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Book Review: The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Words: ... by Westy Weeds
by Westy Weeds
Wednesday Aug 14th, 2013 4:30 PM
Even if people have not been enthusiastically lining up to laud my book with a book review (listed on Amazon.com for about four months) it still is a 5-STAR buy hands-down for several reasons:

It is actually a very interesting work (and a very interesting subject) as several chapters approach their topics in creative ways. 2. There are chapters on relevant subjects that seldom find much expression in other books on reading, such as The Art and Science of Confusion, Incorporating an Attitude of Meditation in Your Style, Reading Out Loud, Reading as a Spiritual Activity, Questioning the Motives of the Writer (with emphasis on reading political debate), The Joy of Intelligence, etc. 3. It focuses on the most essential aspects of learning—skills and attitudes—within a framework of understanding that reading is really about learning to think well. 4. It has interesting suggestions for electronic museums. 5. It doesn’t blame teachers. And lastly the price is truly a bargain in a world of very expensive education. Furthermore it’s a unique work that doesn’t have to heavily depend on, or cater to, any experts or some status quo. You can hardly be disappointed if you really care about your own, or your child’s, education.
Since people have not been enthusiastically lining up to laud my book as review, or even ordering a copy to look at it, I, Westy Weeds, am undertaking the unusual step of doing my “own” book review on my own book: The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Words: A Book on the Psychology of Reading Comprehension for the following three reasons:

1) Recently I received a cynical email response (to an email notice I had sent as an advertisement of my book’s existence) from a woman who has a Ph.D. in Reading Education (and who has written several books related to teaching English literature, reading, etc.), claiming I was not qualified to have written such a book. Within her response she wrote: “…what an insult to professionals of literacy…” (that is without even looking at my work first to at least tentatively qualify her assumptions). Then after I responded back to her rejecting email she then followed up with: "…It isn't your lack of title or degree; it's your lack of relevant direct experience with students learning to read or with the study of reading, psychology, cognitive science, literacy theory, etc, etc, etc…."

2) Also after emailing a fairly significant number of professionals in the field of education and literacy (say 500), that includes some supporting fields—more specifically—leaders in various Associations, Nonprofits and private companies all related to Education, as well as people who work for various states’ Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Education, and including some collegiate Departments of Education, the response rate for either inquiry about, or purchase of, my book has been pretty much non-existent (according to my POD distributor).

3) Professors at the college level (not teachers working in class rooms at the elementary, high school and vocational level) as well as various lobbyists and bureaucrats who play supporting roles for education advocacy, have little breathing room to assume too much of an attitude of complaisance about the status quo being good enough. If they feel free to ‘ignore’ (the root of the word ‘ignorance’) this title—as not bothering to notice—so as to deign to think it from mere amateur, they might take cue from a former editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine who once said that when you stop listening to people you have achieved a level of arrogance that will no longer sustain health.

And this is the problem—humanity doesn’t have the time to exist in any kind of floundering state of educational mediocrity such as currently exists in many schools. There are way too many social, political, economic, environmental and psychological problems for mankind to deal with anything but the best styles of learning a society might realize. Consider, for example, the levels of corruption and deceit that have come to be realized in our own society—and yet—levels facilitated by a largely distracted population, composed of too many who are naive and too ignorant. And yes there will always be people who benefit from the general naiveté and ignorance of others; still it is harder to “get over” on a society in which many actively think and do so well.)

{Note: This book review was not posted on Amazon.Com because it too long for their guidelines (20 to 500 words). Normally 20 to 500 words could be sufficient space—but when writing your own review you may need more space to explain why (such as your motives).}

So to any “elitist academics” out there, remember there has been a long history of those who didn’t take the usually expected paths to being thought worthy of consideration. Take Diogenes of that old school of ancient Greek philosophers who called themselves the Cynics. They of which I feel akin, were less impressed by job titles, pretenses and sophistry or assumption, and they didn’t charge hefty fees (or discriminate as much against the lower classes), as other wondering philosophers of their day did, busily charging aristocrats parents decent prices to teach them how to become the next generation of leaders in those city-states.

Cynically we note this title’s Amazon’s ranking of best sellers ranks close to six million, a number so low it isn’t even in the Milky Way Galaxy let alone our own cozy solar system. But I’m here to announce there is light in the ever-expanding universe! Imagine for a minute 6 million titles competing for your attention to read and realize—might not it be a bad idea if one started with books on how to read and enjoy the process—appetite and capacity?

So if true the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one continent can stir up storms on another across the ocean—I still need blow a mighty horn to stir past the light-years. We take this numerical “stat” in stride because ranking is not what this book is about. The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Words is shedding significant light on a serious problem that will allow future readers the wherewithal to read around the entire universe of literature (as it is truly a vast universe). This book deserves attention especially for students or any people who have ever wondered why they did not find reading to be that interesting or rewarding.

If professionals are too good to read my book (or as likely too busy in other reading commitments) then I appeal directly to the mainstream masses as for who ultimately this book was written—especially parents, students, and those teachers who teach at lower grade levels like high school. The Alchemy of Reading provides real solution to some real reading issues (and does so without dumbing-down the learning process). I say America needs this smarten-up shot-in-the-arm.

Besides there has to be some “reason” education has become such a political football—besides the fact that plenty political people want to cut into tax-related teacher salaries, and their retirement plans, and break up their teacher unions; and also the fact some corporations have discovered a new growth industry in which to privatize (we have seen that in the National Security budget
?)? Still there is more than enough evidence that something is, and has been, wrong. Maybe there actually is a place for a few “new” perspectives on these matters?

MY OWN BOOK REVIEW by Westy Weeds:

The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Words: A Book on the Psychology of Reading Comprehension (get the new copy of 480 pages—not from the first printed group at 489 pages—as a couple chapters needed some serious re-write) is a 5-STAR buy hands-down for several reasons:

It is actually a very interesting work (and a very interesting subject) as several chapters approach their topics in creative ways. 2. There are chapters on relevant subjects that seldom find much expression in other books on reading, such as The Art and Science of Confusion, Incorporating an Attitude of Meditation in Your Style, Reading Out Loud, Reading as a Spiritual Activity, Questioning the Motives of the Writer (with emphasis on reading political debate), The Joy of Intelligence, etc. 3. It focuses on the most essential aspects of learning—skills and attitudes—within a framework of understanding that reading is really about learning to think well. 4. It has interesting suggestions for electronic museums. 5. It doesn’t blame teachers. And lastly the price is truly a bargain in a world of very expensive education. Furthermore it’s a unique work that doesn’t have to heavily depend on, or cater to, any experts or some status quo. You can hardly be disappointed if you really care about your own, or your child’s, education.

Still it is a healthy sign for experts to be concerned about presuming novices pedaling advice, such as on reading skill and achievement, since reading as complex set of skills, and understanding language, are not topics one simply learns overnight.

Yet over the years plenty shyster books came into the book market (often published as trade books by professional publishers) with grandiose claims as how to read fast, or themes that one merely learn specific lists of high power words, etc., yet titles really written for a fast buck to a relatively naïve market. And yet “those” titles were not much challenged by reading professionals; whereas The Alchemy of Reading DOES challenge and discuss those assumptions.

Reading is such an important range of skills it should be argued over and studied from every critical point of view. There's nothing wrong with an expert feeling defensive since she has dedicated her life, and has her opinions are invested in several of her own works that she feels reflects real knowledge base (but at least read part of my book before jumping to conclusions Ms. Ph.D.!). The more points of view the better (sentence fragment and so what). It's not as if bookstore owners are turning over so much of an inventory they have to keep hiring new people? Every publisher who cares about getting more people to read more often, more competently and habitually should care about this book.

Parents should be more concerned about political outsiders and legislators who want to run education institutions on a strictly business model, and also investors/ business tycoons who see school systems as the next cash cow industry for profits pouring to their bottom lines. Diane Ravitch confronts these politics in her book: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. And she just came out with a new title: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement… (Sept. 2013).

Ms. Ravitch, eminent and readable historian of American education, expresses her own growing cynicism about various reform movements that have come and gone over the decades, and rightly so. But The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Words is about real “strategy” and “attitude” approaches to comprehension excellence. It is not based on quick-fix tricks or simplistic generalizations.

Neither does The Alchemy of Reading set out to be a major attack on traditional teachers or institutions—although it questions some areas of emphasis. For example, it seems breathtakingly perplexing why many professionals (including college professors) took so long to question the “inferior” strategy of speed-reading and its constant emphasis to increase students’ reading rates? My first chapter is entitled: Take Your Time When You Read. (This is a very important topic).

The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Word costs far less than those old Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Dynamics classes that used to cost pretty pennies. And yes Evelyn Woods too was an American teacher gone business-person. She claimed she could read 6000 words per minute (according to Wikipedia)!

Whereas Keith Rayner and Alex Pollatsek in their The Psychology of Reading, after reviewing sophisticated eye movement studies by cognitive psychologists, including their own related, claim it is physiologically impossible to read anywhere close to such a speed. And still despite the “few” practical nuggets given to regular readers, their book does nicely debunk that gold-grabbing garbage about speed-reading that more or less became holy writ (even on many college campuses).

Rayner’s work The Psychology of Reading recent edition costs five times the price of mine and yet it is a real “chore” to read, as it gets into all kinds of hypothetical research on how the mind “might” process information (good stuff if you are planning to create some computer-like machine to process ideas—but tedious if you don’t especially want to contemplate conflicting and tenuous models (in hair-splitting terminology), such as how it knows to parse linear words into grammatical function and meaning. They apparently have not much asked themselves if Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics (1975) that postulated not everything can be explained by Newton’s mechanistic physics. Capra’s classic was summarized with his: “Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science but mankind needs both”.

The Alchemy of Reading never claimed to be a book about teaching in a classroom environment as form of pedagogy. Nor does it argue experts should be shunned. But yet neither is it represented by any kind of huge publishing firm, or professional marketers who have first name access to professional book reviewers, or have colleagues and resources to draw support.

And it should not matter that much if this work is self-published (technically vanity press) because new technologies make such strategies more practical, and allows writers to avoid games of professional publishing companies that will not even look at you unless you are already a successful writer, or the remonstrance “you got to get an agent” who can do your begging for crumbs for you (and who ultimately will co-spire to write the contract highly in the publisher’s favor).

There have always been controversies in education and in reading science. Variety of opinion is not a negative reality.

I too was a product of the American education system (graduating from high school in the mid-seventies). Why did I not learn the "best" approaches to reading comprehension that actually worked for me from my English and Reading teachers back then? Why was it necessary for me to stumble upon ideas after I graduated from high school?

Reasonable people would agree that one of the “major” goals of education (if not thee major goal) is to get students to be able to learn on their own? And if people can learn on their own this then means there is no priest-craft professional cult that exclusively owns and guards all the relevant secrets to quality learning. Rather reading is a ubiquitous set of skills and attitudes practiced by many types of professional and by millions and millions of people worldwide—to different levels of effectiveness, satisfaction and competence.

One doesn't need to work in a paid profession to be scholarly. My education laboratory is my own realization of what worked for me, whereas the word `study' from its Latin ‘etymon’ meant excitement or zealousness. How many today realize that state in their learning or research?

I have never had anything like a full time or part time teaching position in which to review professional literature, let alone as recompensed as paid and sustained work, still I managed to cite a few relevant citations worthy of cogent effect. (And it’s not I, as an outsider, didn’t ask any University Presses to look at my work.) For what it is worth I spent several years learning and researching, and more years writing several drafts, to create this product. This is not some fly-by-night scheme cooked up seconds ago in the New York Stock Exchange.

We should be asking why there are so many "alliterates" (people who have some literacy skills but choose not to read much)? What does this say about the status quo? Or why are there so many stuck consuming the demagoguery of talk radio (or even the a-little-too-often-histrionics of more nuanced websites of political bias), because they have little habit to contemplate ideas beyond sound bites and as thus are prey to prejudicial manipulation? These times we currently live are dangerous times for all humanity—and any books that can shed any amount of significant light on essential thinking skills should not be dismissed as Dead on Arrival without some attempt at simulation to fair evaluation.

In 1940 American philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book, which is now being re-marketed as The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. Mortimer's book wasn't bad and had some good ideas; but frankly my book is. I personally believe, more insightful, with better focus on the most essential of reading skills, and more interesting. Yet he as a philosopher assumed himself some kind of expert on learning—and to a good extent he was at his time.

All have right to their opinions, especially traditional experts, but people in general should practice caution in setting themselves as thee arbiters of who is, and who is not, worthy of giving advise.

Again this book is relevant to social issues (especially for adults bewildered in a sea of political propaganda—one topic given short shrift in books on reading aptitude—yet highly relevant to any society). The realities of human bias, personality-as-filter-out, motive as search engine, and the professional capacity for well-funded propaganda campaigns are especially important to today’s political debates. How shall we say, in one word, but AWARENESS?

I would not be wasting your time unless I thought this book truly important.

Besides it’s only $19.95.

You, as a taxpayer, a student or a parent, will pay several sets of thousand dollars on education privilege, as in student loans, but all even as well for the price of societal ignorance and corruption.

The most important aspect of education is specifically “your” thinking and reading skills and attitudes (your mind’s eye). Reading is not a trivial topic—it is an extremely important one.

Make a commitment today.

See Amazon.Com for order information:

The Alchemy of Reading Into the Chemistry of Words: A Book on the Psychology of Reading Comprehension (get the new copy of 480 pages.

And if you are still not convinced after reading it then name “one” better title (shout it to the world as loudly as you should) or write a better version.

Truly,

Westy Weeds