Category Archives: Reading

Sagan again

Carl Sagan:

What an astonishing thing a book is. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time.

Publishing’s suicide

Jesse Kornbluth from PW:

Book publishing has been trying to commit suicide for all the decades I’ve been writing, and now it’s finally getting some traction on that project. Its latest folly is ironic: one of our most antitechnology businesses now places unrealistic hopes on technology as a savior, a textbook case of an American industry’s unwillingness to make significant changes until one minute before doomsday. I don’t expect more from publishing than stabs of experimentation until business gets much, much worse.

Interesting (failed?) experiment in microserialization

From Galleycat:

Earlier this week, the literary journal Electric Literature launched a “microserialization” experiment by publishing a new story by Rick Moody(pictured) on Twitter–co-publishing the story on other Twitter feeds, including the Vroman’s Books feed. Jacket Copy summarized the frustration that some Twitter users felt with the simultaneous delivery: “In the past, having bookstores, bloggers and other magazines simultaneously pass out a short story would widen the circulation. Today, many of those people are in overlapping social networking circles, and the result is repetition rather than reach.”

Do bookstores matter?

For years—perhaps decades—my dad would walk to the flagship Kroch’s and Brentano’s store on South Wabash on Chicago, spending his lunch hour among the famously knowledgeable booksellers and the then-amazing array of inventory. I only remember being in that downtown store once or twice, but the mall Kroch’s and Brentano’s in the town where I grew up was a key setting in my childhood love of reading.

We went to the mall almost every night. If I wasn’t scanning the skies for Soviet bombers or taping Top 40 songs off the boombox, I was likely one of three places: the Sears arcade, the mall food court, or the little mall bookstores.

My parents would buy McDonald’s coffee and smoke in the food court, while I would itch for the trip to Kroch’s and Brentano’s or B. Dalton to check for a new Choose Your Own Adventure, Be An Interplanetary Spy, Star Wars, or Dragonlance books.

It was part of every trip to the mall, usually Dalton’s first; then Kroch’s. In Kroch’s, I would stand in the role-playing game aisle while my dad went on his appointed rounds through the store. That is where I fell in love with Star Trek and the Dungeon Master Guide. It’s where I first tried to pronounce the name Cthulthu, and where I discovered the existence of dice with more than six sides.

When I was old enough to start braving the mall on my own, it was always Kroch’s and Brentano’s where I would meet up with my parents after my private adventures at Kaleidoscope or Babbage’s or Musicland.

Today I still have occasion to go to that same mall every once in awhile. Those stores are gone, but a large Barnes and Noble—ten times larger and a thousand times “nicer” than either of those relics—is an anchor store at one end of the mall. I go there with my own wife and children, and we too always seem to end up meeting at the bookstore; however, I almost never buy anything other than a cup of incorrectly prepared coffee.

From a retail standpoint, the old mall bookstores were not Super Destinations for a book lover in the way that Barnes & Noble or Border’s have tried to be. But they were destinations just the same.

Turns out it is the books, not the store that create the destination. And as the chains have relied more and more on straight-up recommendations from Ingram reps or whoever waters down the New & Notable table to the lowest common denominator, they have lost sight of that which always made their stores most interesting: the discovery of new and intriguing works.

Today my book purchases almost always happen over the Internet or via my Kindle’s WhisperSync. My own experience of that joy of discovery has been left to scans of blog posts, friends’ recommendations, Twitter crowdsourcing or a monthly ritual with Locus magazine.

With this news that Borders is closing 200 Waldenbooks in malls nationwide, I remember again the little mall chains that paved the way for today’s failing superstores, preceding them both in lease and in failure.

I’m not smart enough to know what will save publishing, or the book trade, but I am wise enough to mourn the passing of bookstores that are actually about books and reading rather than a merchandising consultant’s platonic ideal of same.

Wandering a bookstore has been a Morrow-male tradition, a pastime well suited for the bookish, friendly, and affably antisocial men we seem to produce. We are comfortable with ideas, with solitude. Today, though, you’re more likely to find us wandering the intertubes than a bookstore.

Sometimes that makes me sad.

What are your bookstore memories?

Elsewhere: The death of mall bookstores and the death of publishing

I just wonder…

A. O. Scott, writing in the NYT:

“And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?”

The first one’s free, kid

As discovered on Friday’s Kindle Daily post, Random House is offering some free scifi Kindle love until May 31. Of particular note is the free availability of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars and Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. There’s also some T.A. Pratt and Harry Turtledove up for grabs.

As you might have guessed, the books on offer are first volumes of popular series. The first one’s free, as they say…

Whispernet, indeed

I’ve worked in publishing. I’ve been a part of rights negotiations with writers. And I understand the Authors Guild point of protecting their right to sell the audio rights to their work. But Amazon backing off of text-to-speech on K2 feels a bit like bullshit.

It’s not like the text-to-speech feature is all that great. I’m certainly not getting rid of my Audible platinum subscription.

John Paczkowski quotes the Amazon press statement.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.

Who really thinks selling audio rights to a spoken-word performance by a human is the same as having electronic rights include the mechanical reading of the digital text? Garumph.

(via DF)

Keys to the Kingdom

My Kindle arrived yesterday. First impressions were not quite up to the technolust I feel when opening a box “Designed by Apple in California,” but pretty darned good. Amazon has done a nice job with the packaging and merchandising here. I particularly appreciate that the Kindle arrives already linked to my Amazon account. It literally works right out of the box. This also makes it painfully easy to immediately start buying content. After all, I want to read more than just the user’s guide on this thing!

I can tell I’m really going to like the ability to download free samples/trials of books. This may be my saving grace in terms of how easy the Kindle makes dropping money on books (the process is seamless and there’s no physical consequence, like buying music on iTunes). If I can discipline myself to always only download the sample on impulse, my kids may still go to college.


I downloaded several sample chapters of books, but ultimately made a sentimental choice for first Kindle reading experience: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (I fell in love with reading science fiction reading the Foundation books, immersing myself in the story of Hari Seldon).

In short, the Kindle passed the test. I was able to read quite comfortably for about half an hour before sleep overtook me. In fact, I found reading in bed with the Kindle to be superior in some ways; the device is so lightweight that holding it for an extended period of time is inconsequential. I found myself using the left-hand page button more frequently than the right, and quickly got used to the keypress/read, keypress/read rhythm. Reading off of Kindle’s grayscale screen, and the notorious flash while the screen refreshes takes some getting used to, but didn’t seem to impose any additional eye strain.

So far it has been a little bit hard to get past the “dude, I’m reading this on a Kindle” effect, but if the writing is high quality I no longer have any doubt that the experience will be just as immersive as paper.

One interesting effect I’ve noticed is that I seem to read faster on the Kindle; indeed, on more than one occassion I’ve had to force myself to slow down to really absorb the text.

My initial theory on this is that my brain is trained to quickly skim on-screen text, and has not yet found the distinction between skimming Twitter or feeds on my monitor or iPhone and close reading or its equivalent on the Kindle. There seems to be a kind of built-in impatience with large blocks of screen type. We’ll see if that changes as I spend more time with it.

Whispernet, as in “barely there”

So far, I’ve found the Whispernet (Amazon’s brand for the slice of Sprint’s 3G network) to be remarkably spotty and slow. Several times in the first 24 hours, it has dropped off completely, even in areas where I get quite strong AT&T 3G speeds on the iPhone. I never thought 3G would feel quite so snappy on my iPhone until I started playing with the Basic Web browser on the Kindle.

Speed issues aside, it is nice to have a (pretty vanilla) web browser on this thing. First thing I did web-wise was to load up my Instapaper account — now I can literally access my to-read pile of web articles from any device. Snazzy. And I’m not sure why I should pay Amazon to deliver blogs to me when Reader appears to work serviceablely well.

A Start

I’m sure there will be more thoughts to come, but I didn’t want to let the first 24 hours of this new adventure go by without some initial thoughts. I’m excited, and am even more convinced that the Kindle is paving the leading edge of how reading will increasingly happen.