Monday, June 21, 2010


“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if it’s a hardback, paperback, e-book or library book. Read.”

-John Grisham, addressing the graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Middle school, for me, meant many things. Brown bag lunches with triangled tuna sandwiches and bags of Fritos; my own locker- bedecked with magnets and a plastic purple mirror; "exams" rather than tests; gym class- and a gym uniform. And note-passing.

The ideal supplies were wide-ruled notebook paper shorn of its curlicued frill, and neon highlighters. But one could make do with computer paper and pencil. We'd pick a friend- the addressee- and set to work composing a note. The real work then ensued. There were several complex ways to tuck and pleat your way to note-passer repute. The faux-envelope:

The fancy faux-envelope:

The knot:

But what mattered wasn't what the note said, or with what intricacy it was folded, but the connection between two students. It was bonding to form a devious liaison.  Even more so because there was actual effort behind the minor rebellion; the same can't be said about text messages, apparently the note-passing du jour. Just like my parents always gushed over handmade beglittered construction paper birthday cards, physical pen-and-paper notes express more than a few lines on a mobile screen. Mama Tulip blogger reminisces about her
"notes written and passed back and forth during class, notes I penned while sprawled on my daybed, listening to The Cure. Notes sent to boyfriends and best friends, a paper trail of my becoming that I kept in a shoe box under my bed....  I thought about that box and about all the notes I wrote, folded up and passed in my lifetime… and then it occurred to me that passing notes is something my kids probably won't do. I mean, in this day and age, passing notes is practically archaic. The thought makes me feel weepy. Also, old."
I've lamented the increasingly widespread abandonment of paper, from the Open Siddur Project to the superfluousness of bookmarks for eReader users. I've even waxed poetic about my love for paper itself. So even in this more recreational domain, note-passing, I feel a sense of nostalgia, plus a sadness for the generations to come whose computerized goofing-off will never be as fulfilling. It's more of a feat to hold an arts and crafts session on your desk then wait, hovering, until the perfectly timed moment to stick your hand across the aisle, than it is to punch some buttons and press send. I can only hope the middle-schoolers of today and tomorrow will set the phones down, and haul out the glue sticks and magic markers  for their parents' birthdays.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


A case study...

"I have been using the Kindle since October, the iPad for one month, and I still buy books, lots and lots of them.

It’s a paradox of choice. In the evenings, after work, trying to figure out what suits my mood, I sit with all three of them. I am reading Nabokov’s “Despair” (the dead-tree version), trying out a free sample on the iPad (trying out samples is simpler on the iPad), and am midway through “To Kill a Mockingbird” on the Kindle. I still prefer the Kindle to the iPad for reading books, because with the iPad there is always so much more to do. I use it primarily to follow blogs like yours.
But, believe me, books (the hard copies) are not going anywhere. They rule."

-Anuradha Raja

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I don't like audiobooks. I never have. Reading, for me, is as much about the texture of the pages and the smell of the binding and the annotative margin scribbling as it is about the consumption of content. Listening passively to one person's interpretation of a text saps, for me, the individualized magic out of a book. What if I had imagined a character had a lower, or whinier, or more nasal voice? What if the inflections with which the narrator reads don't match up with how I had interpreted a passage? "Oh, I see" can become:
  • "Ohhh... I see..."
  • "OH, I see!"
  • "OhIsee".
And so on. But I am one of those unfortunate motion-sickness-plagued bibliophiles who torturously suffer through long car and bus rides without the alleviation of a book. So when I was younger I'd suffer, instead, through an audiobook or two, making a tradeoff between two types of suffocating boredom.

Many, however, greatly enjoy listening to audiobooks. My uncle likes to listen on his commute to work; my mom and her friends, who by virtue of living in the suburbs spend more time than average behind the wheel, aren't opposed to the idea either. And they may be onto something. In a March Vanity Fair article, Christopher Hitchens writes,

"The concept of “books on tape” is entering a period of high attainment. Whatever may be said about “the decline of print,” about which I’ve been hearing glum predictions for dec­ades, a whole new world of bibliophilia is being created around us, not on paper but in the ether. Book clubs are formed in which members gather to listen. Internet reviews are circulating, comparing various readers of different classics. I recently had a conversation with a scholar of Henry James, who was gravely revolving the merits of David Case versus those of John Rowe as the best (or should I say most “sound”?) renderer of Marcel Proust. Fresh audio-literary stars are beginning to be born."
Hitchens's observance of the growing popularity of audiobooks doesn't encourage me to purchase one rather than its textual progenitor, but it does reassure me that wind exists yet in the sails of the traditional publishing world, albeit in an alternate form. I'd so much rather see audiobooks on shelves than vooks or blooks. Especially if they're performed by the authors themselves. And technology is (terrifyingly) moving in the direction of gauging accent and timbre and even sarcasm so that future interpretations of texts even by computers may be closer to what the author intended. The trouble, of course, is that writers sometimes do not wish for a singular translation unto their readers; as Hitchens quotes Emily Dickinson: "A Pen has so many inflections, and a Voice but one."

Despite his reluctant praise of Martin Jarvis's readings, Hitchens concludes, "To slide in a tape or a CD rather than cracking a hefty volume and making marginal notes? Mere hedonism!" Couldn't agree more.