Archives for category: Reading

Isn’t it only just that an under-appreciated group should at long last be getting some attention? Those enraged parents who spend so much time and energy saving our children from the evil influence of liberal books are now being noticed with the inauguration of Ban Books Week.

The picture shows Executive Director, Sean Spicer, the last president’s unforgettable press secretary (until he wasn’t any more) discussing the exciting plans. Spicer is quoted as sagely opining “Censoring books is an area where many people in our divided country can find common ground”.

This story, and a lot more unbelievable book news, can be found at Shelf AwarenessApril Fool’s Day issue.

Alloa Academy Library tweeted this Scottish Book Trust answer to the question, adding “Reading has the power to change your life and is one of the best ways to look after your health and wellbeing”:

What more need one say? Well, it can also be quite amusing. Or kill a few hours.

The health and wellbeing bit might need to be approached with a bit of caution: don’t go reading your health encyclopedia or, nach Wunsch, your Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as an alternative to getting the doctor to treat your broken arm. “Knowing the truth” doesn’t really hack it when it comes to setting bones, though Mary Baker Eddy may have been a pioneer of what we now call the placebo effect. I’m sure books have placebo effects.

Sounds like a bit of a joke but here you can hear this new typeface earnestly introduced by a spokesperson from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Apparently the idea is that if you have to struggle to get the information, you’ll be able to remember it better. This idea, which is dressed up with the scientific-sounding name “desirable difficulty”, may or may not be nonsense. Make the typeface hard to read, and the reader will work harder at understanding it. This rather calls into question efforts to design text pages with a typeface which makes it easier for dyslexics to cope. If there’s any basis to this desirable difficulty study plan wouldn’t it be desirable to instal 40 watt bulbs in all libraries, and few of them at that? Or set textbooks in 5 point type and print them in pale grey ink? It might also be considered wise to make students do their homework in noisy pubs: not that any of them would ever have thought of that for themselves. Or maybe to forbid them to do their homework at all, or even to prevent them from attending class. “We’re not going to tell you what it is you need to know, but the test’s next week.”

The concept of desirable difficulty was apparently invented in 1994 by Robert A. Bjork, a UCLA psychologist. It is good to know that he is also the discoverer of the “directed forgetting paradigm” — the full service: can’t get that Sans Forgetica text out of your mind, here comes directed forgetting.

Sans Forgetica makes you think of a Costa Brava seaside resort with one or two too many margaritas on board — maybe the beach is where we should all be going to study.

Notice of this story comes via The Passive Voice, where there are further links to pieces in Wired and in Science Daily. The Science Daily article indicates that the jury is actually still out on whether this desirable difficulty does or does not increase learning.

In my schooldays the preferred method was not so much desirable difficulty (Latin has that inherently anyway) rather it was “desirable fear” — the technique of beating knowledge into the brain via the backside. It never worked either.

Expenditure on reading has again declined. Does this matter?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that for 2019 the average expenditure per household for all forms of entertainment reading (i.e. not textbooks, but including newspapers and magazines) was $92. Might we think that half of that $92 was spent on books? If so, I’d have thought that was a pretty decent sum all things being considered. There appear to have been 132,242 consumer units (what we’d call households) in America in 2019, so half of $92 multiplied by households would come to over $6 million.* Don’t know about you, but I’ll settle for that.

Many see the news as a cause for concern and believe that the publishing industry should do something about it. In a piece by David Rothman at TeleRead Thad McIlroy scolds, “The book publishing industry largely sells to the same well-heeled audience, year after year. The audience increases slightly as additional literate graduates enter the reading world — then declines with the deaths of the heavy-reading seniors.” Yes, yes, traditional book publishing is a mature industry. Might be nice if we could look for mass increases in our customer base, but there are certain barriers to entry — you have to want to read a book, and be able to do so ( — which doesn’t just mean being capable of reading. You’ve got to have a bit of peace and quiet and quite a fair serving of spare time, as well as the wish and ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Plus of course it calls for a bit of surplus income. Would that all these things were more widely distributed in our population.) The overall market for books isn’t infinitely expandable — in fact I suspect we’ve gone about as far as we can go. As (and if) education rates increase, new recruits will be constantly available, but don’t look for leaps and bounds. Obviously we always have to be ready for “the deaths of the heavy-reading seniors”.

What isn’t at all clear is whether the $92 cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes sales of self-published and indie-published books — I bet it doesn’t, as I don’t think there’s any real way to discover these numbers. Also the figures have, obviously, got to leave out of account reading of library books, borrowed books, found books, second-hand books, books you’ve owned for years and so on. They are reporting expenditures after all.

It’s always fun to have a go at publishing. It’s something you care about and it looks so inviting. But what is your target? What is publishing? When you address it there’s nobody there to hear. Publishing is made up of lots of individual companies, and each of these companies is made up of lots of different individual people. There’s no collective entity which can agree or disagree with your wish that publishing should do more market outreach, and thus no entity that can do anything about it. Does Mr McIlroy really think that Random House, The University of Chicago Press, The New Press, The American Chemical Society ,and so on should be spending money on outreach to non-readers? Why would they not focus their marketing expenditures on people who they think might e likely to buy their product. Industry associations do do a little outreach: Get Caught Reading still exists, though such initiatives really just end up preaching to the choir.

We’ll have to wait a year or so to get the 2020 numbers, but we all anticipate, don’t we, that expenditure on entertainment reading will have increased during our year of coronavirus?


* Oops. As all too frequently my grasp of large numbers manifests itself as a problem. As David Rothman gently points out in a comment “You need to add some zeros to when you talk about “132,242 consumer units” in the US. The correct number would be 132,242,000. Times $46, that would be $6.07 billion.” A somewhat bigger number! I once had a boss who used to tell me ” Don’t tell me it’s a large number of dollars — give me the number”.

May not be your cup of tea (nor mine) but fan fiction is wildly popular. So popular that Vice’s Motherboard tells us that users crashed one of the main sites, Archive of our own recently. (Link via Kathy Sandler’s Technology • Innovation • Publishing.) Apparently fan-fic has been becoming more and more popular all through 2020. Will this end up being one of these lockdown trends which turn into a permanent feature of our lives? Like maybe remote working, Zoom meetings, grocery deliveries and mask-wearing?

When I wrote about the serialized novel in 2015, I was focussing on printing books in chapter lots. I wasn’t thinking that there was going to be an app designed to deliver books to you in 20 minute segments. Mashable, via The Digital Reader, now tells us about Serial Reader. Once we get back to commuting, this sort of episode-based reading might well be attractive. If you have a twenty-minute journey maybe this service would fit the bill, though most people’s commutes are I suspect longer than that — and then you’ve got the journey home too. Still I guess I could see reading a book one way on the subway every morning without getting too impatient for the next installment.

Publishing books in installments has of course got a long history, but we keep discussing it as if it was a gift brought to us by the wonders of the internet. See for instance Wired‘s article about Serial Box, an audiobook equivalent, delivered via Book Business Magazine. Do we not remember that Dickens’ novels were published in weekly installments, as was The Turn of the Screw (in Colliers Weekly)? Just because we do things one way now, doesn’t mean we were unable to figure out other ways in the past.

American Libraries Magazine brings us a brief report (via Kathy Sandler’s Technology • Innovation • Publishing.): “Overdrive reports that libraries all over the world collectively loaned more than 289 million ebooks in 2020, a 40% increase from 2019. Audiobooks also gained last year, but not as much as ebooks because people were commuting less. The report says 138 million audiobooks were checked out in 2020, a 20% increase from 2019.”

Now let us not be beguiled into over-interpreting this information, either as evidence of digital triumph or as presaging the death of print. Remember that most libraries were shut for most of the past year, and the library borrowing of physical books, in so far as it was allowed to take place, was hedged about with all sorts of restrictions. Thus we would expect people to have increased their borrowing of ebooks: it was just so much easier than getting hold of a printed library book. It does seem that reading qua reading had a bumper year in 2020 as we all looked around for things to do while stuck at home.

Whether this “preference” for ebooks will turn into a permanent change of behavior remains to be seen. No reason to fear such an outcome however — publishers are in the business of facilitating reading after all. And librarians always have storage problems for all those print books. Still, for myself, I suspect things will revert to the norm when we are all liberated.

It is true of course that book publishers are still feeling our way forward on the “right” terms under which they should supply ebooks to libraries. We can work it out.

The Wine Society advises us that RLS called wine “bottled poetry”. They provide a few literary wine references. No doubt you can come up with others.

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
Paulo CoelhoBrida

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast

“Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.”
Marguerite YourcenarMemoirs of Hadrian

“The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.”
François RabelaisGargantua & Pantagruel

“I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.”
Evelyn WaughBrideshead Revisited

‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
W.B. Yeats

“. . . There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’”
Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I often wondered what Hippocrene was — though clearly not enough to look it up: it would appear that the dull brain perplexes and retards in this context too. (It’s actually a spring on Mount Helicon, sacred apparently to the muses.)

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.

As far as I can discover Hippocrene doesn’t actually bubble forth in the form of red wine as Keats seems to imply.

If you want to get in on this book/wine, wine/book thing, maybe you (if female) could join the Book & Wine Club. They say they have groups in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Portland, Raleigh, and Toronto. I would imagine their activities are a bit restricted just now though.

This site might be good as a quizzy pastime, as well as a way to generate suggestions of different new books to read. Recommend me a book invites you to read the first page of a book and then guess what book it is. You can go on and on.

Actually I do think reading the first page is good way to recognize a book you might want to read. (I found a couple.) In dealing with the pile of manuscripts which would come in over the transom publishers often/usually would make their assessment on the basis of the first sentence — if it doesn’t make you want to read on, you don’t. If it does, you’d next look at the last page. Attention piqued? Back to page one and start in again.

Link via Book Riot.

Take any data set and slice and dice, and you can come up with whatever you want, so of course you shouldn’t put too much weight on this research into generational differences in reading preferences. Even the definition of generations is a variable. Still, The Passive Voice gives us this list of reading preferences by generation which originates at the BookBaby Blog.

  • Gen Z prefers fantasy to other genres.
  • Millennials read more books than other generations.
  • Gen X reads more online news than other generations.
  • Baby Boomers rely on best-seller lists to find their books.
  • The Silent Generation spends the most time reading each day.
  • A preference for physical books spans all generations.

Perhaps it’s not too surprising that the silent generation would spend most time reading: after all if you are chatting all the time it’s hard to focus on your book. (Plus of course, more obviously, the silent generation is now the retired generation, so much time is available.)

This information is gleaned from this infographic created by Best By the Numbers.