Wednesday, March 31, 2010

To e-book, or not to e-book

That is the question everyone's arguing over these days.

Linda Holmes over at NPR shares her argument for e-books:

I cannot smell wisdom. I cannot smell memory, or the past, or people who were reading a hundred years ago and have handed down their tradition of reading by firelight.

You know when I sense wisdom? I sense wisdom from the words. For me, language contains wisdom and tradition and history, whether printed on a page, heard aloud, read on a screen, or recalled because it was meaningful.
Alex Beam offers his opinion against e-books in the Yale Alumni Magazine:

The physical book does not exist, and has no value. The digital book has no front or back covers; there is no place to assert ownership, and there is nothing to own. The “digital delivery module” is a piece of molded plastic made in China, encasing a few memory chips. That is not the book, that’s the “reader.” Wait, I thought I was the reader. Oh, never mind.

Electronic bookplates? I don’t think so. “We have created a library for you on,” the manufacturer of the popular Kindle says, but I know they’re just kidding. If they had created a library for me, they would have included In Every Face I Meet, by Justin Cartwright, or Richard Holmes’s Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage. Their library exists on a server farm, where real estate is cheap. My library is here, in this room where I am writing.

“This books belongs to . . . no one.” Welcome to the future, a less intimate and a less ornamented place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

No feeling, all knowing

More from Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat.
"I am beyond all pain and sin," he says to me. "But do you feel anything?" I ask. "Is that what it means to be free of this, that you no longer feel?" Not misery, not thirst, no ecstacy? It is interesting to me in these moments that our concept of heaven is one of ecstacy. The joys of heaven. That our concept of hell is pain. The fires of hell. So we don't think it very good not to feel anything, do we?

"The idea was simply that there was somebody who knew everything, somebody who had seen everything. I did not mean by this that a Supreme Being existed, but rather that there was on earth a continual intelligence, a continual awareness. And I thought of it in practical terms that excited me and soothed me simultaneously. There was an awareness of what it had been like in Massilia six centuries ago when the first Greek traders came, an awareness of what it had been like in Egypt when Cheops built the pyramids. Somebody knew what the peasants said to each other in their little farmhouse outside Athens right before the Spartans brought down the walls.

My idea of who or what it was, was vague. But I was comforted by the notion that nothing spiritual--and knowing was spiritual--was lost to us. That there was this continuous knowing..."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Insomnia

From Sara Faye Lieber's essay Bohemian Rhapsody in the lit magainze Guernica:

Sleep is an anchor. It is a beginning and an end. When we are robbed of sleep, by stress or pests or other predators, we lose the punctuation that separates the tape of the everyday into manageable portions. Regular sleep provides a stop, a temporary ending that is necessary for there to be a new beginning the next morning. Without this prolonged pause, the insomniac’s experience of the world becomes oppressive, involuntary, a ride one remains strapped into against her will.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Totally digging books, man

Villette is wearing me down. I knew there was a reason I hadn't finished it before. If Bronte addresses me as "dear reader" one more time I'm throwing the book across the room. (Actually no, because I'm reading most of it through Project Gutenberg)

Here's a passage from the fantabulous Sarah Vowell book Assassination Vacation:

If there is a recurring theme in [President Garfield's] diaries it's this: I'd rather be reading. That might sound dull and perfunctory, but Garfield's book fever was sickness. Take, for example, the commencement address he delivered at his alma mater Hiram College in the summer of 1880. Traditionally, these pep talks to college graduates are supposed to shove young people into the future with a briefcase bulging with infinitive verbs: to make, to produce, to do. Mr. Loner McBookworm, on the other hand, stands up and breaks it to his audience, the future achievers of America, that the price of the supposedly fulfilling attainment of one's personal and professional dream is the irritating way it cuts into one's free time. He tells them,

It has occurred to me that the thing you have enough of, is perhaps the thing that you care for the least and that is your leisure--the leisure you have to think; the leisure you have to be let alone; the leisure you have to throw the plummet into your mind, and sound the depth and dive for things below.

The only thing stopping this address from turning into a slacker parable is the absence of the word "dude."

Ohhhh, so that's how Garfield the cat got his name. I wonder if the late president also craved lasagna and hated Mondays.

Another gem:
...when I'm around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I'm dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence and then, boom, it's 1980. Once I erupt, they'll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota.

Bring up the subject of film censorship in a conversation with me for a similar effect.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Le Guin on Google Books Settlement

Ursula K. Le Guin, science fiction writer and all-around badass, addresses the Google Books Settlement in an interview:

"The future" in most science fiction is just a metaphor for "us, here, now." The possibility of digitizing books to make them available to everybody, a limitless Public Library, is us, here, now. It's our baby. Let's bring the baby up right, in the public interest -- not hand it to a corporation whose interest is in controlling information and horning in on writers' profits.

I'm part of the technological age whether I want to be or not, and mostly I enjoy it very much. I'm not protesting technology -- how stupid would that be? Writers against Computers, or something? I'm protesting against a corporation being allowed to rewrite the rules of copyright and the laws of my country -- and in doing so, to wreck the whole idea of that limitless electronic Public Library.
She goes on to reveal what she hopes will become of her books after her death:

I want them to be available, I want cheap paper editions of them, I want them to be continuously downloaded in forty different languages, I want them to be read, I want them to be argued about, I want people to cry over them, I want unreadable dissertations written about them, I want people to get angry with them, I want people to love them.

There is no doubt all of these things will happen.

For anyone who has never read Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, go read it. Now.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On Hypochondria

Elizabeth Bachner over at Bookslut always writes such insightful book reviews and articles. Here's an excerpt from her review of The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives by Brian Dillon:

Everyone makes a big deal about the trials of making great art or having scientific breakthroughs, but my guess is that basic ordinary daily life is much worse, much harder than writing A la recherche du temps perdu or The Origin of Species. You can finish a book, however agonizingly, but you can never finish the daily processes of the body, the eating and the shitting, the sloughing off dead skin. Once you finish, you have to do it all over again. And even if you find a way to make it all about pleasure -- even if you eat Laduree lemon macaroons and put glitter on your silky arms wear cashmere and have dirty sex with craggy Irishmen and get caked with Dead Sea mud and schvitz at the Blue Lagoon Spa in Iceland -- you still have to do it, the shitting and eating and cleaning yourself part, again and again. You can never finish the fucking thing and start a new book. And, from your first moments, you're decaying. You're dying, and so are the people you love and want. It's ephemeral, dangerous, unfair. It's not surprising that this rankles bright people.

Dillon's book also examines the hypochondria of Charlotte Bronte. I'm adding it to my wishlist now.