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.
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .
If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads. . .
I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (normally I just hear parts of Chad’s side. . .
Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven. . .
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .