Tag Archives: LitNews

“What do we give up by reading an e-book?”

In case you had better things to do last Friday, here are excerpts of some of the book panels that took place that day, starting with a title that spells doom (the equivalent to “The ends is nigh” 😉

“What do we give up by reading an e-book?”:

“…while e-readers (and e-book files) are more compact and portable than the traditional print book, we sacrifice the literal searchability of paper books. While paper books encourage us to read non-linearly, with a personal connection to the text, and to continue “reading” long after we’ve put down a book; e-readers and e-books may signal a different type of reading — something impermanent (more throwaway), less personal, more distracted, and ultimately less meditative.”

And “The psychology of reading”:

“The panelists in this session shared their findings on the psychology behind the act of reading. Their study is based on the definition of stories as model worlds that allow the reader to be both themselves and someone else at once. They compared the experiences of reading Chekov in his original form and re-written in plain language to find out whether content or literary quality causes both social- and self-transformation.

The panel worked at pinpointing why literary quality (and not content) makes the mind more malleable, leading to transformations in personality and emotion. This quality is elusive, of course. To bring it all back to technology, the panel ended by posing the question: “How are new technologies changing they way we experience self-transformation through narrative?”


What’s the bloody point in reading books?

What’s the point in reading? “What good are novels, poetry, and other types of imaginative literature—except perhaps as escapes from our present miseries?” […]

What literature offers us then are alternate visions of life. […]

Literature can help us appreciate more the beauty and goodness that are there for the seeing, if only we train our eyes to see. […]

At a time when the United States and the world generally seems as confused, intolerant, and without answers as ever, any steps forward out of our Babel-like existence toward more mutual understanding are to be welcomed.  Moreover, Matthew Arnold was correct, culture (in the sense of higher learning), especially literature, can be a “great help out of our present difficulties.”  It can help us see that the inane ads that constantly urge us to purchase more and pursue a false “American Dream,” as well as much of our mass-media culture that is driven by the profit motive, are dead ends.  Concern about culture is not a frivolous matter in our troubled world.  In an interview printed in 1977 Ralph Ellison, who did much to enlighten us on race relations, said, “While others worry about racial superiority, let us be concerned with the quality of culture.”  First-rate literature can stretch our minds and our sympathies and bring us closer to experiencing the beauty, goodness, and truth that humanity’s best minds have always sought.

If concern about culture is not something that propels us to read, we can always look at reading from a more pragmatic point of view, to find the “clear link between reading for pleasure and gaining a good job”:

“The research, by Mark Taylor of Nuffield College, Oxford University, analysed the responses of 17,200 people born in 1970 who gave details of their extra-curricular activities at age 16, and their jobs at age 33.

The findings show that 16-year-olds who read a book at least once a month were “significantly” more likely to be in a professional or managerial position at the age of 33 than those who did not read.

For girls, there was a 39% probability that they would be in a professional or managerial position at 33 if they read at 16, compared to a 25% chance if they had not.

Amongst boys, there was a 58% chance of being in a good job at 33 if they had read as a teenager, compared to a 48% chance if they had not.

The research also looked at after-school activities including sports, socialising, going to the cinema, concerts or museums, cooking and sewing, but found that none of these had an impact on careers.”

LitNews 5: Some Interesting News from the World of Books

Some interesting bits from the world of books:

While Western writers party in lavish conferences… “fiction writers and poets have always done the important work of challenging authority. For proof, just look at the rates at which authors are imprisoned and punished. […] Literature has always been a way to confront society’s ills […] And the poets and writers of the region have served as historians and journalists.”

Tell it to publishers who care only about their bottom line: “Literature should reach out to people and it should not limit itself within the confines of literacy . It should make an impact on society, should transform history, and demolish hurdles that hinder the growth of society.”

Rupert Murdoch’s empire is concerned about morality. Ha. Ha. Money and morality. Ha. Ha. “Political correctness is now about to affect the behaviour of writers, with the American arm of HarperCollins introducing a “morality clause” that gives it the right to terminate a contract if “an author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals or if such behaviour would materially damage the work’s reputation or sales”. Lucky for us readers that writers such as Lowry, Burroughs, et al, got published before Murdoch came to preach his “morality”.

LitNews 4: The disappearing book editors

Most readers and all writers know by now that the book publishing industry is changing. The way readers acquire and read books, and the way writers publish them, is only the surface, the most obvious indication of the changes. With the popularity of electronic book reading devices, readers and writers are forming a seldom before experienced, close and intimate relationship that can only be described as heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul. A reader now reads books that are the innermost creation of the writer, without the interference of the middlemen — the disappearing literary agents and editors. Without spending much time of the former, let us rehash the contribution of the latter to a publication of a book.

Who were the editors and what did they do? Were they beneficial to writers’ creativity? Are they missed by readers?

“For some years now – almost as long as people have been predicting the death of the book – there have been murmurs throughout publishing that books are simply not edited in the way they once were, either on the kind of grand scale that might see the reworking of plot, character or tone, or at the more detailed level that ensures the accuracy of, for example, minute historical or geographical facts. The time and effort afforded to books, it is suggested, has been squeezed by budgetary and staffing constraints, by the shift in contemporary publishing towards the large conglomerates, and by a greater emphasis on sales and marketing campaigns and on the efficient supply of products to a retail environment geared towards selling fewer books in larger quantities. In more broad-brush terms, the question is whether the image of the word-obsessed editor poring over a manuscript, red pen in hand, has given way to that of the whizz-bang entrepreneur attuned to the market’s latest caprice, more at home with a tweet than a metaphor. […]

The demands of a global marketplace, the advent of digitisation and the increased importance of sales, publicity and marketing have all contributed to changing the face of an industry that quietly congratulated itself on its genteel bohemianism. Writers, except for the most financially successful, must maintain the solitary intensity of their creative life while adapting to new realities; they are now often advised to add mastery of social media to the publication round of interviews, readings and festival appearances, and many take on a heavy load of teaching to supplement their earnings. Publishing in its popular incarnation – the legendary long lunches, the opportunistic punts on unheard-of but brilliant young writers, the smoke-filled parties and readings – is probably gone for good. Although you do wonder about the halcyon version of events: with all those long lunches, how did anyone get any editing done in the first place?” SOURCE


“An editor chooses manuscripts for publication that are brought to her attention by an agent who represents authors. This editor must then run the idea of the book past the marketing department who will tell her if they think they can sell it to Indigo or not. They will approve it as long as it’s not something completely insane like a book of short stories. The number of typographical errors in the manuscript at this point doesn’t affect anyone’s decision.

Then the editor gives the author notes on how the manuscript could be improved. These notes will not be spelling or punctuation corrections. They will be ideas about the structure and characterization in a novel. In a book of non-fiction they will be criticism and debate of the ideas being advanced. This is called substantive editing.

After the book is rewritten – possibly more than once – to the satisfaction of the editor, then it is given to a second editor, often a freelancer, who goes through all the persnickety punctuation stuff. This is called copy-editing.

So what do substantive editors mean when they say that a book is “ready” for publication, like doctors announcing that a tumour is gone? What might they mean when they say it has been “cleaned up” or any of the other metaphors they might use, metaphors that might give you the impression that there is some universally accepted check-list for their profession? They won’t tell you, because there isn’t one.

What they should be saying is “when I like it.” And this why I would never counsel any author to hire a freelance editor before a publisher has looked at it. There are no standards to follow here: Editors have quirky and personal tastes. They might want a book to be shorter, or they might want it to be longer. They might want more description or less description.” SOURCE

Hmm, “editors’ quirky and personal tastes”… It begs a question: Whose tastes should a book vie for, the editors’, or the readers’?

George Bernard Shaw: “I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without the intermediate parasite.

LitNews you may have missed (3)

Books are thriving… in India: “Penguin Group chairman and chief executive and Pearson India chairman John  Makinson stated emphatically, “Books matter more in India than anywhere else in the world. Unlike China, where most books sold are on self improvement, books on social issues are read more in India, apart from books on improving English.”

Leaving the West, where Amazon and Kindle have threatened book stores, publishers are rushing to India from all over the world because the upward mobility of the middle classes is producing a large number of literates who like to read, Anita Desai added.

“India matters more than any award or listing on the best-sellers list because it is only in India that books are sold at traffic signals,” said Patrick French, author of ‘An Intimate Biography of 1.2 Billion People-India’.”

Male writers outnumber women: “The truth is, these numbers don’t lie. But that is just the beginning of this story. What, then, are they really telling us? We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity. Many have already begun speculating; more articles and groups are pointing out what our findings suggest: the numbers of articles and reviews simply don’t reflect how many women are actually writing.”

More on this: “In the UK, the LRB reviewed 68 books by women and 195 by men in 2010, with men taking up 74% of the attention, and 78% of the reviews written by men. Seventy-five per cent of the books reviewed in the TLS were written by men (1,036 compared to 330) with 72% of its reviewers men.

Meanwhile Granta magazine, which does not review but includes original contributions, featured the work of 26 female and 49 male writers in 2010, with men making up 65% of the total.

In the US, The New York Review of Books shows a stronger bias. Among authors reviewed, 83% are men (306 compared to 59 women and 306 men), and the same statistic is true of reviewers (200 men, 39 women). The New York Times Book Review fares better, with only 60% of reviewers men (438 compared to 295 women). Of the authors with books reviewed, 65% were by men (524 compared to 283 by women).”

Do not overlook literary haunts next time you visit Mexico City
: “Few visitors to this city may know that in the 1950s writer William Burroughs lived here on Calle Orizaba in Colonia Roma.

This was where Jack Kerouac came to visit and wrote “Mexico City Blues” before his famous book “On the Road” became his generation’s literary sensation.

Beat poet Alan Ginsberg, famous for writing “Howl,” defined what that generation was looking for. Actually, you could say the Beat Generation arose from Mexico City.

Actually, this section of Mexico City has been important to literati, moviemakers and the intelligentsia since before the turn of the 20th century.”

The folly of judging literature: “To any reasonable man or woman, the Nobel Prize in Literature seems rather innocuous.  But the Nobel Prize in Literature is not the truth.  The Nobel Prize in Literature is not fair to all concerned.  The Nobel Prize in Literature will not build goodwill nor better friendships.  The Nobel Prize in Literature is not beneficial to all concerned.  And therefore, the Nobel Prize in Literature fails the Four Way Test and cannot be considered an ethical institution.

Let me explain in more detail.  First and foremost, the Nobel Prize in Literature is not the truth.  When the Swedish Academy chooses an author to be a Nobel Laureate, they are effectively saying that this author has attained literary greatness. They are attempting to objectively rank a subjective art.  Unlike other literary awards such as the National Book Award, the Man-Booker Prize, or the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded for a body of work rather than a specific book.  Thus, it represents the world’s most important instrument in codifying literary greatness.

This is why it is not the truth.  It is impossible to objectively rank literature, and any institution that purports to do so is, to an extent, lying.”

Junk Food literature? “Until Michael Pollan exposed the fact that high fructose corn syrup was ubiquitous in processed food (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), most Americans had no idea that this dietary manipulation was one of the leading causes of the alarming rise in type 2 diabetes. After reading the Sunday Times Book Review of June 27th, I have concluded that a similar conspiracy exists between publishers, publicists and editors of book reviews and it is being perpetrated on people who consider themselves serious readers. … We are a nation of people who used to pride ourselves on our energy, our inventiveness and our intellectual curiosity. We are becoming more and more sluggish, more dependent on passive entertainment than stretching our own minds. Reading books about self-defeating losers is the equivalent of eating TV dinners instead of a gourmet meal.”

Redefining book length: “Seeing those time estimates will change our perceptions of reading as an activity, for better and worse. I already have an improved and altered sense for the time I spend reading, and I do sometimes avoid pieces because of the word count exceeds my day’s quota. Smart book publishers will help readers get over the attention anxiety by providing time estimates for each chapter (“You can read this book in ten easy installments of 17 minutes each!”) –- something that is available as an easy plug-in for blogs and others forms of online publishing. Or maybe our device will tell us how much time is left in a chapter as a replacement to our old method of paging ahead to find the chapter’s end.

This shift from page count to word count will be another casualty of the physical book that will be lamented. Purists will see this as another horrible concession, wishing we returned to an age when books were shown proper respect. “We are going to start saying, ‘This is a four hour, seventeen minute book?’ That’s absurd!”

But what if this shift is a way for books to better fit into our a world where we measure in smaller and smaller slices of time? The book hasn’t changed, only the way we relate to it has. And what if instead of choosing another 47 minute episode of Mad Men from iTunes, that reluctant reader picks up a book, knowing she can finish five more chapters before going to bed? That seems like a good trade-off.”

Don’t judge a person by the books they read: “I pray that no F.B.I. agent, criminal profiler or (worst of all) news pundit ever gets a look at my bookshelves. There, alongside Swift, Plato, Lewis Carroll and Marx, you’d find the Marquis de Sade, Mickey Spillane, Hitler and Ann Coulter. Books are acquired for all kinds of reasons, including curiosity, irony, guilty pleasure and the desire to understand the enemy (not to mention free review copies), but you try telling that to a G-man. It seems perfectly obvious to me that owning a copy of “Mein Kampf” doesn’t mean you’re a Nazi, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

LitNews you may have missed (2)

Some news from the literary world that you may have missed in the past weeks:

A book club is making the difference for patients and doctors alike: “Neelon, now medical director for the Rice Diet Program, felt the literature discussions had been beneficial to his medical work. … “A patient comes to see you, and they are going to tell you a story,” he explained. … “The doctor must understand it as a narrative. Reading literature, discussing poetry, hones your skills, makes you see the narrative thread. It deepens your understanding.”

Now that you’ve turned your CD collection in to MP3 files, you can go ahead and easily turn you “traditional” books into ebooks: “Called the Book Saver, it’s a large frame into which you place an open book. Tap the Scan button and the spread is digitised and dropped onto an SD card, ready to be transferred to your computer. Each page is saved separately, thanks to the unit’s two flash-equipped cameras.”

“Why are some women writers reluctant to acknowledge that they are women writers?” “In the 70s and 80s, many women found the female in literature inspiring but then Nathalie Sarraute snarled in an interview: “When I write I am neither man nor woman nor dog nor cat.” To her, the notion of female or male writing – écriture féminine ou masculine – was totally void of meaning. Moi finds that since then the discussion has gone nowhere. “To make women second rate citizens of the world of literature is to say that the female experience of the world carries less value than the male.”

“But the lack of interest in the written word, Diaz added, was only one aspect that posed a problem to a writer in the USA. Changing belief systems about the pursuit of humanities, he added, was the other bigger challenge that writers like him faced. “There’s an entire belief in the USA about the utter uselessness of art in the material world. That’s what keeps me going. My attempt is to convert at least a few persons in that space,” he added. “

That’s why I pick books printed using German Gothic: “A study by Princeton University found that a significant number of those tested could recall more information when it was presented in unusual typefaces rarely used in textbooks.
The research suggests that introducing ‘disfluency’ – by making information superficially harder to understand – deepens the process of learning and encourages better retention.
The psychologists said information which has to be actively generated rather than ‘passively acquired’ from simple text is remembered longer and more accurately.
‘When we see a font that is easy to read we’re able to process that in a mindless way, but when we see an unfamiliar font, one full of weird squiggles, we have to work a little bit harder.
‘That extra effort is a signal to the brain that this might be something worth remembering.'”

LitNews you may have missed (1)

A new, weekly summary of some interesting stories from the world of literature and publishing.

Criticism to literature is what pornography is to love: “Beauty is surely the defining property of literature — but what can criticism do with it? Doesn’t it invariably leave beauty to one side like a pile of indigestible fibers?”

“You are 5 times more likely to write a New York Times bestseller than date a supermodel,” BRI.

No need to stress: books will always be around. Writers write. Readers read. Both love the word: “Whatever happens there will always be two key entities – the authors who create and the readers who consume. The gap between them is now narrowing.”

What you read is what you are: “Eating anything you come across does not contribute to good health; the content of what we eat is of vital importance. The same is true of reading.”

Every demagogue knows the importance of spinning his web around a young audience, hence children books penned by Obama and the Pope. We however welcome the children book festival that aims to foster life-long reading habits: “With so much else that demands the attention of the young — homework, tuition, TV, playstation and cricket — reading often takes a back seat. However, Bookaroo, a festival of children’s literature which started three years ago in the capital, has tried to rectify the problem.”

“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks . . . The English language . . . becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts,” George Orwell.

New translation of Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak: “This novel is one of the 20th century’s great indictments of armed revolution, utopian visionaries, and war. Russia’s turbulent history, beset with cruel repression from the czar, followed by World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, the civil war, and the great purges by Joseph Stalin, left in its wake tens of millions of victims and serves as the tragic backdrop to the novel.”