Archive for the ‘reading’ Category.

On authors and hissy fits

I always get a kick out of reading about authors’ overreactions to negative reviews, but it’s been a while since I’ve read some great ones. (See all the fun from last April for more along these lines!)

So, I was pleased to see some new rantiness appear. Here is just part of a mind-boggling example:

In last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Caleb Crain reviewed Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. While regular NYTBR watchers like Levi Asher welcomed the spirited dust-up, even Asher remained suspicious about Crain’s doubtful assertions and dense prose.

But on Sunday, de Botton left numerous comments at Crain’s blog, writing, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.”

You don’t see a lot of schadenfreude in blog comments these days! Maybe it’s all moved to Facebook and twitter, too. :) Oh wait — something has! Check this out — Alice Hoffman (although she later apologized and deleted) got mad enough to post the private email address and phone number of one of her negative reviewers to her twitter feed. Hmm. Maybe I should finally get myself a twitter account after all, apparently I’m missing all the fun…

Consider the difference between librarians and school teachers…

Why I love YouTube: “Finally, the library is filled with real books, not school books… When you take free will and solitude out of education it becomes schooling.

The now-liminal status of the printed word

I had to link to this Christine Rosen piece from The New Atlantis on “People of the Screen,” largely because it uses the phrase “the now-liminal status of the printed word.” (I just don’t get to see the word “liminal” thrown about enough.) Yes, another doom-and-gloom article about the demise of print, wrapped up in an “I’m so intellectual” package — and, oddly enough, available to read in full on the screen. To wit:

Such is the end of the tragedy we are now witness to: Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information. All in the name of progress.

There’s so much to take issue with in this mish-mosh of an article that one hardly knows where to begin. A little research here and there, however, might help clarify matters. For instance, Rosen bemoans the fact that:

Rather than reading deliberately, when we scan the screen in search of content our eyes follow an F-shaped pattern, quickly darting across text in search of the central nugget of information we seek. “’Reading’ is not even the right word” to describe this activity, Nielsen pointedly says.

People have being doing these sorts of “eyeball studies” for years, and guess what? People don’t “deliberately” read newspapers in a nice straight line, either — they tend to read in an “S” or a “Z” pattern, looking for clues in photos, headlines, graphics, and captions before settling into the meat of a story. And, go figure — the Poynter Institute reports in the results of a recent eyeball tracking study comparing print newspaper reading with online reading that:

Once people chose what they wanted to read they read more thoroughly online than in print.

  • Online readers read both short and long stories more completely than either broadsheet or tabloid readers (online 62% of the text of stories longer than 19 inches was read compared to 52% in tabloid and 49% in broadsheet.)
  • Online readers, overall, read an average of 77% of the stories they chose to read.
  • Implication? Can we get over the longing for the “good old days” when supposedly people sat and read the newspaper cover to cover? It is clear that once engaged, the online reader stays with the text of a story longer than the newsprint reader.

    More thoroughly? Say it ain’t so, Joe…

    But let’s step back and talk “liminal” for a minute. One important component missing from this article (and from most “it’s the end of the printed word as we know it” scenarios): Liminal implies potential and possibility. These are good things. If you find being on the threshold unsettling, you’re not alone; it doesn’t mean the sky is falling on us all.

    It’s also worth noting how people read different interpretations into the same thing, from Rosen’s interpretation of Jakob Nielsen’s eyeball research to the recent NEA report on reading. The Smart Bitches just linked, celebrating the finding that reading is on the rise for the first time in 25 years. Walt Crawford just linked, noting that the previous “fall” in reading rates “was nonsense and cooked data,” so why assume NEA is doing it right this time. Stephen Abram just linked, listing with little comment the report’s “key findings,” like “The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups – readers and non-readers.”

    Discover recently posted a fascinating article on “How Google is Making us Smarter,” which notes near the end:

    That doesn’t mean we must approve of every possible extension of the mind, and even good extensions will have some drawbacks. Socrates worried that writing would make people forgetful and unwise. Sure enough, writing did rob us of some gifts, such as the ability to recite epic poems like The Iliad from memory. But it also created a much larger pool of knowledge from which people could draw, a pool that has continued to expand (or, dare we say, continued to extend?).

    Yes, gloom and doom scenarios are nothing particularly new. Just as writing enabled the creation of that larger pool of knowledge, though, the content creation tools of the read/write Web (and the interactivity it invites) similarly enable the creation of a new pool of knowledge, a new collective wisdom to draw upon. We may not know exactly where this all leads us, but we can explore the possibilities — speaking of being in a liminal state.

    More on the book buying theme/meme

    For more on the books make great gifts theme, check out “A Bookstore Stimulus Package?” over at the Freakonomics blog (, which contains a lovely letter from Roy Blount.

    We don’t want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let’s mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that’s just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

    If you prefer your book buying bailout nudges more on the visual side, though, enjoy “Mimi Finishes her Christmas Shopping” over at Will Write for Chocolate (!). And, if you prefer your publishing crisis stories on the auditory side, give a listen to “Book Industry Enters Shaky Chapter” (really, NPR? was that necessary?) over at I was somewhat amused by the hopeful thought in there of books being recession proof because they’re “cheap.” A) not so much, and, B) odd as it may seem, for most people books don’t fall under the category of “necessities.”

    The bookless librarian

    I know intellectually that people process information, and prefer their entertainment, in different ways, yet it always gives me pause to hear librarians talking about how they don’t tend to read a lot of books, or about how they’ve never personally liked to read. So, I was interested lately to see a couple of higher profile librarians mention this. John Berry’s most recent LJ posting, for instance, talks about new media in the context of liberating us from the book. He explains:

    I never “loved” reading, the way so many people declare they do. It is especially true among those you encounter if you spend your life around libraries, books, and librarians.

    I was intellectually motivated, so the ability to read fast and still comprehend the content was important to me, but I always tried to avoid or minimize the need to read.

    In this new phase of my life, I have begun to view the progress of media and information technology as advancing my liberation from reading, or at least from much of the guilt and drudgery I associate with it….

    Of course, I still read and enjoy books, newspapers, and magazines. But now I see the act of reading as a kind of last resort, something I turn to when no other means or format is available. I see reading as a time-consuming, inefficient, and increasingly problematic way to get ideas from another human into my consciousness.

    Then, in a recent post on the Amazon Kindle, Jenny Levine talks about how her reading habits have changed post-Kindle, and notes that she’s now read two books on the device in four months:

    I know two books doesn’t sound like a lot and some people read that in a week, but for me, this is a big difference. Before the Kindle, I think I’d finished two books in two years, both when I was away on vacation. And even though most people may read books more during the summer, I tend to read fewer, as I’m working and playing outside a lot more. In fact, during the summer I tend to start multiple books and finish none of them.

    Berry realizes that people may see his post as a “confession.” Perhaps so; I’ll admit I’m taken aback whenever I talk to librarians who admit that they don’t read many books. Not in the “sustained reading of complex texts” sense, necessarily, but more along the lines of “how could you NOT?” I spend a lot of time reading (and, obviously, writing!) online, but couldn’t imagine ever giving up my books. Not only do different media serve different purposes, I think they also feed different parts of our soul — I’d buy a Kindle if I commuted by train, like Jenny, but I’d also keep making weekly trips to my local public library.

    But then, the less knee-jerk part of my brain wonders if we actually do need different types of librarians to match up with our different types of patrons. We already have a pretty good lock on the brand=book thing — so do we need more librarians like me, who entered the profession in large part because of (yes, I admit it!) a love for the physical book? Or, do we need more librarians like Jenny Levine, who has greater insight into, say, gaming than I’ll ever possess (even if I do enjoy the occasional game of Guitar Hero).

    I’m a star!

    This negative reviews theme keeps cropping up: Over at Whatever, John Scalzi posted several of his one-star Amazon reviews and challenged other authors to do the same. (Read some here.) Here’s an excerpt from my own angriest one-star reviewer — enjoy!

    Seriously, this book is a huge waste of time and money. There was absolutely nothing helpful about this book whatsoever. It contained depressingly obvious information, and even more depressing discourse from the various librarians quoted. If you want proper and helpful advice then I suggest saving your money and going down to the local library and asking the librarians themselves. You certainly can’t do worse then I did paying $30 to be kicked in the groin with ridiculously obvious “advice” and miserable ramblings about the futility of pursuing a rewarding career with a library science degree. Gordon’s book is a government pamphlet worthy, elementary book on how to choose a school, interview well, and how frustrating public employment can be. All is common knowledge to all but the most hapless uninformed high school student. I want my $30 back.

    (I’m a much easier target than some of the Hugo- and Nebula-award winning folks Scalzi links to…)

    This NEVER happens to me

    His books want to be free

    I read an interesting little blurb in today’s Shelf Awareness about bestselling author Paul Coelho. Apparently:

    The author “likes to promote pirated copies of his own books. At the recent Digital, Life, Design Conference in Munich, Coelho told a gathering of tech company CEOs, artists and designers that since 2005 he’s been directing his readers to an online site where they can download his books, in languages from German to Japanese, for free.”

    Said Coelho: “I always thought that when, at the beginning of your career, you strive to be read, you can’t change your mind later and become greedy about it.”

    I’m guessing people’s perspectives might change when they’re already “best-selling,” but more power to him.

    I’ve got a golden compass…

    Libraries, be forewarned: In the past couple of weeks, I’ve received several variations of the following e-mail from friends passing on the chain:


    The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman……. The link below to Snopes confirms its true. Really unbelievable.

    You may already know about this, but I just learned about a kids movie
    coming out in December starring Nicole Kidman. I believe it’s called
    The Golden Compass, and while it will be a watered down version, it is
    based on a series of children’s books about killing God (It is the
    anti-Narnia). Please follow this link, and then pass it on. From what
    I understand, the hope is to get alot of kids to see the movie – which
    won’t seem too bad – and then get the parents to buy the books for their
    kids for Christmas. The quotes from the author sum it all up. I’m
    going to tell everyone about this movie.

    Rest assured that I’m not going to take my 5-year-old to see a somewhat dark movie meant for adults and teens — but beyond that:

    1. The Golden Compass is an excellent book (and series) that challenges readers to think (God forbid!).
    2. Since when did we get so afraid of differing points of view? I’m pretty sure that Nicole Kidman won’t inspire anyone to “kill God.”
    3. I read, and saw, and enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, despite the fact that I’m decidedly not Christian and the underlying themes reflect a worldview very different from my own. How is The Golden Compass any different?
    4. How secure in your faith are you, really, if you are concerned that a single book or movie will turn you or your children to the dark side?
    5. How do you engage in informed dialogue, if you shy away from everything that doesn’t match your own beliefs?

    That is all.

    One in Four

    Yeah, you’ve seen it everywhere, that little report about one in four U.S. adults having read no books at all in the past year (what they don’t tell you is that another one in four ONLY read Harry Potter…), and the average among those who read at all being 7. Hmm. That’s about a book every two months, meaning that the average reader has a much poorer ROI on their public library than I.

    I do, though, like Karen Schneider’s slant — it sounds a lot different when you say “Three out of four people read books!” That’s the power of marketing right there, especially when we’re still and likely always brand: books.

    (Perhaps people are spending their time at Hamsterdance instead — I know I’ve missed these little guys.)