Late Night Library

Dog-Eared and Dispatched: August 17, 2014

Dog-Eared and Dispatched: August 17, 2014

With all the real news that has been happening this week, it’s not surprise that things have been relatively quiet on the literary front. One gets a bit fatigued knowing that a certain company has gotten itself into a public-relations hole and can’t stop digging. So we’ve got some of the book news that’s been simmering awhile; don’t worry – there’s still plenty of food for thought. Are you ready? Read on!


Leviathan

As Amazon decides not to allow pre-orders for Disney products in an attempt to push consumers to watch through Amazon’s Instant Video service, it’s taking a while for the book industry observers to get over Amazon’s incredibly weird letter from last week. The Orwell Estate has gone so far as to accuse Amazon of doublespeak in a show of disapproval of Amazon’s attempt to appropriate Orwell’s legacy to its own ends. Full page ads in the NY Times to the contrary, authors are not, in fact, united in the Amazon/Hachette dispute: “The public fight over terms has caused a deep division between authors: those who believe the Amazon argument that lower e-book prices result in higher unit sales and thus more money for everyone, and others who support the HBG position that its ultimate goal in its discussions with Amazon is to preserve a bookselling environment that includes not just Amazon but a range of outlets including bricks-and-mortar bookstores.” The choice may be difficult for authors, but readers should definitely be looking for alternatives and better places to buy books. [NY Times, Shelf Awareness, NPR, Scalzi: Whatever, Authors United, Publishers Weekly, The Morning News, Better Places to Buy Books]


Apple in court

Apple in court with Judge Cote | Image from The Illustrated Courtroom

Although she is allowing the three smaller anti-price-fixing cases against Apple and the big five publishers to go ahead, Judge Denise Cote has ordered the parties to enter into mediation in December. Judge Cote notes that “proving damages would be ‘difficult in the extreme’ for the plaintiffs.” As you will recall, these smaller claims were a bit dodgier than the Department of Justice’s case, and the plaintiffs are companies you’ve probably never heard of: DNAML, BooksOnBoard, and Diesel E-Bookstore (Lovoho). Given that bookstore sales have fallen 7.9% in the first part of 2014, it’ll be hard for the plaintiffs to show that the defendants actions hurt them more than the already troubled state of the book selling business. [Publishers Weekly]


Ancient readers

Good old-fashioned readers


Even Galleycat acknowledges it’s a slow news week as it resurrects a report out of Norway argues that reading print rather than digital books increases reading comprehension. The study suggested that handling paper texts makes reading a “perceptible, direct experience [that] gives you a mental map of the entire text. The brain has an easier task when you can touch as well as see.” If one needs a mental map of the text, this is probably a fair criticism of digital reading. Although it is tempting the draw broad conclusions from this narrow study, attempts to do so have met with well-deserved criticism: there are many ways of reading, and straightforward SAT-style reading comprehension is perhaps one of the least important.* That said, it is perhaps important to learn how to read digital material better – be a better online reader, which may be a matter of training: “students do not only differ in their abilities and preferences; they also need different sorts of training to excel at each medium. The online world, she argues, may require students to exercise much greater self-control than a physical book.” Something striking about the digital/print divide is how much concern focuses on reading and education – when hopefully the majority of one’s reading life happens outside of school. This suggests an anxiety more about the fact that change of medium changes minds buried beneath the surface fretting about an increasing lack of skills currently valued.

One notices this especially in the increased anxiety about reading online: “Internet reading, on the other hand, comes only before a work session, and it’s a part of the day I try to minimize while it tries to maximize itself. I open my laptop and open the document I want to work on, and then, in a trance, I drift online to float above my work until I’m ready to be in it. This kind of reading is always transitional, fueled by addictive repetition, guilt, fear, and the nervous patience of waiting for emails.” The problem isn’t digital or online reading, though, it’s the ill-humor and guilt that come with it. So many digital reading experiences end up like those times when you crawled under the covers with a flashlight with a book and looking up from a trance to find it is almost dawn, even though one has not yet done one’s homework. This has been a bit of a ramble, but no matter which side you take (if you are taking sides), the digital/print debate need not be zero-sum: “We were probably mistaken to think of words on screens as substitutes for words on paper. They seem to be different things, suited to different kinds of reading and providing different sorts of aesthetic and intellectual experiences.” [Galleycat, Science Nordic, Scientific American, Digital Media + Learning, New Yorker, Wired, Phaedrus, Cambridge University Press, LA Review of Books, Electric Literature, Nautilus]
* One will avoid all comment on an education system which would prioritize test-results as a measure of worth.


FOOTNOTES

  1. Gateway reading, or reading upward.
  2. What do literary characters look like? What we see when we read.
  3. Another volume of Hemingway’s letters have been published. So, who was Ernest Hemingway?
  4. Julia Alvarez and Maxine Hong Kingston each received the national medal for arts (along with Linda Rondstadt!).
  5. A Westeros transit map.
  6. Translation questionnaire: a survey of those who battle the tide to bring literature to foreign shores.

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