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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Steven Johnson

I've written before about the book club. We don't all read the same book - we read whatever strikes our fancy, then meet to briefly describe what we've read to the others. As one member remarked, it's a little like fourth grade book reports. Part of the deal is that the books are often made available for borrowing by the member/reporters.

So it was that I snagged the three in the photo above.

The one on the far right, "Everything Bad is Good for You", by Steven Johnson, is the only one of the three I've read so far. His premise is that - contrary to expection -there are certain aspects of popular culture that are actually causing a marked and measurable increase in intelligence among the general population. He calls it the Sleeper Curve. To make his point he focuses primarily on video games - the elaborate kind, such as Sim City, and Grand Auto Theft - and television shows - the "multi-threaded" plot kind, such as The Sopranos and 24. He argues that the brainpower needed to understand their complexities is far greater, and of a different sort, than what was needed to play PacMan, or watch the formulaic I Love Lucy, or Leave it to Beaver. It's an easy and convincing read.

I was surprised I hadn't heard of Johnson before, but then I realized that I HAD in fact known about him. I had read rave reviews of his 2006 book about the terrifying 1854 London cholera epidemic, The Ghost Map, and had meant to read it. Now it's on my library reserve list. And there's a new book coming out in December - about JB Priestley and the discovery of oxygen.

Johnson, a champion of urbanism, wrote a provocative series of essays on this topic called Urban Planet in the NYT, also in 2006. Well worth a click.

The eight of us at this meet-up mentioned over forty books. Most of these I won't ever read (mysteries, for example, are not for me). But I'm pleased that Steven Johnson is on my radar now.


Blogger AlexanderTheGreat said...

"That what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"?

I too often wonder how the internet age will affect society.

There is no doubt that "puzzle games" are beneficial, and even that action games increase had/eye coordination.

Continuing with Johnson, disease is also an interesting subject. It seems that some people are genetically immune to many diseases, including AIDS.

BAH, who needs books anymore.

10:28 PM  
Blogger joco said...

Does he mention chess?
Personally, I reckon that even though I am not much good at it, the fact that I try has kept my brain ticking over.
Lovely quote from Bill Hartston, a British chess writer: "Chess doesn't drive people mad, it helps keep mad people sane"

3:52 AM  
Blogger joco said...

Quite a way with words he has.

I had a look at one of his articles in the NYT and found it a chilling read.

Take a look here

If this is what is happening ( and you can see that it is in the garden blogging world alone) then give me books any day. At least their information is more carefully considered than ad nauseam repeated web entries, perpetuated regardless of quality.

What have we unleashed.

4:38 AM  
Blogger sixty-five said...

Yes, he does mention chess. Favorably, of course. Just that with its known rules and structure it doesn't evoke the same "what's going on here anyhow?" thing that happens in a game like MYST (the only one of that sort I ever played).

After reading the article YOU (joco) linked to, I had to google "Steven Johnson". Surprise: THIS blog post ended up on page one - third among "blog posts". Bizarre! And yes, scary.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

I like the rules for your book club. I never liked the idea of all reading the same book to discuss it. the discussions never went very far. Nor did I like Having to read what someone else chose.
Your way is much freer and one learns so much more this way.
I might be able to do one like that.

2:35 PM  
Blogger sukipoet said...

Sounds like a totally fun bookclub. Does everyone read non-fiction? I'd love to be somewhere where 40 books are mentioned. Mind stimulating.

5:28 PM  

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