Category Archives: Yassine

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Revising Literature

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he writes:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

I always associate these lines with any sort of creative process, none so more than writing. Although not a writer myself, aside from some university dissertations which I dare not revisit, I become intrigued when I read this article about a collection of first edition books that have been annotated by their author and will be sold off at a charity auction. Some of the authors are rather scathing of their own work such as Yann Martel, who concedes he never completely liked the opening line of The Life of Pi. Other annotations include small details like Lynne Truss fixing a hyphen that appears on the title page of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Despite the success that all these authors have continued to have, I did wonder if they slightly gnashed their teeth in frustration as they penned their annotations, being unable to permanently improve or alter their books.

The annotations made by these authors on their own works does speak to Eliot’s words, in that they must have pored over each page of their manuscript, made corrections, scrubbed out words only to later add them back in but at some point had to take their toast and tea and draw the line somewhere. In turn, as books now appear in digital as well as print, is there the possibility that an author could endlessly tinker with their work? This piece in the Christian Science Monitor a number of years ago pondered the very question with its author concluding that this could very well be a ‘doomsday scenario’. In journalism, it is not infrequent to have articles amended, so can the same opportunity be afforded to authors who may wish to use the malleability of an e-book to tinker with their own work as time goes by? Or once published, should they be left untouched? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Half the World Away

Tonight is World Book Night. It’s an event that sees volunteers put thousands of books into the hands of strangers, “Spreading the love of reading, person to person” as the slogan goes. As tonight’s events aim to place books into the care of those who do not frequently read or have access to books, it dawned on me that it is rewarding to live in a society that is able and willing to allow this free circulation of cultural capital. You could say I am reading into this too much, but I will counter that in this imperfect society, such collective moments of benevolence like these are to be savored, if only for a night.

For me, this point was put into sharp focus when I came across this piece of news. The article reports that Magdy El Shafee, the author of Egypt’s first graphic novel, Metro, has been arrested following clashes between rival political groups. Hearing of this news put back into mind when El Shafee was previously arrested by former President Mubarak and Metro banned for “offending public morals.” Only recently has El Shafee’s novel been made available in Arabic in Epygt.

So, tonight, when we have the privilege of exchanging literary treasures, keep in mind those who still struggle and fight to make their voices heard, if only for a night.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

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Book Therapy

Reading fiction is normally associated with pursuits of escapism, venturing off to far-off lands, dislocating your imagination from reality, taking a cerebral vacation, or as Marion Garretty puts it “A book is a chance to try on a different life for size”.  A book is the perfect portal to transport oneself to preferable climes, especially when it is snowing in March!

What if, though, fiction was used as the tonic rather than the escape route when we are all feeling a little troubled, blue or downcast? I came across this article in the New York Observer which speaks to this question. At the Centre of Fiction, they run a program called A Novel Approach that has a team of ‘bibliotherapists’ who will prescribe you with a year’s worth of reading after a 45-minute consultation. The dialogue between the patient and the bibliotherapist in the article goes from the comical, when they discuss the root of the patient’s unhappiness, to the surreal when the patient answers which literary figures he would have over for a dinner party.

After said consultation the patient receives a reading list as a prescription with instructions, “No more than one per month, client to be shaken and stirred.” Would you ever be tempted to see a bibliotherapist? Or do you prefer to self-medicate?

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Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

You may have read that the reception to the 50th Anniversary cover of Sylvia Plath’s THE BELL JAR has been less than welcoming on account of being more akin to the cover style of the chick-lit genre. Reaction to the cover has moved through the spectrum of anger, derision and even parody. Out of the many critiques, the general feeling seems to be that the cover dilutes or misrepresents the content and dark subject matter of Plath’s writing. What surprised me, perhaps naively, about this whole debate was that those most vociferous in their abhorrence of the cover, were intimately familiar with the text. So much so, that they had assumed a role of custodian over the text, arguing that the cover should reflect what lay beneath and not stray from that path.

Now, the reaction to this redesigned cover was articulated by generations of readers who identified with the work and had personal memories with which the new ‘chick-lit’ like cover had no resonance. What about newly released books, though? Their covers have no history, so to speak–they are there to draw the reader in, tempt them to open the book to the first page, and ultimately purchase that book.

As the Plath incident shows, there is no universal design that can satisfy everybody. Which is why I was curious when I came across the piece in the Millions that examined the difference between US and UK covers.

Being a Brit living in the US, I feel unofficially qualified to pinpoint and understand the difference in covers and offer an explanation. The result: I can’t. In fact, I preferred the majority of the American covers. I’ve racked my brains, and all that I can say is that my judgment is based on purely aesthetic taste, whether it be on the type, composition, colors, or images; rather than national sensibilities that I grew up with “across the pond,” or have picked up while living in America.

What kind of cover draws you in? What’s your favorite cover? And have any redesigns of your favorite book stirred your emotions – good or bad?

 

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Where do you keep your ideas?

This past weekend, I came across the only journal I have ever possessed. I penned the first entry at the tail end of the summer of 2009, when this journal was freshly purchased on a Glasgow high street. Now it had resurfaced all dog-eared and dusty in a Brooklyn apartment. Having mostly lived in boxes during apartment moves in New York, I had not written anything down for quite a while, nor leafed through past entries. So I delved in, to be reacquainted with my past self.

A thoroughly underwhelming experience. From what I could make out from the barely legible passages, I had not done much but make endless grocery lists and write down school timetables. Coincidentally, I came across this piece on Flavorwire on authors who kept journals and used them as a reservoir of observations that they felt might inspire them in the future.

It got me thinking about where author’s ideas come from. Is it necessary to record these things in the moment? Or leave them to your memory to recall them at the time of writing? Some of the authors in the article contend that they use a diary or journal as a means of having a second life or opening up.

Do you, as writers, have a similar vehicle to expend your creative energies? Or do you have highly tailored or ingenious ways of coming up with great new ideas for your writing?

 

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Changes in Reading

My last blog entry of 2012 focused on a community who refilled the shelves of their recently shut down local library. This heart-warming story illustrated the importance that underscores the presence of a library or a bookstore in a community. Books can be found in and contribute to creating some of the most elegant stores in the world. These are buildings that house a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion that are to be found in books.

Now let me swing to the opposite side for my first post of 2013 and tell you about a building that houses a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion but does not possess a single printed book. Bexar County, TX is set to open the first book-less library this summer. The library will allow its residents to have access to electronic titles and let them check out e-readers. One of the architects behind the BiblioTech has reasoned that “The ever-changing landscape of technology means that literacy is no longer about picking up a physical book and being able to comprehend the words…Technology is changing the way we read, learn and thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.”

I agree with the sentiments behind this reasoning but I wouldn’t put it so didactically. The development of technology gives us options for how we read. It caters to a whole spectrum of taste, lifestyle, and needs. I don’t think we have to negate one to have the other or have to stand on a particular side of the fence and declare our allegiance. While I am grateful to be able to slip out my slinky e-reader whilst being crushed on the morning subway, I am just as thrilled to be able to ease back in a comfy chair, put my feet up and thumb my way through a hefty print book.

This is why I was intrigued to read this article that highlighted the presence of e-readers in traditional book stores in the UK. Essentially, e-readers sold at the bookstore would see the bookstore take a cut of future e-book sales, giving them an added revenue stream. Not confined to the UK, a number of US indie bookstores are also getting in on the act and through your reading device you are able to purchase e-book titles through independent bookstores.

For me, the development of technology has given us more options in the way we read. I have not been forced to choose one or the other and am excited to see if the conversation about print and electronic versions of books will begin to embrace one another rather than remain diametrically opposed. After all when you mix technology and books together and get this, it’s worth staying optimistic.

Are you embracing the best of both worlds? Or are you set in your reading ways. I’d love to know!

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Rallying round

I came across this interesting piece today about a group of squatters who had settled in a public library that had been shut down by the local council. Before they were finally evicted, the squatters-turned-librarians had endeavored to re-stock the library with books that were donated by the local community, amassing 8,000 books. Not only were the once empty shelves replenished, the commandeered library held events for children and authors and are set to have a pot luck style event this Christmas Day.

I was really taken by the sense of harmony and community in this story. And it was reassuring to know that in a world where we have a myriad forms of entertainment thrust in front of us, there is still such a strong affection for books, not just individually but collectively as well.

If you were a part of this community, which one of your books would you donate?

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?

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Does writing take a holiday?

Being the e-book manager here at DGLM, I am in possession of a wealth of copyedited and polished manuscripts, ready to be uploaded and unleashed onto the various e-book stores on the internet. Therefore, I only see one side of that manuscript, the finished article. What I don’t get to see is the process that writers go through to hand me their completed work.

I have always been fascinated with the variety of routines that writers impose in order to let the creativity flow. With Thanksgiving approaching rapidly – too rapidly for those in charge of turkey duties – I’m wondering if any writers out there will be modifying their schedule to accommodate visiting family, trips to visit family, or to fit in a post-Thanksgiving nap. After reading this piece on writers’ routines, I tried to imagine how the writers mentioned in the article would or wouldn’t break their schedule.

Susan Sontag certainly adopted a pretty stringent itinerary, so would she have invited over guests other than Roger Straus? Hemingway strived to wake at first light when working on novels, but surely Papa would have afforded himself a wee bit of a lie-in over the holidays? And with the increased level of consumption that marks the holiday season these days, would Ben Franklin be able to remain so frugal?

Do you cut yourself some slack in your writing habits over the holidays? Or will you find yourself a quiet corner on Thursday to continue writing?