Harry Potter night

I’m taking my family to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 tonight. As the saying goes, I’m a huge fan. I’ve read the entire series aloud to my kids at least 5 or 6 times (and the earlier books even more times, since the older kids were too old to want the last two books read to them when they came out). When you read 3000+ pages that many times there had better be lots of subtleties to hold your interest, as well as very strong internal consistency, and I’m happy to report that J.K. Rowling was up to the task. Her world-creation compares favorably to all the other authors I can think of except Tolkien and Bujold. (If you don’t know who Bujold is, you’re in for a treat; if you do, please comment on her latest, which just came out.) And the movies are quite good individually, and unprecedentedly good as a series.

Tomorrow I will have another post on Math abuse, this time concerning economic and financial modeling rather than climate modeling, but I’d like to see some comments on the current post first. (As well as some comments on some great but underappreciated posts which never got any, especially the ones from this Tuesday and Wednesday.)

Here are two funny stories from today, though the humor is of a particularly technical kind that only nerds will fully appreciate:

Google biases its searches in favor of itself despite denials

‘Wiseguy’ Owners Admit Guilt in Springsteen Ticket Scalping Scam


About Polymath

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7 Responses to Harry Potter night

  1. Anonymous Crab says:

    Dude, I love JKR, and am more into this fandom than you can know, but internally consistent? LOL, how many kids go to Hogwarts? Maths are not her strong suite. Still, I love it. Hope to find time to see the movie soon.

  2. narciso says:

    when you read text out loud, especially to younger children, do you literally read to them verbatim from the text?
    i’ve found that kids absorb the actual information of stories much better when the reader scans ahead a couple of lines, digests the information, and then rephrases it into a way that’s more compatible with spoken language. in other words, impromptu translation from written language into spoken language (these are 2 genuinely different languages, from a purely linguistic/grammatical standpoint, although people are so accustomed to “translating” that they sometimes fail to consciously notice the distinction).

    three other benefits of doing this:
    1 * since you’re now talking in the way people usually, well, talk, it’s a lot easier to make the story come to life (with gesticulations, intonations, etc. — important especially for younger listeners). i.e., when you speak written language — which is intended to be … written, not spoken — out loud, it’s very difficult to keep that language from becoming tedious and monotone.
    2 * if you, like most smart people, are a fast talker, then this will slow you the hell down, creating a pace more acceptable for storytelling.
    3 * if you have a short attention span, this method will also “lock you in” and prevent you from zoning out, since you have to process the words actively in order to “translate” them into spoken language. it’s easy to become distracted or bored while reading text verbatim, but almost impossible if you have to render the text into another form as you go.

    i would also hypothesize that bilingual and/or multilingual people are MUCH better at doing this sort of thing, since such people have almost certainly been in circumstances in which they’ve had to read out loud, in language B, something that is written in language A. in that sort of situation, this sort of chunk-translation method is de rigueur, since a verbatim reading is of course impossible.

  3. I disagree with most of this. It is important to expose kids to different styles and complex texts and I am good enough to be able to read very complex stories to kids in a way that is easily understandable without changing the literal text — I do have to scan ahead, but not to change the words, rather to inflect them and organize the sentence flow in such a way that the structure of the text is clarified rather than obscured.

    I can reword the text into a more understandable style “on the fly” too if I need to, but I only need to if for some reason I am reading them something that is badly written. I’d love to be a fluent enough polyglot to be able to simultaneously translate while reading, that’s probably good for your brain in other ways too.

  4. rebelliousvanilla says:

    narciso, when I was at the age at which Poly’s children are, I already had to deal with reading my own books. Stop over-pampering your children. 🙂

  5. narciso says:

    poly —
    i got you.
    what do you do about things like descriptors that are blocked off with commas? i.e., how would you read the following sentence out loud:
    An inveterate hustler, Lidio approached his clients — “marks”, in his typical call-a-spade-a-spade vernacular — with surprising empathy, if only to glean personal information that he could later exploit.

    i just made that sentence up at random (with a friend in mind), but, you get the picture; i’m having a hard time imagining this sentence in spoken form without considerable transmogrification.

    apropos of nothing, have you ever tried using the wrong thumb on the space bar while typing?
    murder, i tells ya.

    the kids in question are family, but not my own; i don’t have my own yet, save for any unknown ones that may have been strewn along various interstate highways and/or mysteriously born nine months after someone’s las vegas vacation… what? heh.
    i gather that you are probably a lot smarter than most of them, and most likely also a lot better at being entertained by the written word.

  6. Narciso,

    Ha. That sentence would be no problem. My kids can hear the punctuation marks when I read.

    There is not an essential difference (or not a large one anyway) between spoken and written dialect. There are all kinds of dialects for various contexts, all of which can be produced either as speech or text, and can be consumed by either hearing or reading. Most of us are used to hearing some kinds and reading other kinds, and certain aspects of speech do not translate to the page in most systems of writing while certain aspects of writing are difficult to get across in speech. But most of it can be gotten across — I can put punctuation, quote marks, parentheses, italics, etc., into my rendering of a story by altering my voice, inflection, pacing, volume, and so on, and professional audiobook readers can (but don’t always) do that a lot better than me.

    There is a “flow” that one gets into when both speaking and writing, where the words are produced in a stream without conscious crafting and editing. For some people the spoken flow and the written flow are quite different though both exist; for me they are similar, though not as much as for certain people I am aware of who speak extemporaneously in complete paragraphs while I only manage complete sentences (often very long and complex sentences though).

    Of course many people do not learn to write as fluently as they can speak, and some write more fluently than they speak, but normally in well-educated people they are comparable. I’m exceptional in that reading is like breathing to me, I’ve been reading adult level material fluently since age 3. My writing got much better as I got older, but I wouldn’t regard myself as a talented writer, I am a talented thinker who can write well enough to not get in the way of communicating my thoughts.

    Personal writing style is a mysterious thing. I can recognize my own style, but it is not as distinctive as yours or RV’s. I’m curious, how would you describe my style?

    RV, dumbing down a text when reading it to a child is not pampering, it is either necessary (if the material is truly too difficult) or counterproductive (since the child’s language skills would improve when challenged). On the other hand, reading out loud something a child could read for herself is not pampering either, there are benefits related to family togetherness and so on. Before TV and radio, it was traditional for many families to read aloud in the evening as a form of entertainment, and in my family the bedtime story, either made-up or read from a book, is still a faithfully kept tradition (for the Harry Potter series, I would typically get through 1 or 2 chapters each night, where a chapter might be 20 pages long and take 25-30 minutes to read aloud).

    But if you really want enjoyable entertainment you should hear how I read Dr. Seuss. 🙂

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