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Sherry Turkle is an optimist on reading

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In her newest book, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle explores how mobile devices and social media have changed human communication. Turkle is a professor of the social studies of science and technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

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TURKLE: I’m reading “Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín. I love his evocation of it. I’m from the Flatbush area, which he describes. I would read anything about Brooklyn, even a cookbook. I’m also rereading Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” because I think I didn’t get it the first time. I love it. She is such an interesting and complex writer.

BOOKS: What other books really capture Brooklyn?

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TURKLE: “Sophie’s Choice” by William Styron, a masterpiece. It takes place literally on the street where my aunt lived and where I went to nursery school. People in Chicago probably feel that way about Saul Bellow’s books. I spent a year in graduate school at the University of Chicago and ripped through Bellow’s books. I did what was called then the Committee on Social Thought program. You chose 12 books and studied them for a year. The thinking is if you read great books, the world of sociology, history, and anthropology would open to you.

BOOKS: Which books had the biggest effect on you?

TURKLE: Jean Piaget’s “The Child’s Conception of the World,” Freud’s “The Uncanny,” Claude Levi-Strauss’s “The Savage Mind.” Getting into those books got me into this notion that we love the objects we think with, and we think with the objects we love. That became my life’s work.

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BOOKS: Any other pivotal book?

TURKLE: I think the most influential book for me was “The Lonely Crowd” by David Riesman. I read that in high school. I said to myself I want to be the sort of person who could write a book like that. So I decided to study sociology and psychology. In fact, he became my mentor.

BOOKS: What kind of books do you read for pleasure?

TURKLE: I like sweep-of-history novels like Irene Nemirovsky’s “Suite Française” or Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow.” I have a daughter who recently graduated from college. For a while I loved following her taste. We got into an all-things-Tudor all-the-time thing. We read books that I can’t even remember the names of about Henry’s wives. They did lead me to Hilary Mantel’s books and the TV and Broadway shows based on them.

BOOKS: What else do you like to read?

TURKLE: I love memoir. The reader in my family was my aunt, and I read what was on her bookshelves. She had Lillian Hellman’s “Pentimento.” I devoured that. Apparently it’s not what actually happened to Lillian Hellman. Now I teach a course on memoir. My favorites are Oliver Sacks’s “Uncle Tungsten,” probably one of the best books about a life in science, and Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I pair that with Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia,” which works really well.

BOOKS: What did you read when you were a child.

‘I still sometimes think as myself as Nancy Drew.’

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TURKLE: I read Nancy Drew over and over. A friend and I found 19 original Nancy Drew mysteries in the incinerator room in our apartment building. We divvied them up. We had no books in our house. These were the only books I owned. I read them when I was eight. They were about faraway places, deducing things. It made me want to be a psychologist. It made me want to travel. I still sometimes think as myself as Nancy Drew.

BOOKS: In the age of cellphone mania, what do you think the future of reading is?

TURKLE: I’m optimistic. I think that people are realizing that we have overstepped. If you don’t read you lose the capacity for sustained concentration. We need to read long, complicated books so we can make the kind of arguments that take place in those books. I think people know we are on the cusp of losing something really important.

AMY SUTHERLAND

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