Friday, March 20, 2009

Thinking about Future Reading

A few books that discuss topics in the future of reading, though without spending much time directly on them:

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. Penguin Press. Shirky became a Twitter darling last week during his apprearance at SXSW. I assume the title refers to Joyce's Finnegans Wake, but I don't remember a direct reference in the book itself. Maybe I missed it or maybe he purposely omitted it. The sections (not whole chapters) that refer to the post-Gutenberg years and the lessons learned for our own age are particularly interesting about the future of reading.

Cory Doctorow, Content. Tachyon Publications. The Zen-master of the e-reading revolution. His chapters on the e-book are fun and informative. He notes the differences between printed books and e-books from the point of view of marketing, sales, copyright, etc. but he falls short of a clear look at discussing in what ways the technological change might affect the reader and the writer. And the annoying way of simply printing the [references] to digital hotlinks I could do without.

Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur. Doubleday. I agree with very little of what he writes compared to the above two writers. Some of his "facts" (in fact) are not proveable. For example, he describes Wikipedia's content as "unreliable" and contrasts its amateur writers and editors to the "100 Nobel Prize winners and 4,000 expert contributors" to the Britannica's site. Full disclosure: I co-edited an encyclopedia a few years ago, and when it comes to encyclopedias and accuracy, I doubt Keen has ever edited one. He then quotes Lewis Mumford, completely out of context, to support his claims, when he should be sampling both encyclopedias (as Stacy Schiff did for her New Yorker article a couple of years ago). I can imagine that when he and Shirky get together they come to blows.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Saul Bellow and the eReader

What would Saul Bellow have thought of the eReader? Following is an excerpt from his The Adventures of Augie March:

And I lay down and finished the Five-Foot Shelf Einhorn had given me, the fire and water-spotted books I had kept in the original box. They had a somewhat choky smell. So if Ulysses went down to hell or there were conflagrations in Rome or London or men and women lusted as they did in St. Paul, I could breathe an odor that supplemented the reading.

Question: what does reading smell like? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What does it sound like?