21 June 10 | Chad W. Post

So last week (was it really just last week?), Rochester Institute of Technology hosted a three-day (and four-night) conference on the “future of reading.” I meant to write about it after seeing Margaret Atwood’s speech (which was surprisingly funny—though the weird thing was, it actually seems funny to her as well in that “I’ve never heard this joke before” sort of way . . . which was also sort of charming), and then I planning on writing things up after seeing Chris Anderson and Johanna Drucker clash in intriguing ways (traditional marketplace vs. academia ways but ramped way the hell up), after seeing Molly Barton from Penguin talk about their plans and projects (also very intriguing), and especially after seeing N. Katherine Hayles’s talk about reading, Only Revolutions and all the studies feeding into Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows that point to our inability to concentrate and read in this era of multitasking, IMs, Twitter, and everything else.

I meant to write up each of these presentations, but didn’t . . . I got distracted.

Which is sort of the point, no? Everyone has a hard time positing a future in which straight long-form writing is enough to satisfy. Penguin goes all multimedia with The Pillars of the Earth; Jane Friedman is on about e-everything and videos and a circular feedback between creators and readers all facilitated by the internet and mobile devices (her line about how she like to “experiment with e” was a conference highlight for me); Chris Anderson is kinda sorta taking Wired off the web to pimp the super-awesome, and super-enhanced iPad app; and Johanna Drucker got lost in the distractions provided in the online version of the NY Times article about distraction.

As a whole the conference was excellent, really, truly excellent, and I want to do justice by it . . . But this feels like a launching event to really talk about reading . . . about how to think about reading and the so-called future of reading (and communication as a whole—which is a phrase I typed while responding to a very funny text about traveling and names . . . which is a phrase I typed while checking my e-mail for the 40th time this hour . . . which is a phrase I typed while restarting my iPhone Rhapsody app . . . which is a phrase I typed while watching the stream of recent tweets pop up in the lower right hand side of my screen . . . you get the picture), from the perspective of a publisher. I swear, I’ve been thinking about this off-and-on for the past few months, but within the past three weeks I’ve read probably a dozen articles about reading, the neurological impact of using Google, of how impossible it is for anyone to concentrate on anything (in the traditional sense).

There are a lot of threads coming together culturally at this time. And it’s all muddled and feels a bit like things are breaking down into opposing camps: the future is screwed because computers and instant communication ruin everything vs. the future is beautiful because we can finally put artists and audience in contact and everyone has access to everything all-the-time.

So. Next week (after a trip to Chicago, after a trip to D.C.) I’d like to revisit this conference and all the articles and speculate/summarize/think about some of these issues. I don’t know where this is going to go, but whatever. That’s generally the best sort of set-up for me to work through things.

In the meantime, I just want to encourage you to attend this conference next year (or in 2012?). It was fascinating. It covered a huge range of topics. It was loaded with interesting people. It was worthwhile and important in that cultural exchange of ideas sort of way. And I’ll say more about it next week. Promise. As long as I don’t get distracted.

Comments are disabled for this article.
We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >