I was attracted to this book by the title: What could Proust and a Squid have in common? As it turned out, squids make only two cameo appearances in the book on pages 5-6 and 226 (probably to justify the title in references to the early use of squids in neuroscience studies and for conjecture about passing along genetic traits that make survival more difficult), but Proust in pretty mainstream throughout the book as a resource and reference for describing the richness that reading can bring to individual experience.
Professor Wolf has written a multidisciplinary book that is mind-boggling in its breadth. You'll learn everything from how writing and alphabets developed to why Socrates disfavored reading to how mental processes vary among dyslexics who are reading different languages to the best ways for diagnosing and overcoming reading difficulties.
Yet unlike most multidisciplinary books, this one is very brief and compact. But that compactness is misleading; Proust and the Squid is a challenging book to read and contemplate. Only good readers with a lot of background in literature and neuroscience can probably grasp this book. What's more, there are vast numbers of references that you can pursue if you want to know more.
The writing style makes the book denser than it needed to be. Professor Wolf makes matters worse for lay readers by insisting on the correct scientific names throughout, when the ordinary names would have made the material easier to grasp. As a result, at times you'll feel like you are taking a course in disciplinary vocabulary. At other times, Professor Wolf engages in a penchant for long, abstract sentences: "What is historically humbling about Sumerian writing and pedagogy is not their understanding of morphological principles, but their realization that the teaching of reading must begin with explicit attention to the principles characteristics of oral language." This sentence could be rewritten as "Most impressively, Sumerians developed a written language that made reading easier to learn by visually reproducing what was spoken." Obviously, her rendition is more creative . . . but I like mine better.
Here is what was new to me: Reading involves complex mental processes that are not natural to the brain's earliest functions. As a result, new neural connections need to be developed in the right order if someone is to be a good reader. Various brain scan tests have illuminated this finding and those neural pathways are well illustrated and described in this book. But there are different ways that those neural connections can be made, some of which will make reading difficult.
The book's strength is in providing you with a sense of how humans learned how to develop written language and read it rapidly . . . and gain greatly from reading. The book also is good in the area of making the case for those who can't read aren't deficient, rather than are different in ways that offer other potential advantages such as creativity. If someone in your family doesn't read well, you'll love that part of the message.
Where I thought the book was weakest was in worrying about the implications of highly condensed (and possibly inaccurate) online information substituting for traditional reading of books and articles. To me, it seemed like much ado about nothing. Human curiosity will always drive forward learning, something that Professor Wolf doesn't address. Provide that curiosity with more tools and resources, and more learning will take place. Here's an example. Today I was finishing my proofreading of my latest book. In the past, I had researchers diligently check each quotation for accuracy and source. Inevitably, there would be mistakes that weren't caught and made it into my books. By using the internet to crosscheck the sources this time, I was able to do the task much better and in less time . . . correcting many mistakes in the reference sources in my library. Having had this experience, I'll probably do more seeking of quotations directly from the internet in the future . . . and that will probably improve the quality of my quotations.
Bravo, Professor Wolf!