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Do People Really Read Books Anymore

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My senior seminar for my English major, which I had with evangelical scholar Alan Jacobs...

That is awesome, Ryan. What a privilege.

Absolutely. Every day I went to that class with a smile on my face. Jacobs is a wonderful teacher.

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I've always assumed that my reading and book-hording habits are pretty similar to Andy's and MLeary's, so I'm curiously surprised to hear you both singing praises to the Kindle. Even if I'd enjoy the reading experience it offers, I'm reluctant to try one out just because I already have too many constantly-upgradable electronic devices in my life.

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I've always assumed that my reading and book-hording habits are pretty similar to Andy's and MLeary's, so I'm curiously surprised to hear you both singing praises to the Kindle. Even if I'd enjoy the reading experience it offers, I'm reluctant to try one out just because I already have too many constantly-upgradable electronic devices in my life.

Well, yes, there is the potential obsolescence factor. I probably won't be happy if/when the Kindle 4 or 5 comes out and my outdated Kindle 3 can no longer download books from the "new, improved" Kindle store. I will be irritated, in the same way that I'm currently irritated that I can't upgrade to the latest version of iTunes becomes my O/S is too old. Bite you, Apple. iTunes 9.0 will do, thank you very much, and I don't want to spend $150 on something I otherwise don't need. Another potentially negative factor is that the Kindle can get lost. If a book gets lots, I lose a book. But if the Kindle gets lost, I've lost hundreds of books, am out a couple hundred dollars, and have to undergo the hassle of ordering another device, re-downloading a bunch of books, etc.

Still ... I'm currently a happy Kindle user.

Another factor for me is that although I am a hoarder by nature, I don't think this is a good thing (no judgment implied toward you, Darren, or toward anybody else). I am trying to get rid of "stuff" in my life. Yes, I still have virtual stuff, but life still seems less congested. I'll take that.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I have to say, the pro-eReader A&F gang has really helped me warm up to the fact that the devices might actually be OK. Much of my revulsion or apprehension revolves almost solely around aesthetic or sentimental concerns, and I'm willing to admit that, hey, my concerns might be kind of silly. Still, if / when I actually buy a device, I plan on waiting 'til color models are more affordable (specifically, 'til iPads are more affordable).

Kindles and other eReaders seem to really shine in a particular niche area: roleplaying games. PDF versions of game books have been popular for at least a few years, and it's a lot easier to pull up your collection of game books on an iPad than it is to lug 20 books around.

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Jason, I would highly recommend purchasing a reader that reads formats used by libraries for e-book lending. Currently, I can't use my Kindle to check out stuff from the library, and I really wish I could.

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FWIW, pdfs are mostly useless on a Kindle. There is a free downloadable program called Calibre that functions similarly to an itunes for one's ereader that does a pretty good job of converting files to whichever format works best for the Kindle and I assume it would do the same for the other ereaders.

My wife reads books on her iPad, but I am so desperate to get away from the computer when I read that it would never work for me.

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FWIW, pdfs are mostly useless on a Kindle. There is a free downloadable program called Calibre that functions similarly to an itunes for one's ereader that does a pretty good job of converting files to whichever format works best for the Kindle and I assume it would do the same for the other ereaders.

Right, I've heard this about the Kindle, which is another reason why I want to wait a bit. And I would especially want to wait to get an iPad, since Apple seems use the first few versions of their products as release candidate testing.

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FWIW, pdfs are mostly useless on a Kindle. There is a free downloadable program called Calibre that functions similarly to an itunes for one's ereader that does a pretty good job of converting files to whichever format works best for the Kindle and I assume it would do the same for the other ereaders.

Right, I've heard this about the Kindle, which is another reason why I want to wait a bit. And I would especially want to wait to get an iPad, since Apple seems use the first few versions of their products as release candidate testing.

The PDF issue is a bit of a problem; the software that converts PDFs to Kindle format is dodgy at best; on some books I've had success, but others (like Corey Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) the result is a poorly-formatted wallotext that can be pretty daunting, to say the least.

Edited by NBooth

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Quick announcement: University of Notre Dame is having an overstock book sale.

 

Most of the books are for $5.  Just follow the instructions at their website to look at the catalogue and to enter the sale code.  There are some great titles in there.

 

Oh, and the sale ends tomorrow.

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Why we lie about reading great books

 

Besides hinting that, more often than not, you shouldn't trust anyone who claims to have read Orwell cover to cover, we seem to be preoccupied with lying about having read the same sort of works. Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights appear on several lists; then there are the impossibly long (often Russian) tomes like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment and Infinite Jest (aka Infinite Struggle); as for highly esoteric works like JR, Finnegans Wake and Molloy, frankly, it's pretty safe to assume the person is lying about finishing, especially if they claim to have enjoyed the darn thing.

 

 

[Of course, the article doesn't get into the other thing about these lists of unread great books: they give folks who have read them a nice little self-righteous jolt of energy, while confirming the prejudices of people who haven't read them--that is, "I've not read Crime and Punishment but neither has anyone else." FWIW, I have. Twice. Do I get a cookie?]

Edited by NBooth

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Just read this Nicholas Carr essay excerpt in The Week:

 

Baby Boomers, it seemed obvious to Morrison, would be the last generation to read words inked on pages. The future of the book, the magazine, and the newspaper — the future of the word — lay in "e-publishing." Unlike Uzanne, who was merely speculating, Morrison could point to hard facts about trends in reading and publishing. People were flocking to the screen. Paper was toast.

 

Now, just two years later, the outlook for the printed page has brightened. New facts, equally hard, suggest that words will continue to appear on sheets of paper for a good long while. E-book sales, which skyrocketed after the launch of Amazon's Kindle in late 2007, have fallen back to earth in recent months — they rose by just 5 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to publishers' reports — while sales of hardcovers and trade paperbacks have remained surprisingly resilient. Printed books still account for about three quarters of overall book sales in the United States, and if sales of used books, which have been booming, are taken into account, that percentage likely rises higher. A recent survey revealed that even the biggest fans of e-books continue to purchase a lot of printed volumes.

Edited by Christian

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Franco Moretti:

 

Which brings me to a question I have often been asked, and rightly so: will the humanities of the digital age lose what has so powerfully characterized them—the experience of reading a book from beginning to end? And, I don’t want to answer for the humanities in general, but for those of us in digital literary studies the answer has to be, Yes: reading a book from beginning to end loses its centrality, because it no longer constitutes the foundation of knowledge. Our objects are much bigger than a book, or much smaller than a book, and in fact usually both things at once; but they’re almost never a book. The pact with the digital has a price, which is this drastic loss of “measure.” Books are so human-sized; now that right size is gone. We’re not happy about the loss; but it seems to be a necessary consequence of the new approach.
 
Now, let me be clear about this, this does not mean that literary critics, let alone readers in general, shouldn’t read books any more. Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of life, it would be insane to give it up. What is at stake is not reading, it’s the continuity between the experience of reading of a book and the production of knowledge. That’s the point. I read a lot of books; but when I work in the Literary Lab they’re not the basis of my work. The “lived experience” of literature no longer morphs into knowledge, as in Ricoeur’s great formula of the “hermeneutic of listening,” where understanding consists in hearing what the text has to say. In our work we don’t listen, we ask questions; and we ask them of large corpora, not of individual texts. It’s a completely different epistemology.

 

 

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Vox: 30 times the novel has been declared dead since 1902.

 

The novel is a relatively new literary format. Though fictional storytelling has been a tradition since the Greek and Roman empires, the first precursor to the modern novel was Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote in 1605.  The form truly came to popular prominence in the 18th century through writers like Henry Fielding and Daniel Defoe. Many scholars, such as Margaret Anne Doody, cite the 18th century as the beginning of "the novel" we know today, because of the rise in literary criticism that happened during the same period, but the novel's creation date is still a matter of heated debate.
 
As, apparently, is the date of its death. 

 

The list leaves out Gore Vidal, who beat the "death of the novel" drum pretty consistently from about the sixties onward.

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