Upgrades at Toronto Public Library website are highly impressive

For many years, I’ve been borrowing up to 50 books at a time, from the Toronto Public Library. With this amount of books to look at, I’ve also developed a protocol, whereby I go about accessing each of these texts.

I look at one or two sentences in each book, to get a sense of where the author is coming from, and then choose books to read at further length. If I choose to read an entire book, I typically start in the middle, read to the end, and then start at the start of the book. I like to adopt such an approach, because it makes for a more active form of learning, than would be the case if I were to read the book from start to finish, in chronological order.

The larger context is that I am engaged in a form of project-oriented learning. I have an interest in particular themes. In order to study such themes in depth, I organize my own independent study projects. What I learn is manifested, in one way or another, in content that appears at my website. What I learn also manifests itself in the structure, and pacing, of my writing.

As part of this intensive reading process, at times I take a break, lasting several months at a stretch, when I do not borrow any books at all, from the Toronto Public Library. Such a periodization approach gives my brain a rest.

TPL website

In recent years, I’ve often visited the TPL website to access a list of the most recent nonfiction books that have been added to the library’s lists of new books. Previously, for may years, the part of the website that listed new nonfiction acquisitions was located within a cumbersome, old format.

Some time back, the old version of the New in Nonfiction section has been replaced by a new version. The purpose of the current post is to bring attention to the list of new nonfiction books, at the Toronto Public Library.

Web development takes time

An underlying story is that web development, of the kind evident at the TPL website in recent years, takes time. I am reminded of that, because I am aware that my own website, before it was launched in 2012, was in development for a long time. As I look back, I can see that it was wise, to take my time, and plan the website well, so that once launched, it would be able to serve a useful purpose.

Part of that purpose is to connect with site visitors, by way of sharing information, and by way of offering a forum, where information from site visitors can be shared. The other part of the purpose is to organize my own thinking; my ongoing study of books from the TPL is part of the organizing-of-thinking process, that in turn manifests in content appearing at the Preserved Stories website.

Update: Central role, when we are reading anything, of our general knowledge and vocabulary

Of relevance with regard to how we go about reading things, an April 13, 2018 Atlantic article is entitled: “Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years: Schools usually focus on teaching comprehension skills instead of general knowledge — even though education researchers know better.”

An excerpt reads:

Cognitive scientists have known for decades that simply mastering comprehension skills doesn’t ensure a young student will be able to apply them to whatever texts they’re confronted with on standardized tests and in their studies later in life.

One of those cognitive scientists spoke on the Tuesday panel: Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who writes about the science behind reading comprehension. Willingham explained that whether or not readers understand a text depends far more on how much background knowledge and vocabulary they have relating to the topic than on how much they’ve practiced comprehension skills. That’s because writers leave out a lot of information that they assume readers will know. If they put all the information in, their writing would be tedious.



3 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    In a recent case, I read a trilogy of books – of the highest quality, in my estimation – about the history of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. The author of the trilogy is Richard J. Evans.

    Instead of reading the books in chronological order, I began with the third book – dealing with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Next I read the second book – dealing with the Nazi Party in power in prewar Germany. Finally, I read the first book – addressing the rise to power of the Nazi Party.

    Typically, I would read such a book by starting in the middle, reading to the end, and then going to the start of the book to read the first half of it. On the other hand, sometimes I will also start at the beginning and read to the end.

    In my case, this reading procedure makes for a more active, engaged form of learning than would (in my case) happen if I were to read the three books in chronological order.

    I much prefer to work with flashbacks, and to move back and forth, between what happened before and what happened later.

    The point is to be alert and actively engaged, when reading any topic.

    The procedure can also be applied to the reading of fiction, as Alice Munro has pointed out, with regard to her own approach to the reading of short stories written by authors, other than herself. She will, as she has noted, typically start in the middle, then maybe read forward a few paragraphs, then move to the text at some earlier point in the story, and so on.

    Occasionally, she will also start with a short story and read it from start to finish, in the standard chronological order.

    As I’ve noted at previous posts, Alice Munro will look at a text, and imagine that she is visiting the interior of a house. She will, metaphorically speaking, stop at a room, maybe sit down for a while at an easy chair, have a look at the scene that is visible looking out from the window, from this particular room, then move down the hallway to visit another room, and so on.

    That is, in my view, a wonderful way to visit – to read – any text.

    No matter what the genre – whether we are dealing with fiction, nonfiction, or the highly engaging borderland (at least highly engaging from my own perspective) between the two genres – such an approach speaks to an active form of engagement, with the text at hand.

  2. Bert Eccles
    Bert Eccles says:

    Hi Jaan,

    I find your strategy of reading (middle to end to beginning) quite interesting and might give it a try. I read in a far less iconoclastic way (beginning to middle to end), but in order to alleviate tedium I usually have approximately nine books going at the same time.

    These would typically include two books on bridge or other card games, one on music, one on film, one on sports (usually either hockey or boxing), two pieces of fiction (one mystery, one comic novel), and two pieces of non-fiction (one biography, one political analysis). By varying the topics and styles, I maintain interest. For example, after reading about twenty or thirty bridge hands, I might say, “Enough,” and switch to a hockey book.

    This method makes reading into a continual variety show rather than a total immersion in a single genre until that particular book is finished. An added bonus is that there are often serendipitous coincidences such as reading a book about Muhammad Ali, another about James Brown, and a third about civil rights progress in the sixties…and seeing how they all tie together.

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Hi Bert,

    I very much like the idea of reading several books at the same time, as you have mentioned. Often have several books on the go, at the same time. I recall years ago, when reading about how best to learn things, I came across the concept that when studying for school, it’s good to move back and forth, from subject to subject, as that keeps things interesting. Keeping things interesting – that’s most definitely the name of the game, in my anecdotal experience.

    Among the books I’m currently reading is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), which is recommended for students to read, at a local high school in Toronto that I’m in touch with.

    A basic point, as I understand from a recent conversation with a teacher, is that some students read and read their assigned material, and notes. In the process, they learn to recognize material, when it appears on an exam, but they may not have much in the way of recall, which requires a more active kind of learning, that simply reading the text, many times over. The above-noted book outlines how to make study a more active, and thus more productive process.

    In my own case, whenever I read anything these days, I’m thinking of at least four things: (1) the evidence the writer is working with; (2) the frame within which the material is presented; (3) the author’s relationship to storytelling; (4) the intended audience for the text and images.

    I’m really pleased you wrote your Comment, as it has prompted me to spend a few moments thinking about getting around to posting some overviews of some of my own recent reading projects projects.

    History of the Order of the Templars

    By way of example, I’ve been reading extensively about the history of the Order of the Templars, the medieval monastic order that played a key role in wars, originating in Europe, that have come to be known as the Crusades.

    The Templars became very powerful, owning a great deal of property across Europe. They were also heavily involved with financial matters, as they had the means to ensure that money and valuables could be safely transported from one part of the world to another, and they had the means to ensure that money and property could be kept in secure locations, where it could not easily be stolen.

    The Templars rose, and they had a spectacular fall – in the end they were wiped out, and all of their property was taken over. As well, their central archives were lost, which in turn gave rise to rampant speculation – which has taken strong hold of the public imagination, even to the present days – about what the Order of the Templars was about.

    My first introduction, to reading about the Templars, was through a book written by an author who has extensive experience in the broadcast industry. The story, in his book, is told all from the perspective of personalities and specific battles. The book makes for great storytelling, the kind of character-and-setting based storytelling that makes for a great cinematic experience.

    The book, in a sense, brings the story of the Order of the Templars to life, but the underlying details, which I would describe as the tactics, strategies, and logistics of warfare, and of related political goal-seeking, are not given much attention. I decided that, when I was going to read about the fall of the Order of the Templars, I was going to go with the most historically authoritative author that I could find, rather than going wit the author of the first book that I encountered.

    That provides a quick introduction, to an upcoming post about the Order of the Templars. I much appreciate your Comment, as it has prompted me to get to work on writing the following introductory post about the Templars, entitled:

    The Order of the Templars was a militarized monastic order, which arose and fell during the Crusader wars era: Introductory remarks


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