This month we’re giving away copies of Giulio Mozzi’s This Is the Garden, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris and pubbing in January.
Although Mozzi’s stories have been excerpted in just about every magazine imaginable, this is the first full collection of his to be published in English. This Is the Garden won the 1993 Premio Mondello and astonished the Italian literary world for its commanding vision and the beauty of its prose. In the eight stories of this collection, we see a steady reworking of the idea of the world as a fallen Eden. Here, in Mozzi’s garden, quasi-allegorical characters seek knowledge of something beyond their shaken realities: they have all lost something and react by escaping, retreating from reality into a world, as Mozzi says, that is “fantastic, mystical, absurd.”
Or, in the words of Minna Proctor:
Gorgeously rooted in the best modernist tradition of writers like Italo Calvino and Antonio Tabucchi, Giulio Mozzi is among the most fiercely literary authors emerging from Italian literature today. These stories, which in so many different ways are about writing itself, are like rivers cutting through the northern Italian countryside—lush, limpid, exotic. Elizabeth Harris’s translation beautifully renders the noble grit of Mozzi’s distinctive voice.
If that doesn’t sell you on it, there’s also this bit of praise from Federico Fellini:
I read Giulio Mozzi’s first book with real enthusiasm. What struck me most was his everyday language. Even when his subjects rely on metaphor, his words are plain, and so turn mysterious.
Follow the link below to enter yourself in the GR drawing.
Is L’Amour then a novel? Yes, in the ordinary and hardly helpful sense that there is a story (or rather, several intermingled, fragmentary stories) and that the book, with its 98 pages of text, is longer than a novella. But from onset, the writing is novelistic in no mainstream way whatsoever. It is script-like without being a script, focused on the real world and on an initial character without being realist and hauntingly poetic without being a poem. [. . .]
Whatever the puzzling blend of hazy or composite characters and fragmentary storytelling there is in L’Amour, I would suggest that Duras is closer to truth than to fiction. Life can be like this. We see a woman or a man, and another woman or another man superposes him—or herself on the former. We project ourselves into others and project others into others—especially when amorous attraction and attachment is at stake. Duras was fascinated by the force and the pain of amorous emotions, as well as by indeterminacy as one of the fundamental aspects of our being in the world and our being with others. Because the voice of the narrator is so essential to and salient in a book like L’Amour, it can be deduced that this narrative indeterminacy accurately reflects the levels of consciousness of this outside observer who speaks so enigmatically yet authoritatively. [. . .]
For those of you who have never read Marguerite Duras, L’Amour is an invigorating place to start.
You can buy this now directly from our website, or, if you want to try your luck, we’re giving away 5 copies through GoodReads—just click below to enter yourself in the contest.
Our new GoodReads Giveaway is for Ror Wolf’s Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions, which was translated from the German by Jennifer Marquart and is coming out in June. After struggling for a week this summer trying to figure out to describe this book, we came up with some killer jacket copy—one of the few examples of jacket copy that I’m actually proud of:
bq, Working in the traditions of Robert Walser, Robert Pinget, and Laurence Sterne, Ror Wolf creates strangely entertaining and condensed stories that call into question the very nature of what makes a story a story. Almost an anti-book, Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions takes as its basis the small, diurnal details of life, transforming these oft-overlooked ordinary experiences of nondescript people in small German villages into artistic meditations on ambiguity, repetition, and narrative.
Incredibly funny and playful, Two or Three Years Later is unlike anything you’ve ever read—from German or any other language. These stories of men observing other men, of men who may or may not have been wearing a hat on a particular Monday (or was it Tuesday?), are delightful word-puzzles that are both intriguing and enjoyable.
You can read an excerpt here and you can click below to enter the drawing.
You have three days left to enter our GoodReads Giveaway for Angel Igov’s A Short Tale of Shame. Click below to enter!
First off, I want to point out that our new GoodReads Giveaway is now live. Between now and December 15th, you can enter to win one of fifteen copies of 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev that we’re going to be giving away. By now, you probably know the drill, but if you’re a GoodReads member (and if not, why not?) just click on the button below. [Note: This giveaway is for U.S. GoodReads members only. Sorry.]
That said, since !8% Gray makes such a great gift for the holidays—especially for people interested in road novels or Bulgaria, as well as your easily confused friend/relative who is way into all the “Gray” titles involving a bit of the sex—and since we already have our copies back from the printer, we’ll ship these books out ASAP to anyone who orders from us directly.
18% Gray was co-winner of the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers award, and was chosen by Bulgarian readers as one of the top 100 “most loved books” as part of the BBC’s The Big Read. It’s funny, touching, sexy, and is currently being made into a movie. At it’s core, it’s a really moving road novel about loss that also involves a huge bag of marijuana.
On a separate GoodReads note, the 2012 GoodReads Choice Awards were announced today.
Now, as much as I love GoodReads, and as much as I love the idea of polling actual readers about the books they love, it has to be pointed out that the downfall of crowdsourcing an award is that you end up with J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy winning the fiction award.
It seems like almost everyone I talk to is a big fan of Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds (translated by Margaret Carson). It got a ton of press when it came out last fall, and was even longlisted for the Best Translated Book Awards.
Well, this summer (June to be exact), we’re going to be bringing out The Planets (translated by Heather Cleary), one of his earlier books that focuses on the Dirty War period in Argentina’s history. Although, seeing that this is a Chejfec book, it’s kind of more about the telling of the telling of a story of a friend of the author who disappeared and may have died in an explosion. It’s as masterful as My Two Worlds, and maybe even a bit more expansive.
Here’s the official jacket copy:
When he reads about a mysterious explosion in the distant countryside, the narrator’s thoughts turn to his disappeared childhood friend, M, who was abducted from his home years ago, during a spasm of political violence in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s. He convinces himself that M must have died in this explosion, and he begins to tell the story of their friendship through a series interconnected vignettes, hoping in this way to reanimate his friend and relive the time they spent together wandering the streets of Buenos Aires.
Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets is an affecting and innovative exploration of mourning, remembrance, and friendship by one of Argentina’s modern masters.
Anyway, if you want an advanced copy, click below and you could win one through the GoodReads Giveaway program. This contest closes on Monday, so enter right away . . .
For all the Jerzy Pilch fans out there, we’re going to be publishing his new book, My First Suicide, this summer, but for those of you who are too eager to wait until May, enter the contest below for a chance to win one of the 10 copies we’re giving away via GoodReads.
This new book is in the same vein as the other Pilch titles we’ve published: it’s semi-autobiographical, very funny, dark, filled with shittons of drinking and women . . . Vintage Pilch.
Here’s a brief description:
“Our program breaks a book up into 100 scenes and measures the ‘DNA’ of each scene, looking for 132 different thematic ingredients, and another 2,000 variables.” A reader can go to the BookLamp site, which was launched in beta last week, and do a keyword search for titles that meet the criteria similar to a title they plug into the site. Pundits have dubbed it the “Pandora for Books,” though Stanton prefers the term “Book Genome Project.”
“Say you’re looking for a novel like the The Da Vinci Code. We have found that it contains 18.6% Religion and Religious Institutions, 9.4% Police & Murder Investigation, 8.2% Art and Art Galleries, and 6.7% Secret Societies & Communities, and other elements — we’ll pull out a book with similar elements, provided it is in our database,” says Stanton. [. . .]
But can a computer really accurately assess the content of a book? Stanton thinks so. “Our original models are based on focus groups,” he says. “We would give them a highly dense scene and a low density scene, for example, and ask them to assess them, which gave us a basis for training the models. Then we looked at books that might exceed the models and tweaked the formulas. In this way, our algorithms are trained like a human being.”
BookLamp quantifies such elements as density, pacing, description, dialogue and motion, in addition to numerous nuanced micro-categories, such as “pistols/rifles/weapons” or “explicit depictions of intimacy” or “office environments.”
I’m totally a sucker for this sort of shit . . . I think it’s great that people are finally thinking about how readers find books; I think it’s maybe detrimental to only read books that fit your fiction prejudices. (Of course, what example does the founder of Booklamp use in the interview? The fucking Da Vinci Code. Dear god, please make it stop.)
Knowledgeable recommendations used to be the function of booksellers, but since we, as a culture, seem not to need them (or bookstores) at all anymore, there are a number of book sites popping up to fill this void.
I’m sure this is over-simplifying, but there seems to be two major approaches to automated recommendations: the “similar user” approach, which is what Last.fm and GoodReads use and is based on the idea that if you like A, B, & C, and a lot of people who also like A, B, & C, also like Q, then you’ll probably like Q as well; and the “similar component” approach, which is what’s in play with Booklamp and Pandora and uses top down analysis to recommend books/music with components similar to books/music you like.
Personally, I prefer the first approach, and have never really gotten Pandora, nor do I see how my favorite books can be accurately quantified (The Sound and the Fury is 25% suicidal tendencies and 25% narrated by a mentally challenged character? Or The Crying of Lot 49 is 48% paranoia and 88% too cool for school?)
Now that two of the three recommendation sites are at least in their beta phases—Bookish is still in the works—it seems sort of worthwhile to check and see what these sites recommend . . . It’s one thing to talk about the theory and drool over hot catchphrases like “discovery” and “genome,” but another to find out that no matter what you put in, you’re told that you should read Twilight.
I’m not sure I can convince you of this, but I’m doing this test live . . . I haven’t looked up any of these books yet, so I have no idea what I’ll find. (It’s like live blogging! Which I believe is now called “tweeting.” Anyway.)
So, first up, the book I have tattooed on my arm—The Crying of Lot 49.
Booklamp: No results. Well that’s unfortunate . . . Skipped right over the paragraph in the Publishing Perspectives article about how they currently only have 20,000 Random House books in their database . . .
GoodReads: The Recognitions by William Gaddis, The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, Falconer by John Cheever, Call It Sleep by Henry Roth.
OK, not so sure about the last couple, but the GoodReads recommendations are fine. Gaddis rocks, but I love JR more than The Recognitions, and Sot-Weed isn’t even close to my favorite Barth book. Still, not bad. Predictable, but not bad.
Since Booklamp is so limited in scope, I’m using their “Author Browse” function to find a good example . . . And oh, look, they have a listing for The Sound and the Fury! My snotty prediction about what the make up would be was pretty crap . . . Instead of confused narrators and philosophical issues about time, the five most prominent “StoryDNA” elements according to Booklamp are: Financial Matters, Family Connections, Domestic Environments, Automobiles & Vehicles, and Nature/Forests/Trees. The fuck?? Seriously? This does not bode well . . .
Booklamp: Sanctuary by William Faulkner, Moon Women by Pamela Duncan, Leo and the Lesser Lion by Sandra Forrester, Good-bye Marianne by Irene Watts, and Telling Lies to Alice by Laura Wilson
GoodReads: Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara, Loving by Henry Green, The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen, Under the Net by Iris Murdoch, and An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Although they aren’t the first authors that come to mind when I think of William Faulkner (I was expecting Flannery O’Connor), I do love me some Henry Green and Elizabeth Bowen. And to be completely frank, I have no fucking idea what any of the Booklamp recommendations are. Irene Watts? Leo and the Lesser Lion?? Maybe I’m just ignorant and missing out on great fiction . . .
Leo and Lesser Lion. Listed by the publisher as Juvenile Fiction: A heartwarming family story set during the Depression that reads like a classic.Everyone’s been down on their luck since the Depression hit. But as long as Mary Bayliss Pettigrew has her beloved older brother, Leo, to pull pranks with, even the hardest times can be fun. Then one day, there’s a terrible accident, and when Bayliss wakes up afterward, she must face the heartbreaking prospect of life without Leo. And that’s when her parents break the news: they’re going to be fostering two homeless little girls, and Bayliss can’t bear the thought of anyone taking Leo’s place. But opening her heart to these weary travelers might just be the key to rebuilding her grieving family.
Oh, my. Booklamp fail. “Juvenile Fiction”?? I’ll bet $1million that there’s not a single stylistically interesting about this novel. And I’ll also bet that there’s no possible way I’d read this book and be like, “wow, I’ve never read a book more like Sound and the Fury than Sandra Forrester’s little gem!” Fuck. And no.
So far Booklamp is coming in a distant second . . . And exposing all the flaws of this top-down recommendation approach. This system really doesn’t seem to account for writing style, which, in my opinion, is maybe the most important feature of any work of fiction. Sure, it’s got “automobiles” and I do like to read about people who move from one point to another, but if the writing is shitty, there no number of “automobile/vehicle” scenes that will save a novel. And how do you identify the “genome” for exciting writing? (Not to bang a dead drum, but this is why booksellers and librarians and actual readers are so goddamn important.)
Let’s try one more, this time with feeling: Independent People by Halldor Laxness.
Booklamp: the first four are all Laxness books, which seems a bit of a cheat, so I’ll skip those . . . The Writer and the World by V.S. Naipaul, Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett, and Walt Whitman’s Secret by George Fetherling
GoodReads: Njal’s Saga by Anonymous, Angels of the Universe by Einar Mar Gudmundsson, The Pets by Bragi Olafsson, The Blue Fox by Sjon, and Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun.
Interesting to end with this book . . . Booklamp’s recommendations are a lot less country-specific compared to GoodReads. But on the whole, I think I like the GoodReads recommendations better, especially since they include one of our books.
There’s no conclusion to this post except that I find this all very interesting in theory, and flawed in execution. I’m sure both of these sites (and Bookish) will get better and better as time goes on and data accumulates, and will play a larger role in how books find an audience as booksellers continue to decrease in number . . .
Just an FYI: We’re giving away 10 copies of Book of Happenstance via GoodReads. If you’re interested in getting in on the action, just follow the directions below.
Next month we’ll be reissuing The Guinea Pigs by Ludvik Vaculik, a Czech modern classic featuring one of the most memorably odd narrators ever. His sort of befuddled meandering through life (not understanding the strange situation going on at the bank where he works, berated a kid that he mistakes for his son, etc.) is funny in and of itself, but it’s the spectacularly peculiar word choices and phrasings that really make this book sing.
Here’s an example from the opening paragraph:
There are more than a million people living in the city of Prague whom I’d just as soon not name here. Our family is originally from the country. Our family, that means me, my wife, and two tolerable little boys.
(It’s that “tolerable” that’s so fantastic.)
As the story progresses and the reader gets more and more attuned to the quirks and clicks of the narrator’s voice, the funnier this gets. Even when our friendly narrator is doing very odd things to innocent guinea pigs . . .
Anyway, to share our love of this book with the rest of the world, we decided to give away 10 copies via GoodReads. So if you’re a member, be sure to click this handy little widget below to be entered into the drawing.
As written about in today’s New York Times GoodReads (which has come a bit of an obsession of mine) has just launched a new site called DiscoverReads that uses an algorithm to recommend books. (Book recommendations and how people choose what to read is another obsession of mine, so this announcement is like a double whammy of awesome.)
From the Times:
On Thursday, Goodreads will announce that it has acquired another start-up, Discovereads.com. It uses machine learning algorithms to analyze which books people might like, based on books they’ve liked in the past and books that people with similar tastes have liked.
Otis Chandler, Goodreads’s founder and chief executive, says the site has been an online version of walking into a friend’s living room and scanning the bookshelves to get recommendations. But readers need more than that, he said, particularly now that libraries, bookstores and some newspapers’ book review sections are disappearing and e-bookstores are inspiring more self-published authors.
“This will give the casual reader a quick answer to ‘What should I read first?’” he said. Once people have rated 10 books on a scale of five stars, Goodreads will be able to suggest books they might like.
All I want to do is try this out, but fucking hell, the site “isn’t accepting new members at this time.” OK, screw it: back to watching the Big East Tournament. Thanks for nothing GoodReads + NY Times. Teases!
it’s a commercial break I’m here, this does remind me of Quim Monzo’s short story “Books,” which is included in our forthcoming collection Guadalajara. (Which, if you want to buy it—and you should! it’s brilliant—you’ll have to do it at an indie bookstore or online, since B&N isn’t going to be stocking it . . . No, not bitter at all about yesterday’s sales call at B&N. Not a bit.)
Anyway, you can read the entirely of “Books” in PDF format by clicking here, and here’s a longish excerpt from the beginning of the story (translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush):
There are four books on the passionate reader’s table. All waiting to be read. He went to the bookshop this afternoon, and after spending an hour around the new releases tables and reviewing the covers of his favorite authors on the shelves, he chose four. One is a book of short stories by a French writer; he really enjoyed a novel of his years ago. He didn’t like the second novel he published that much (in fact, didn’t like it all) and has now bought this book of stories in the hope of re-discovering what had fired his imagination so many years ago. The second book is a novel by a Dutch writer whose two preceding novels he had tried to read, but with little success, because he’d had to put both of them down after a few lines. Strangely, this didn’t lead him to abandon the idea of a fresh attempt. Strangely, because usually, when he can’t stand twenty lines of the first book by a particular writer, he might try the second but never the third, unless the critics he trusts have singled it out for special praise, or a friend has recommended it particularly enthusiastically. But this wasn’t the case now. Why did he decide to give him another try? Perhaps it’s the beginning. The beginning that goes: “The bellhop rushed in shouting: “Mr. Kington! Mr. Kington, please!” Mr. Kington was reading the newspaper in the lobby of the Ambassade Hotel and was about to raise his hand when he realized that nobody, but nobody, knew he was there. He didn’t even look up when the bellhop walked by. It would be the most intelligent decision he had ever taken.”
The third book is also a novel, the first novel by an American author he has never heard of. He bought it because in spite of the initial quotation (“Oh, how the tiles glinted in the blossoming dawn, when the roosters’ cry broke the silence with the sound . . .”) he had leafed through it and felt drawn in. The fourth book is a book of short stories, also by a Dutch writer, one who had been unpublished to that point. What attracted him to that book? If he were to be sincere, it was the rich abundance of initials: there are three (A., F., Th.) before the three words that make up the surname. A total of six words: three for the surname and three for the forename. What’s more, the first word of the surname is “van.” He simply adores surnames that begin with “van.”
Why, out of the four books that the passionate reader has on his table, are two (50% exactly) Dutch? Because the Book Fair held in the city was this year devoted to Dutch literature, and that meant, on the one hand, that publishers have brought out more writers in that language recently and, on the other, that the main bookshops in the city have created special displays, piling tables up with these new books as well as books by Dutch and Flemish authors that had been published years ago, that are no longer new and were gathering dust in the distributors’ warehouses.
The passionate reader has all four books in front of him and can’t think where to begin. The stories by the French writer whose novel he liked several years ago? The novel by the young American about whom he knows nothing? That way, if (as is very likely) he finds it immediately disappointing, he will have eliminated one of the four at a stroke and will only have to choose from among the other three. Obviously the same may happen with the novel by the Dutch writer whom he has had to put down on two previous occasions, after merely one page. The reader opens the second book and leafs through. He opens the third and does exactly the same. And follows suit with the fourth. He could choose on the basis of the typeface or kind of paper . . . He tries to find another aspect of the books that could decide for him (an isolated sentence, a character’s name). Page layout. Or paragraphing, for example. He knows that many writers struggle to create frequent paragraphs, whether the text calls for it or not, because they think that when the reader sees the page isn’t too dense, he will feel better disposed toward the book. The same goes for dialogue. A serrated text, with lots of dialogue, is (according to current norms) a plus for most people. This may generally be the case, but has the opposite effect on this reader: he finds an abundance of new paragraphs irritating. He is prejudiced against, and mirrors the prejudice felt by lovers of abundant paragraphs, who find a lack of paragraphs extremely monotonous or arrogant.
Where should he begin? The solution might be to begin them all at once, as he often does. Not simultaneously, of course: but going from one to another, just as you never watch six TV channels at the same time but flick from one to another.
A number of interesting e-book related articles and news items came out over the past few days, and rather than try and make something coherent out of all this, I’m just going to post a smattering of links . . . So:
The big news this week was Jeff Bezos’s announcement that Amazon.com is now selling more e-books than hardcovers. From the Wall Street Journal:
Amazon.com Inc. said it reached a milestone, selling more e-books than hardbacks over the past three months. [. . .]
Amazon said Kindle device sales accelerated each month in the second quarter—both on a sequential month-over-month basis and on a year-over-year basis. But the statistics that Amazon shared were all relative—it didn’t share actual sales figures. The company has never said how many Kindle devices or e-books it has sold. [. . .]
Amazon painted a picture of accelerating growth in sales of e-books, which can be read on the Kindle and through software on a host of other devices, including Apple’s iPad and iPhone. The figures don’t include free e-books.
Over the past month, the Seattle retailer sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books it sold, it said.
At one of the independent bookstore I used to work for the owner would always give us data on the store’s performance in a series of ratios. This was always extremely aggravating, since he’d project a bar graph with no scale, no numbers, a sliver of profit (how much? A million dollars? Ten?) and a lecture about how we were all wasting too much time reading and not organizing the shelves.
So I get why everyone’s critical of this statement, and granted it would be nice to know what actual figures are. (Although this is the book business . . . Real hard data, like, how about actual print runs?, isn’t all that easy to come buy. Even when hard data seems to exist—such as BookScan—a lot of effort is put into debunking that so that everything can remain as murky as possible.) That said, it’s interesting to note that sales of hardcover books at Amazon.com increased last year, and unless the sales of paperbacks plummeted (unlikely) it sounds like ebook sales were more supplementary than cannibalistic. And that’s interesting.
What I’d be interested in finding out is ebook sales by genre. Even if given in ratio form (for every 1 ebook sold of literature in translation, 70,000 business ebooks were sold), this would be interesting to know. And would sort of clarify the current scene a bit. Cause maybe not all ebooks are epubbed equally. Or whatever.
Speaking of ebooks and their distribution, over at The Atlantic there’s a longish article on Google Editions and what it is:
So what does Google Editions add to the mix? The answer, based on conversations with Google representatives and bookseller—particularly among the independent stores—is that Google will be adding millions of digital titles for sale on any device with Internet access: smart phones, tablets, netbooks, desktops, and every digital reading device except Kindle, which for now at least continues to operate on a closed proprietary system. But Google and Amazon are continuing discussions, so that may yet change.
In preparation for its rollout, Google says that through its “Partnership Program” it has made deals with 35,000 publishers and scanned millions of titles. For now, if you go to Google Books, you can preview up to 20 percent of the title you select (go ahead and try it with a best-seller like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and then choose from available options for purchase of the printed book. Assuming the program works as planned, Google Editions will put up for sale a vast universe of trade e-books, plus technical and professional titles and out of copyright works (which will be free) for use when, where and how the consumer chooses. The consumer will put the books they buy on Google’s cloud (which means its enormous servers) and can access their personal library at will. Suppose you start reading on your iPhone and switch to your tablet or desktop—the book will pick up where you left off.
In effect, Google Editions seems poised to become the world’s largest seller of e-books. If you’ve followed this issue in recent years, it may seem confusing that Google will be selling books while still in litigation with the Association of American Publishers and the Author’s Guild over the right to display the texts of millions books Google has scanned through its library project. That case applies solely to books obtained from cooperating libraries that made their collections available to Google to, in effect, give away, which is why the publishers objected. The settlement under consideration now in the courts would require Google to pay royalties for books it displays and gives authors the right to opt out of the program if they choose to do so. In any event, the outcome of that case has no bearing on the Google Editions enterprise, according to Google’s spokesmen.
This should be interesting . . .
I still think it’s funny that the L.A. Times interviewed a twelve-year-old from a Rochester suburb for their future of reading piece, but this article is pretty interesting. Starting from the p.o.v. that digital will change everything (sure, sure, beliefs and qualifications and dissents all noted), Alex Pham and David Sarno list a number of interesting reading and writing related websites. Because of my obsession with how people find out about books, this is the part I like the best:
“We’ve pretty much reached the point where the supply has now shifted to infinite,” said Richard Nash, former head of Soft Skull Press, a small New York publisher. “So the next question is: How do you make people want it?” Part of the answer may be found on Goodreads.com, a digital library and social networking site where millions of members can log in and chat about any book they want, including many that will never see print.
Lori Hettler of Tobyhanna, Pa., runs one of the largest book clubs on Goodreads, with nearly 7,000 members chiming in from all over the globe. Discussions can go on for hundreds of messages, with readers passionately championing — or eviscerating — the club’s latest selection.
I’ve really been getting into Goodreads over the past few months, especially now that it’s linked up with my Facebook account. It’s thanks to Goodreads that I found out about Albert Cossery.
And related to the series of posts I was writing about the future of reading, I mentioned Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, the way using the Internet reconfigures your brain, how hyperlinks make it hard to remember shit, et cetera, et cetera. This bit from the end of the L.A. Times piece sort of reflects on that:
Whereas printed texts often are linear paths paved by the author chapter by chapter, digital books encourage readers to click here or tap there, launching them on side journeys before they even reach the bottom of a page. Some scholars fear that this is breeding a generation of readers who won’t have the attention span to get through “The Catcher in the Rye,” let alone “Moby-Dick.”
“Reading well is like playing the piano or the violin,” said the poet and critic Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “It is a high-level cognitive ability that requires long-term practice. I worry that those mechanisms in our culture that used to take a child and have him or her learn more words and more complex syntax are breaking down.”
But Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, said it was a mistake to conclude that young people learned less simply because “they are flitting around all over the place” as they read.
“Kids are reading and writing more than ever,” he said. “Their lives are all centered around words.”
Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of “iBrain,” said Internet use activated more parts of the brain than reading a book did.
On the other hand, online readers often demonstrate what Small calls “continuous partial attention” as they click from one link to the next. The risk is that we become mindless ants following endless crumbs of digital data. “People tend to ask whether this is good or bad,” he said. “My response is that the tech train is out of the station, and it’s impossible to stop.”
But simply making things digital and available and whatever isn’t necessarily enough. Over at the always fascinating (and very well-designed) Triple Canopy, Penguin’s Tom Roberge has an interesting post about the Internet, hierarchy, and design (scroll down to “Annotations” section and look for “At Swim in the Shallows” to read the whole thing):
In a recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks wrote, “The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian.” This is a long-standing claim, and is on one level true: Internet access offers (near) universal freedom to create and disseminate information, and to consume it on the other end. But on another level, this assertion is complete bullshit: We all know that the Internet has its own hierarchy, that the virtual equivalent of the crazy homeless man ranting about UFOs shouldn’t be—and, generally, is not—taken seriously.
Consider design. Books, for several hundred years, have not changed much at all. The paper is nicer. The covers last longer. And the evolution of printing technology has allowed for prettier pictures. But the format has remained static since the letterpress days: One reads from left to right, top to bottom, turning the pages to make progress. The Internet, on the other hand, is almost infinitely malleable—but you need a good blacksmith. Which has led to a hierarchy: the nicer, the more professional looking a site is, the more respected it is. Which sort of negates the egalitarianism.
I first noticed www.goodreads.com four months ago when a coworker at my bookstore sent me an invitation. The website tore through the Seattle bookselling community like an STD. Soon, every bookseller under 40 was a member. “Will you be my Goodreads friend?” we’d whisper to each other among the stacks. It was like MySpace, only better—it was all about books.
I personally always have a hard time staying involved with sites like this. They sound great in theory, and are fun at first, but keeping up with my page, my friends, etc., feels like a second job. I have to admit though, a site for books does sound intriguing, although according to Constant, it sounds like the same old thing happens:
Like all good flings, the Seattle bookselling community’s dalliance with Goodreads faded before it got serious. Almost none of my friends log on nearly as often as they did during that first, blushing courtship. Most booksellers truly love books; they talk about them all day long. The idea of a place where you can compose epic monologues about books and keep an online diary of every book you’ve ever read is intoxicating. Then you realize that nobody but a few bored friends are reading your opinions and everything suddenly seems redundant.
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .