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Read The Guardian

Reading and literacy today.

Final broadsheet edition of the Guardian 2005 photo by Phil Gyford

This week I bought a copy of the Guardian Weekly, the digest of features and opinion pieces that's sold as a magazine, which is probably almost the size of the newish tabloid size of the paper. It's $4.95 in Australia. Usually I photocopy some of the articles from the newspaper collection at the Customs House public library in Sydney, or print out pages from the internet edition of the magazine. I have no great attachment to paper, but I want to be able to carry around stories and read them slowly, over the course of a week, not gulp them down in one sitting on the screen. I just don't savor reading on the internet, but I want to. For the past few weeks I've had a couple of feature stories percolating. One is an update on the failure of digital reading devices to deliver a simple, ephemeral experience of reading. I had an e-mail from a friend who is an inventor of algorithms and technological devices, who said he still prints out and reads feature articles rather than reading them online. And I had a misty, sentimental yearning for great editing, to read long feature articles that have been shepherded and tightened by an expert editor. (I'm working on a celebration of the quality of writing in the Guardian blogs and features -- watch this space.)

"A number of people wrote in late last year to ask what I thought of the NEA report on declining literacy, To Read Or Not To Read, in the light of my arguments in Everything Bad Is Good For You. I actually jotted down some pretty extensive notes about it, either for a blog post or an op-ed, but it was right before Christmas, and so they ended up sitting on my hard drive. But the other day, the Guardian asked me if I had anything to say about the issue, so I went back and wrote up this little essay that's running today in the Guardian," Steven Johnson wrote on his blog. The report showed that young readers have increasing literacy rates that drop off as they move into their teenage years. The report shows that reading of books drops off, but Steven Johnson points out that the type and style of reading being done on the internet, and the way that people are informed and engaged by what they read online isn't measured.

The only reason the intellectual benefits are not measurable is that they haven't been measured yet. There have been almost no studies that have looked at the potential positive impact of electronic media. Certainly there is every reason to believe that technological literacy correlates strongly with professional success in the information age.

I challenge the NEA to track the economic status of obsessive novel readers and obsessive computer programmers over the next 10 years. Which group will have more professional success in this climate? Which group is more likely to found the next Google or Facebook? Which group is more likely to go from college into a job paying $80,000 (£40,600)?

But the unmeasured skills of the "digital natives" are not just about technological proficiency. One of the few groups that has looked at these issues is the Pew Research Centre, which found in a 2004 study of politics and media use: "Relying on the internet as a source of campaign information is strongly correlated with knowledge about the candidates and the campaign. This is more the case than for other types of media, even accounting for the fact that internet users generally are better educated and more interested politically. And among young people under 30, use of the internet to learn about the campaign has a greater impact on knowledge than does level of education."

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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