Workout Your Brain with Books!

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(This article first appeared on the awesome website, Sixty & Me.)

Are you one of those people who, no matter how much you are enjoying it, simply cannot wait to finish the book you are reading when another interesting title catches your eye? Me too. Unfortunately, a busy schedule limits my dedicated reading time. So what’s a bibliophile to do?

Simple. I read multiple books at the same time.

Some of my friends exclaim, “I don’t know how you can do that! If I tried to read more than one book at a time, my brain would explode.” Well, since I do perform this brain-multitasking feat on a daily basis, I thought I’d do some research to determine whether it really was hurting—or helping—my cognitive abilities as I age.

Information, other than individual opinions on the subject, was difficult to find. Of course, any search including the term “multitasking” brings up a plethora of negative articles claiming how dangerous this can be, like texting while driving. “Split-focus” was another term I came across often, which, it is claimed, reduces focus and productivity. I even found several bloggers who claimed it was a disgrace to “cheat” one, wonderful book out of your full attention. I also learned a brand-new term for the habit: “poly-reader,” as opposed to a monogamous or serial reader.

student-147783_640Wow. I didn’t know reading more than one book at a time placed me in the non-monogamous category. So…I’m cheating on the first book with the second and third? Or is it more like polygamy, where all the books willingly consent to share my attention?

Then there’s the question of multiple media: print book vs. eBook vs. audiobook. Can you mix these without the dose becoming lethal?

I say these theories are hogwash. First of all, I not only have at least two or three print books on my nightstand at all times, but I also have a Kindle app on my phone (I know, this is really bad for my eyesight. But that’s a subject for another blog…). Since I’m also a huge fan of audiobooks, I virtually never listen to music on my car radio. I’m always listening to a book.

Interestingly, there has been some scientific research on how the brain responds to reading a physical vs. and eBook. In this 2009 article by Jonah Lehrer on ScienceBlogs, I learned that different parts of the brain respond differently to different types of text. According to Lehrer, “one of the most interesting findings regarding literacy and the human cortex is the fact that there are actually two distinct pathways activated by the sight of letters.”

Researcher Stanislas Dehaene studied people’s brain waves under fMRI, and concluded that text in a familiar format, i.e. the printed page, stimulates the ventral reading pathway. This allows the reader to decipher and understand the content effortlessly. When the format changes, however, as text on an eReader or computer screen, another part of the brain is triggered: the dorsal pathway. This is the more simplistic, basic process, and the way we all learned how to read—by sounding out the syllables.

In layman’s terms, when reading a physical book vs. an eBook, the words are transported into our brains via two completely different pathways.brain-2062057_640

So, how can this be bad? We exercise our bodies in multiple ways, don’t we? It seems to me that exercising our brains in multiple ways can do nothing but help keep our minds in shape—and sharp.

Then we move on to the third medium: audiobooks. Now we have a whole different set of cognitive processes going on. I found some sources that claimed listening to an audiobook vs. reading one was “cheating.” The foundation for this theory is that listening turns an active process into a passive one. But the author of this article on The Science of Us, Melissa Dahl, disagrees. She cites this: “a study from science writer Olga Khazan, noted in 2011, (that) a “1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension.” So, no: Listening vs. reading isn’t cheating. It’s just absorbing the information via a different sensory route.

Again, how can this be bad? By listening to an audiobook, we are utilizing yet another part of our brain. Exercising it. Exercise = good.

But now, the real question: what about us poly-readers? For those of us who not only partake of multiple forms of reading material, but more than one at the same time? Are we breaking some moral code? Are we totally overloading our brains and running the risk of burning out a neural pathway?

I don’t think so, and neither does Eddie Wharton, as he claims on his Working Theory blog. Most of the books Wharton reads are nonfiction, and he claims that reading more than one at a time has had three distinct and unexpected benefits, namely:

  1. He enjoys reading more.
  2. He finds himself “stumbling on new insights.”
  3. He “progress(es) through them all slower. The books have more time to bounce off of different life situations.”

And finally, in this wonderful article on AgileLifestyle.net, author Tony Khuon describes this kind of voracious reading as “more like a superpower.” Since 2012, he has consistently reached his goal of 150 books in one year. He recommends, when reading books in parallel, to select three different kinds of books, i.e., a genre novel, a literary work, and a nonfiction title.

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That is exactly what I do.

The book(s) on my bedside table are nonfiction, craft books that help me to improve the novels I write. The book on my Kindle app is a genre fiction, usually one a fellow author has asked me to read and review. The audiobook booming out from my car’s speakers on my commute is usually a literary title, or a classic.

I turn sixty in just a few short weeks. So far this year, I’ll bet I’ve “consumed” almost a hundred books in their various formats, though I haven’t kept count. Do I feel sharper, and smarter, and more motivated? Yes, indeedy I do. I walk, do yoga, and ride a horse to exercise my body, and I read—profusely and diversely—to exercise my brain.

Are you monogamous or a poly-reader? Do you enjoy books in multiple formats, or primarily one? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Claire Gem is an award-winning author of contemporary romance, women’s fiction, & supernatural suspense. You can find out more about her & her work at her website or on her Amazon Author Page.

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Reading is the Best Writing Exercise!

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I’ll be the first to admit: I’m an obsessive reader. Although I haven’t kept count, I would venture to say I’ve read almost 100 books so far this year. I partake of reading material in a variety of ways as well: print, eBook, and audiobook. I always have at least one book going in each format at all times. Is this good for my brain or will my overwhelmed little brain cells just explode? I did some research on this and blogged about this very topic on the fabulous website, Sixty & Me, just the other day. You can read the article here.

After all, I will be turning sixty in just a few short weeks. Yikes. Where have all the years gone?

The difference in how I read before I became an author, and how I read now, though, is huge. I used to just read for enjoyment. Now, in addition to thoroughly enjoying the experience, I’m also learning. A LOT.

starry-sky-1948523_640For example: My present work-in-progress, a supernatural suspense called PIGMENTS, features a psychic who can access the memories of artists through their DNA that’s embedded in the oil paint. Although I’m an avid art history buff, I’ve fallen away from research in that area over recent years. So I needed to read a few books–novels, preferably–that centered around art.

I started out re-reading two old favorites: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Still, I needed more. More recent titles, those I hadn’t read before. I stumbled upon an author new to me, B. A. Shapiro, and began with her 2013 title, The Art Forger. What a golden find was this! Shapiro’s style hovers between commercial and literary fiction–a trait I’m particularly fond of, since I write in much the same ilk.

After leaving a 5-star review for The Art Forger, I’ve moved on to Shapiro’s 2015 title, The Muralist. Although at first put off somewhat by the more extensive history explored in this title, I have now found myself hooked. Shapiro utilizes a dual-time method of telling her stories. The Art Forger took place mostly in the present-day, where the majority of The Muralist takes place in 1939-40 – a time period, I will admit, I’ve not explored in any depth. stamp-1497087_640

This author is teaching me all sorts of history I either didn’t know about or didn’t understand in the most painless way–through engrossing and often lyrical prose. But it wasn’t until I was driving home last evening, listening to the audiobook version of this title, that Ms. Shapiro gifted me an “ah-ha” moment.

In my work-in-progress, PIGMENTS, I’ve been having difficulty with telling the story from multiple points of view. I’m combining POVs, telling some in the first person, and others in third. What Ms. Shapiro did in The Muralist is to make each chapter in the POV of one character, naming that character at the start. This keeps the reader straight on who’s telling the story. I believe Tracy Chevalier also used this technique in her 2004 title, The Lady and the Unicorn.

My quandary as to how to proceed with PIGMENTS is now solved, thanks to two brilliant authors I’ve read. Thank you, Ms. Chevalier and Ms. Shapiro, for the lesson in plot construction.

Yes, I read for pleasure. But it’s always a bonus when a pleasurable activity turns into an educational one.

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Claire Gem writes in several genres including contemporary romance, women’s fiction, & supernatural suspense. She prides herself on bridging the gap between genre & literary fiction–these ain’t your mama’s Harlequin novels. Visit her at her website or Amazon Author page.

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An Exciting Series from Rebecca Neely!

The CROSSING REALMS paranormal romance series by Rebecca E. Neely ~ Sacrifice or salvation? A chosen psychic few may be both. As Keepers battle Betrayers to save the human race, all’s not fair in love and war.

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THE KEEPER, Book 1 – A tortured leader of human guardians must join forces with the one woman in the city who can save his clan from destruction: an anxious – and psychic – accountant who has no memory of him. http://amzn.to/2fOZEIC

THE WATCHER, Book 2 – Can a Keeper hell bent on avenging his own death find the answers the clan so desperately needs in the seven days he’s been given, or will he be forced to abandon the woman he loves and his clan, leaving them all to face imminent destruction? http://amzn.to/2j1ethN

THE BETRAYER, Book 3 – Can a Betrayer with a mysterious ability, ousted by her brood and left for dead, fight alongside the Keeper who saves her—and falls for her—in the throes of the second rebellion, or will she forsake herself and the man she loves as the clan wages what may be its final battle to save the human race?

 Welcome to my world, er…realm!

SOME JARGON TO GET YOU ACQUAINTED

WATCHERS – Beings that exist in their own realm, guiding and guarding the Keepers through missions called Compulsions.

KEEPERS – ‘close to human as you can get’ beings who guard humans, live in the human realm and exude and exist on light energy.

BETRAYERS – Keepers turned bad. Banished from the Watchers’ realm after the Rebellion, they too live in the human realm, wreaking havoc on humans, from which they harvest dark energy to feed on.

VITALITY STONE – a bright green stone hewn from the Watchers’ realm that gives the Keepers their amazing powers, and defends against Betrayers dark energy…

SIMILITUDE STONE – The antithesis of Vitality stone, this deadly black stone is a conduit for dark energy that enables Betrayers to drain Keepers’ energy…

~~~

The Geary clan of Keepers lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA as carpenters. They’re almost exactly what they appear to be: blue collar Irish Catholics, born and bred in the ‘Burgh. Their M.O.? Humans forget their interaction with them, so they’re able to go about their Compulsions more easily…

The Pittsburgh brood of Betrayers lives in the recesses of the city, and can be found wherever human pain, violence and suffering exists…

 SOME CHARACTERS YOU’LL MEET ALONG THE WAY

Haenus Vickery – brood master of the Betrayers, who’s hell bent on destroying both humans and Keepers, and reclaiming the Watchers’ realm as his own…

Nick Geary – Jaded clan leader of the Keepers, who seems doomed to love a human woman who’s forgotten him, time after time, for thirteen years…

Libby Klink – a skittish accountant who’s as terrified of her recent and strange intuitions as she is of her mundane existence…

Dev Geary – a former Keeper, hell bent on avenging his own death…

Meda Gabriel – a cagey, street smart bar owner with a unique skill set…

Curtis Geary – A Keeper/computer guru whose neat, logical world is about to tilt on its axis…

Jordan – A Betrayer with a mysterious ability, ousted by her brood and left for dead…

Tan – Meda’s German Shepherd, a rescue who’s got an uncanny sense about people…

TATTOO, MOTORCYCLE OR GERMAN SHEPHERD FAN? I also blog about cool stuff from each story. I invite you to stop by and have a read. https://rebeccaneelysite.wordpress.com/

THE KEEPER, Book 1 in the series, is a finalist for the RONE award for Best Paranormal short, sponsored by InD’Tale Magazine.

Both Book 1 and THE WATCHER, Book 2 are out now and available in Kindle and print, on Amazon.

Stay tuned for news about THE BETRAYER, Crossing Realms Series Book 3. My Street Team will have an opportunity to read it before anyone else does – JOIN NOW! https://www.facebook.com/groups/142874226198888/

~~~

REBECCA E. NEELY, AUTHOR  ~  Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

A sucker for a happy ending, Rebecca strives to write the kind of stories she loves to read—gritty, suspenseful and featuring authentic, edgy and vulnerable characters, smack dab in the middle of action that explodes from page one.

Careers, past and present, include freelance writing, accounting, mother, problem solver, doer and head bottle washer.

Rebecca is a member of Three Rivers Romance Writers (TRRW), a PAN member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and is proud to serve as a judge for several writing contests each year.

CONNECT WITH REBECCA

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 Website: www.rebeccaneely.com

Blog: https://rebeccaneelysite.wordpress.com/

Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/bqiDi5

Facebook    https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.mullnerneely

Twitter   https://twitter.com/Rebeccaneely1

Amazon   https://www.amazon.com/author/rebeccaeneely

Goodreads  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9857158.Rebecca_E_Neely

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/rebneely/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rebneely/

 

 

 

Are you ready for itcher?

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I am SO excited to bring to you news about a wonderful new app tool that will make your life so much easier! How many times have you spent minutes, maybe even hours looking for & picking out your next movie, TV show, music choice, or book? Valuable, precious time when you could have been watching, listening or reading?

This happens to me all the time, especially with books, because I consume them at such an unbelievable rate. What’s most disappointing, however, is when I’ve spent all that time, made my best choice, and then discover—drat! This isn’t what I was looking for!

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Well now, there’s an app for that. It’s called itcher.

So, what exactly is “itcher”? Here’s what the company’s bio states:

“itcher is a book recommendations app that helps you find your next favourite book in less than 50 seconds. You can download it on iOS, Android or check out it out on Web.”

I wanted to know more! I figured he best way to get valid information about this exciting new app was to go to the source: the Itcher people themselves. They were kind enough to grant me an interview. Here’s what I found out:

Claire: The Itcher App is described as an entertainment assistant. Can you elaborate on that? Exactly what can Itcher help me do?

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Itcher: itcher can help you discover more entertainment you love. The itcher app is a one stop shop for recommendations, lists and links to buy your favorite titles. In that sense, it’s your personal entertainment assistant, on hand ready to recommend new titles and also show you where to buy them. It’s what the entertainment world has been waiting for!

Claire: What are the entertainment categories Itcher can help me with?

Itcher: Movies, TV shows, books, music and games – everything entertainment lovers adore!

Claire: Why the name “Itcher”? Can you describe how the company chose this particular moniker?

Itcher: Well, we like to say that our app is the perfect thing for when you’re ‘itching’ to find a new great book or watch your next favorite movie!

Oops, my bad. Guess I need to drop the capital “I” from here on in . . .

Claire: The itcher App description claims to recommend entertainment selections based on the user’s personal taste. How does it do that?

itcher: We’re glad you asked! itcher works by matching users to like-minded users and using the power of the community to generate new recommendations. That means if people with very similar taste to you have all rated a book with 5 stars, you’re likely to be recommended that book too. It’s the app equivalent of your friends all recommending you something, only much more accurate as itcher learns exactly what you like.

Claire: Once itcher knows what kind of books I like to read, will these choices automatically influence the other categories, such as movies, TV shows, & music? Or is each category evaluated separately?

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itcher: Each category is evaluated separately, but when you sign up to itcher, you’ll automatically be signed up to our newsletter, where we sometimes recommend TV shows based on your taste in movies and vice versa.

Claire: Once I’ve decided on a book or movie on the itcher app, does itcher sell or rent me the title? Or does it just direct me to where it can be found?

itcher: itcher will direct you to where it can be found. For movies, you might be able to stream with one click, if the title is available via Netflix or Amazon. For books, you’ll be linked to the book on Amazon so you can purchase that new title and get reading!

Claire: What does itcher cost? Is there a fee for me to choose a title through the itcher app?

itcher: itcher is totally free! There are no fees for signing up, nor are there any fees for buying a title via itcher.

Thank you, itcher associates, for visiting my blog today!

Wow . . . so you know the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?” WRONG. Not when it comes to this amazing new app, itcher. I’m looking forward to finding my next great movie, TV show, or book—whatever entertainment format I’m “itching” for—from this new tool.

Thank you, itcher associates, for helping me turn all my blog followers and fans about this nifty innovation.

You can find itcher at the Apple app store or Google Play. Find out more at itcher.com.

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Claire Gem is an award-winning author of contemporary romance, women’s fiction, & supernatural suspense. Find out more about her books at her Website or Amazon Author Page.