Library books

Are you interested in what I’m reading that’s not for fun over the next two days?

Let's celebrate the anthropologists...

Let’s celebrate the anthropologists…

That’s Burang’s Tibetan Art of Healing, Kapferer’s A Celebration of Demons, Kapferer’s edited volume Beyond Rationalism, Hobart and Kapferer (ed.s), Aesthetics in Performance, and Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf’s edited Contributions to The Anthropology of Nepal.

Yes, I’m an ancient historian in research interests. Why am I reading modern anthropology of Nepal?


Ebooks & physical books: reading processes & experiences

It may or may not surprise you, fair or foul reader (but where’s the difference?) to learn that I’m not exactly an early adopter when it comes to technology. You’re reading the words of someone who’s never owned an mp3 player, and isn’t likely to get a smartphone anytime soon, or a fancy tablet. Although I’ve been reading ebooks for years, I still don’t have an actual e-reader: all my electronic reading takes place on the screen of my laptop (and quite a nice screen it is too, even if I ought to get some of that cleaning stuff and clean it sooner or later).

But lately it’s come to my attention that I approach the process, and find the experience, of reading differently as I move between electronic and physical modes, and I thought I’d spend a little time considering the differences. Particularly, I’ve noticed it’s harder – in some cases, all but impossible – to read a book for review in electronic form, and this reasons behind this little quirk are something I’d like to explore.

Note, please, that I’m not denigrating ebooks or ereaders. There’s much to be said for ease of access, portability, and ease of storage, among other things. What follows is merely my exploration of my processes.

The experience of reading electronically

On my laptop is a folder called “ebooks” into which are bundled all DRM-free epubs, PDFs, and the occasional .rtf that’ve come my way from purchase, review, or rarely, shamefully, torrenting. DRM’d ebooks, which I object to on principle but in practice sometimes can’t avoid, show up in my Kobo desktop application. (Kobo is my preferred platform, so far. a)It’s not Amazon, and b)it believes me when I tell it lies about my location in order to access US/CAN books.)

These are difficult to arrange by read/unread, topic, subgenre, or indeed along any axis other than author and/or title. It’s impossible to take them all in at a glance. It thus becomes easy, unless you read the damn thing immediately, to forget you have a copy of a specific title.

So much for the organisation of files. What about the physical and mental experience of reading itself?

To be honest, it’s not always comfortable. For one thing, it can be hard to sit back and relax while reading on a screen. For another, without the physical guide of the shape in my hands, I find it easy to lose my place in a window of text. And without the shape and heft of the pages in my hand telling me Ooo, we’re getting to the middle, oo it;s nearly the end where’s the climax is this the climax wait there’re too many pages left WOW BOOM REVERSAL, I find it difficult to judge pacing. Leaving quite aside the fact that my laptop’s desktop is an environment replete with distractions…

And when I’m reading for review, it’s not as though I can mark up the pages of an epub with stickynotes and scribbling, can I? It’s not exactly intuitive to my process…

Experience is beginning to show that I read fluff as ebook much more readily that anything which requires thought. Romance. Tie-in fiction. (I recently mainlined the non-Romulan Star Trek novels of Diane Duane.) The odd short-story collection.

But epic fantasy, or science fiction more complex than SHIT BLOWS UP, or anything else that requires on my part some modicum of thought or emotional investment, fast becomes extremely hard to track.

The hardcopy experience

Paper, I’m native to. I can walk about the house with a book before my nose and hardly even trip on the cats. At least, as long as the typeface is decent – the UK paperback of MiĆ©ville’s Railsea seems to be grey type on shoddy paper, for example, and that’s not fun. It’s simplicity itself to mark a spot with a colourful bookmark for later reference, or take the volume down to the beach to read in full sunlight and blustery wind. And paper stacks, glaring at you accusingly from its mounting piles: impossible to forget about, easy to group by type and kind. And you can see what you have in a couple of glances – the rough outline of what you’ve stacked in any one room. You can underline, leave stickynotes, deface, spindle, and mutilate as the spirit moves you, including writing notes in the margin.

The physical experience of reading conditions my response to a text, apparently. At least in part. It’ll be interesting, in future, to keep track of this and see if, and how, it changes.

Linky is home, home from away

Julia Rios interviews Rose Lemberg at Strange Horizons:

RL: I’ve been constructing languages on and off since I was six! Unlike many conlangers, I am not really interested in generating a large body of finely detailed work on every aspect of lexicon, phonology, morphology, and syntax. I am most interested in cognitive categories, which is to say a relatively limited set of concepts central to our cognition and pervasive in human experience. Examples are possession, gender, space, time, motion. Languages encode these categories in incredibly diverse ways. Russian, for example, is very rich in motion verbs. There are multiple prefixed verbs recording tiny details of motion trajectory (e.g. pereprygnul, “overjumped”; podnyrnul, “underdove”). English verbal inventory is rich in verbs denoting manner of motion, so for “jump” people can hop, skip, leap, bounce, bound, spring, hurdle, vault, and quite possibly caper, while in Hebrew they can only likfots (jump) and lekapets (hop). When I work on a constructed language, I want to know interesting things about how it expresses cognitive categories, and how this correlates with culture. I was fairly inclined to do this early on, even though I had no idea why I was doing this.

Alec Austin, “Some thoughts on interpretative protocols and the reader’s 50%”:

I strongly suspect that one of the things that’s silently dividing the SF field internally, as well as dividing SF from YA, is the degree to which different audiences’ reading protocols skew towards privileging aesthetics and emotion vs. intellect and pattern-matching. (I don’t feel like this maps precisely or even closely to the Fantasy/SF split at this point, though people keep on trying to make the conversation about that, which I feel does a damn good job of obscuring what’s actually in play.)