Futures of literary reading


Contribute one post of substance to this page on the specific topic of present and future forms of literary reading. The rhetorical model will be the entries in I Read Where I Am, so the deadline will be November 15, the day we discuss this text. The topic of “futures” is grandiose so your comments can and perhaps should be speculative, if not visionary, if you take this approach. You may want to be less speculative, however, and comment on present habits, an experimental print text, or one of the works of electronic literature on our syllabus.

19 Comments to “Futures of literary reading”

  1. Reading is a defiant act of memory – a way to hold onto the past, to circulate new ideas, or to prophesize what is to come. Encoded in every form reading – whether it takes the forms of novels, blog posts, or tweets – is an act of remembering, or a way to combine what you already know with what you are learning in the process. Digitized books have not just changed the way we read, but also changed the way we preserve our culture, as more and more of humanity’s most treasured documents (such as The Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and Shakespeare’s plays) now housed in the shiny, virtual encasing of the Internet.

    Libraries are perhaps culture’s greatest repositories of memory, but they are still man-made architectural structures that are unfortunately susceptible to natural disasters, fire, and acts of violence. Fernando Baez provides a poignant look at some of humanity’s greatest tragedies in his book, A Universal History on the Destruction of Books, which details losses from the Royal Library of Alexandria to modern-day Iraq. “Books,” Baez writes, “are not destroyed as physical objects but as links to memory, that is, as one of the axes of identity of a person or a community” (12). One takes away from this statement the sense that digital reading should not be viewed as a threat to print culture, but as a means of preservation – a new and innovative way to keep our greatest ideas and thinkers safe from physical harm. That is not to say nothing is lost when print is translated to digital. Just like a piece of artwork, a physical book projects a certain aura when held by two hands. The tangibility of the printed book is its greatest asset and also its greatest threat.

    The destruction of books surrounds us, which lends even more credence to the function of the Internet as a preservation tool. Two weeks ago, Printed Matter Inc, a well-known NYC bookstore specializing in art books and independent publications, suffered a devastating loss of stock, as 9,000 books were flooded in the wake of Hurricane Sandy: http://printedmatter.org/. Perhaps it is best that we all move our books and ideas to higher ground.

  2. In Jeff Gomez’s We Left Home; Why Shouldn’t Ideas?, he offers a convincing and rational appeal for the e-book’s potential merits. He points out that our shelves of heavy cumbersome books now “can live inside a tiny gadget,” converting our “various portable screens” into “portals to limitless knowledge, imagination, or anything we want them to be,” ultimately likening them to “static, bound, physical objects” turned to “caged birds finally allowed to take flight.”

    While I too see these potential merits, I also feel Gomez speaks somewhat optimistically here. Indeed, the future of literary texts seems logically to lie within the e-book, but I am uncertain if this is where the future of literary reading lies as well. I believe this because the decline of printed literary reading, as far as I understand it, is not due to a widespread dissatisfaction with the apparatus. Rather I think literary reading’s decline is a byproduct of our pervasive digital media atmosphere and the habit of consuming information in small ‘chunks’ that it promotes.

    Even if e-books allow us to widely integrate literary texts into our modern media landscape, there is no guarantee people will read them on a meaningful scale or read significantly more than they already do. When a literary text is placed in a digital frame, it does not remove or pave over the natural incompatibilities it has with our current media atmosphere. To put it simply, literary texts are too long and require an uninterrupted mode of concentration that is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. I fear e-books, despite their potential for spreading literary reading through our media landscape, are likely to be lost amongst seas of blurbs and informational ‘chunks.’

  3. I read where I am not. When I read, I am transported to a world that on the surface does not seem like my own, yet makes me feel at home. In books, I find a literal and emotional open space where I am encouraged to partake in “warm reading,” a concept Lynn Kaplanian-Buller discusses in her reflection “How Will We Read?” Explaining why traditional books are still attractive to some readers, she says, “Warm reading happens when we open our hearts. As the author’s words move us emotionally, we give off an emotional charge that gets absorbed in the paper page” (87). I feel that electricity when I read a book, as if some bond exists between the written word and me. For me, reading is a very personal experience, one that I do not know if I really want to make social.

    If McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory is any indication of the future of literary reading, then I am afraid that I will not read with the same skill or in the same quantity in the future. The idea that others’ comments (including the author’s) appear on the side of the text, staring at you while you read, scares me because those comments are a temptation that I normally try not to indulge in while I am reading. As I read, I do not want answers given to me. Because I know they are there, I will be more likely to consult someone else’s interpretation immediately before thinking a question through myself. This fear is rooted in my observation that Google has become my go-to information source; I now rely on a search engine to do any critical thinking for me. I question whether juxtaposing the text with readers’ and authors’ comments helps develop our skills as readers of any kind, or if it instead teaches us to be better referencers, using the reading and thinking of others as crutches against our own idleness.

    Making reading a simultaneously educational and social experience makes me wonder if I will lose that sense of electricity I feel when I sit down to read a traditional book. The emotional bond between reader and book will be broken, and a new bond between reader and reader will form. Although interacting with other readers may sound pleasant, technology dehumanizes any interaction by replacing faces and names with screens and usernames. Paradoxically, those bonds that connect us in our reading practices will physically disconnect us. As a result, insights into the human condition that we gain from reading books are lost in cyberspace as we sit alone at our computers “reading.”

  4. To say that file sharing took the music industry by surprise would be an understatement. When widespread music fans began sharing music, for free, on the internet in the 1990’s, record labels largely ignored the trend. Cut to over a decade later, when the music business as a whole has lost billions in value, and you see an struggling industry that wishes it had paid more attention to Napster.

    What happened to CDs is now happening to books: Consumers are shifting toward digital file representations of their former analog counterparts. Books are like CD’s in that you technically could copy one and share it for free if you wanted to; but the amount of labor involved would outweigh the benefit of getting it for free. With digital files, however, duplicating them is trivial; and they maintain nearly perfect fidelity. Once users started to consume — and thus copy, for free — music on a computer, the CD was rendered obsolete. Almost immediately. As our reading practices shift to digital devices, as they are and will continue to, the publishing industry is at risk of irreparable damage by loss of revenues from file copying.

    If we consider the book of tomorrow, we must begin from a consideration of its reproducibility. The most intuitive and engaging electronic book will still be a failure if it can be copied with enough ease that sales hemorrhage, irreperably harming the publishing business. The music industry was fairly lucky: After physical music sales tanked, they could rely on revenue from concerts, merchandise and licensing. If the business of book-making is unprepared for the specter of one-click copying, the blow dealt to not only the publishing industry, but the very idea of a professional writer, could be fatal.

  5. It was a pleasure to burn the last book I read that made me think, “What the hell am I reading?”. Actually, no, I did not because it would not have been a pleasure to extinguish. Certainly the act of throwing it across the room was rather pleasing. And that about expresses all the significant advantages of the bound volume of printed pages as a primary medium of literature, or for those that want to test their aerodynamic theorems or find themselves without a light source while trapped in a house that is bigger on the inside. You can check off advantage machine for every other column of practical comparison. Electronic reproduction of the printed book is not going to save traditional literature. It will continue to dwindle, and

    Erwin Blom in, “I Read More Than Ever” talks about not having to be confronted with old limitations and that media options should be diverse. I progressively find that the engagement of my mind more appealed to by multimodal output, so the scaling back of traditional literary narrative is not so alarming a loss to me. Purely print based reading and purely auditory music seem almost relics. Are we fearful that creators will feel that they have to supplement their wordsmithing with electronic gimmickery, or were we holding back imaginations until we could offer a set of tools to truly convey their narrative on their own terms? The minds that work well with words lose out on nothing. The minds that work with sound, images, tempo, and attention manipulation are offered inexpensive tools with which to create and disseminate. Erosion of printed text’s market as a medium for information predates computers considerably. It is not our place to qualify literature as high culture above other media such as moving pictures, transmitted radio waves, theatrical performance, painting, or crazy old man yelling at clouds. Some people prefer envisioning the narrative of the book in their mind as they read. Some like to find a narrative in a painting or read in to the subtext of a film. I recently went to a staged reading of Lord Byron’s Sardanapalus. I had read it prior to the performance, but the addition of emoting, tone, and inflection(though still in the context of reading a copy of the text and not actually acting it out) to the reading made it a far more enjoyable experience than just reading it straight on. It was a multimodal transmission of the whole text that did a much better job of imparting the content on me than the traditional unidirectional print to eyes format.

    Like Blom, I also find that I am reading more in general, although I am reading less literature. Why does literature have to be the centerpiece of one’s reading experience? If I am reading an article in a scientific journal, I want to be able to look up data sets from similar experiments with different controls or opposing arguments. If I am reading a Supreme Court opinion I want to be able to get an abstract of the cases that led up to the Supreme Court hearing or information on related cases. The traditional book can not offer these options. Intellectual curiosity should not be constrained solely to the substance of the text. Does my dependency on having to use an online search to complete my understanding trump my will to construct a more complete picture of a situation that would be impossible for a book to provide? Having more options should never be a point of regret, especially if it drives us from a consumptive mindset more towards a creative and productive mindset.

    Actually I understate the advantageous applications of the codex. Books are better for squashing spiders as well.

  6. “What happens when you uncouple design from the marketplace, when, rather than making technology sexy, easy to use, and more consumable, designers use the language of design to pose questions, inspire, and provoke—to transport our imaginations into parallel but possible worlds?”
    – Dunne & Raby, “Between Reality and the Impossible”

    I read this rhetorical question, this hypothetical scenario, this ‘what if’ as a kind of tough love. Dunne & Raby are the parents in the grocery store forsaking the Gushers, Fruit By the Foots, Chicken fingers and fries in favor of carrots, broccoli, salmon and dark chocolate. If technological innovators and designs stripped economic, capitalist, industrial, and cooperate incentives from technological engineering, might we be left with a product that is pure and complicated? Perhaps this new devices slogan might be a true expression or variation on “giving the consumer what she wants, not what she needs.” The primary mechanical question raised in their impulse is what does a technological device look like when stripped of the sexy, the instant usability and the profitability? In fact this imagined device is rather difficult to operate, but there’s an instruction manual. It’s complicated, a kind of acquired taste, and demands its user rise to a using occasion. And its intricate form and construct are as such because the ideas it produces and contains require it. These innovators and their innovations might initially garner accusations of elitism, but will the charges stick, and does it matter?
    Marx, Hegel, Kant, Derrida & Heidegger’s prose is far from accessible. It takes time to enter, read, comprehend, and digest the text; and the cursory reader is a kayak facing a brooding tempestuous ocean. But does the texts’ difficulty detract from the ideas profundity and resonance? Joyce, Stein, Faulkner, Milton & Morrison write far from beach reads, but is their literature any less important or percussive? The question appears in plain sight: is technology any less worthy because its use requires intelligence, time, and a persistent will? Why continue to design appliances that can be operated from the couch while you catch up on your DVR and pick at a chocolate chip cookie? Should we settle for devices so easy you can operate them in your sleep, or do we want to wake up? Dune & Raby move to a technology that tasks its user with bettering herself for operation. Lose of profit feels like a small price to pay.
    Complicated interface must exist because the content within the interface demands it. That’s an old dialectic: content & form, but do we risk a society where ideas are bludgeoned and dumbed down to fit an easy to operate form? Then those ideas exist as a summary, a shadow of their former selves. This seems to be the direction of enterprises like Sparknotes and Cliffnotes, and potential in abusing Wikipedia. Settle for the summary.

  7. To immerse oneself in words is a form of empathy. When understanding and analyzing a text, the reader is following the narrator’s train of thought in a way that allows him or her to temporarily step into another world, fictional or otherwise. Thus, though the rise of digital reading certainly does not wipe out the reading of long texts altogether, I believe it encourages a type of reading that involves more quick glances and scanning than long, continual efforts to comprehend a text. The problem with this mode of reading is that it provides mere glimpses into the narrator’s world, as opposed to the sustained visitations that are required to generate the human feeling of empathy, or, in the case of more factual texts, a deep understanding of the subject matter.

    It is easy enough to explain the importance of the latter; of course subjects such as math and science have to be studied in order to create new inventions and continue progressing in areas such as technology and medicine. These advances unarguably contribute to the possibility of a better standard of living. The value of empathy, however, is harder to explain because it is more abstract. Nevertheless, empathy goes hand-in-hand with logical comprehension as both involve the uniquely human ability of achieving deep understanding. Empathy, however, is often less analytical and more sense-driven than the gathering of factual knowledge. It involves the consideration of others’ thoughts, feelings, and backgrounds when examining why others act the way they do. By keeping an open-minded attitude towards others, people are able to connect in a way that allows them to cooperate and relate to each other.

    Hence, the sustained effort and individual interpretation required for close reading allows us to achieve this empathy by teaching us how to read between the lines and debate the underlying intentions behind the text. In this way, reading provides an opportunity for the self-induced seclusion that paradoxically promotes human bonding without the presence of other people. Therefore, if the future of reading lies in communicative options such as e-readers with chat options and short texts such as blog posts and Tweets, we will lose the opportunity to immerse ourselves in individual contemplation of long and possibly difficult texts that do more than simply transmit facts or provide brief glimpses into the minds of others. Such forms of text may relay information more efficiently, but they lose the human aspect of truly understanding a complex point of view via a concentrated effort to do so. I believe that the complexity of human opinion and experience is more accurately depicted through extensive texts rather than two-line Facebook statuses. Thus, the brevity of many forms of Internet reading seems to discourage the type of deep reading that supports the invaluable ability to empathize.

  8. We’ve trained our eyes to rapidly scan text on a screen or printed page, our pupils moving right then left then back again, thousands of times a day. We consume written words that are necessary to stay informed, meet academic requirements or to absorb and respond to others in never-ending communications. Much is being written about how we consume information, and how reading habits have changed markedly with the onslaught of digital delivery. Yet, behind the habits and techniques of information consumption is our historical and future appetite for stories.
    Storytelling takes many forms, but in any iteration, it will remain an irrepressible form of expression and bait for our consumption. For isn’t the drug we seek when we become lost in social media, People magazine or Tolstoy one that will temporarily transport us from the day’s tedium? We seek escape, and storytelling is our magic carpet. Joan Didion tells us in The White Album, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Isn’t this so. From a story, we can take a deep breath and see our own lives in a fresh, new context.
    Stories move us from where we are to another realm entirely… to someone else’s realm, real or imagined. Consuming information with rapid-fire eyes is soulless and isolating. When we are absorbed in a story, we are no longer alone. “I read where I am but I’d rather read where you are,” says author Sean Dockray in essay #11, Where Do You Read? from the book, “I read Where I Am: Exploring New Information Cultures. He continues, “I’d rather sit on your lap and have you read to me.” Storytelling is essential for humanity, indeed predating the written word, the printing press and the digital wonderland of today.
    In the future, we will seek out stories to an even greater degree, for solace and escape and as a counterpoint to our increasingly anxious lives. Stories will live on in both traditional forms, and non-conventional ways. Even now, we chronicle the details of our lives through Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and share them with the world. In the future, memoirs will be a common vehicle of expression, taking the form of feature-length videos, edited with simple touch-screen motions and stored in digital cloud libraries according to our social security numbers. Families will store their stories together so that future generations can have instant access to the lives of their ancestors.
    Formless content is described as “retaining meaning in any container,” in Books in the Age of the iPad by Craig Mod. In reference to the iPad, the author states, “We’re going to see new forms of storytelling emerge from this canvas. This is an opportunity to redefine modes of conversation between reader and content. And that’s one hell of an opportunity if making content is your thing.”
    Despite all the changes in the ways we consume information and their effect on the publishing industry, Charlie Melcher, publisher and founder of the Future of Storytelling summit states, “At the end of the day, it’s still ultimately about telling powerful stories”. What’s more, tech innovations must be “combined with the storytellers” in order to have the greatest possible impact by facilitating a “renaissance of creativity.”

  9. The essay titled “Subtitling” is one of the more interesting ones of the bunch, since it mentions both the written word in conjunction with an accompanying image. What I found rather odd was how a number of the essays mention something along the lines of how, in more recent times, “reading” visual images is becoming just as complex as reading words on a page. There also seems to be this idea of such a reading as being part of the future of reading. However, I would argue that complex visual reading has been a part of human society for centuries. Moving away from the paintings on cave walls, and even after a written language was developed, it is not as if everyone could read. In the Middle Ages, for example, the vast majority of the peasantry was illiterate. When they would attend mass on Sunday, instead of following the Bible passage along with a written accompaniment, there would be pictures inside of the church depicting different Bible stories. Of course, the service was spoken in Latin, so the peasants most likely did not know what was being said. Therefore, a lot of what they knew from the Bible would have been derived from those pictures. After this period, as well, the visual image has constantly been analyzed on a complex level. Various paintings coming out from numerous eras in art history have undergone such scrutinization; if they had not, there would be a far simpler way of separating paintings into time periods, most likely into groups that showed more obvious deviance from one another. So, of course there will be intricate ways of looking at the visual image that can compete with deep reading; it simply is not a new phenomenon.

    That being said, the idea of words being a necessary part of an image is an interesting concept. There are not too many instances where one would find it necessary to communicate information and ideas through both word and picture. Movies and video of foreign origin, though, would need both: the original containing the visual perspective, while the subtitles guide the viewer through the native tongue of the script. But, as stated in the essay, a number of production companies will, instead of using subtitles, dub over the foreign voices. I agree that something is lost when this is done; for movies, it is necessary to fit the dialogue within the orator’s mouth flaps so the image flows better. So, when it comes to translation, certain meanings that were once there become condensed or even altogether lost. The notion that two different kinds of communication–the visual image and the written word–must be together to get across a more accurate picture depicts a kind of balance.

    I’m not one of those people who believe that everything is going to be digital within a short time frame and that the traditional form of the book will be forever gone. As long as people are willing to spend money on something, it will continue to exist. The presence of vinyl records in the age of the mp3 attests to that. If anything, books might become print-on-demand, so stores don’t have to worry about too much of a surplus of inventory. I also don’t think that the somewhat typical image of the professional author will go away, either; if someone enjoys writing in a particular format, they will most likely go ahead and write in that format. I believe that innovation and tradition will continue to coexist with one another for quite sometime still, as it has in a number of other areas; people still listen to Mozart and Bach, and people will still buy physical copies of books. It will work much like the subtitles in a foreign production. Perhaps subtitles aren’t necessary in a world where dubbing is a common practice. But it is still a preference for many individuals. People tend to adhere to their preferences, and I have a feeling that they will continue to do so, despite claims of inconvenience or any other kind of vote against a certain medium.

  10. The incorporation of visual and audio components in reading is inevitable. It is doubtful that all books will have sound effects or a sitcom style theme, but gradually more writers will start taking advantage of what modern technology can bring to reading. Many people seem to think that with technological innovation comes a loss of integrity to books, but this is not necessarily the case. In fact, what modern technology can do for a book is enhance the content of the text by enabling the writer, or perhaps creator, to further choreograph the reader’s experience.

    For instance, a non-fiction work may make reference to a popular address by a politician, or even an episode of the twilight zone. Instead of having to describe the video or hope that your reader has seen the video, you can show it to them. They can simply stop reading for a moment, watch the video being referenced, and then proceed to move through the writer’s argument. In a work of fiction, the addition of audio can be especially useful. Consider, as an example, a horror novel. While the writer is describing the scene, a type of eerie music can start to play, and with each turn of the page the music can build, creating senses of atmosphere, anxiety, and fear in the reader.

    Some people may respond to the previous point by saying that music would distract a reader from the text, but this is only true if the incorporation of audio is poorly done. If, for example, there is loud, meaningless music playing throughout a novel, it may be difficult for a reader to focus, and therefore, some of the content of the text may be lost, but it is both unfair and irrational to judge technology based on poor uses. It is much more reasonable to judge technology based on what it enables users to do. Ultimately new technological advances simply add tools to a writer’s tool belt. How effectively writers use said tools is up to the writer.

    Whether some people like it or not, right now things like E-lit are increasing in popularity and there is bound to be experimentation. Writers have already started to test new writing technology, and they will most likely continue to do so. Whether you believe modern technology enhances or completely changes the experience of reading a text, writers are now able to create things they never could before.

  11. As an Art student, I appreciate a well-made book. Books that are made with hardcovers, marbleized opening pages, beautiful paper or stunningly printed pictures aren’t just books to me; they are substantial objects of design. Leafing through a rich, stunningly printed book that is filled with photographs and inspiring artist statements is an irreplaceable activity. I’ve looked at art work on websites and through specific applications on my iPad before but for some reason, it just doesn’t feel the same. Instead, the whole experience feels thinner. It feels less powerful and less engaging.

    Maybe it’s the publication’s size and weight that is so appealing to me. The large format printing, thickness of the paper and the actual physical presence undeniably gives the images more weight and importance. Fine printed books do the work justice, respecting the content and gifting it with the attention it deserves.

    Warren Lee, in his essay “Reading Apart Together” seems to share some of my same feelings. He claims to “love well designed books; books which become something more than just a receptical for words and pictures” that “become objects of desire, for which collectors will do almost anything to own.” However, although he prefers “well designed books” he seems to find it impossible to let any type of book go, refusing to throw them away.

    In Lee’s mind, “books have souls” and although his point of view is indeed valid, I can’t say I agree. Most literature books, for example, don’t require a specific format. Reading Jane Austen’s Emma in paperback form as opposed to electronic form doesn’t alter my experience in the slightest. The text remains unchanged and the light, slim design of the iPad compared to the heavier, bulkier nature of the book simply helps me focus on the otherwise convoluted storyline. In fact, we could speculate that it’s the story within the book that has a soul ands not the book itself. Additionally, if a story is interesting and compelling enough, it’s soul will transcend past any medium of presentation.

    I tend to concur with Lee’s train companion who justifies reading on a Kindle by stating that he “travel[s] a lot therefore… cannot carry around the extra weight of real books” and likes the “wide selection” that his device allows him to “choose from”. The English gentleman’s explanation is both valid and practical: carrying around numerous heavy books is unnecessary and being able to switch between genres or moving onto a whole new book altogether is key. The “tactility” of the book may be a nice idea in theory, but in reality it is quite unpractical.

    We should keep printing books that act as art, objects or décor. Books that are beautiful to both sight and touch and will always be special to us. First editions or special publications may also have a space in the future of the book, as they will be valuable to passionate collectors or interested readers. Otherwise, everything should and probably will go digital; magazines, paperbacks, textbooks… the lot. By relying on e-readers as opposed to printed books, trees will be saved in the process too. This foreseeable future will bring us a step closer towards making the world a better place, all whilst the experience and essence (the “soul”) of reading lives on.

  12. I think the danger of electronic reading lies in the nature of electronics: TV, computers, tablets, phones… a constant move forward, a constant movement toward ease of perception. The driver for innovation in these technologies is the desire to make content easier to see, easier to perceive, with less to interpret. This is why we have HDTV, why our computer screens are so bright, why people care about pixels-per-inch on a phone. The higher the resolution, the less we as viewers have to interpret fuzzy imagery, the less we have to imagine what grass or clouds or the human face look like in reality to truly “see” a video.

    So it’s that fear, that fear that technology innately creates an ease-of-access, that makes me wary of the “future” of reading. As innovative and interesting as I think Danielewski’s iBooks must be – with their incorporation of certain sounds at certain moments through the text – I do fear what might be done to reading as the prevalence of this medium grows. Will I no longer need to imagine, to interpret the flickering war footage that Conchis reveals to Nicholas in “The Magus?” Will I click a linked word and will the video appear on my screen?

    The essay “Subtitling” discusses this to an extent. The written word and the image. I think the combination of the two, each playing off of the other, each giving hints as to the others’ meaning, that is a beautiful thing. But I don’t know if I can call that literature, I don’t know that literature is now MORE – involves more elements (like video, like photography, like music) – than how it has been traditionally defined. And I can’t see us as a society using an image to accompany the written word as anything but a simplifying mechanism for ease of interpretation. I can’t see us using the image to create depth, to give new meaning to words; I can only see it taking away the imagery I might have imagined on my own.

    So as we move forward with e-Lit, and e-Books, and words in any technological format, my hope is that we use technology to enhance words, not to simply them. That we defy the easiness of technology and use it to add depth to the written word. And that we come up with new words to define what is done when image meets word, when music and video and sound bytes become a part of a text. Literature as read in a book is different from literature read on the Kindle, and we need to separate how we think about the two, because they do different things for our minds. As we move forward, we mustn’t try to replace words on a page with words on a screen because, while both have merit, they treat our thoughts and our brains differently, give us different wordly gifts, and to confuse the two is a disservice to our ever-focused-on-technology minds.

  13. Adaptability. The future of the book lies in its ability to adapt to the increasingly digitalized culture of today. If the traditionally defined parameters of what a book is remain the same, then books are faced with the challenge of becoming digital while preserving the experiential aspects of reading a physical book. In this regard, the future of the book relies on programming to accurately replicate the experience of reading a physical book, while creating a literary environment (or e-book culture) that is competitive within the digital realm. Books don’t need to become something they’re not, they simply need to become the truest digital representations of themselves, so they are not left behind in the shift towards digital totality.

    While electronic literature may be on the rise, there is no practical reason to also call it a book when the only feature the two mediums share is the narrative of written words. Newspapers also share this feature, however no one attempts to categorize a newspaper as a book. If anything, the rise of electronic literature is one of the principle motivators for the digitization of the printed book. As this new media gains popularity, its interactive qualities leave little to be desired in a printed copy of Moby Dick; making books electronic gives them the ability to compete with other digital forms of entertainment.

    If the e-book becomes the more economical and convenient choice, what happens to the tangible printed books currently in circulation? At least in the present future, I can’t imagine any Fahrenheit 451 inspired book burning gatherings, so it seems quite plausible the physical book will become a novelty for literary junkies comparable to that of the vinyl record for music enthusiasts. I doubt the millennial generation will see the complete extinction of printed books, while their popularity may diminish; it seems unlikely they will disappear completely.

    It seems as though the future of the printed form of literature is truly what is in jeopardy. The rise of e-lit such as Scalar and Blue Velvet are changing the face of literature, which (until now) has long been defined by captivating long-form prose narratives.

  14. Reading on the Internet – from PDFs, online articles, fan-made materials, etc. – is my primary mode. Of all the time I spend online, productive and non-productive, I would say that at least 60 percent of it is spent reading. Now, undoubtedly, I’m not always close reading – information flies by, and if there isn’t one specific thing I’m looking for or engaged in, I tend to hopscotch around. Sometimes all I’m reading is a message from a friend on Facebook or a Twitter feed. Still, much of my experience is either reading or searching for reading material, and, quality aside, there is no lack of that.

    While reading practices are changing, and certain texts may be losing their relevance (War and Peace is one that keeps coming up), writing practices, too, have evolved. More than ever, people are able to write poems, stories, articles – and they can share them with a mass audience, the entirety of the Internet. This does not mean, of course, that everyone will read these texts, or even that most people will. But they are available: on LiveJournal or Wattpad or any other writing interface. People are divided on this increased visibility: is it a good thing? Not every amateur writer is going to strike gold, and more opinions do not necessarily lead to a more advanced conversation. Not to mention, if fewer people are reading overall, doesn’t it reason that writing will suffer for it? Do we want to read what these people have to write?

    Although I understand this hesitance to embrace an all-inclusive online world, I see more positive than negative in it. Because there is so much to read, so much to know, I think that it is most important now to cultivate discernment. What is actually worthy of someone’s time? And how does this “worth” vary from person to person? People have been able to read to their interests in the past, but it is more possible with the Internet than ever before. Not every writer on the Internet is the next best-selling author, certainly, but to dismiss them all would be just as wrongheaded. Likewise, most of what these people are writing, as far as I’ve read, is standard prose. Experimental lit is becoming more prevalent, but this does not have to signify the end of the narrative or “traditional” forms of writing.

  15. There’s a lot of talk right now about “the death of the novel,” and as long as the discussion is about the print novel, I see a lot of merit in the argument. One day (possibly one day very soon), novels will become more of a collector’s piece than a massly consumed product. Numbers show that yes, people are buying less books. Though I’m always skeptical of “numbers” and statistics, it’s hard to deny that these numbers don’t lie–you don’t even have to look at the numbers to see Borders going out of business and smaller bookstores like St. Mark’s Bookshop constantly under the same threat. Even a corporation as large as Barnes & Noble is dedicating half of its business to the Nook and Toys & Games, becoming less of a bookstore and more of a Nookstore.

    There’s a real possibility that in the same way that music and vinyls currently exist, books will be massly consumed digitally, with a minority of the public buying books for personal or sentimental reasons. Think back to when books were the #1 form of media, when the printing press came to being. It wasn’t because people felt an attachment to the product they were buying–a stack of papers bound by two boards–it was because buying a massly produced book was the EASIEST way to read. Now that electronics like the Nook and the Kindle are being produced to make the process of obtaining books and reading them even easier, there’s no reason to assume the majority of people won’t embrace the convenience.

    What’s not in danger is the act of reading itself. I’m not naive in thinking that everyone everywhere will find a value in literary reading, reading apart from the Internet or small blurbs in daily life. I’ve read the articles: we are more distracted, more prone to hyper attention. But as long as there’s language, I don’t see any reason to assume literature as we know it currently will become “extinct.” The medium might change, sure, but why is everyone assuming the art form itself will? If literary writing styles are changing with the increase in hyper attention–well, that’s nothing new. Literary styles have always been changing. A Victorian novel is vastly different from a modern novel; modernism is different from post-modernism. The change in style itself is exciting and inevitable. But no matter the style, the thing itself will remain. Literature serves a purpose that many people find necessary, for whatever reason–one of those strangely human necessities. There’s a reason that we don’t just forget older works of literature as we move through the centuries—there’s a reason Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are still being read, for example, instead of being tossed away as societies and cultures change. There’s a fundamental “humanness” that persists. And it’s because even through the centuries, humans are looking for the same thing. Literature provides something in the way of that. If this argument is ambiguous, it’s because the power of literature itself is. But ambiguity does not negate importance.

    Literature is in an interesting stage right now. For the first time since humans began writing their stories down, suddenly there’s the fear that one day–one day soon–people will cease to read. Literature will become irrelevant in the noise of the Internet, film, television. Of course, as I’ve been saying, this fear is unfounded. Of course some people will cease to read longer works altogether; but generalizations in art forms don’t exist. Not everyone will stop reading longer works. In the same way, people who consider themselves “literary readers” don’t all read the same thing. Some readers stick to YA fiction; some only read non-fiction essay collections; some only read the classics; some read it all. Reading has always been a matter of preference, and there’s no reason to assume this will change.

    I think literature will branch off into different mediums—just as theater branched off into film, which in turn branched off into television, which in turn branched off into miniseries. Literature relies on technology, but it’s not bound to it. E-lit is interesting and exciting, but it’s not a replacement for pure-prose literature. It serves an entirely different purpose, just as film and television serve two entirely different purposes. And just as some people prefer film over television, there will always be those who prefer pure-prose over e-lit. We’re not losing one form of art–we’ve opened it up to an infinite amount of possibilities. We’re not losing, we’re gaining.

  16. I write this entirely speculative piece from the perspective of someone less scared than excited about the potential for technological development in the book industry. Yet still, somewhat paradoxically, I have no interest in ever owning a tablet or Kindle/Nook. I stand in a distant corner in a used bookstore, tightly grasping a leather-bound copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and I am in awe of the creative potential of the eBook. I appreciate textual innovation with a jumbled mix of hesitance and fascination.

    I am intrigued by Lynn Kaplanian-Buller’s distinction between warm and cold reading in her short essay “How Will We Read?” She explains, “Cold reading is for gathering information involving head-thinking and fast eye movement. Gaming might even pump up the heart rate, but cold reading doesn’t open the heart. For cold reading, hard cased electronic devices are fine delivery systems. Warm reading happens when we open our hearts. As the author’s words move us emotionally, we give off an emotional charge which gets absorbed into the paper page” (87). Although I find that this distinction is likely subjective – a person less attached to physical copies may be more disposed to warm reading on electronic reading devices- I generally agree that the sensory experience of reading a physical copy of a book offers a more connected, personal, and memorable reading experience. I anticipate the future of books falling somewhat along this line.

    There is no reason why print books and eBooks cannot exist in the same future. And because a notable percentage of the population has already begun to make the transition to eBooks, it is clear that the acceptance of a bifurcated reading future is necessary on behalf of readers like myself. I foresee the future of books as follows: Newspapers, magazines, “sales” books, scholarly articles, and other cold reading materials will, in the near future, be consumed entirely on electronic reading devices. A sensory experience is not necessary to gather information quickly. Yet with novels- true masterpieces of language, which require not only an investment of time but also an investment of emotion- will remain in the realm of the print. Only through print copies are readers able to recall time and time again the “emotional charge which gets absorbed into the paper page,” and, as I think our generation understands better than anyone: technology evolves quickly, but physical copies can last forever. Here I accept the value of both cold reading and warm reading, and embrace completely the ultimate utilization of potential in both electronic and print media. Let the games begin!

  17. In his essay, “Watching, Formerly Reading,” (pp. 57-60) Max Bruinsma argues that, “what we used to call ‘watching’ seems increasingly like what we once called ‘reading’.” Bruinsma discusses how reading has, in the past, been considered superior to watching; reading has been defined as “a conceptual activity” and watching as “a more passive, sensory affair.” He then argues that this is no longer the case, that reading has become “a form of ‘getting an impression of something’,” and watching has become “a more conceptual, more reflective activity.”

    While I do think that Bruinsma accurately points to a certain phenomenon in today’s media environment—that there are now many kinds of reading activity—I don’t agree with Bruinsma’s conclusion that watching might someday be of more value, that the current hierarchy will be reversed. For me, reading will always be a “more conceptual, more reflective” and more challenging activity than watching.

    But maybe it’s all just a matter of language, of us not having the right words to describe how we engage with these new forms of media. Maybe my issue isn’t with Bruinsma’s argument, but the words he uses. After all, in thinking about my level of engagement with different kinds of media, I can call to mind moments where I have experienced the same level of deep engagement playing a video game as I have when reading a book. In fact a video game even made me cry once. But would I equate this deep experience of a game to the deep reading of a book? Would I say that I was participating in the same mental activity? No, I would not. For me reading a book and playing a video game are two essentially different storytelling experiences. I can’t really pinpoint why this is, but maybe I just don’t have the right words.

  18. “Pan thinks that reading will ultimately be too slow to satisfy our informational needs. […] He predicts that books will become increasingly *multi-modal* and *multi-medial* to accelerate the transfer of knowledge *because visuals can sometimes more quickly explain an issue than text*” – from Bregtje van der Haak’s “Reading Becomes Looking”

    Yunhe Pan’s prediction comes out of a feeling that present information consumption must grow and accelerate in order to keep up with the current information wealth available. While I do agree that the future form of reading will be a multi-modal one, I do not think such experiences will necessarily be more vapid or fleeting than print reading. The inclusion of images, videos and sound to the reading experience will not automatically simplify it, as such elements can possess the ambiguity and depth necessary to allow open interpretation, “reading between the lines”. When we think of images, videos and sounds – we think of the passive consumption of television and radio. The future book will contain these elements in a manner that forces the reader to engage the “text”, to understand and comprehend in a way that will lead to the same imaginative experience of print books. Future books will, like print books, possess the ability to immerse a reader in another realm of their mental construction, albeit containing elements beyond the conventional word.

    This is not to say that we will simply read, hear and look when engaging a book. Rather, I believe the current brevity and seeming simplicity of sentiment found in digital media like Twitter and imageboards will lead to a punctuated, denser multi-modal communication, which will be able to deliver the sentiment and depth of traditional print literature. Current developments in Internet culture and slang show the capacity to communicate sentiment with images and short phrases (e.g. the slang “in b4”, which signals to readers that the author is aware of counterarguments). As this short but dense vocabulary develops, we will become more capable in developing nuanced and complex narratives with it, narratives that will eclipse the simplistic fare present now (e.g. the book, TTYL).

  19. In my previous blog post I discussed Lynn Kaplanian-Buller’s valuable distinction between warm and cold reading. I came to the conclusion that, in the inevitable growth of the electronic reading device market, cold reading will be relegated to eBooks and warm reading will remain in the realm of print. I continued to think about the warm and cold reading distinction in our class discussion of I Read Where I Am.

    During class, I flipped to the “Index on Related Subjects (drawn from Wikipedia),” to read the index’s definition of “warm reading.” The definition states:

    “Cold reading is a series of techniques used by mentalists, illusionists, psychics and con artists to determine or express details about another person, often in order to convince them that the reader knows much more about a subject than they actually do. Without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by analyzing the person’s body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc.” (254).

    The section entitled “About this Book” notes that “Several indexes are featured as random access interfaces to the articles. And finally, the subject matter in the texts is extended beyond the book through comparisons with Wikipedia entries of similar semantic meaning” (261). As a student who has been told throughout my academic career to steer clear of Wikipedia, I was intrigued by its inclusion and importance in the text.

    While the definition is clearly an example of a Wikipedia entry of “similar semantic meaning,” there are similarities between Kaplanian-Buller’s definition of cold reading and the definition of Wikipedia’s contributors. Both definitions require superficial reading of details. Both definitions involve a cursory, limited understanding of a person or a text for immediate gain. Both definitions regard cold reading with a condescending tone that highlights the process’s shortcomings. But in what way does the Wikipedia link to warm reading inform Kaplanian-Buller’s essay, or the book as a whole?

    By including an “Index on Related Subjects (drawn from Wikipedia),” the designers of this book welcome another level of reading. The Index is not only a supplement to the book, but a direct challenge to it. The book becomes a discussion between experts, who wrote the 82 essays, and amateurs, who collaborate to create Wikipedia articles. By dedicating 79 pages of text to Wikipedia content, and separating that index from the essays with a solid gray page, each Index is situated as valuable to, yet almost separate from, the book itself. The designers are playfully reacting to the dichotomies of expert vs. amateur, legitimate vs. illegitimate information, and, more abstractly, the book itself vs. outside of the book. The index also makes the content of the expert’s essay more ambiguous: the clear distinctions between warm and cold reading in Kaplanian-Buller’s essay are muddled when paired with this extraneous definition. Ultimately, the unconventional indexes in I Read Where I Am challenge not only what the reader understands to be the limits of the book, but also the very foundation of the content which the experts discuss.

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