Monthly Archives: June 2009

Reading Dickens’ Little Dorrit 4 ways

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, academic, entrepreneur, and author Ann Kirschner asks, “Do I love books or do I love reading?”—in light of the ever-expanding publishing universe.

For me and probably most readers, it’s an easy question to answer: reading. I don’t much care how my reading comes as long as it’s written well. Kirschner wasn’t sure. So she decided to conduct an experiment, reading Dickens’ masterwork Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone. LIttle Dorrit

Little Dorrit was an accidental choice, but I could hardly have done better. Its length, multiple story lines, 19th-century allusions, and teeming cast of characters helped me to test the functionality of different formats. Beyond the artifice of my reading experiment, though, please don’t think that technology compromised my ability to appreciate this beloved novel, written in 1857 at the height of Dickens’s power and popularity. Just the opposite.

She starts with the requisite warmed-over nostalgia for paperbacks: “How dare we think that anything could replace it? Impossible to imagine that any of these newfangled devices could last nearly 40 years. The perfume of old paper filled the air.” I would have clicked onwards had she gone no further. But instead she ventured on to audiobooks.

Audiobooks are wonderful in all the situations she describes, walking, driving, sitting in the dentist’s chair. But I can’t imagine how many hours this 1000-page plus books would consume listened to in its entirety. And audiobooks practically require you multitask. The painfully slow pace of spoken stories becomes apparent if you’re not, say, cooking; you don’t pull up an easy chair next to the fireplace and curl up with your MP3 player.

Doesn’t mince words

Which leaves the Kindle and iPhone. Kirschner doesn’t mince words:

I’ve been dreading this, but let me get my prediction out now: The iPhone is a Kindle killer. I abandoned the Kindle edition of Little Dorrit almost as soon as I read one chapter on my iPhone. Kindle, shmindle. It does almost nothing that an iPhone can’t do better — and most important, the iPhone is always with me. Woody Allen had it right: Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.

Now I don’t have an iPhone, so I can’t really comment. But insofar as she goes, I imagine she’s right. However. I think of the easy chair in the fireplace’s vicinity. At the risk of reveal a Luddite streak, I just can’t see curling up with a … glowing phone.

Why I prefer the Kindle over the iPhone for curling up with a book

Whereas I happily sink into reading oblivion via my Kindle at every opportunity. However, I bet if I actually had an i-something, I probably could do the same. And as Kirschner points out:

Middle-aged readers think that the dimension of the screen is critical. It’s not: The members of the generation that grew up playing Game Boys and telling time on their cellphones will have absolutely no problem reading from a small screen. Let us pray that they will. Right now, they aren’t buying Kindles — and they aren’t reading books.

I don’t worry about this. I think there will be plenty of readers in the future. Just not ones very much like the ones we’ve got today. They won’t feel any compunction about curling up with their i-device anywhere. Which is great. It’s the words, the style, the story that matters. Not the format it appears in. Which is a point Kirschner offers a sly insight on: “My personal theory is that Amazon cares less about our choice of screen than our choice of store. Amazon wants Kindle to be a verb, not a noun, as in “I Kindled that book,” which could mean that I read it on a smartphone, computer, or dedicated electronic-book device.”

English Language will survive

I suspect she’s right. Which would be perfectly fine with me. The English language seems to be surviving the Facebook-enabled verbing of “friend”, so I bet it could take a “Kindling”. As long as Dickensian journeys keep on starting with “Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun. …”, I don’t think it much matters how they get there.

Note: This post originally appeared at TeleRead.

Reading Dickens' Little Dorrit 4 ways

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, academic, entrepreneur, and author Ann Kirschner asks, “Do I love books or do I love reading?”—in light of the ever-expanding publishing universe.

For me and probably most readers, it’s an easy question to answer: reading. I don’t much care how my reading comes as long as it’s written well. Kirschner wasn’t sure. So she decided to conduct an experiment, reading Dickens’ masterwork Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone. LIttle Dorrit

Little Dorrit was an accidental choice, but I could hardly have done better. Its length, multiple story lines, 19th-century allusions, and teeming cast of characters helped me to test the functionality of different formats. Beyond the artifice of my reading experiment, though, please don’t think that technology compromised my ability to appreciate this beloved novel, written in 1857 at the height of Dickens’s power and popularity. Just the opposite.

She starts with the requisite warmed-over nostalgia for paperbacks: “How dare we think that anything could replace it? Impossible to imagine that any of these newfangled devices could last nearly 40 years. The perfume of old paper filled the air.” I would have clicked onwards had she gone no further. But instead she ventured on to audiobooks.

Audiobooks are wonderful in all the situations she describes, walking, driving, sitting in the dentist’s chair. But I can’t imagine how many hours this 1000-page plus books would consume listened to in its entirety. And audiobooks practically require you multitask. The painfully slow pace of spoken stories becomes apparent if you’re not, say, cooking; you don’t pull up an easy chair next to the fireplace and curl up with your MP3 player.

Doesn’t mince words

Which leaves the Kindle and iPhone. Kirschner doesn’t mince words:

I’ve been dreading this, but let me get my prediction out now: The iPhone is a Kindle killer. I abandoned the Kindle edition of Little Dorrit almost as soon as I read one chapter on my iPhone. Kindle, shmindle. It does almost nothing that an iPhone can’t do better — and most important, the iPhone is always with me. Woody Allen had it right: Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.

Now I don’t have an iPhone, so I can’t really comment. But insofar as she goes, I imagine she’s right. However. I think of the easy chair in the fireplace’s vicinity. At the risk of reveal a Luddite streak, I just can’t see curling up with a … glowing phone.

Why I prefer the Kindle over the iPhone for curling up with a book

Whereas I happily sink into reading oblivion via my Kindle at every opportunity. However, I bet if I actually had an i-something, I probably could do the same. And as Kirschner points out:

Middle-aged readers think that the dimension of the screen is critical. It’s not: The members of the generation that grew up playing Game Boys and telling time on their cellphones will have absolutely no problem reading from a small screen. Let us pray that they will. Right now, they aren’t buying Kindles — and they aren’t reading books.

I don’t worry about this. I think there will be plenty of readers in the future. Just not ones very much like the ones we’ve got today. They won’t feel any compunction about curling up with their i-device anywhere. Which is great. It’s the words, the style, the story that matters. Not the format it appears in. Which is a point Kirschner offers a sly insight on: “My personal theory is that Amazon cares less about our choice of screen than our choice of store. Amazon wants Kindle to be a verb, not a noun, as in “I Kindled that book,” which could mean that I read it on a smartphone, computer, or dedicated electronic-book device.”

English Language will survive

I suspect she’s right. Which would be perfectly fine with me. The English language seems to be surviving the Facebook-enabled verbing of “friend”, so I bet it could take a “Kindling”. As long as Dickensian journeys keep on starting with “Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun. …”, I don’t think it much matters how they get there.

Note: This post originally appeared at TeleRead.

The industry of the present future

I’ve seen lots of semis towing gigantic wind turbine parts across the highways of Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado recently. I suspect it has more to do with last year’s surge in oil prices than BHO’s stimulus package. Judging by their size, these things take a long time to get built and installed.

Wind turbine part on the move.

Wind turbine part on the move.

Whatever reason they’re getting there, it’s gratifying to see it actually happening. Nebraska has a lot of potential for wind power on account of being so, well, empty. To say nothing of windy Wyoming. Wind farms are truly massive structures which just wouldn’t work in, say, Menlo Park, California. The problem is getting the power the turbines create to the electrical grid. A real ramping up of wind power generation would require a whole lot of infrastructure construction, a real commitment to making it viable. Let’s hope what I saw rolling down rural highways is the future arriving in giant chunks. After all, surely nothing this massive gets built in a place like Kimball, Nebraska, just for the hell of it:

windpower.824

JD Salinger … a phony?

A Swedish author who has written a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye has caught the ire of JD Salinger, now 90 years old and evidently as irascible as he was back in the good ole swinging ’40s. It’s good the man still has energy although I sort of wish he’d devote some to, um, writing. The Catcher in the Rye was published 58 years ago. Is the best thing a 90-year old man, any 90-year old man, has to do suing the writer of what is almost certainly a mediocre knock-off of an American classic?

Asshat?

Phony?

Sure, every year a new generation of high schoolers is forced to read it, but I think it’s lost some of its punch. To wit, when I found out a cousin of mine, a high schooler, had never read it, I promptly bought her a copy and inscribed it with something thoughtful I don’t nowremember. I expected ecstatic emails about how awesome it was. I never received any. Nor has she ever mentioned the book again. Underawed, evidently.

If you’d like to see JD thoroughly skewered, read The Asshat in the Rye. Mr. Salinger’s old eyes can apparently still read the fine print so I imagine he can take this in, too. Though he almost certainly won’t. You should, though.

Over at Teleread there’s speculation that Salinger has all kinds of manuscripts just waiting to be published. I’ve read this, too, but it’s still rife speculation. Maybe they don’t exist. Maybe they’re no good. Maybe Salinger knows they can’t hold a candle to his earlier work, and that’s why he’s never put them out there. I’d respect that, if it were true.

Also speculated: that he hasn’t published anything because he has no financial incentive to do so. He makes so much money selling The Catcher in the Rye to high schools that he doesn’t need the cash more books would bring. I’d not like to think this of Salinger. A real artist would publish whatever he wrote, just because he wrote it. I hate to think the writer who brought “phony” into the public lexicon would prove to be one himself.