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10 essential purchases that'll help you hit your reading goals

It doesn't matter what you're reading, as long as you're reading.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  • Studies have shown that reading not only increases intelligence and sharpens emotional capabilities, it can also help reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Different types of reading triggers an increase in blood flow to different sections of the brain, so as long as you're reading something, your brain is being exercised.
  • When setting reading goals, it's important to remember that it's not the destination that matters but the stories you experience along the way. These products will help make that journey easier and more fun.

How many books are you hoping to read this year? 20? 52? 152, maybe? Whether you're a voracious reader who can breeze through Stephen King's It in one day, or someone who reads at a more deliberate pace, it can be hard to stay on target to achieve your reading goals. There are just so many distractions, and once you reach a certain age it can feel like time is moving at 2x speed. Whatever the obstacle, it's important to not give up and to remember that even if you fall short of that magic number, each new book is an exercise for your brain.

Studies have shown there are many benefits to cracking open a book, especially when it's for pleasure. It can increase empathy and more intelligence while also lowering your risk of mental decline. Reading a book a day, according to a 2018 study conducted in Hong Kong, could be the key to preventing dementia. Not really in the mood to tackle a complicated text? Skimming is still a valid way to get your brain working. Back in 2012, researchers at Stanford observed the brain functions of PhD candidates while they read excerpts from a Jane Austen novel. The subjects were asked to read leisurely at first and then more intently. The study showed an increase in blood flow in the brain during both sessions, but the increase occurred in different areas depending on the type of engagement.

So the moral is that any reading is good reading. This list of products and gadgets will help you keep those pages turning.

Keep track of your reading adventure the analog way.

Websites and apps that allow you to keep track of your progress are great, but there's something special about keeping a physical journal. This diary has space for all the important details (author, title, page count, genre) and also lined sections where you can jot down notes and opinions.

Expert advice on which books you should pick up next. 

Available as a monthly Kindle download or a yearly print subscription, the New York Times Book Review covers all of the new releases and upcoming titles so that you never have to waste your time with a bad book. It's also a valuable resource for finding books that were not previously on your radar.

Take several books with you, even to the beach.

This updated version of the Kindle Paperwhite adds a crucial feature: It's waterproof. With an IPX8 rating, you can accidentally drop this e-reader in a relatively deep pool (two meters) for an hour, fish it out, and keep reading Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys like nothing ever happened.

Every night-reader needs a clip-on light.

With a warm tone that's easier on the eyes, three brightness levels, and a 60-hour battery life, this book light is listed as Amazon's Choice with close to 6,000 reviews. Book lights are great if you want to read in bed or another dim setting without disturbing the non-readers around you.

Keep to your reading schedule with this digital bookmark and timer.

Smartphones can be distracting when you're trying to lose yourself in a good story. Place the phone on Do Not Disturb and instead set a timer with this product, that way reading time is uninterrupted but you also don't go overboard and miss out on an appointment or quality sleep time.

A reading nook for the little ones.

If you're raising a fellow book lover, they'll need a cozy reading nook of their own. This easy to assemble bookcase doubles as a comfortable seating area where young bookworms can devour every bound copy in sight.

Socks to let everyone know you're busy.

How are you supposed to keep on pace with family and friends around? If they can read, these socks will do the shushing for you.

Light-weight reading glasses are a game changer.

It's easier to keep reading when you're comfortable and not constantly adjusting your specs. These super thin, super lightweight reading glasses are shatterproof, made in the USA, very flexible, and are available in strengths from 1.0x up to 2.5x.

Normal pillows just won't cut it.

If the book is good enough, reading can be a full body experience. Settle into a comfortable position with this foam-filled lounge cushion. It's designed to support your arms, back, and neck, and the velour cover is soft and warm against your skin.

BONUS: Always say yes to the wearable blanket.

Will a sherpa-lined hoodie blanket help you with your reading? Probably not, but at least you'll be super cozy while you do it! There is even a big kangaroo pocket where you can stash your paperback during a quick nap.

A bookmark-shaped gift card is a handy reminder to keep buying books.

How do you expect to meet your reading goals if you don't have more books ready and waiting to be read? It's so easy to lose a gift card to the bottom of a purse or a random cranny in your bedroom, but with this bookmark you'll always know where to find it: in the book you should be making progress with every day.

When you buy something through a link in this article, Big Think earns a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.

How accountability at work can transform your organization

If you don't practice accountability at work you're letting the formula for success slip right through your hands.

Videos
  • What is accountability? It's a tool for improving performance and, once its potential is thoroughly understood, it can be leveraged at scale in any team or organization.
  • In this lesson for leaders, managers, and individuals, Shideh Sedgh Bina, a founding partner of Insigniam and the editor-in-chief of IQ Insigniam Quarterly, explains why it is so crucial to success.
  • Learn to recognize the mindset of accountable versus unaccountable people, then use Shideh's guided exercise as a template for your next post-project accountability analysis—whether that project was a success or it fell short, it's equally important to do the reckoning.

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien himself hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

An eight-metre-long Whale shark swims with other fish at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium on February 26, 2010 in Motobu, Okinawa, Japan.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

Future of Learning

Changing the way we grade students could trigger a wave of innovation

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