Category Archives: technology

Building Books

As December rolls around, the perpetual question of “What would you like from Santa” is to be found in e-mails from supremely organized family members.  Just as well, then, that a compendium of “Best of 2012” lists abounds, and over the last few days I have been taking a gander at these lists, most obviously the lists for best books.

One of the ubiquitous occupants of these lists is the “book” BUILDING STORIES by Chris Ware. Although, in one review I read, calling Ware’s work a book, would be doing the book a disservice. BUILDING STORIES comes in a box and is compiled of fourteen pamphlets that readers are free to read in whichever order they choose. Readers are then able to re-order the sequence in which they read the materials again and again. In a sense, where is the last page of this book?

Or does there necessarily have to be one? Ware’s book in a box certainly grabs your attention through its inventiveness, but should we be at all surprised? With the expanding array of reading devices, the way we read books is growing ever more diverse, and what we read is becoming ever more multifaceted in the digital world. Books such as HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER have grown to become an interactive nest of audio, pictures, archives and art.

With these new forms of storytelling, where do you stand as an author? Is Ware an author in the traditional sense, or more of a compiler of artifacts? What do you think of multimedia being a part of your reading material? Is the digital reader set to become a digital explorer?

10

In praise of writing by hand (legibility not guaranteed)

No bones about it, I have terrible handwriting. I think it’s legible for the most part, but no one would ever call it nice. I don’t mind so much, but I do get handwriting-envy on more occasions than is normal (I think).

HOWEVER. Despite my poor penmanship, I still love writing things out by hand. I’m always fooled by the keyboard, thinking that I’ll be able to organize my thoughts better, more quickly and in a more logical fashion, but it rarely turns out to be true. Yes, the legibility decreases the more I write, as I find myself scrawling faster and faster so as to get the words out before my brain moves on to the next thought, but I find I care less.

When I’m typing, I’m completely conscious or every typo, spelling error or other sort of mistake that I make and am constantly frustrating myself by going back and correcting things that have really nothing to do with the ideas I’m trying to express. In the end, nothing you write the first time over ends up being the final product, so why should it matter if you’ve typed something wrong or skipped a word or letter here or there? Because things are clearer and because there’s that annoying little red or green squiggle under every mistake made in a furious rush to get the words on the page, every clerical foible takes precedence over the actual flow of script.

According to this article yesterday in GalleyCat, I’m not alone in my thoughts. Apparently, children in a particular study who wrote longhand, wrote “more, faster, and more complete sentences” than when they were faced with a keyboard and computer screen.

I promise you I’m no literary genius, hilarious person, venerable stringer-together of words or class-A wit, but I will say that when I read over notebooks I’ve kept over the years, I surprise myself over what I find there. I’m better pen to paper than I am on a keyboard, but the ease of typing still wins out time and time again, despite this knowledge.

Obviously, final products are pretty much required to be typed in today’s world, and I would feel sorry for the poor person who had to read more than one page of anything hastily scribbled by my own hand.* Ideas, though, personal journaling, observation and sudden flashes of inspiration are so much better served by pen and paper, no matter the legibility. After all, who’s going to really care what it looks like or how much your hand hurts if what comes out is the best thing you’ve thought of yet?

*Sincerest apologies to all of my high school teachers, particularly those of you in the English and history departments. You surely have suffered worse, but condolences just the same.

16

Finally! I have an iPad – now what?

So after coveting an iPad ever since it was introduced I finally acquired the latest version.

As soon as this one was announced, I ordered it online from Apple and was so excited when it arrived.  A day later, after one of my very techno savvy colleagues helped me set it up, we realized it was broken and had to be replaced.  Problem number one!

That crisis was resolved and after receiving an initial tutorial, I was off and running.  Less than a week later I realized that I had used up my monthly allowance of 4G!  How could this have happened?  Because I had no idea what I was doing.

Oh well, time to experiment.  I have changed my subscriptions to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal so that I read them on the iPad and have found this to be an entirely different experience than reading the actual physical papers.  Frankly, I am not sure that I prefer the digital versions, although over the weekend I found a wonderful review of one of my titles, American Icon by Bryce Hoffman, in the digital version of the Times and it wasn’t in any paper I had that morning (I still receive the physical copies of the paper on the weekends).

What I’m clear on is that there is going to be a learning curve for me and it might be steeper than I initially anticipated (after all I adapted to my iPhone immediately and it has truly changed my life).  I have begun to read books on my iPad but because I am reluctant to take it on the subway, where I do a lot of reading, I still depend more on my kindle for that reading experience.  And many of my friends and colleagues who have iPads tell me they rarely use them outside of their homes – how odd, I think.

Still, I am determined to learn all about this newfangled contraption and so I have scheduled an appointment this week at the Apple store for a tutorial on how to best use my iPad and maximize my reading pleasure as well as using all its other assets and apps.

I would love to find out whether you are enjoying using your tablet devices (iPads or others) especially as reading tools.

16

Is technology bad for reading?

I can’t stop thinking about how technology is making me crazy. While riding the bus to NYC recently and thinking about my large, overwhelming reading list on my Kindle, it occurred to me I had to first check email, then look something up online, where I found an article I’d been meaning to read, which led to a twitter and Facebook check, and so on. Before long the tunnel is approaching and I’ve reached my destination without opening my Kindle. Sound familiar?

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from Technostress, a word coined by my client Dr. Larry Rosen in his 1997 book by the same name. Even back then, he writes “The constant stream of incoming and outgoing messages means that businesspeople end up spending more time trying to communicate than actually doing.” In his upcoming book iDisorder he looks into how technology really can dramatically increase the likelihood of exhibiting sometimes severe psychological symptoms related to the stress brought on by technology in our lives. Sure it makes a lot of things better, easier, more efficient and all that, but it also makes us distracted, disengaged, and often unable or unwilling to take a real break which is bad for our bodies and our brains. A piece by Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic a few years back called Is Google Making Us Stupid? talks more about what technology has done to our reading culture, and it’s not good and certainly hasn’t gotten better with time.

So, I’m wondering where your thoughts are as the reading public. Do you think people are reading fewer books because they are more distracted by technology, or are they reading more books because of the ease that technology brings to reading by offering books anywhere, anytime with the click of a button? Do you read more books now than you did 5 years ago? And if you do, is that because of the easier access technology brings to reading? Have your reading habits stayed the same and you still go out to a bookstore or library every time you want to get a new book just as you did before? Or do you read fewer books because, well, there’s just so much else to do? And what about book length? Has a compromised attention span made shorter books more appealing?

Personally, I struggle with it. I read a lot and have to for work, and instead of printing out manuscripts, I now read them on my e-reader, which is great. But, if there’s a new book I want to buy (and I do buy books, often), I usually order a hard copy to have on my shelf or my bedside table.

As far as actually reading the books, and how that’s changed, I am definitely more splintered in my attention and have to be disciplined in planning my reading time—a lot more than before. I think this is in part due to technology trying to draw me back in to the vortex of my digital devices, and in part because I have 4 little kids who demand my time and attention (unless, of course, we give them our iPad which keeps them quiet for hours!). I do my best reading after hours in the comfort of my bed when I’ve put my phone and computer to sleep and can focus on a book or a manuscript, or usually several at once.

I’ll sign off and go grab my Kindle. Manuscripts and proposals beckon; there are books to be read!

9

Enhanced reading

With tablets and eReaders approaching ubiquity as the holiday gadget-buying season commences, the conversation over eBooks vs. print, or even “what is a book,” continues to take on different angles. So far, though, one of the big losers in eReading seems to be the “enhanced” eBook, where readers can access ancillary content that’s either embedded or clickable through hyperlinks. The fact that some publishers actually admit this is pretty damning, as publishers typically sing the praises of all things e-related in public.

But maybe there’s a different way to feature enhanced content? According to a Marketwire press release, business author Jeffrey Hayzlett’s forthcoming book Running the Gauntlet will feature SnapTags at the beginning of each chapter, “offering readers a direct connection to unique video content further explaining the core concept of each chapter.” Evidently SnapTags are like QR codes, those blobby barcodes you see on everything these days (for the uninitiated, check out Lauren’s post on QR codes from earlier this year), only these seem to link to specific multimedia content, rather than a website through your phone’s browser.

Now, will readers actually sit with the book in one hand and their Smartphone in the other, using both in conjunction? I have to say, on the face of it, it sounds a bit clunky—but then again, on a recent train ride to Philly, I saw plenty of people with books and newspapers on their laps, phones in their hands. And while I personally don’t get the thrill of QR codes in the first place—always seems like a lot of steps, which was one of the problems with enhanced eBooks in the first place—maybe other readers will find the separation of hard copy and e-content easier to digest? I imagine the SnapTags are less distracting than the links in an enhanced eBook and don’t interfere as much with the strict reading experience.

What do you think about SnapTags or QR codes in a hardcover book? Intriguing? Intruding? Useful for certain subjects? Worth a look-see, or just another e-gimmick?

8

One day I’m going to want to use the word “growlery.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is getting too big. Those people at Oxford who decide all about what words are actually words and what are just silly sounds people make when they talk are in a fix. They really need to add important terms like “mankini” and “retweet” to their formidable tome, but there’s just no room! Some words have got to go.

It’s a strange concept, isn’t it? Removing words from a dictionary? What makes these terms no longer acceptable to use? Of course, words fall out of common parlance first and then are no longer even seen in text, but they’re still words, aren’t they? What’s most interesting is that one of the words that will be removed from the most updated version of the reputable dictionary is “cassette tape,” a name for an item that while no longer in high demand, is still tucked away in quantity in many homes and shops.

I don’t mind so much that I will no longer be able to look up “brabble,” defined as “a platry noisy quarrel,” in the OED, should I ever come across it even once in the rest of my life, but it’s still a pretty fun word. Now that I know it exists (or, I suppose, existed) I kind of want to use it. That’s what language is—discovering and using new or old words to express not only meaning but your particular personality in writing or conversation.

These particulars, these words, help define authors and writers in specific styles. For a prolific or very distinct novelist, it’s not hard for readers of their works to be able to identify a passage as coming from that author, even if they have never seen the text before. New writers are compared to older, more accomplished authors if they use similar words or structure. Words and their definitions are more than a printed ascription in a book or online—they are defined more by their relevance to an era or place and by their resonance with an individual emotionally and personally. Why else would writers agonize for hours over the perfect word to put in an important dialogue or narrative?

I have nothing against, then, the addition of words, no matter how silly or trendy they might be, to the dictionary, but I do not understand the necessity of removing anything (save its unwieldy size) Words fallen out of use are still words and the ability to look them up upon reading or to use them in a piece of writing should not be curtailed. What do you think? Does it matter, really, in the long run?

5

World domination

When Dan Slater of Amazon, a longtime friend of DGLM, was visiting last week, I jokingly asked him what new steps his company was taking toward its ultimate goal of world domination.  Discreet as Dan is, he did not let on about the new Kindle Fire announcement (although we’d all heard buzz) but he definitely did not deny that Amazon was in the process of taking over the universe (at least the publishing universe).

Well, as the HuffPost live blog of today’s announcement by Jeff Bezos about the new tablet shows, the Amazon juggernaut rumbles inexorably on.  Not having seen one of these babies in person, I’ve no idea whether I’m going to rush out and buy the new KF instead of the iPad I’ve been thinking of gifting myself for Christmas.   On the one hand, I use my current Kindle quite a bit and, given how lame the Apple book store is, I expect that I’ll continue to get most of my online reading from Amazon anyway.  On the other hand, it’s hard to root for the prohibitive favorite in sports or big business.  I’m not sure I want to live under an Amazon dictatorship, no matter how benign.

Is it as dire as all that?  Or is this all just healthy, good fun on the part of the superpowers?  Are they just giving us all more options even as we have less and less time to avail ourselves of them?

4

Retromania

Has anyone read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania? I vaguely remember reading a review when it came out this summer and thinking it looked interesting, but of course promptly forgot about it until yesterday, when a Facebook friend posted an interview Reynolds did with Salon in early August. Put it back at the top of my to-read list!

Despite mostly softball questions from the interviewer, it’s fascinating to watch Reynolds attempt to maintain a consistent message. On the one hand, despite his protests to the contrary, Reynolds still  sounds like an old-fogey complaining about “them kids today” and splitting hairs about how today’s pop music recycles older sounds and styles, as opposed to music in the past. But then again, he’s right that old-fogeys don’t usually want the kids to try something new and different. And the idea that the universal access and constant feedback loop of the Internet denies creative innovation is definitely worth some consideration–and probably some concern as well.

While Reynolds focuses mostly here on music, he does touch on TV, movies, and politics as well. But what about books? Is writing equally stuck in retromania?

I have to tell you, from an agenting perspective it does feel that way sometimes, especially when you’ve seen the umpteenth submission for a zombie novel (yes, Jim isn’t the only one who gets the zombies). And perhaps it’s worth worrying that the biggest sellers of the aughts—Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games—are to varying degrees synthetic takes on old tropes and genres. But then again, I doubt all those millions of readers found much “boredom” in these books, as Reynolds worries. And personally, if I were totally bored by the cultural landscape—well, I probably wouldn’t have so many amazing clients, would I?

What do you guys think? Is writing stuck in retromania the way other cultural forms may (or may not) be? Or are writers still coming up with original stories and topics that feel fresh and new? If so, what are your picks for books that break out the loop?

5

Non-linear reading (or why the Kindle drives me nuts)

Howdy, folks! Hope everyone had a good restful Labor Day, and that you’re feeling recharged for autumn. Writing from cold, rainy NYC, it sure feels like summer headed out the door in a hurry. Of course, it will probably turn scorching and steamy again by Friday, but right now it’s one of those gray early-fall days where all you want to do is curl up in a corner with a good book—or codex,  as this insightful piece in the Sunday Times Book Review puts it.

It’s certainly thought-provoking to consider how e-readers restrict non-linear reading, and I was most excited to see Lev Grossman identify my biggest beef with the Kindle. Whenever I have an e-readers conversation with editors, we almost always agree on how great they are for reviewing submissions—I certainly don’t miss the days of dragging 300-page manuscripts home in my bag every night. But it drives me crazy that if I start reading a manuscript at my work computer, I cannot for the life of me find my place on the Kindle when I get home, no matter how many searches I try. Invariably, it’s just a long skim from “Locations 1-32” until I find the chapter where I left off—and Lord help me if I left off mid-paragraph or the document doesn’t have chapter headings!

So kudos to Grossman for pointing out this issue, and hopefully the good folks at Amazon will read the article and figure out a solution. But in the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions for how to find your place more easily? Any tricks? I’d love to know—especially on a cold, wet day that’s tailor-made for dipping into a book without having to hit the Next Page button ad nauseum.

Thank you

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the response to our announcement has been both gratifying and challenging.  We appreciate your questions and your interest and we are taking your suggestions and comments very seriously.  In fact, many of you have raised issues that we think need further review.   This program is in its infancy and so we have the opportunity to take your feedback and consider incorporating some of it into our business plan.  Although we’re not prepared to discuss specifics at this time, we will be keeping you updated on our progress as we go.