shift in technology, but rather to a change in modes of cultural production and consumption. Similarly, digitization is bringing about a new kind of literary system and intellectual community.

Krozser, K. (2010, November 30)."Reading in the digital age, or, reading how we’ve always read." Booksquare. Retrieved from:

The discussion about social reading is really a discussion about how to bring an ages-old activity into the digital age, and how to do it a way that makes sense.

Landow, G. P. (1996)." Twenty Minutes Into the Future, or How Are We Moving Beyond the Book?" In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (p. 209-238). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.).


Starting with the premise that we are already “beyond the book,” Landow cites how distanced undergraduates’ experiences with books are from the ideal set forth by advocates. He gives the example of train station kiosks in Berlin that combines digitalmedia (the electronic interface) with print (the paper copy of the route selected). It is devices like these that defamiliarize the book and allow us now to perceive the extent to which books are a technology. The chapter briefly cites examples of the effects of digital coding and other forms of media unique to electronic publishing, such as animated texts and screens, simulations, hypertexts, cyberspace, and virtual reality.


McKenzie, D. F. (2002). "What’s Past Is Prologue: The Bibliographical Society and History of the Book." In P. D. McDonald & M. F. Suarez (Eds.), Making meaning: “Printers of the mind” and other essays (pp. 259-275). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.


This essay was delivered as the Centenary Lecture to the Bibliographical Society in London and makes a case for taking the material history of the book into account within the field of analytical bibliography. Beginning with an anecdote about prompting students to read the material cues inherent in a blank book, McKenzie argues that every aspect of a physical book communicates meaning. He moves quickly to questions regarding the future status of the book and its study: “the future of bibliography may come to be profoundly influenced, not by the storage capacity of computers, but by their capacity for modeling” (273). Likening an electronic text to the use of “dramatic texts as models for performance,” McKenzie suggests some new ways to reassess the field of textual studies.


Mitchell, W. J. (2003)." Homer to home page: designing digital books." In D. Thorburn & H. Jenkins (Eds.), Rethinking media change: The aesthetics of transition (pp. 203-215). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


A case study of the online and offline publication of Mitchell’s own work. He reflects upon the experience as well as readers’ reception.


Nunberg, G. (1996). "Farewell to the information age." In G. Nunberg (Ed.), The future of the book (p. 103-138). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


This chapter responds to the narrative of liberation that characterizes information as independent of its material form. Nunberg cautions against applications of anachronistic frameworks for understanding electronic media and the dangers of “naturaliz[ing] contingent features of the current order of things” in such a way that we forget to question our assumptions about the way books work. A close examination of the word “information” and its history reveals the consequences of using it to refer to particularities vs. abstractions of knowledge. The conception of information as untethered, objectively present, and quantifiable is itself the result of interpretations of the material forms that information has taken. “Information is a mode of reading,” and as the amount of information has increased over time, every age has revised its modes of discourse to accommodate it. The internet complicates this process because it presents readers with “intelligence” (rather than information), and older methods of evaluating print material are not directly applicable to electronic media. In some ways, the porousness of the internet engenders forms of discourse that reflect practices of the “preinformation age,” a time when speech acts were not so rigorously regulated by institutionalized arbiters.


Peters, T. (2009, November 1)." The Future of Reading." Library Journal. Retrieved from:


Peters frames changes in reading technologies, reading habits, and genre as reader-driven because readers are the “power base”—the diverse community—that libraries, bookstores, and publishers serve. He encourages readerly experimentation and argues that librarians must help empower patrons to access and use reading material in expansive ways. Librarians ought to advocate for disorganized mass readers and devise and propagate a “Reader Bill of Rights for the Digital Era.”


Petrucci, A. (1999)." Reading to read: A future for reading." In G. Cavallo & R. Chartier (Eds.), A history of reading in the west (pp. 345-367). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. (Original work published 1995).


This is the final chapter in Cavallo and Chartier’s book and presents an apt endpoint for the narrative arc set forth in their introduction. Petrucci describes contemporary readers as well as systems of classification, linking the crisis in reading (mass illiteracy and “deculturation” to the crisis in production and a contested canon of literature. While the article does not explicitly discuss digital media, it does address changes in the way in which current readers engage with books and its cultural consequences, including new modes of reading as well as reading disorders.


Piper, A. (2009). Dreaming In Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


This book posits the Romantic period as the point of origin for current issues surrounding communication. Piper seeks to present a historical context for digital media by exploring how nineteenth-century readers imagined books as part of a larger “interrelated bibliographic network” (7). Although this work addresses continuities between digital media and bibliographic culture, it tends to focus on representations of communication rather than specifically historical reading practices.


Price, L. (2004). "Reading: The state of the discipline." Book History, 7, 303-20.

Another good background piece for the history of reading, it provides a thorough survey, outlining both broader movements and more specific details within the field. Price’s historical perspective, though, does not include new media or readers of digital texts.seful background. A seminal work on the history of the book as inclusive of all stages of production through reception. Darnton’s model of the “communications circuit” tends to focus on the production cycle more than reader response, but nevertheless complicated and informed subsequent studies on the history of reading.


Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the Squid. New York: Harper Collins.


Like Carr’s The Shallows, this book is intended for a general, non-academic audience. Wolf takes also takes a cognitive-science approach to explain what occurs in the brain when one reads, linking the “two dimensions of the reading brain’s development and evolution—the personal-intellectual and the biological” (5). She explores the process by which the visual perception of words becomes meaningful to a reader and traces the history of reading from a developmental perspective. In the introduction, she poses precisely the set of questions in which we are interested; however, she does so only to immediately mark this as a digression and a line of inquiry which she declines to pursue.


Dehaene, Stanislas. “How Do We Read?” In Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How WeRead. New York: Penguin, 2009. 11-51.

This chapter describes the physical and cognitive systems that support the process of reading. Dehaene begins with the physical movements of the eye as it processes words on a page, letter by letter, in tiny increments. After explaining how the human eye can decipher letter shapes, the chapter moves on to consider how the brain breaks down words into parts, mentally subdividing words into smaller units of sound and meaning. Recent scientific studies, Dehaene explains, have so far identified two main reading routes in the human mind, the phonological and the lexical routes. According to this current model, the brain constructs a word’s meaning by way of parallel, mutually-reinforcing processes. The brain 1) uses the sounds of the word as a way to access its lexical meaning (for infrequently used words), and 2) follows the existing pathway that links the combination of letters to lexical meaning (for frequently used words and those whose spelling does not correspond to their pronunciation). Finally, Dehaene outlines how the brain uses parallel processing to decide upon the meaning of a word once it has been visually recognized. He likens the brain to a “mental senate” whose multiple cerebral systems must go through some degree of debate before agreement leads to a single interpretation, all in fractions of a second.

Dehaene, Stanislas. “Inventing Reading.” In Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. New York: Penguin, 2009. 171-193.

This chapter’s goal is to offer a historical look at the invention of reading and writing, and to explain how basic constraints in brain organization may have shaped cultural practices of literacy. Dehaene argues that reading and writing are possible because our cerebral network links visual and language areas, and because this network is flexible enough to “recycle” itself to adapt to new tasks. The earliest systems of writing were ideographic, based on representing abstract ideas like numbers and time, and they evolved into pictographic systems like the Egyptians’ and Sumerians’. A significant limitation of pictographic systems, he suggests, lay in drawing pictures of abstract ideas, which relied on extensive training to decipher the meaning of a complex image, i.e. an egg next to a bird to symbolize giving birth. In response, these systems began to incorporate phonetic signs to overcome such lexical obstacles. Over the course of many hundreds of years, this eventually led to development of the first alphabetic system, which was based only on speech sounds. Dehaene argues that the letter shapes invented to comprise alphabetic systems the world over were chosen because they are based on shapes in the natural environment (e.g. L and T) and therefore conform to the limited set of shapes our primate brains recognize. The chapter suggests that the move from ideographic to alphabetic systems made reading and writing more cognitively accessible, since individuals could become literate after learning only a couple dozen signs instead of thousands.

Dehaene, Stanislas. “The Dyslexic Brain.” In Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. New York: Penguin, 2009. 235-261.

This chapter summarizes scientific research on dyslexia, including psychological, neurological, and genetic studies, beginning with the earliest modern research conducted in the 1970s. The results of this research show that dyslexia is caused by genetic factors that impede development of the brain’s networks for literacy in utero. Specifically, the visual and language areas in the left temporal region do not develop a full connection in the dyslexic brain. The most salient effects of this disconnection are sensory deficits, which in the majority of dyslexic people are auditory/phonological deficits, and in a minority are visual deficits. The focus of this chapter is on phonological difficulties (the following chapter deals with deficits in visual processing), and it explains that the majority of dyslexic children encounter problems converting written symbols into speech sounds (phonemes), which is the root of their reading difficulties. Dehaene stresses that the biological nature of dyslexia should not discourage our attempts to work around the challenges it presents. To this end, researchers have designed a number of literacy intervention strategies aimed at increasing a dyslexic child’s ability to distinguish between phonemes. These strategies have been shown to initiate both partial reactivation of left temporal areas important to reading and compensatory activity in the right hemisphere. Dyslexic children may thus develop new reading skills through this cognitive intervention.

Gaillard, Raphaël, Antoine Del Cul, Lionel Naccache, Fabien Vinckier, Laurent Cohen, and Stanislas Dehaene. “Nonconscious semantic processing of emotional words modulates conscious access.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103.19 (9 May 2006): 7524-7529.

This neuroscientific study investigated nonconscious semantic processing: the capacity of a subject to recognize the definition of a word without having consciously accessed that semantic content. The researchers predicted that emotional words (e.g. danger) would be subliminally processed better than neutral words (e.g. color). Subjects were shown pairs of written words that were separated by varying temporal intervals, and the words in each pair were visible for varying lengths of time. Subjects were asked during the test to name the words they saw; after the test, they were asked to rate the words’ visibility. The results were twofold. First, they showed that the threshold for conscious access of emotional words is lower than for neutral ones. They propose that this result challenges psychoanalytic theory’s repression hypothesis, since conscious access to negative (“taboo”) words was enhanced rather than reduced in comparison to neutral words. They further posit that this low threshold for conscious access is beneficial to social cognition, because it increases the probability of conscious cognitive assessment of emotional stimuli in social situations. Second, the test showed that emotional words can be processed nonconsciously. The researchers hypothesize that nonconscious activation of the amygdala, associated with the processing and memory of emotional reactions, is responsible for this result.

Keller, Timothy A., Patricia A. Carpenter, and Marcel Adam Just. “The Neural Bases of Sentence Comprehension: a fMRI Examination of Syntactic and Lexical Processing.” Cerebral Cortex 11 (March 2001): 223-237.

This neuroimaging study investigated the brain regions that activate during syntactic and lexical processing. The researchers asked subjects to read sentences that varied in terms of their syntactic difficulty and in the frequency of the words they contained. For example, “The writer that the king attacked admitted the mistake at the meeting” compared to “The pundit that the regent attacked admitted the gaffe at the conclave.” (“Frequency” refers to how familiar the average reader will be with a particular word.) The results show that different linguistic-level brain processes, such as syntactic and lexical processes, involve the collaboration and even overlap of different brain areas. This result speaks to a larger debate within neuroscience concerning the extent to which the linguistic processes involved in sentence-level comprehension are localized to a specific area. Researchers advocating a localized account of linguistic processes argue that there are specific modules within the brain dedicated to specific types of language processing, and that this specialization is what leads to efficiency in sentence-level comprehension. Researchers advocating an interactive account argue that interaction among brain regions exists and is the source of efficient sentence-level processing. This study’s results provide evidence for the interactive model. Harder sentences—that is, those which combine increased syntactic difficulty with less familiar words—tend to create more interaction among brain regions, suggesting that multiple cognitive processes link to facilitate understanding.

Mano, Yoko, Tokiko Harada, Motoaki Sugiura, Daisuke N. Saito, and Norihiro Sadato. “Perspective-taking as part of narrative comprehension: A functional MRI study.” Neuropsychologia 47 (2009): 813-824.

This neuroimaging study tests the role of perspective-taking in the emotional comprehension of a narrative. Researchers set out to identify which brain areas are activated when subjects attempt to infer a protagonist’s emotional state after reading a pair of sentences about him/her. These paired sentences are meant to assess the reader’s ability to evaluate the protagonist’s likelihood of being emotionally affected by an incident. They offer two types of sentence pairs. In the first type, the protagonist of the first sentence is very likely to be aware of and affected by the action described in the second (“1. Kana is playing with her much-loved stuffed toy. 2. Kana’s stuffed toy was pecked and ripped by a bird in her room.”). In the second type, the protagonist in the first sentence is spatially distanced from the action described in the second sentence. (“1. Kana is watching her favorite comedy at the movie theater. 2. Kana’s stuffed toy was pecked and ripped by a bird in her room.”) In this spatially removed case, protagonist is less likely to be aware of the action. The study finds that it takes the reader longer, in consequence, to be able to guess the protagonist’s emotional reaction. The brain workload for perspective taking in the second case was also much greater. They found that three specific areas (the precuneus, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the temporoparietal junction) activated during this activity, along with the neural networks already known to activate while thinking about another person’s mental state. They conclude that these three specific areas are crucial to perspective-taking, and that they interact with the larger mentalizing network during narrative comprehension tasks.

Mar, Raymond. “The Neuropsychology of Narrative.” Neuropsychologia 42 (2004): 1414-1434.

This article reviews scientific work on cognitive psychology’s theoretical models of mind and recent neuroimaging studies to suggest that both narrative production and narrative comprehension involve similar mental processes and thus activate the same areas of the brain. According to Mar’s review, neuroimaging studies show the frontal lobes to be the most frequently activated areas with regard to narrative production and comprehension, especially the medial and the lateral prefrontal cortex. Mar explains that the frontal lobes are associated with goal-directed functions, and suggests that this may be why they are activated by narrative, which he describes as structured by causal and temporal relations. This article is based on the author’s interest in the centrality of narrative to our understanding of the social world. It argues that narrative is crucial to the composition of personal belief, to psychological health, and to the ability to understand the self and its identity over time.

Mar, Raymond, Keith Oatley, Jacob Hirsh, Jennifer dela Paz, and Jordan B. Peterson. “Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds.” Journal of Research in Personality 40 (2006): 694-712.

This scientific study begins by reviewing literature from cognitive psychology and neuroscience that suggests reading fiction maintains and/or improves social processing skills, while reading non-narrative non-fiction weakens those skills. Narrative fiction, with its intentional agents pursuing goals that make up a plot, they argue, parallels the real social world, and therefore engages cognitive functions and neural substrates that activate in real-life social situations. Expository non-narrative prose, because it contains no such real-world parallels, lacks the ability to engage the reader’s social skills, a deficiency they propose is compounded by the solitary nature of reading. The authors then describe their own experiment on the subject, which identified participants’ reading habits and tested their empathetic capabilities according to a standard evaluation. They suggest it supports their hypothesis.

Margolin, Uri. “Cognitive Science, the Thinking Mind, and Literary Narrative.” In Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences. Ed. David Herman. Stanford: CSLI Publications, 2003. 271-294.

This chapter proposes that narratological theories about authoring, reading, and narrative content (i.e. characters’ mental life) can be clarified and grounded by applying conceptual frameworks from cognitive science, discourses that Margolin sees as particularly well equipped to describe and analyze the thinking mind. The author organizes his discussion by pairing descriptions of each of the four classical levels of narrative communication (from narratology) with a model from cognitive science meant to clarify or reformulate it. Of particular interest is the sub-section titled, “Discourses of Minds in Action: Fiction and Cognitive Science.” This section explains how fiction is able to offer readers direct access to various aspects of another’s mental life, which is not possible for cognitive scientists conducting research on real subjects. It concludes by arguing that fiction’s highly individualized representations of mental life have particular value and thus have much to offer cognitive scientists, who are usually interested in generalizations about mental functioning. Over the course of this section, the author demonstrates the aptitude of cognitive scientific discourse for analyzing the thinking mind in fiction.

Mason, Robert A., and Marcel Adam Just. “The Role of the Theory-of-Mind Cortical Network in the Comprehension of Narratives.” Language and Linguistics Compass 3.1 (2009): 157-174.

This article brings together existing neuroimaging studies on perspective-taking to propose that there is a specific network of brain areas that activates when a reader infers a character’s mental state, a psychological ability called Theory of Mind. The authors call this network the “protagonist perspective network,” which includes two brain regions that operate interdependently. The first is the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which allows us to “protagonist monitor,” that is, to track and update information about characters. The second region supports “protagonist simulation,” involving the temporoparietal junction, which supports our capacity to reason about a character’s mental states in order to create expectations about his/her behavior. The article also examines recent behavioral and neuroimaging studies on individuals with autism, whose theory-of-mind network is underconnected. Results from these studies support the authors’ proposal that a specific “protagonist perspective network” underlies Theory of Mind processing.

Nieuwland, Mante S., Karl Magnus Petersson, and Jos J.A. Van Berkum. “On sense and reference: Examining the functional neuroanatomy of referential processing.” NeuroImage 37 (2007): 993-1004.

This fMRI study identifies and attempts to remedy a lack of neuroscientific research on referential processing. Referential processing refers to the brain’s management of relationships between words—the decisions involved in deciphering “who’s who, and what’s what” in a sentence. The researchers used pronouns to test referential processing. They asked subjects to read, for example, a referentially ambiguous sentence like, “Ronald told Frank that he had a positive attitude towards life,” in which the referent of he is unclear. Researchers also included sentences with referential failure (“Rose told Emily that he had a positive attitude towards life.”) and with semantic anomaly (“Ronald told Emily that he had a positive potato towards life.”). The results showed that each sentence type activated a qualitatively different neural network, which often lay outside of the traditional language network in the temporal-frontal cortex. The researchers call for more neuroscientific study of referential processing, arguing that language comprehension involves a great deal more than the semantic sum of individual words.

Schön, Daniele, Jean Luc Anton, Muriel Roth, and Mireille Besson. “An fMRI study of music sight-reading.” NeuroReport 13.17 (3 Dec 2002): 2285-2289.

This study uses neuroimaging to compare reading musical notation to reading letter and number notations. Researchers wanted to find out whether there is a special neural network for reading music. They identified three areas involved in reading music that were not activated during verbal or number reading. These areas include a region in the right hemisphere associated with spatial orientation and a region in the upper rear of the brain associated with perceptual-motor coordination and visual attention. The third identified area, in the right hemisphere, participates in visual recognition. The researchers propose that this area may be the musical analogue to the visual word form area in the left hemisphere, which analyzes and identifies letter shapes. (See Dehaene, Chapter 2, “The Brain’s Letterbox,” for more on the visual word form area in reading).

Stringaris, Argyris K.,  Nicholas C. Medford, Vincent Giampietro, Michael J. Brammer, and Anthony S. David. “Deriving meaning: Distinct neural mechanisms for metaphoric, literal, and non-meaningful sentences.” Brain and Language 100 (2007): 150-162.

This study engages a current debate within neuroscience regarding the brain localization of figurative language processing. While many researchers have argued that areas of the right hemisphere are exclusively responsible for processing figurative language, this study joins a growing body of evidence supporting the other side of the debate, which argues that the brain uses areas in both the left and the right hemispheres to process figurative language. The study used fMRI to track brain activation while participants evaluated the quality of meaning in three types of sentences: literal, metaphorical, and non-meaningful. The authors discovered that different brain areas are activated depending upon the type of sentence being read, which indicates that the nature of a semantic task affects where the semantic data will be processed. For example, an area in the left hemisphere was consistently activated when participants read metaphorical sentences, but not when they read literal or non-meaningful sentences. The study concludes that the brain process for grasping a sentence’s meaning in fact depends upon the type of sentence in question.

Tobin, Vera. “Cognitive Bias and the Poetics of Surprise.” Language and Literature 18.2 (2009): 155-72.

This article proposes that certain narrative structures, such as the plot twists of detective fiction, can provide a particular type of satisfaction in a reading or viewing experience. These narrative structures, Tobin argues, take advantage of what cognitive scientists call “the curse of knowledge.” The “curse of knowledge” is an egocentric bias in our social cognition: we are biased by our own knowledge when it comes to assessing a less-informed perspective, which leads to consistently overestimating what others know. While some researchers have assessed this trait negatively as inhibiting human creativity and/or learning, Tobin asks that we recognize the aesthetic pleasure offered by narratives that exploit this tendency. Such narratives work by creating repeated opportunities for readers to project the degree/nature of their own knowledge onto their estimation of what a character knows, and then by revealing that the character’s knowledge is in fact less or very different—a move that Tobin calls a narrative “rug-pull.” The pleasure arising from this kind of surprise is produced by novels like Agatha Christie’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? and films like The Sixth Sense. Tobin explains that because understanding others during ordinary communication requires a high degree of inferencing, we use cognitive shortcuts, such as assuming others share our current knowledge. Although this cognitive bias may be a source of misunderstanding in everyday life, it can become a source of pleasure in reading as we experience a moment of unexpected surprise and literary novelty in recognizing our error.

Wolf, Maryanne. “Conclusions: From the Reading Brain to ‘What Comes Next.’” In Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper, 2007. 212-229.

This book on reading and the brain uses historical, sociological, and psychological approaches to provide an overview of reading’s invention, its development in the individual brain, and the multiple forms reading disabilities take. In this concluding chapter, Wolf reviews her book’s major claims. She argues that the most significant contribution reading makes to the brain’s cognitive functions is the “gift of time,” which allows us to think beyond the text and make associations, inferences, and analyses. Pointing to our society’s exponential increase in digital and visual media, Wolf argues for teaching younger generations to be “multitextual.” She suggests that this will allow them to take cognitive advantage of the multi-modal, integrative reading capacities developed through encounters with these genres without losing the ability for focused attention and analysis developed through reading books, poems, essays, etc.

Yamamura, Hiromi, Yasuhito Sawahata, Miyuki Yamamoto, and Yukiyasu Kamitani. “Neural art appraisal of painter: Dali or Picasso?” NeuroReport 20.18 (2009): 1630-1633.

This scientific study tests the consistency of brain activation during visual literacy tasks, specifically, viewing artwork. The researchers showed participants paintings by Dali and Picasso and simultaneously monitored their brain activation with fMRI. They also constructed a statistical decoder meant to evaluate fMRI activity patterns, and they used this decoder to analyze the data from the fMRI scans. They discovered that the decoder accurately predicted which painter’s artwork was being viewed based on fMRI activity patterns. This suggests that complex brain activity, like the type associated with viewing art, occurs with predictable regularity, so that the same specific areas are activated each time a particular artist’s work is viewed. Though similar general brain regions are involved in artistic viewing at large, individual works of art, this study suggests, produce a distinctive brain response, or neural signature—one distinctive enough that our technologies for measuring blood flow in the brain can identify and separate a brain viewing Picasso from a brain viewing Dali, without knowing in advance which image the subject is viewing.

Yarkoni, Tal, Nicole K. Speer, and Jeffrey M. Zacks. “Neural substrates of neural
comprehension and memory.” NeuroImage 41 (2008): 1408-1425.

This neuroimaging study investigates the relationship between brain activation and the narrative comprehension tool known as the “situation model.” A situation model is a cognitive mechanism that allows a reader to create a mental representation of a narrative. This cognitive tool is flexible, allowing us not only to create and maintain, but also to update knowledge about that narrative. Researchers wanted to find out whether there is a specific neural network responsible for this aspect of narrative comprehension or whether we process narrative using the same general coherence-building mechanisms that process sentences. They discovered that our ability to create and update a mental model of narrative relies on a particular area in the posterior region of the brain, largely responsible for spatial processing, while maintenance of that mental model, which happens automatically, draws on regions involved in general coherence-building. Of particular interest is their suggestion that the spatial processing area plays such a large role in this aspect of narrative comprehension. Researchers also concluded that situation models allow for deep narrative comprehension and, consequently, allow for more reliable recall of content.

Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting.”
Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York:
Schocken,1978: 59-68.

This classic essay meditates on the book collector’s connection to his library through ownership and memory

Brayman Hackel, Heidi. “Reading Women.” The History of British Women’s Writing,1500-1610 (Vol. 2). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 17-33.

This article addresses the challenges of discerning women as readers in the sixteenth century, examining multiple forms of historical evidence of women’s literacy such as diaries and memoirs while carefully distinguishing different reading practices. Evidence of gendered differences in literacy belies any simple assertion that most women were illiterate and therefore not reading.

Brayman Hackel, Heidi.“‘Boasting of silence’: women readers in a patriarchal state.” Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England. Eds. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003:101-121.

This chapter explores the role of patriarchy in structuring the history of women as readers in the sixteenth century. Women’s “silence” is caused by a range of prohibitions (such as those against reading aloud or annotating books) and calls for a different historiography that can account for silences and absences as well as a written record to create a picture of women readers.

Brayman Hackel, Heidi.  “Practicing and Teaching Histories and Theories of the Book.” Pacific Coast Philology 40:2 (2005):3-9.

This short article gives an overview of the interdisciplinary field of the history of the book, considering this field to involve histories of reading and the materiality of texts, among other topics and methodologies. The article then considers applications of this field to the literature classroom. 

Fischer, Steven Roger. “The Printed Page.” A History of Reading. London: Reaktion, 2003: 205-252.

This chapter explores the widespread societal changes caused by the advent of the printing press. The availability of works in print changed institutions, markets, and ideas, as well as the role of the reader, and Fischer provides a history of print that accounts for the intersections in this material history.

Grafton, Anthony. “Apocalypse in the stacks? The research library in the age of
Google.” Daedalus (Winter 2009): 87-98.

This article provides an overview of the logistics of traditional print vs. newer online repositories in libraries, weighing the costs and benefits of both models. Grafton explains that online media are not replacing print media, but that both are proliferating at once, putting dual pressures on university libraries. He explores the changes the Internet has brought to research and reading practices as well as to libraries.

Johns, Adrian. “Introduction: The Book of Nature and the Nature of the Book,” The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998: 1-57.

This introductory chapter contests a notion of “print culture” based on fixity. Instead Johns promotes a more dynamic historical understanding of print and its effects on culture involving “collective consent” and a range of agents in the early modern bookmaking and knowledge production industry.

Lewandowski, Joseph D. “Unpacking: Walter Benjamin and His Library”:

This article could possibly be paired with Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library”. It explicates and contextualizes Benjamin’s famous essay, arguing that Benjamin is so interrelated with his books that he unpacks himself and his books simultaneously.

Manguel, Alberto. “Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Library” A Reader on
Reading. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

A whimsical list of the characteristics of the ideal library.

Manguel, Alberto. “Reading Shadows.” A History of Reading. New York: Penguin, 1996: 27-40.

This chapter gives an entertaining overview of historical theories of the relation of perception to reading. 

Manguel, Alberto. “The Last Page.” A History of Reading. New York: Penguin, 1996:3-26.

This essay weaves together personal memoir with historical facts about reading in an introduction to the book.

Manguel, Alberto.“The Library as Order.” The Library at Night. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 36-63.

In this chapter Manguel reminisces about childhood attempts at ordering a personal library, leading to a consideration of the highly individual systems of order used in personal libraries, and extending these insights to the ultimately arbitrary ordering of public libraries.

Manguel, Alberto.“The Library as Power.” The Library at Night. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 91-104.

This chapter explores the totemic power granted books and the power of libraries as monuments and memorials founded by public figures. Though built to consolidate power, ironically, public libraries such as the Carnegie Libraries had the effect of empowering the public that used them.

Manguel, Alberto. “The Library as Space.” The Library at Night. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 64-89.

This chapter explores a number of historical attempts on the part of libraries to cope with a lack of space for material texts. Different strategies have been used, including the destruction of books and newspapers in favor of equally (or more) unstable media like microfilm or CD, and also including attempts to condense information into a compact form, the encyclopedia.

Poblete, Juan. “Reading as a Historical Practice in Latin America: The first Colonial Period to the Nineteenth Century.” The Literary Cultures of Latin America: A Comparative History (Vol. 1: Configurations of Literary Culture). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Eds. Mario J. Valdes and Djelal Kadir. 178-192.

This article argues for an understanding of the social, collective production of meaning in the interpretation of texts, rather than a decontextualized discourse analysis. This understanding of the location of reading practices is applied to pre-colonial and colonial situations in the reception and understanding of texts in Latin America.

Schoenfeldt, Michael. “Reading Bodies”: Reading, Society and Politics in Early Modern England. Eds. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 215-243.

This chapter examines connections between books and physiology, reading a number of figurations of the book’s interaction with the body in the process of reading. Schoenfeldt then moves to the concept of the “body politic,” a medical reading of politics, to argue that the connection is problematic in its assumption of an inherent hierarchy. 

Sherman, William H. “Introduction: Used Books,” Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008:

This chapter introduces Sherman’s extensive study of early modern marginalia. Sherman looks for patterns of use to understand the wide variety of uses to which books were put, not all of which can be described as reading. Reading itself is treated as an active and varied set of activities.












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