I’ve written about TED Talks a few times here on the blog, but surprisingly I’ve never discussed my favourite talks on books, learning and reading fiction. I’ve come to realise there are a fair few available (although there’s certainly room for more), but here are a select few of my favourites.
In one of the most emotional TED Talks I’ve seen, Wofford College president Ben Dunlap tells the story of Sandor Teszler, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who taught him about passionate living and lifelong learning. From opera to Harry Potter, this is a wonderful story of reaching out to all the art and learning available to us, and believing that humans are ‘fundamentally good’.
I realized, in this moment of revelation, that what these two men were revealing was the secret of their extraordinary success, each in his own right. And it lay precisely in that insatiable curiosity, that irrepressible desire to know, no matter what the subject, no matter what the cost, even at a time when the keepers of the Doomsday Clock are willing to bet even money that the human race won’t be aroundto imagine anything in the year 2100, a scant 93 years from now.
…It is this inextinguishable, undaunted appetite for learning and experience, no matter how risible, no matter how esoteric, no matter how seditious it might seem.
Wofford College president Ben Dunlap on lifelong learning, Harry Potter and great friendships. Image source.
I love this TED Talk largely because I share so many ideas with the speaker. Elif Shafak believes that listening to stories widens the imagination, allows us to surpass cultural walls, and helps us to embrace different and unfamiliar experiences and feelings.
In the end, stories move like whirling dervishes, drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity, regardless of identity politics, and that is the good news.
|Elif Shafak, a believer in the universal qualities and multicultural benefits of fiction. Image source.|
I talked about Lisa Bu’s wonderful TED Talk on how books can open our minds in a separate post, although I do think it deserves to be mentioned again here.
I was afraid that for the rest of my life some second-class happiness would be the best I could hope for.
But that’s so unfair. So I was determined to find another calling. Nobody around to teach me? Fine. I turned to books.
|Lisa Bu’s testament to bibliotherapy, discussing how books can open the mind and transform our lives.|
I remember my mum reading a story to me and my two big brothers, and I remember putting up my hands to feel the page of the book, to feel the picture they were discussing.
And my mum said, “Darling, remember that you can’t see and you can’t feel the picture and you can’t feel the print on the page.”
And I thought to myself, “But that’s what I want to do. I love stories. I want to read.” Little did I know that I would be part of a technological revolution that would make that dream come true.
|Ron McCallum, a wonderful man at the centre of the blind reading revolution.|
A fascinating representation of literary history on earth, Google Labs’ Ngram Viewer lets you search for words and ideas in a database of 5 million books from across centuries. Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel show us how it works in this TED Talk, alongside a few of the surprising things we can learn from 500 billion words.
What we’re left with is a collection of five million books, 500 billion words, a string of characters a thousand times longer than the human genome — a text which, when written out, would stretch from here to the Moon and back 10 times over — a veritable shard of our cultural genome.
Imprisoned three times by the Nigerian government, Chris Abani turned his experience into poems that Harold Pinter called “the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture imaginable.” His novels include GraceLand (2004) and The Virgin of Flames (2007).
If you want to know about Africa, read our literature — and not just ‘Things Fall Apart,’ because that would be like saying, ‘I’ve read ‘Gone with the Wind’ and so I know everything about America.’