Tag Archives: books

Predicting the End of Things

A recent article in the The Telegraph hailed the end of the Kindle and the return to paper books. This wasn’t about reading: this was about the actual technology of reading and it was based on sales numbers for the two technologies. Kindle sales are down. Paper book sales are up. For those of us who haven’t abandoned paper books, it wasn’t as much of a surprise. We like books. I read both analog and digital books but I think, in the long run, I prefer analog. It’s just a technology that works. Easier to cuddle up with at night and, evidently, not as much of an interference with my sleep according to recent reports. No batteries to die just as I am learning that the butler did indeed do it. And no distractions in the form of notifications about new moves in Words with Friends.
I wonder about the Kindle sales, though. They could be more about all the variety of ways you can read a Kindle book from the web browser to the iPad to your phone. I have Kindle apps on all my devices and I do like to be able to pop in when I’m standing in line to catch up on a few pages or sneak in a bit of reading during a long webinar.
What I would really like to see are statistics about the practice rather than the technology. Are people READING more with all those new book sales or do they just want to put them on the coffee table? In a recent episode of The Newsroom, the Silicon valley billionaire runs his fingers along the books in a library and comments that they make good decorations even though the book itself is dead. Evidently, he hadn’t read this article.
My suggestion to prognosticators is to stop prognosticating. Maybe, indeed, a particular piece of hardware is dead, but the practice of digital reading is not going to go away and, it seems, neither is the old fashioned analog version either. People are people, with lots of preferences, and as long as there is demand, supply will follow right along.

Random Friday Round Up

A gloomy day here.  The rain brought down the leaves and it is starting to look like winter.  The dogs are sprawled around me, snoozing, and I can’t muster the energy for a thoughtful blog post.  But, I do have a few sites to share on several different topics so here’s the random Friday round up:

Miami Book Fair Celebrates 25 Years:  I heard this story on NPR yesterday as I drove back and forth across the state.  The founder of the fair is an independent book store owner in Miami and he reflects on how things have changed since 1983.  When asked about the challenge of selling analog books in an increasingly digital age, he comments that he is “selling the past.”

Guest Blogger on Eduwonk:  I credit Andrew Rotherman (aka Eduwonk) with helping me pass my comprehensive exams at William and Mary.  Today, his guest blogger is none other than Margaret Spellings, soon-to-be former Secretary of Education.  She writes about a new report from the Department of Education that details five areas in which federal, state and local goverments can collaborate to support the use of technology in education.

I Think I’m Musing My Mind:  I’m sorry that I can’t remember who steered me to this piece by Roger Ebert but I’ve read and re-read it several times since.  I found myself highlighting several of his key ideas that resonated with me in this thoughtful reflection on his writing:

The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.

Of course I don’t think only about writing. I spend time with my wife, family and friends. I read a lot, watch a lot of politics on TV. But prose is beavering along beneath, writing itself. When it comes time to type it is an expression, not a process. My mind has improved so much at this that it’s become clearly apparent to me. The words, as e. e. cummings wrote, come out like a ribbon and lie flat on the brush. He wasn’t writing about toothpaste. In my fancy, I like to think he could have been writing about prose.

Collaborating with Diigo:  From jdtravers, an excellent video with practical tips for using Diigo to comment on student work.  My own experience with Diigo expanded this week.  I blogged about the Bauerlein article and then used the highlights from Ruben Van Havermaet to explore more about new media, including spending a few hours reading Andrew Plotkin’s interactive fiction game Shade.   And, Jeremy Douglass’s website made me think about what it means to be an English major in the 21st century as I approach the 25th anniversary of my own graduation.

Finding Middle Ground in the Reading Debate

It seems I’ve been reading a lot about reading lately.  A recent article in the Chronicle has prompted several bloggers to consider what reading means in the 21st century.   Will Richardson reflected on his own reading practices and what educators should be doing to foster online literacy.   Sean Sharp thought about what online reading practices mean for online writing practices.

Mark Bauerline, the author of the Chronicle article, is not fan of the digital age.  He is the author of The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).  I haven’t read the book and I’m not sure I will since at this point in my learning I am looking for arguments from the center.  Plus, I think we can get a good sense of what he believes from his article in the Chronicle.

Here’s the crux of his argument in one sentence: “We must recognize that screen scanning is but one kind of reading, a lesser one, and that it conspires against certain intellectual habits requisite to liberal-arts learning.”  Bauerline sees himself and others as the “stewards of literacy” who must protect students from themselves by providing them with rigorous reading experiences.  (Even as I write that sentence, I’m picturing the student in one of Michael Wesch’s videos holding up a sign indicating that students simply don’t do the assigned reading.)

I have not found such a conspiracy in my own life.  Web-based reading has expanded my practice rather than changing it.  I continue to read books, both fiction and nonfiction, while like Richardson, I have transferred almost all my more temporal reading such as news and correspondence to the web.  My “books” have changed a bit since I purchased my Kindle.  But my practice is similar whether I’m reading an online text, a Kindle text, or an old-fashioned book. Particularly in terms of non-fiction, I always have a pencil in my hand.  The Kindle and Diigo come with a digital pencil in the form of their highlighting and annotation tools.   And, for Daniel Schon’s book that I just started reading last night, I’ve got a Ticonderoga along with a pack of sticky notes tucked into the front cover.  I do find a growing preference for digital reading as it is easier to search my highlights and annotations.  But there is something worthwhile in paging through an analog book, reviewing what I underlined or annotated.  In the hunt for a particular quote, I often find other useful comments.

The pragmatist in me is looking for common ground in this conversation.  Bauerlein points to it in his article when he quotes Jakob Neilsen, a Web researcher who has written extensively on web-based reading habits.  Nielsen says,

I continue to believe in the linear, author-driven narrative for educational purposes. I just don’t believe the Web is optimal for delivering this experience. Instead, let’s praise old narrative forms like books and sitting around a flickering campfire — or its modern-day counterpart, the PowerPoint projector. We should accept that the Web is too fast-paced for big-picture learning. No problem; we have other media, and each has its strengths. At the same time, the Web is perfect for narrow, just-in-time learning of information nuggets — so long as the learner already has the conceptual framework in place to make sense of the facts.

There is a place for multiple kinds of reading in multiple kind of formats and our job as educators is to help students practice with all those different types.

I Need the Stupid Things

Just read this essay from Luc Sante in The Wall Street Journal about his book collection. If you read my blog, you’ll understand why it resonated with me. Here’s a taste:

Many books are screwy, a great many are dull, some are irredeemable, and there are way too many of them, probably, in the world. I hate all the fetishistic twaddle about books promoted by the chain stores and the book clubs, which make books seem as cozy and unthreatening as teacups, instead of the often disputatious and sometimes frightening things they are. I recognize that we now have many ways to convey, store, and reproduce the sorts of matter that formerly were monopolized by books. I like to think that I’m no bookworm, egghead, four-eyed paleface library rat. I often engage in activities that have no reference to the printed words. I realize that books are not the entire world, even if they sometimes seem to contain it. But I need the stupid things.

I keep telling my husband I’m not buying any more books. Well, except for a few from Island Bookstore, a great independent bookstore at the Outer Banks (it is a moral imperative to support indie booksellers) and then some from the Book Exchange, which I didn’t really buy since I have credit there.

Thinking More About Books and Reading

I think I may be one of the book-loving technophiles that John Hendron wrote about in this post. In fact, I spent most of yesterday morning culling and organizing my books. There are two boxes of hard backs to go to the library and two boxes of paperbacks to go to my exchange store. I’ve been thinking about some of the issues that John brings up as I’ve begun integrating my Kindle into my reading habits.

I love reading books on my Kindle because I can easily navigate and annotate. In addition, it slides right into whatever bag I am carrying and holds not just books but my subscriptions to The Washington Post and The Atlantic. For me, rather than books, the paper-based publications that could go away without my missing them would be the newspaper and most print-based magazines. I never got into the habit of reading the print paper and I have reduced my magazine subscriptions to just a few because I hate all that paper laying around demanding that I either store or recycle. In addition, other than ripping out articles, the print-based publications are nearly impossible to archive productively. Why tear out all those recipes from Southern Living when I can just log into the site and locate a recipe when I’m ready for it?

I wonder, though, if John’s colleague who was concerned about the loss of books was really referring to reading? Are we confusing the technology (the book) with the practice (reading)? I love books–the way they look on the shelf, the way they beckon me into new worlds, the way they encourage me to dialog with the author’s argument. But if a suitable alternative came along–and the Kindle is close–I believe I could make the move from print to digital without too much of a sense of loss.

My love affair with books is really a love affair with reading. And, I think I mean more than news articles or blog entries here, both of which I read exclusively in digital format. When I use the word “book,” it refers to something more substantial: a lengthy, researched treatise that goes beyond a more cursory look at something. It’s the difference between reading Tom Friedman’s columns and his books. The latter arose from the former but in the book, Friedman has time to tease out arguments. In terms of fiction, I can use the example of the book I just finished, Falls the Shadow, by Sharon Kay Penman. It is essentially a biography of Simon de Montfort, a 13th century noble who fought against Henry III to establish greater civil rights for the English. Certainly, I can learn about de Montfort at Wikipedia and follow the links to expand my general knowledge of that time period. But, when I sink into Penman’s prose, I am moving beyond just learning the fact of English history to get a sense of the people behind the history. Yes, I am aware that Penman has turned historical figures into fictional characters, but she has stuck within the essential historical elements and her books help those of us mired in the 21st century see our connections to them.

Does it matter if I read Penman in a book format, or on my Kindle, or on my laptop? No. It is a matter of determining the affordances and constraints of the technology. For me, trying to read anything of multi-page length is difficult on the computer screen. It is not a suitable substitute for the book. The book and the Kindle, on the other hand, are pretty close: portable and easy to stow. The book doesn’t require electricity so it may trump the Kindle if I’m heading someplace where I can’t easily charge the Kindle battery.  And, as I mentioned earlier, the Kindle has some great affordances that certainly trump the book.

While I cleaned off my bookshelves, I took advantage of another technological approach to books. I listened to an audio book on my iPod. I won’t even start writing about how I could almost jettison the radio and television. I think the important point here is that rather than lament the loss of older technologies, we celebrate the widening choices available to use when we do find the time to read.