Why that book changed your life

[An] individual response to a book is something most readers have experienced at some point, whether by crying over certain circumstances or applying a character’s lesson to their own life, wrote the National Post Aug. 24.

That kind of transferral, says Raymond Mar, professor of psychology at York University [Faculty of Health] and a former student of Keith Oatley, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, happens because the tools we use to understand fiction and reality aren’t that different.

"There are similar cognitive processes associated with understanding the real world and understanding the fictional world, so when we try and understand what’s going on in a piece of fiction – reading a book and trying to figure out what characters are thinking and feeling – it’s analogous to people trying to figure out how real people are thinking and feeling," he says, adding that literature can therefore help bolster social interaction and understanding.

"We’ve talked a lot about the importance of reading with respect to language – increasing vocabulary, verbal ability, that sort of thing," he says. "I think it’s possible that reading could also have important consequences for other realms of our life, like the social realm, our ability to understand other people, our ability to think in abstract terms, imagination, these sorts of things."

Although these are all positive traits, it stands to reason that just as literature can have a positive affect on personality; it could have a negative one as well. That’s the kind of argument people use when trying to ban books, but Mar says he isn’t worried that this research fuels the censorship fire.

"It’s not the case that books can have such powerful, unilateral changes in attitude," he says. "So, it’s not the case that if you have a certain belief and then you read a book against your will, your belief will change. That’s not the way that literature works; it’s not a direct injection of ideas or propaganda. Literature tends to open up your mind to potentials."

Having an open mind is essential for personality change, Mar says. But even the most open of minds probably won’t be completely altered by just one experience with fiction. "The effects can be moderate even if they are real," he says. Nonetheless, he adds, "What you’re reading definitely matters."

Out of the long shadow of injury

Frances Flint, an athletic therapist and psychology of injury specialist at York University in Toronto, points out a major injury is no minor problem to young athletes, especially when the sport takes over their schedules, wrote Erin Valois in the National Post Aug. 24, in a column about her experience with a sports injury. Flint says it doesn’t matter how good you are – losing an important part of your everyday life can bring some unwelcome feelings.

"It’s hard to get back after a significant injury," she says. "It dictates your life and once that is gone, everything changes. It can be a challenge to get back into that running pattern."

After I found out I had a stress fracture in my femur when I was only 17, I felt like I had no reason to be proud of myself. I gave up so much for training, and ended up on crutches. I was kicking myself. Flint was not surprised by my initial reaction.

"Stress fractures are worse than a major injury. If you’re running and you trip and fall and break your leg, you recover," she says. "With a stress fracture you say, ‘I caused this. I don’t want to work hard again,’ out of fear."

It can happen to any runner. But there are solutions to restoring confidence on the track. Flint suggests visiting an athletic therapist, especially if you’re feeling nervous about running after an injury. There are pool workouts for people with stress fractures and related injuries who need to take the pressure off their lower body. Therapists can also help with planning and finding an achievable goal for return.

York University mourns death of alumnus Jack Layton

York University is mourning the loss of alumnus Jack Layton, the federal NDP leader who died of cancer on Monday, Aug. 22, wrote the North York Mirror Aug. 23.

"The York community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of our own," President Mamdouh Shoukri said in a statement.

Layton graduated from York with a master’s degree in 1972 and a PhD in 1983.

Shoukri praised Layton’s many contributions to public life, as well as his passion about politics and his unwavering commitment to social responsibility. "We were extremely proud that he was an alumnus of York University and he will be missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him," he said. "His determination, tenacity and enthusiasm will forever serve as a model worthy of emulation by our students. During this very difficult time, our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Olivia, his family and to his colleagues and friends."

Erin Konsmo’s UN trip eye-opening

Local Métis youth Erin Konsmo said her trip to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues earlier this summer was an eye-opening experience, wrote Alberta’s Innisfail Province Aug. 23, in a story about the York graduate student.

The forum, an advisory body to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, is mandated to discuss economic, social, environmental, health and human rights issues specific to indigenous people. The forum’s 10th session ran from May 16 to 27 in New York City.

Konsmo, 25, attended the forum as a representative for the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN), an organization that works with indigenous communities to advocate for reproductive rights, including culturally competent sexual health education, violence against women, midwifery and teen pregnancy. Konsmo currently works as an intern for NYSHN and is attending York University, where she is working towards her master’s in environmental studies.

Until the adoption of the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, indigenous peoples were not recognized within human rights instruments, Konsmo said. The declaration says the state has the responsibility to uphold the rights of its indigenous peoples. Konsmo said while both Canada and the United States signed the declaration late last year after initially refusing, neither country has made any significant change.

"That gave reason for myself, as well as many other indigenous people from Canada, to attend the United Nations and speak on behalf of our organizations and our communities, to say there’s stuff that Canada needs to work on," she said.

Alberta hammers together a museum

It’s not every day one builds a new provincial museum with a $340-million budget and a mandate to be a great public institution, wrote the Calgary Herald Aug. 24 in a story about similarities in plans for a new Royal Alberta Museum and the renovation of the Royal Ontario Museum.

[The ROM] was an architectural transformation project that metaphorically and physically changed the museum’s presence in Toronto. The museum reinvented itself from what had been a stuffy and staid institution to one that became alive, engaging and contemporary.

The unveiling was dramatic, when it finally arrived in 2007, "accompanied by all the pomp and ceremony of a national holiday," says a York University research paper, writing about the role the expansion project played in Toronto’s cultural renaissance.

  • The ROM’s exterior underwent a major transformation, wrote columnist Paula Arab in the Calgary Herald Aug. 24. "For this project, a bold statement in architecture was sought that would launch the ROM onto the world stage of contemporary design," writes researcher Jessica Kelly in a York University paper called “Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance: Courting Public Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum”. 

North Buxton Homecoming planned

Thousands of people are expected to come home to North Buxton over the Labour Day Weekend, wrote Chatham This Week Aug. 24.

First held in 1924, at the farm of Reginald and Minnie Robbins under a pear tree that still exists, the Buxton Homecoming swells the population of North Buxton from about 100 permanent residents to several times that size.

Homecoming weekend begins Friday, Sept. 2 with the 14th annual U.S./Canadian History & Genealogy Conference, which takes place at the Buxton Museum. The event is co-hosted by the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples of York University and the Buxton Historical Society.

On Air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at York’s Glendon Collge, spoke about the impact of federal NDP leader Jack Layton’s death on the party as it heads into the Ontario election, on Radio Canada Aug. 23.