A Thousand Hands Will Grasp You with Warm Desire: On the Persistence of Physical Books – A.Christie

The Millions : A Thousand Hands Will Grasp You with Warm Desire: On the Persistence of Physical Books.

Gutenberg_Bible,_Lenox_Copy,_New_York_Public_Library,_2009._Pic_01bigThis is a great piece of writing on the importance and permanence (humanly speaking) of the classic codex (book). It was posted on the website “The Millions” on March 2, 2015 and is written by Alix Christie, “a writer and journalist whose debut novel Gutenberg’s Apprentice (2014) tells the story of the invention of printing. …She currently lives in London, where she reviews books and arts for The Economist. Visit her at www.gutenbergsapprentice.com.”

I include here the wonderful image of the Gutenberg Bible that was on her post, a reference to which begins her article. To read the entire post, visit this page.

The Gutenberg Bible is a book of extraordinary beauty. One might even say it exudes beauty: its gleaming hand-tooled leather cover beckons to the hands to touch, to open, to reveal what lies inside. The day I saw it, it was sitting on the library table like a fat monarch laid in state, a foot wide by nearly a foot and a half long, light reflecting off the metal cornerpieces a binder had affixed for its protection half a millennium before. I asked Paul Needham, the librarian at Princeton’s Scheide Library, if I should put on gloves. He shook his head. Linen rag is not disturbed by finger oils, while calfskin in fact thanks them. I raised the solid wood-and-leather board. It opened right onto the text: two perfect jet-black columns, the ink still glossy after all this time. I turned one massive page, and then the next, intoxicated by the touch, the smell, the grace of that black block against the broad and creamy margins. To my amazement, I was leafing through the most famous and valuable book in the world, the first major volume made with metal type — the Ur-book of the age of print. Yet beyond all these superlatives, it was simply beautiful.

This volume, one of 48 that survive, was crafted with exquisite care roughly 560 years ago. Its makers — one inventor, one scribe, and one merchant who dealt in books — chose for each page the crispest letterforms, the purest linen, the ideal proportions of the golden section. In short, they selected the finest possible form to clothe the most sacred text of their age, the Christian Scriptures. I studied this book for several years, and have come to think that it has much to tell our age as well. For this Biblia latina, more than any other book, makes one thing clear: the more we value a text, the more we desire to fix it in the world, to grant it permanence. Today, as we rush headlong into the digital age, it seems to me that a similar tendency can be discerned. For against all expectation, we readers maintain our stubborn attachment to physical books, as though what they contained were somehow sacred.

Help Yourself Read Slowly and Attentively – A.Jacobs

PleasureofReadingBkThis is a situation… which seems to lend itself to advice, to recommendations [Jacobs is referring here to the distractions our modern technology forces on us daily with regard to good reading.]. But what would be the point? We all already know what we need to do if we want to get back to reading slowly and attentively. Shut down the computer; put aside the cellphone. If the temptation to check email or texts or Twitter is too strong, then take yourself somewhere where the gadgets aren’t. Lock them in the car before you enter the coffee shop with your book; give them to your spouse or partner and request that they be hidden, and then go into a room with a comfortable chair and close the door behind you. It’s not hard to come up with handy-dandy practical suggestions; what’s hard is following them – or rather, even wanting to follow them. What’s hard is imagining, fully and vividly, the good things that happen when we follow through.

Alan Jacobs in The Pleasures of Reading in a Age of Distraction (Oxford, 2011), 84.

Can a Kindle Help Keep You Reading?

As promised in my earlier post today, I also want to post something positive about e-reading. While digital reading and e-readers may not be best for young readers, they can actually help some adults become better readers.

AJacobsPleasuresofReadingSuch was the experience of Alan Jacobs, as he describes it in his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford, 2011). In a section headed by the words “True Confessions”, Jacobs tells about how he came to use and came to love to use his Kindle. It happened in a book store, as he sat down with arms full of books – large books, with small print – good books he wanted but didn’t have room for at home without giving up other books.

So he bought a Kindle. And he discovered that it not only solved his immediate space and storage issues, but also helped keep him reading. Here’s his story and explanation, something perhaps you can relate to as well.

And that’s how the Kindle worked for me when I first got it, and for the most part still works today: it kept me reading. Think how easy it is, and how tempting, when you’re reading a novel to look ahead to the end. Maybe you just want to see how many pages there are in the book, to know how much you have left to read – but, of course, you might just sneak a peek at the last paragraph while you’re at it. You can do this on the Kindle, but it’s difficult. Similarly, when reading many different kinds of books you might want to take a look at the table of contents, to check how many chapters there are, whether they have titles, what the titles might mean, and so on – and again, you can do that on the Kindle, but only by moving your hands in a different and less natural way than you employ to turn the pages as you follow an argument or narrative (81).

And then Jacob’s goes on to state:

In short, once you start reading a book on the Kindle – and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried – the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else. E-readers, unlike many other artifacts of the digital age, promote linearity – they create a forward momentum that you can reverse if you wish, but not without some effort (81).

To which he adds these thoughts yet:

I don’t think that e-readers are going to be a cure-all for everyone in need of cultivating better and longer attention. But I do think that my experience suggests it’s not reasonable to think of ‘technology’ – in the usual vaguely pejorative meaning of that word – as the enemy of reading. The codex [book] itself is a technology, and a supremely sophisticated one, but even digital electronic technologies vary tremendously: e-readers are by any measure far less distracting than an iPad or a laptop. It’s at least possible for new technologies to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (82).

Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ

Read slowly to benefit your brain and cut stress – WSJ.

slow reading clubAn alert (slow?!) reader in Illinois sent me this link yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, and it is a fine piece promoting quiet, slow reading. I thank Ted for pointing this out. By all means take the time today to read through this article and benefit from its wisdom. I have provided a few paragraphs below to get you started.

And may you find such peace and quiet for some slow reading today. And if not, make some time this week to do so. The benefits are tremendous!

And to my own reading club I say, “What if we tried this? Would it defeat our purpose?” Think about it. Maybe we need this to allow ourselves time to finish the books we assign ourselves! :)

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore.

…Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

The benefits of reading from an early age through late adulthood have been documented by researchers. A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years.

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships. A piece of research published in Developmental Psychology in 1997 showed first-grade reading ability was closely linked to 11th grade academic achievements.

How 3-D Printing Will Change Our Lives – WSJ

How 3-D Printing Will Change Our Lives – WSJ.

3-D printingThink printing only pertains to books and periodicals? Think again. I have called attention to this new 3-D technology before, but now it is being taken to whole new levels.

The Wall Street Journal recently carried this report (posted August 1, 2014) about the growth of 3-D printing and how it is changing our lives and world rapidly. It truly is amazing what is being done with this technology!

Below is the first part of the article; find the rest at the WSJ link above.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, a hapless penguin at the Warsaw Zoo lost his lower beak, either in a fall or a fight, and there were concerns that the bird might starve to death because the damage left him unable to eat. Omni3D, a Polish 3-D printer firm, came to the rescue, offering to produce a new beak—based on a dead penguin’s, to get an idea of the dimensions—from materials including nylon.

According to Rozi Mikołajczak, a spokesperson for the Poznan-based firm, this is the first time in Europe (and only the second time in the world) that a bird’s beak has been reconstructed using 3-D technology. Unsure which material would be best for the penguin, they created three for the zoo to find a match. Modeling the beaks was time consuming: it took two weeks to complete them. As luck would have it, the penguin’s beak started to grow back so there was no need for the manufactured one, but this inspirational exercise illustrates how 3-D printing is crossing frontiers all the time, opening up new possibilities.

Published in: on September 5, 2014 at 6:14 AM  Leave a Comment  

Being a Better Online Reader – The New Yorker

Being a Better Online Reader – The New Yorker.

Online readingI do a lot of online reading in a given day, whether it be on my home PC, my laptop, or my tablet – as I suspect many of you do too by now. And there is no question that digital reading is a different type of reading. Shorter “bytes” of information; less careful thought and comprehension; easier distracti0ns. Is it my preferred method of reading? NO! Give me a print book any day! And yet my position(s) and work demand it.

Are there things we can do to become better online readers? According to this New Yorker article (posted July 16, 2014), yes. It has some technical information in it, but also some very helpful material. I post it here today in hope that it will give you direction in reading more and better, whether digitally or traditi0nally.

Below is an excerpt; you will find the rest at the link above.

Certainly, as we turn to online reading, the physiology of the reading process itself shifts; we don’t read the same way online as we do on paper. Anne Mangen, a professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at the University of Stavanger, in Norway, points out that reading is always an interaction between a person and a technology, be it a computer or an e-reader or even a bound book. Reading “involves factors not usually acknowledged,” she told me. “The ergonomics, the haptics of the device itself. The tangibility of paper versus the intangibility of something digital.” The contrast of pixels, the layout of the words, the concept of scrolling versus turning a page, the physicality of a book versus the ephemerality of a screen, the ability to hyperlink and move from source to source within seconds online—all these variables translate into a different reading experience.

The screen, for one, seems to encourage more skimming behavior: when we scroll, we tend to read more quickly (and less deeply) than when we move sequentially from page to page. Online, the tendency is compounded as a way of coping with an overload of information. There are so many possible sources, so many pages, so many alternatives to any article or book or document that we read more quickly to compensate. When Ziming Liu, a professor at San Jose State University whose research centers on digital reading and the use of e-books, conducted a review of studies that compared print and digital reading experiences, supplementing their conclusions with his own research, he found that several things had changed. On screen, people tended to browse and scan, to look for keywords, and to read in a less linear, more selective fashion. On the page, they tended to concentrate more on following the text. Skimming, Liu concluded, had become the new reading: the more we read online, the more likely we were to move quickly, without stopping to ponder any one thought.


Death of e-readers: What does that mean for book sales?

Death of e-readers: What does that mean for book sales?.

KindleereaderI found this recent headline and story to be striking. Are e-readers already on their way “out”?! It appears that with more and more people “reading” on their smartphones (Although, surely they seem to make people just the opposite!) e-readers are already dying out. Such is the fickle trends in modern technology.

Print books and magazines, however, seem to stay in vogue. And I predict they always will.

What about you? Are is the “state” of your reading? What form does your reading take?

Here is one writer’s perspective on what is happening in the digital print world (Slate, June 27, 2014). Find the entire article at the link above.

Tech writers have begun rolling out their eulogies for the humble e-reader, which Mashable has deemed “the next iPod.” As in, it’s the next revolutionary, single-purpose device that’s on the verge of being replaced by smartphones and tablet computers. Barnes & Noble is spinning off its Nook division. Amazon just debuted its own smartphone, which some are taking as a tacit admission that more people are reading books on their phone these days, to the detriment of the Kindle. The analysts at Forrester, meanwhile, expect that U.S. e-reader sales will tumble to 7 million per year by 2017, down from 25 million in 2012.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 6:46 AM  Leave a Comment  

Turns out most engaged library users are also biggest tech users | I Love Libraries

Turns out most engaged library users are also biggest tech users | I Love Libraries.

I found this little news item about a recent Pew Center report to be quite enlightening and encouraging. And, based on my very limited experience, I would have to say that I have found the same to be true – those who are already book-lovers and readers are also those who use all the modern means available to access more reading material and read even more.

I certainly would apply this to myself, and I don’t think I am such a “rare bird” :) . I often find that looking for a certain title for the Seminary library or browsing a Thrift store for books drives me to look for the digital version too (If it’s free or cheaper – that’s the Dutchman in me!). And the opposite is also true: browsing through lists of digital titles drives me to look for the print version, if the title is valuable and the library doesn’t have it. And that’s just one example of how the relationship works in my life.

What would you say about these findings? What’s true in your own life? Using modern technology to read more and use libraries less? Or using today’s digital tools to use and appreciate even more your library and its resources? I hope the latter :)

It wouldn’t be a leap to theorize that the expanding role technology plays in American lives would lead to the demise of public libraries. After all, so many other industries, including the one that’s bringing you this article, continue to struggle in the digital age.

When it comes to libraries, though, that theory would be wrong. A new study from the Pew Research Center found that more than two-thirds of Americans are actively engag

ed with public libraries. The report examines the relationship Americans have with their libraries and technology. Dusty, worn books versus sleek new computers, tablets or smartphones may seem like unlikely companions, but it’s really all about information.

“A key theme in these survey findings is that many people see acquiring information as a highly social process in which trusted helpers matter,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and a main author of the report said. “One of the main resources that people tap when they have questions is the networks of expertise. Even some of the most self-sufficient information consumers in our sample find that libraries and librarians can be part of their networks when they have problems to solve or decisions to make.”

The study also found that Americans who are more engaged in their communities are also more engaged at their libraries. But what was surprising, according to the researchers, is that the most highly engaged library users tended to be the biggest technology users.

The Future of Books Looks a Lot Like Netflix – Wired.com

The Future of Books Looks a Lot Like Netflix | Wired Business | Wired.com.

ereading-tabletI am rather skeptical about this concept being “the future of books”, and I rather doubt the widespread use and success of this idea, but it is always interesting to see what ideas are being tossed about in the book industry. According to Wired.com this idea of books paid for and delivered to your tablet like subscription magazines carries promise. We shall see.

I have also seen notice that the popularity of tablets and e-reading is easing already, which tells me the traditional print book is far from over. But, let the dreamers dream and the startups continue to start up different book ventures. As long as you are publishing something worth reading, people will buy it, no matter what the form may be.

Below is part of the “Wired” news item; find the rest at the link above.

Struggling against plunging prices and a shrinking audience, book publishers think they’ve found a compelling vision for the future: magazines.

Today, the San Francisco-based literary startup Plympton launched an online fiction service called Rooster. It’s sold by subscription. It’s priced by the month. And it automatically delivers regular content to your iPhone or iPad. In other words, it’s a book service that looks a lot like a magazine service. And it’s just the latest example of how books are being packaged like magazines.

With Rooster, readers pay $5 per month in exchange for a stream of bite-sized chunks of fiction. Each chunk takes just 15 minutes or so to read, and over the course of a month, they add up to two books. The service builds on the success of Plympton’s Daily Lit, which emails you classic literature in five-minute installments.

Published in: on March 20, 2014 at 6:16 AM  Comments (2)  

Real books should be preserved like papyrus scrolls – The Guardian

Real books should be preserved like papyrus scrolls | Books | theguardian.com.

papyrus scroll-1A little over a week ago Rick Gekoski wrote this important piece in the British magazine, The Guardian (posted Jan.27, 2014). In it he sounds the alarm about the overuse of digitalization (e-versions of books, magazines, etc.) and points to the important place which libraries have had and must continue to have in preserving printed materials. Perhaps, as he says, libraries in the future will only be repositories of rare books.

That is not enough for me. The past, present, and future ought to be preserved in printed form. To my mind, printed books and magazines -even images – will continue to have relevance to the end of the age. But I can imagine today’s generation might feel differently. Just don’t close the libraries in my lifetime. :)

I have posted a few paragraphs of Gekoski’s thoughts here, and encourage you to follow the link to the rest of his article.

You can burn books, but you cannot burn them all. But in a future electronic world, there will be a ghastly contingency about the written word, and we have to begin thinking – now! – about how this may be resisted.

The role of libraries is essential here, as secure repositories for the written word. And here I must admit a fear. In their rush to digitisation – an enthusiasm I find in most librarians I meet – there is the danger that libraries may too quickly abandon their crucial historical role. Already they have cut back, for instance, on the purchase of magazines and journals, and subscribed, instead, to their electronic versions. Think of all the shelf space that you free! How convenient not to have to arrange and rearrange, add texts as they arrive, dust and archivally preserve! But these new electronic versions may prove as fragile as the papyrus scrolls of Herculaneum and Alexandria: one moment of conflagration and they are gone.

If we can preserve and encourage the impulse to read, electronic books are a boon. They make reading available in the poorest parts of the world, where there are all too few books, which often have to survive, like their owners, in uncongenial conditions. But as Jeanette Winterson nostalgically observes, no electronic reader can accomplish the multitude of tasks that a library can, because it is a real place filled with real people. And real books, though they already feel expendable.

…As a species we are altogether neglectful with regard to our heritage and historical records. We lose, destroy, throw away, burn, delete, tear down, modernise. Things fall into disuse, then desuetude. We need to oppose this with all our energies: to resist the increasing pressure on funds and shelf space, and the deterioration of the objects themselves, to counter with strong reason the voices that will increasingly and aggressively complain: what do we need those dusty old things for anyway?

And the answer is that if once books were the providers of sacred texts, they must themselves come to be regarded as sacred objects, and be protected, preserved, studied and admired as we now value the cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls of our ancestors. Libraries are our repositories of paper. For 700 or 800 years paper has been how we have known ourselves and each other, recorded our events, thoughts and feelings, aspirations and memories.


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