How to Read Faster (Maybe): The Story and Science of Speed Reading

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

What if you could read a whole book in one day? In a few hours? In twenty minutes? 

Are you interested in learning how to read faster? If so, let me introduce you to speed reading. Whether speed reading is even real is contested, and while there may be techniques you can try, the story and science of speed reading is well…complicated.


Speed Reading Is Real

There are some proponents of speed reading who argue that anyone can learn to speed read, that it’s a skill one can practice.

There are common techniques for learning to speed read. When most people read (even silently), they hear the words being said; this is called vocalization, and speed reading trainers will ask you to practice removing this voice. Doing so can increase reading speed. Other techniques include changing the ways your eyes move, including moving them bidirectionally (not just left to right but back and forth across alternating lines) or zigzaging diagonally across a page looking at chunks of texts rather than individual lines.

And there are numerous people who have practiced these techniques and celebrate advances in the speeds at which they read. Check out this person’s journey or this person’s. However, there are critics who believe that people learning to speed read aren’t actually technically reading.

Speed Reading Isn’t Real

Science tends to find a huge sacrifice that speed reading brings: decreased comprehension. The speed reading community joke about people who read War and Peace in only twenty minutes is that they know it’s “about Russia.”

Some speed reading experts and practitioners argue that reading speed and comprehension are inversely proportional, meaning if reading speed goes up, comprehension must always come down. There is a small window, however, of increasing speed to a certain threshold before one begins to sacrifice comprehension; that window differs for each individual.

Another criticism against speed reading are those who argue that it isn’t “real” reading, but rather just skimming. Skimming is “strategic, selective reading method in which you focus on the main ideas of a text.” Skimming isn’t technically reading—since, by design, it requires deliberately skipping large portions of text.


Speed Reading Is Real (Maybe)

After researching critics of speed reading, I was left with many questions because I was someone who believed they could speed read without losing comprehension. There is a site you can use that will test your speed and comprehension, and I was surprised by my results:

So I could read above average reading speeds with high comprehension. But does this mean that anyone can speed read too? Not necessarily. One issue is that people reading in languages that aren’t there first read slower, so speed reading is not accessible to everyone. A second issue is that speed reading might only be accessible to certain neurotypes or to some neurodivergent people. Research finds that autistic readers (like myself) are able to actually speed read.

So, maybe speed reading is real and possible but not in the ways we have thought about it previously.


What You Can Try

Can you actually learn to read 20,000 words per minute? Or read War and Peace in twenty minutes? Probably not. But whether you’re neurodivergent or not and willing to give it a go, here are what speed reading experts (and skeptics!) recommend based on real science that may actually work.

  • You can try software and apps designed to test or practice reading speeds that show one word at time in order to simplify eye movement. The following video is a quick example of such programs. The downside of these kinds of programs is that users tend to find success only in short bursts.
  • You can try skimming a text before reading it. While skimming and speed reading are different things, orienting yourself with text before reading may help you consume it both faster and with greater comprehension.
  • You can try reading a lot, especially new genres and styles. The more you read, the more you update your language banks, which can help you move through texts more quickly. Reading texts that are outside what you normally read can help familiarize you and assist in navigating the unfamiliar more readily.

So, it’s worth giving it a shot! Test your current reading speed and comprehension levels, practice the techniques, and see how and where reading faster might be of use to you in your life. The worst that could happen is you read a few more good books.

Book Review

Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon

Publisher: Ruby Dixon, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Georgie had a normal life here on earth. That is, until she was kidnapped by aliens who intended to sell her, and the other women they stole, as slaves. After a ship malfunction, Georgie and the rest of the women are dumped on an ice planet until the aliens can return.

Frozen and starving, Georgie sets out to find help and meets Vektal, a six-foot-tall blue alien with massive horns on his head and an instant attraction to her.

Together, they work to save the women from their captors and, maybe, fall in love in this spicy tale of fate and discovery.

Thoughts

The fun of Ice Planet Barbarians is the inherent lunacy of the story’s premise. The plot is insane, but Ruby Dixon’s willingness to embrace the madness allows the reader to do so as well, resulting in an adventure of a book where logic is abandoned and the reader can just enjoy the ride.

The book wastes no time getting to the story, opting instead to thrust the reader, along with the characters, right into the bizarre environment. This creates a fast paced and engaging narrative that draws you in almost as soon as you start reading. Not only that, it also forms a connection between the reader and Georgie as they are equally clueless to the world.

Speaking of Georgie, her and Vektal’s relationship is masterfully crafted. Ruby Dixon has a gift for creating romantic pairings that feel natural. Both Georgie and Vektal are remarkably similar and when paired together they strengthen each other, creating a positive and sincere romance. The book doesn’t shy away from steamy moments—in fact, it’s full of them—but they are well written and offset by scenes of casual affection and connection, creating a well-rounded romance that’s a delight to read.

While the book focuses on Georgie and Vektal, the other kidnapped women and the aliens are also well developed. Since this book is the first in series, each of the kidnapped women and aliens are fleshed out to some degree, to the point that observant readers may be able to determine the future pairings from their personalities alone. This not only sets up the future books, but also serves to create a really dynamic cast of characters who add another layer to the story.

Overall, I loved this book. It was a wild, outlandish romance with sincere and relatable characters. Ruby Dixon has a real knack for romance, and Ice Planet Barbarians is a perfect example of that. I have read six books in this series so far and, in my opinion, they only get better. If you’re looking for a racy romance, Ice Planet Barbarians is the book for you.

An Homage to the Summer Reading Program and a Heavy Bookcase

This year, for the first time in over ten years, I thought about not participating in the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program.

Normally, I would have no problem soaring over the program’s simple, 1,000-minute reading threshold. In 2020, I had nothing else to do with my time, so I read. In 2019, I was desperate for college preparatory advice, and I read. Before that, I had summer homework that occasionally involved reading 700 pages of Democracy in America—I was a shoo-in for the program. As a child, I would use the time my mom read to me before putting me to sleep as part of my minutes. In fact, I remember using a sticker book to log my time before the program was fully digital. For years, the summer reading program was part of my DNA. By the end of each summer, I would have read well over the requirements, and I would have my prize for completion: a free book shipped to my local library.

This year, however, I was tired. After two years full of literature and writing classes for both my degree in English and my newly added journalism major, I felt drained by the written word. Despite my love of reading and writing, the last few years were rough. I was coming hot off of a semester where I had read numerous student papers for my on-campus job, and I was knee-deep in investigations for my newspaper. With next semester’s schedule packed with 18 credits of English and journalism classes (in addition to some of my final prerequisites), I decided I had done my due diligence for the time being. I would read later, spending my precious summer months doing anything but looking at a book.

Instead of working on the completion of the summer reading program, I was on a reading hiatus. It seemed to be working well enough: I would write for my job, then watch a show or listen to music, distracting myself in a way that did not involve words. My brain felt nice and quiet, albeit a little empty.

The new summer plan went smoothly until my mother decided to move our massive bookshelf. The monstrosity is so large and full of so many books—we have attempted (and failed) to thin it out many times—that it is physically impossible to move without emptying it first. So my mother, reasonably enough, asked me to take out my share of books so we could move it.

Suddenly, I found myself staring at my old favorites: On Writing by Stephen King, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a Star Wars book called A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller that has been a longtime guilty pleasure.

Without making any promises to myself, I picked up A New Dawn and devoured it in two sittings. When I reached the last page, I was surprisingly disappointed that it was over.

The next thing I knew, I was back at my pile of books, digging for something that would take me far away from the struggles and burnout of the past year. I settled on a brief rereading of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a childhood favorite. This time, I pulled out my trusty iPhone timer so that I could keep track of my minutes. This reading quickly turned into me reading all four books of the series in one weekend.

Instead of being exhausted by the words, I was ravenous—and I could not have been more excited.

At this point, in mid-July, I’ve certainly exceeded the 1,000 minutes needed to complete the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program. More important to me, though, is that the feeling I’m chasing is not going away. I went to the library, bought a few books online, and am delving into a few fascinating nonfiction works that I never would have considered reading in the past. My mind is starting to think again, and I’ve even had the energy to work on writing for fun in addition to my job as a reporter.

Looking back on where I was a month and a half ago, I laugh at the thought that I could stay away from reading all summer. It’s okay to take breaks, but I know that sometimes you just need the right kind of push—and I also know that I have a bookcase and a steadfast summer reading program to thank.


Guest post courtesy of Anna Campbell

In Defense of Movie Novelizations

I know what you’re thinking. “Who would choose to read a book based on a movie?!” Well, me! And hopefully after reading this defense, you will too!

It is well known that many novels are adapted into movies, but did you know that movies are often adapted into novels? They’re called novelizations.

What are novelizations?

A novelization is a novel derived from the story originally created for a film medium. Novelizations exist for many films ranging from Star Wars to a recent publication of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to—my personal favorites—Alien.

Novelizations are often maligned: some people see them as hackwork, money grabs, or quickly produced junk. But I’m here to suggest to you that novelizations can be good, even very good!

“It’s always amusing to me, you take a book, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, throw away three quarters of it and win an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, But if you take a screenplay and add three quarters of original material to it — which is a much, much more difficult piece of writing — well, that’s by definition ‘hackwork.’ And it’s much harder, having done both, to take a screenplay and make a book out of it than [to] take a terrific book and make a screenplay out of it.”

Alan Dean Foster, prolific novelization writer

Novelizations have existed for nearly as long as films. And before the existence of DVDs, VCRs, or even televisions in our homes, novelizations were ways that fans of movies could relive and enjoy the story again at home. They were a little souvenir to remind of you of the thrill of seeing Alien in theaters for the first time. But it’s 2021 now, so why do novelizations still exist?

Novelizations are good, actually!

They have more details, including deleted scenes or information that’s not in the movies. You can experience the same story you love in a deeper and more complete way. If you’ve wondered while watching Alien Resurrection why Larry Purvis’s chestburster grows so much slower than in others, the answer is explored in the novelization: he has a genetic thyroid dysfunction. This small detail raises more interesting questions in the Alien universe about the life cycle of the xenomorph and human disability.

They explore different angles than their movie counterparts. Because novelizations are derived, their writers do have some freedom in telling the story in a new way or even telling new stories entirely. Tarantino describes his recently published novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as “a complete rethinking of the entire story.” He explains, “It’s not just me taking the screenplay and then breaking it down in a novelistic form. I retold the story as a novel.” Alan Dean Foster says about writing the novelization of Alien, “As [a fan], I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget.”

They explore different truths. Novelizations tend to explore characters in more detail and give more individual attention to all characters in a story. We see new sides and nuances of the same characters. In particular, the novelization of Alien Resurrection gives the reader insider knowledge of smaller characters, especially DiStephano and Christie. You can see inside their minds and learn motivations never revealed in the movie. Even the main character, Ellen Ripley, is explored in deeper ways, including more tension on whether her loyalties are with the humans or aliens.

They can be more accessible for some people. In a novelization, you experience the story in different time. A two-hour film can be become a ten-hour novel—maybe experienced and read over weeks or months, giving you time to bask in the mythos. For some, films with flashing lights can be overwhelming, triggering, or impossible to watch, so a novelized version could be a preferred or necessary way to experience the story. Novelizations can be more accessible for people with disabilities, including those who have difficult focusing for the duration of a movie.

They let you linger in worlds you love. The different times you spend in a movie versus in a novel changes your experience of the story, letting you delight in a beloved story or franchise. The truth is: people who read novelizations tend to be the ones who loved the movies. As a huge fan of the beloved Alien franchise, it’s a joy for me to spend more time with characters I already know and love.


So, who would read a book based on a movie? Maybe you! Whatever your favorite movie, check out its novelization and enjoy the story you already love in a deeper, lingering, and more nuanced way.

Storytelling Apps: Are They Worth It?

If you’ve used social media recently, you’ve likely come across at least one ad promoting a storytelling app. From Choices to Hooked, this new sub-genre has grown considerably, often stealing the spotlight with bizarre ads promoting stories about romance, murder, and more. However, despite their initial similarities, these apps vary wildly in genre, style, and—most importantly—in quality. While some apps provide a rich reading experience, others lack story and are more focused on encouraging the user to spend money. In order to determine which storytelling apps are actually worth the storage space, I downloaded five of the most commonly promoted apps and gave them a full month of use. I will be reviewing them based on the quality of the stories and of the app itself to decide which of these apps are hidden gems, and which are better left uninstalled.


Hooked: 3/10. Hooked is an app that specializes in telling stories through the texting format. It does this by having the reader click the screen, causing the text to appear in small chunks, similar to reading a text conversation. It also has short form shows as well, but for this list I will only be reviewing the written stories.

The minute I installed this app I knew that this app would not be great. In order to access ANY of Hooked’s stories the user must subscribe to pay five dollars a WEEK! To put this into perspective, Netflix and Hulu both cost less than ten dollars a MONTH. I subscribed to the free trial so I could at least view the content, but this was already foreboding.

The stories on Hooked are fine. They aren’t anything special, but they aren’t terrible. The unique formatting helps the stories that focus on scarier elements stand out, but it falls flat when there are more contemporary plots. Simply put, Hooked is not worth paying five dollars a week, and I cancelled my subscription before I was charged.


Galatea: 7/10. Galatea is an app that functions a lot like a Kindle, with an expansive library of stories for the user to read. Unlike many of the other apps on this list, Galatea is not a choose your own adventure style app—rather, it just provides the stories as is. The stories on the app can vary in quality, but overall they tend to be written professionally and offer several stories that I personally really enjoyed. There are occasional oddities in the stories that may confuse readers who are more used to professionally published work, but overall the stories are coherent and often fast paced.

The stories featured tend to focus on the romance genre, specifically paranormal romance, and a majority of the stories on the app surround werewolves or some other creature. I’m a fan of paranormal romance, so this wasn’t an issue for me, but readers who are unfamiliar with some the the common tropes of this genre may not enjoy it.

One area that will make orbreak one’s enjoyment of this app is the adult themes. The romance on this app can be very spicy and sex scenes are pretty common. This doesn’t effect the rating of the app overall, but it is important to know going in that explicit content is the norm, so those who are uncomfortable with them can avoid it.

Where the app lost some points for me, however, is their built in monetary system. When reading a story the user can only read one ‘chapter’ every six hours. If the user wants to keep on reading they can either pay five dollars a month for unlimited reading or buy coins to unlock the next chapter. Due to these intensives, the app can be difficult to use without paying, and since there is no in-app way to earn coins, the monetary system is designed exclusively to get more money.

However, I was able to use the app successfully without spending much money, and I do feel that many of the stories on the app are worth the wait.


Is it Love? Drago: 1/10. Is it Love? Drago is one in a series of apps, all titled Is it Love?, that have been regularly advertised. Since I didn’t want to play every app in the series, I downloaded the one that they seemed to advertise the most. This means that, unlike the other apps on this list, Is it love? Drago only tells one story.

The app tells the story of a young witch who has been hired as a nanny for a little girl while she’s in college. The house where she works also has two mysterious men who live there, and the young nanny must grapple with her attraction and curiosity as she discovers the secrets of this family. As a choose your own adventure style game, the user must guide the nanny and make choices that shape the ending.

To call this story a Twilight ripoff would be disrespectful to the Twilight books. The “mystery” element is completely pointless, especially because the logo for the app makes the answer painfully clear, and this leaves the reader frustrated as the nanny acts oblivious to the obvious red flags. The vampires also behave uncomfortably throughout the game, often just staring quietly at the character and never answering her questions and just overall being boring. The dialogue is also very stilted and it reads like a first draft, ruining any enjoyment that the reader could gain from playing. Truthfully, while I did attempt to play the game for a full month, I did not progress through much of the story because I had to constantly stop due to the writing; so while it is theoretically possible that the story improves, if I wasn’t writing this article I wouldn’t have completed the first chapter.

There is a coin system at play in the game—specifically, the user must pay coins to access each line, and after you spend them you either pay for more or wait 24 hours for more coins. This is a manageable system where the user can choose to be patient and get through the game without paying, however it doesn’t hide the overall flimsy storytelling of the app.


Choices: 7/10. Choices is a choose your own adventure game that has tons of different stories to choose from. The user selects a story from the many available and then reads it all the while making choices that effect the outcome of the game.

This was a difficult app to review due to the massive diversity presented by the stories available. While it does have some common themes, like a heavy focus on romance, the overall quality of each story varies wildly. In the end, I had to split the difference in my rating as it neither exceptional nor terrible.

In a similar vein, the monetary system for this app is also neither exceptional nor terrible. Diamonds are needed for certain choices and to style the playable character’s avatar, but it is possible to earn more as you play and they aren’t necessary to use the app successfully. Overall, Choices is a broad app that has its hits and misses but is generally a solid storytelling app.


The Arcana: 10/10. Lastly, we have The Arcana, a choose your own adventure game set in a medieval fantasy setting. The reader plays as the apprentice to the magician Asra who has lost all their memories except for the past three years. The apprentice is hired by the countess, Nadia, to catch a man named Julian who murdered the count, Lucio, three years ago. In this fantasy mystery, the reader can choose between six different paths, each with a character that they fall in love with. Each path also comes with a good and a bad ending, depending on the readers’ choices.

To say that I love this app is an understatement. Every character is meticulously written with unique and dynamic character arcs that make each romance plot fascinating. The amount of detail included in both the artwork and the storytelling also creates a reading experience that is unparalleled by any other app on this list. While the focus of the app is on the relationships, the plot of each route also receives a great deal of effort and care, making the stories told on this app truly magnificent.

The game does have a coin mechanic, but the coins are only used to buy extra scenes within each chapter and do not affect the story in any way. It is fully possible to complete every route without spending any coins. There is also a mini-game where the user can earn coins, so the user could do that as well. All in all, this is a fantastic storytelling app that has set the bar high for others like it.

Book Review

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Publisher: Random House
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
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Summary

Growing up in a remote area of beautiful Idaho may seem like a dream come true. But for Tara Westover, the remote location mirrored her own isolation, both in beliefs and in terms of those she could relate to.

Born into a family of devout Mormon extremists and survivalists, Tara was not allowed to take medicine, have a valid form of personal identification, or even attend school. Moments that might have been spent learning how to read were instead needed to prepare for the inevitable doomsday that her family believed was quickly approaching.

My Thoughts

Tara’s journey—from a child unable to attend school to a young adult earning her PhD at the renowned Cambridge University—is filled with heartbreak, tears, and genuine happiness. The eloquent yet accessible nature of Tara’s writing style allows her readers to go through the journey of her young life with her. Even though her life experiences are likely vastly different from those of the majority of her readers, Tara has a way of telling her story that is innately human. Although most of her readers may not relate to Tara’s memories of things like being in a horrible car accident and then forbidden to go to the hospital for her injuries, themes like familial tensions and the struggle to find the meaning of one’s academic education will certainly resonate with many others. 

Educated is worth the read not only because Tara’s story is compelling, but also because it will positively leave readers with something long after they’ve closed the book—whether that be gratefulness for the opportunities education has afforded the audience or reflection on what life and education means to them. I encourage everyone to delve in as soon as possible, and I promise you won’t be able to put it down.

All the Bright Places: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

Each time I go to Goodwill, I end up leaving with a stack of books that live on my shelf indefinitely. I always plan to read them, yet somehow always end up with more that I don’t get around to. A few weeks ago, I found All the Bright Places sitting on my shelf and was drawn to it. I had heard some things about it, but was not at all expecting the emotional whirlwind it took me on. I devoured it in a day, then immediately watched the movie afterwards to compare—and I have some thoughts on the adaptation.

All the Bright Places tells the story of Finch and Violet, an unlikely pair that first meet on the top of the school’s bell tower. They are the only two who know the truth about who saved who as the story circulates the school. When they’re paired to do a school project together, they discover just how much they need each other. But as Violet heals, Finch begins to sink.

I fell in love with this book the second I finished it and I knew it had been made into a movie, so immediately after closing the book I pulled it up on Netflix.
Generally, the movie did a good job bringing these characters to life. The casting is one place where they excelled. Elle Fanning is a perfect Violet—she’s exactly how I pictured her in my head. Justice Smith, as Finch, was excellently cast as well, which really aided in putting the story on the big screen.


Casting aside, there were a few changes made that I found a bit odd. For starters, in the novel Violet and Finch meet on the top of the bell tower and most of the school sees them up there, turning it into a whole ordeal. In the movie, however, Violet is on a bridge when Finch finds her. It seems like a minor change, yet in the novel a large part of the reason they’re thrown together is because of the news story that spirals from being caught up there. Ultimately, this didn’t make a huge difference to the overall feeling and message of the story, but I was surprised when at it.

A common flaw when translating a book to a movie is the timeline. I noticed while watching that it almost felt rushed, but I also think that is just a result of the medium. Generally speaking, the important moments were articulated well and the actors did a great job bringing this movie to life. I will almost always favor books to movies, and I definitely recommend reading the book first, but the movie does bring the story to life in a touching way. 

If you haven’t read this book already, I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new tearjerker. Niven touches on a lot of important, and often overlooked, issues, especially in literature, and for that I applaud her. I recommend both the novel and the film, but I suggest that you read the book first to get the full effect. You can purchase it here.

Book Review

Better Together by Christine Riccio

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

If you’re looking for an extraordinarily unique, dark twist on a classic story, look no further than Christine Riccio’s Better Together. Jamie and Siri are sisters separated at a young age and completely devoid of contact for over a decade due to their parents’ nasty divorce.

In a twist of luck (or fate) the two sisters are reunited at the same “rediscover yourself” retreat and hatch a devious plan: the two will switch places and confront their respective parents.

However, not everything goes as planned, and it’s going to take a lot more than switching places to understand each other, find themselves, and ultimately face the complexities of family.

Thoughts

It has been almost a year since my very first post with The Spellbinding Shelf where I discussed one of my favorite young adult novels, Again but Better by Christine Riccio. Now, coming full circle, I decided to review her newly released second novel, Better Together. While very witty, I have to admit that initially I was not completely sold on the plot—mostly because it wasn’t my usual type of young adult novel. The whimsical magic reminiscent of The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday are classically engaging, but I was not as enthused with those themes. Perhaps due to my hesitancy, I ended up being disengaged, and the combination of short and rather uneventful chapters left me searching for more.

Despite some of these shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised with Riccio’s capability to take a traditionally lighthearted storyline and investigate the twisted, dark, and traumatizing difficulties of divorce, dysfunctional families, and the impact of parents’ choices on their children. Indeed, there were moments in the book where, while I was craving more action, I couldn’t ignore the insight and attention to how both Jamie and Siri processed their emotional baggage. Riccio does an amazing job detailing the struggles of both characters who have completely different personalities and means of handling their past to move towards their future. There were multiple times in which I had to underline prominent messages or found myself laughing at the page as Riccio nicely combined comedy, romance, and sardonic tones with the seriousness of her overall topic.

Most importantly, Better Together was primarily written during the pandemic—a heaviness that is translated in its pages as the reader slowly feels the suffocation and eventual release of tension most everyone has felt over the past year. In this manner, I appreciated Better Together not only because of its mix of tragedy and comedy, but also its overall feeling of angst and the eventual, much needed, feeling of relief.

Book Review

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

Publisher: Haymarket Books
Genre: Political Science, Essays
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Educator, organizer, and curator Mariame Kaba collects seven years of essays and conversations on Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) abolition into one volume.

Kaba has been a foundational organizer in multiple prison abolition projects, including Survived and Punished (which helps free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender violence who are imprisoned for survival actions”) and Project NIA (which aims “to dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth violence”).

For those who were first introduced to PIC abolitionism last summer through #DefundThePolice, Kaba presents a holistic vision of the movement’s history, present, and future.

Thoughts

The modern theory and practice of PIC abolitionism grew out of the civil rights movement half a century ago. The movement’s roots, as the name implies, can be traced back to the slavery abolition movement that presaged the American Civil War. However, PIC abolition has been almost entirely excluded from mainstream conversations about the American justice system, until its ideas became central to the Ferguson uprising of 2014 and the George Floyd uprising of 2020. But as “Defund the Police”—the first demand of #8toAbolition—became a policy demand of a plurality of local Black Lives Matter organizations, the national news media were forced to suddenly contend with the work and vision of PIC abolitionists.

By the summer of 2020, Mariame Kaba had been writing about PIC abolition for a decade on her blog Prison Culture. I was introduced to PIC abolition through Kaba’s work, as were many other young abolitionists. She is a gateway for a new generation into the ongoing struggle for emancipation.

Kaba’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is the combination of her writing’s accessibility and her scrupulous care to cite the sources of her ideas. I often have trouble understanding works of political theory, but Kaba stubbornly refuses to deal in the abstract; every idea she presents is grounded in examples drawn from her work as an organizer. Likewise, each idea is attributed to the activists, organizers, and writers who provided her with its germ. ‘Til We Free Us thus functions as not only an introductory text, but an index of foundational PIC abolitionist writers (almost entirely Black women).

If you would like a taste of what this book offers, I’d recommend starting with Kaba’s June 2020 opinion piece for the New York Times, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” which is also included in this anthology.

Origins of Disney Fairy Tales

Disney has had no trouble remaking and reimagining some of the most beloved fairy tales. Disney continues to inspire and promote the now often thought of as “original” Disney magic—from the live action retelling of the Jungle Book to the newly released villain origin story of Cruella. However, many of the most well-known princesses and plots that are famously attributed to Disney actually get their original magic from books. Here is a list of some of the most well known and oldest Disney stories originally inspired from novels.


Tarzan. This adventure classic is probably one of the first Disney movies many people see, however it was originally a book published in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes consists of the same beloved plot: a young boy is raised by apes within an African jungle but when White explorers arrive within the area, the adult Tarzan adopts their ways to gain the love of Jane Porter. Ring any bells? However similarly Disney adapted the story, the original text highlights the differences, conflict, and struggle between what is considered the “wild” and the “civilized.” While the Disney version definitely provided some heartwarming magic and toe-tapping music to the story, the book provides a little more introspection.


The Jungle Book. The well-known author and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling, is the original writer of the now Disney classic The Jungle Book. Originally published in 1894 the story follows the unlikely friendships between a young boy and various animals within the jungle. Disney adopted this classic into an animated film in 1967 and eventually created a live action remake in 2016. The Jungle Book is undoubtedly another example of Disney’s capability to not only popularize 100+ year old stories, but to bring them to life in a new way. I wonder what Kipling would have thought of his characters as Disney merchandise?


101 Dalmatians. The Hundred and One Dalmatians is actually a children’s novel written by Dodie Smith and originally published in 1956. The plot between the two works is similar, with Disney adapting original characters such as Pongo and Missis as well as the now infamous Cruella de Vil. The book is only 32 pages long, which is considerably shorter than the two plus hours of watch time for each 101 Dalmatians-themed movie. Nevertheless, we have Disney to thank for not only bringing life to these characters but expanding on and developing the heart behind Smith’s work


Peter Pan. The story and character of Peter Pan is as deep in history as the character and story originally created by J.M. Barrie in 1906. The story of Peter Pan began with the character who initially appeared in Barrie’s 1906 Novel The Little White Bird. This appearance was transferred into the 1906 lesser-known story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Peter’s story wasn’t fully developed until Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The character is famous as a symbol of youth, and many of the characters and themes from this story are now the hallmark of Disney’s brand—from Tinker Bell’s prominent presence in marketing to the popular idea of “being a kid at heart” that builds the Disney aesthetic. Peter Pan is one of the most iconic characters in popular culture and in Disney, all thanks to the imagination of J.M. Barrie.


Pinocchio. Pinocchio is one of Disney’s earliest movies and stories. The animated film Pinocchio dates back to 1940, but the plot and character were originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883. The original Italian story, however, is much darker than the beloved Disney adaption. Pinocchio, rather than becoming woodworker Geppetto’s friend and adoptive son, begins abusing him and eventually runs away as his feet are carved by the old man. Geppetto is eventually arrested for trying to recapture Pinocchio, after which Pinocchio returns to Geppetto’s house where he kills Jiminy Cricket. Additionally, Pinocchio is almost hanged by the Fox and Cat who want to steal Pinocchio’s gold, but he is saved by a Fairy at the last moment. However, Pinocchio doesn’t learn his lesson and after losing his gold to the Fox and Cat, he lives with the Fairy and her son where his mischievous lessons and dire consequences continue up until he turns into a real boy. The much longer and darker original story is meant to serve as a lesson for children and emphasize good behavior—a similar idea perhaps, although less lighthearted, than the Disney adaptation.


Bauer, P. & Lowne, C. (2018, October 23). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Britannica.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Adventures-of-Pinocchio

The Little White Bird. (2021, May 19). In Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_White_Bird

Photo Credits: Changing Hands Bookstore