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Hardcopied: A July Print-Reading Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt starts tomorrow! The Hardcopied challenge (see the Hardcopied Facebook page or the Hardcopied Book Club on Goodreads), in which a person decides to read only print books for the month of July, 2015. I’m doing it — are you?

A friend was ruminating recently about reading print books verses reading ebooks. There really doesn’t need to be the word “versus” in there, because both are of value. But we do read differently in each medium, and believe it or not, there are always likely to be print books in the foreseeable future. (That’s what head Harvard librarian, Robert Darnton, certainly believes, as I discuss in a review of his book.) So it’s probably a good idea to keep up our print reading skills as well as our ereading skills.

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that's another story...)

My primary reader, the Sony Reader (and then Sony sold us out to Kobo, for which I will never forgive Sony, but that’s another story…)

One of the things that researchers have noticed–in general, so individual people may vary on this–is that when one’s primary reading is done onscreen, we tend much more to read in quick “jumps.” We flit from one thing to another, and our attention span does not seem to be as long. I’ve noticed this myself; I get a bit restless and start feeling an itch to go look at something else. With our screens, tablets, and smartphones, we can do this all too easily, and we never sit on one thing for all that long.

With print reading, we have to spend time. We are concentrating on one thing only, and we have to concentrate to stick with it. This makes us go deeper. It also gives us time to really think about what we’re reading. (And interestingly, some studies show that we retain things we’ve read in print form much more readily than things we’ve read onscreen. Hm.)

So I’m in! I’m going to read only print books in July. Want to join me?

Reading Challenges or Not?

So! Shortly after I post the Reading Bingo Card for doing a reading challenge for 2014, Richard Lea, book blogger for The Guardian, writes about why he thinks reading challenges are not a good idea at all: The bad side of Goodreads’ Reading Challenge. He thinks that the last thing we should turn into some kind of numbers game is the reading of books.

As Lea says, “It starts right there in the name. Since when was reading any kind of challenge? Isn’t it supposed to be fun?” He likens reading challenges to some kind of “bookkeeping” activity. And he may have a point:

All this talk of pledging, of targets, of tracking your progress, is just another step in the marketisation of the reading experience, another stage in the commodification of literary culture.

…literature is one of the few areas of modern life where it’s not all about the numbers.

What he’s getting at is that the heavy tracking of completed reads, the ticking off of titles from your list, turns the exercise into nothing more than a kind of “fill in the blank” exercise. Are we really engaging with the actual contents of the books themselves? We may be preoccupied primarily with saying, “There. I’ve covered that one. I’m halfway, through the year and still on track to meet the goal.” If reaching the requisite number is our goal, are we really benefitting from the books themselves?

I’m of two minds about this one. I think he’s probably right, and yet…there’s still the element of deciding to pick up a book because I’m “supposed to,” and then really getting into it, whereas I might have thought, “Nah, maybe later” if I hadn’t had the number in the back of my mind.

For the first third of last year, I was averaging more than a book per week. I was just enjoying reading, but I did note, “Hey, I might read more than 52 this year.” (I keep a list, you see; I have done so for many, many years.) But then, around October, I just stopped, for some reason. I don’t know why. I read almost nothing for more than two months. And I ended up with 39 books finished in 2013, which I found kind of depressing.

So maybe there’s a compromise. Maybe we can use these goals as a way to keep ourselves reading, but without getting too hung up on rushing through just to tick off the titles. If we don’t quite reach the number we hoped for by the end of the year…ah, well. We really loved the books we did read, and we got a lot out of them.

I think that might work. And also…anything that doesn’t fall into the trap of “commodifying” human existence (we are more than cash sources and more than numbers!) is fine by me.

“If the library were burning, which book would you save?”

This is the question–“Which book would you save?–currently being asked by the Toronto Public Library for this year’s Keep Toronto Reading festival. (It takes place during the month of April, and among other things, involves participants all reading one chosen book, which this year is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.)

This question is akin to the “If you were on a deserted island, what book would you take?” question. So even if you’re not from Toronto, it’s still an interesting thing to contemplate. And it’s a question I always have trouble with, because I couldn’t imagine taking just one book. I’d need at least six. My answer would always be, “It would have to be Dorothy Dunnett’s complete Lymond Chronicles, because that’s really a complete story told in six volumes.” If I couldn’t take all six, I suppose I’d have to make do with the sixth book, and just remember the first five.

But I digress.

One thing you can see on the library website is various people answering that question: which book they’d save from the burning library. In fact, one can make one’s own video in answer to the question and post it to YouTube, sending the link to the library, and can possibly win a reproduction of an image from the library’s archives. (I would love that!)

Here is author Lemony Snicket’s video answer:

I imagine I’d feel much the same as he would. And here is Matt Galloway, the host of the CBC Metro Morning radio program I wake up to every day:

So…if your library were on fire, what single book would you save?

Eoin Colfer: Get Ready to Laugh

Eoin Colfer at the Toronto Reference Library

Eoin Colfer at the Toronto Reference Library

Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl YA novels and several other books, is a very, very funny man.

In a recent book event and interview at the Toronto Reference Library, Colfer kept the audience laughing as much as he informed them about his work. He was actually in town promoting his newest book, Plugged, but naturally there was as much discussion of his other books as there was of that one. In fact, there is a lot to talk (and laugh) about, when it comes to this prolific writer.

Even when he writes a book like Plugged, which is a darker crime fiction novel and a decidedly not-for-kids book (“It has some bad words,” says Colfer), you can’t escape the humour. The book itself was predicated on a pun. And the main character’s constant inner dialogue resembles imaginary conversations that Colfer says he conducts inside his own head, with his characters, with reviewers, with interviewers, and anyone else who wants to join in.

Book cover: The Atlantis Complex (Artemis Fowl)He puts himself (and his friends and relatives) very much into the books he writes, yet surprisingly, Artemis Fowl is not his own alter ego. Artemis is in fact patterned after his brother, who had a very “James Bond mastermind” moment during a solemn picture-taking at a church. This brother, according to Colfer, is “quite pleased” with his fictional transformation. Another brother was the source for kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Duggums, primarily inspiring Duggums’ rather “windy” characteristics. This brother, understandably, is “not so happy about it.” Holly the diminutive leprechaun, who is the moral centre of the Artemis Fowl books, was also patterned after someone Colfer knew: a plucky girl he used to teach, who was eager to learn, and who never backed down from anyone.

Discussions about Holly, and leprechauns in general, provided much of the laughter throughout the evening. Colfer mentioned that people are always asking whether Artemis and Holly will eventually “get together” — if you know what I mean. Aside from the fact that Holly is about eighty years older than Artemis, there’s another problem. To explain, Colfer leaned toward the audience and informed us solemnly, “I have a rule: only the same species.

He also described how a doctor arose in the audience of one interview and pointed, his hand shaking with anger, to say, “That high a dosage of that medicine would have killed that leprechaun!” Colfer talked to him afterward, and agreed that the dosage should have been less. Another man in an audience said indignantly, “There’s no such thing as a female leprechaun!” So, as Colfer said, “I had to explain to him that there’s probably no such thing as leprechauns at all.”

Book cover: Plugged, by Eoin ColferColfer plans another two Artemis Fowl books before the series winds down. He is also likely to follow Plugged with a couple of sequels. Airman, in his opinion, is as perfect and complete as it can get, so it’s likely to remain a standalone book. But the sequel he’s probably most famous for, and notoriously so, is And Another Thing…, a completion of Douglas Adams’ unfinished sixth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series.

Colfer felt he could never do the book justice, yet also felt he couldn’t say no, especially when Adams’ widow, Jane Belson, welcomed the idea. But even here, Colfer ran into some amusing sorts of trouble. He was on Facebook at the time (he isn’t now), and Facebook’s randomly generated “you might like this” page suggestions brought up a group wanting to stop Colfer from writing the book! So naturally, he joined the group.

Some writers view their work very seriously, and spend years and much angst as they produce their great work of art. Eoin Colfer makes sure to do a thorough and well-crafted job, yet refuses to take himself that seriously. And as the audience at the Reference Library discovered during the interview, that more light-hearted attitude takes him (and us!) a long, long way.

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