Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Talking to Clerks instead of Reading Books?

Posted in Books on July 8th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Bookbread doesn’t usually come across anything sans sensible by Chad W. Post at Three Percent, but this line leaves me slack-jawed:

[Here] in Rochester, we don’t have a single indie—just a few B&Ns and Borders. Which is fine, fine, they carry a lot of books, host readings, etc., etc., but these stores aren’t necessarily set-up to foster discussions between clerk and customer.

Generally, every night before bed, Bookbread prays to Satan Almighty asking for protection from random book discussions with clerks who work in bookstores. After all, what could a clerk possibly tell me about a book, or subject, that I couldn’t already have looked up on the online Dictionary of Literary Biography, JSTOR, Google Books, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Amazon reviews, dozens of RSS feeds (including Three Percents), or the recommendations from the books I’ve already read, recommendations that probably germinated my interest for the book-at-hand that I’m about to purchase?

Does Bookbread really need to intellectually interact with some jerk-off just because he/she works in a bookstore? Some folks may go to church just for mass—and that’s fine—but don’t expect Bookbread to stroll through stacks and shelves for the sole purpose of seeking out communion with other bibliophiles. If I really wanted to talk to others about books, Bookbread would just blog.

Apple censors James Joyces Ulysses on the iPad (Expert Reviews)

Posted in Books on June 9th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Although an annotated Penguin edition of Ulysses is available for purchase from Apple’s iBooks store on the iPad, when it came to a comic book adaptation of the novel sold as an iPad app, Apple insisted that any depiction of nudity be removed entirely. According to an interview with the artist Rob Berry (which has images of the uncensored panels in question), Apple wouldn’t accept a compromise such as covering the offending body parts with a fig leaf or pixellation.

Apple censors James Joyces Ulysses on the iPad | Expert Reviews.

School Bullies: Texas State Board of Education (Burnt Orange Report)

Posted in Books, Criticism, education on June 7th, 2010 by Christopher – 3 Comments

At this point, it is useless to get mired in the specifics of the damaged curriculum, after the board’s “death by a thousand cuts.”

Sorry, Rebecca Bell Metereau, but this is exactly wrong. Call me crazy, but it’s impossible to have an intellectual conversation concerning the fate of future intellectuals if you refuse to address “the specifics of the damanged curriculum.” And if you’re not going to have an intellectual conversation, you might as well nominate yourself for a place on the SBOE.

via Burnt Orange Report: School Bullies: Texas State Board of Education.

Recent Trends in the Treatment of Books by American Readers

Posted in book blogging, Books, reading on May 16th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Lately when reading, it is not uncommon to come across someone dismissing all books under the category of “dead things.” Three trends that treat books as such occur when folks either: analyze and attend to books, neglect and negate them, or embalm and preserve them. None of these trends relate much to the act of reading.

In the twenty-first century, if fiction happens to be found in a book, it is attended to like a cadaver in anatomy class, analyzed by gangs of pathologists who conduct autopsies in front of students of literature [01]. Yet nobody should expect these pathological non-readers (or their students) to administer any sort of attentive care when their patients, their books in hand, are already assumed dead and subjected to such techniques of dissection as “snippet” and “balanced reading” [02]. True, the dissection of texts was always practiced upon the holy books of a society, but never has a legion of non-reading pathologists institutionalized the reading standards for an entire nation. After their investigations are finished, one wonders whether a mass grave will be provided for these books? Or perhaps cremation is the best option when books bear the burden of neglect [03].

Accompanying the neglect of books is their negation, for readers, grieved by unsatisfactory texts, now demand the negating or “unpublishing” of certain words, phrases, and facts [04]. No longer will unpublishing be limited to kings, judges, and journalists. Moreover, the amount of current, active writers has multiplied as well as diversified [05], and in like manner, books are undergoing their own mutations in their standards, procedures, design, and formats [06]. Book publishers too have resorted to marketing a variety of textual containers (particularly Kindles and iPads). There is a touch of irony in the observation that for well over a millennia books never had any trouble finding their way into the hands of substantially poor readers, writers, and owners—but only in the twenty-first century do we find publishers being shoved into equality with their book-bearing brethren. Today’s writers, publishers, customers, and their books stand united in a democracy of poverty.

Books nowadays are also being embalmed on a new scale—their physical traits are now preserved and standardized by the cramming of books into the backgrounds of consumer catalogues, hotel lobbies, and studios that house television morning shows [07]. Here, in the backgrounds, books are kept preserved (or rather embalmed), but preserved only if one believes the medium of the book to include everything that is a book except its own text.  Today it seems only the container of the text is worth preserving.

In such circumstances is it so strange for a book blogger to ask, “How do I display or otherwise admire all these books I keep buying for the Kindle?” [08] Surely limiting the function of books strictly to decorate a space is a habit of society agreed to by all, but to amputate a text from its medium seems somewhat novel, at least as far as book behavior is concerned. As a result we are no longer driven to idealize the memorization of a text—a thing George Steiner once concluded as an ultimate goal for readers [09].

Only a few readers in the republic remain anyway—we who read not for pleasure but to escape, to forget the currency of now, to distract our attention’s natural focus on the void of joy [10]. True, sometimes this escapism comes accompanied by a belief in acclaimed benefits of “learning,” “being well informed,” or “the discovery of something new,” yet such benefits are beneficial only in the sense that they allow us to read more material with slightly more speed, intuition, and understanding which thereby increases our rate of escape from reality. The ultimate benefit of knowledge gained through reading resides in the access that knowledge provides for further reading, but if bad books are still printed, remain unread, left for dead, and continue to be complained about, has anything really changed in human–book relations [11]?

01. This terminology for autopsy was inspired by Mark Bauerlein’s Literary Criticism, an Autopsy (1997). Recently, however, Joy Hakim has claimed in “Let Them Read Whole Books” at the Oxford University Press Blog (03-29-10):
Our schools aren’t letting children read whole books. In this information age, when young people are very aware of the real world, we’re keeping any book-driven consideration of it out of classrooms, especially in those crucial middle school years. Studies show [though not shown by Hakim] that the average American schoolchild never reads a single whole nonfiction books [sic] during middle and high school (except maybe a textbook).
Today, it is only homeschoolers, and children at a few elite or unusual schools who even read as much as one whole book. Teachers are much too busy teaching reading to actually let their students read a nonfiction book.
There is also E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s “How to Save the Schoolsa review of Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education in the New York Review of Books (04-19-10). Hirsch writes:
Two decades ago I was appalled by an international comparison showing that between 1978 and 1988 the science knowledge of American students had dropped from seventh to fourteenth place. In the postwar period we have declined internationally in reading from third place to fifteenth place among the nations participating in the survey.
02. These techniques of dissection are warned of by Hakim as well as in Hirsch on Ravitch:
What schools are doing—endlessly—is teaching reading “strategies.” Our young students are analyzing paragraphs. I call it “snippet” reading…. They tackle reading “strategies….” [A teacher] may take a chapter, or maybe a few paragraphs from a book, combine it with an original document and an activity—and there you have it. No one has to actually read a book. [Let Them Read Whole Books” at the Oxford University Press Blog (03-29-10)]
And:
Many of the weekly hours that are assigned to language arts in the early grades are now being devoted to practicing reading strategies such as “questioning the author” and “finding the main idea.” Ravitch describes in detail a highly touted reform in New York City and San Diego called “balanced literacy,” which requires students to spend a lot of time practicing such reading strategies but does not prescribe any particular books, poems, and essays to practice them on. [Hirsch “How to Save the Schools” a review of Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education in the New York Review of Books (04-19-10)]
03. Not only does the intensive inspection of selections of excerpts of texts, in a way, neglect the text as a whole, but Hirsch, via Ravitch, reports on an American tradition of institutionalized book neglect:
By the early twentieth century worries about the stability of the Republic had subsided, and by the 1930s, under the enduring influence of European Romanticism, educational leaders had begun to convert the community-centered school of the nineteenth century to the child- centered school of the twentieth—a process that was complete by 1950. The chief tenet of the child-centered school was that no bookish curriculum was to be set out in advance. Rather, learning was to arise naturally out of activities, projects, and daily experience. [Hirsch “How to Save the Schools” a review of Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education in the New York Review of Books (04-19-10)]
04. As Melinda Burns thoroughly reports in “As the Internet Replaces Print Publishing, Urge to ‘Unpublish’ Means Censoring History” at AlterNet (03-01-10):
In a recent survey of 110 news organizations, the Toronto Star found that increasingly, publishers are fielding regular requests from anxious and embarrassed readers to “unpublish” information, sometimes months or years after it first appeared online…. Some readers don’t want their marital status or the price of their home known, or they were quoted saying something they now regret.
As Kathy Steiner of the Jamestown Sun wrote, “‘Unpublishing’ is a word that doesn’t accurately reflect what people are asking. They’re asking to censor or rewrite history….” Yet, as Paulette Haddix of the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana said: “If something happened, it happened. If it was said, it was said. We don’t want to set any ‘unpublishing’ precedent where we are rewriting history.”
05. “Journalism’s next generation: A new wave of writers are going online to get their message across” by Ian Burrell of the Independent (04-22-10) notes:
It is a widely held view that the internet has made writers of everyone. Whether we prodigiously blog or just contribute to message boards, we all like to think that we can make a pithy observation. That shouldn’t mean the specialist correspondent cannot have a greater resonance.
06. Burrell reports that the changes in British publishing now include “creating a network of expertly written websites that cater for the specialist audiences that are arguably no longer being served as they once were by more traditional media organisations.” [ Journalism’s next generation: A new wave of writers are going online to get their message across” in the Independent (04-22-10)]
Jeremy Caplan, a blogger for the Wall Street Journal, expands the conversation concerning the mutations of published texts in “The iPad and the Future of Text” (04-28-10):
Digital text is at a crossroads, and the iPad’s momentum could nudge it in one of two directions.
Down one path lies a world in which words are increasingly digitized in iPad-like e-readers that function like locked glass boxes. That renders books, magazines and newspapers easy to carry around but difficult to share or remix.
Down the other path, openness wins out, and text can be shared in myriad ways. This brings digital books closer to a historical precursor: commonplace books. These were personal scrapbooks created centuries ago expressly for spontaneous text sharing, long before Web links made that concept, well, commonplace.
Concerning the Kindle and other electronic reading devices, Virgina Hefferman, in “The Medium” on the Shelf Lifeblog of the New York Times (03-04-10) notes: “The [Kindle], which consigns all poetry and prose to the same homely fog-toned screen, leaves nothing to the experience of books but reading.”
07. See Rob Walker’s comments in “Books, the idea: Suggesting wealths of learnedness” from his marketing/design blog murketing (04-22-10):
Unlike other collectibles, books “represent a different order of plenitude,” [Nicholson Baker’s piece, “Books as Furniture,” from the June 12, 1995 New Yorker] writes, one that encompasses “the camel caravans of thought-bearing time to read them through.” And he quotes William Gladstone arguing against a fashion for ornamental bookcases; those objects should remain plain, Gladstone says, because books “are themselves the ornament.”
Also note Herrman (ibid.):
If [Walter Benjamin] says not reading books can be as sophisticated and European as reading them, I believe him, and I will try to think of my books as Sèvres china. But Sèvres china, if I had any, would be for display on its days off, wouldn’t it? [Virgina Hefferman’s post “The Medium” on Shelf Lifeblog of the New York Times (03-04-10)]
08. Ibid.
09. Steiner, George “Critic”/“Reader”. New Literary History, Vol. 10, No. 3, Anniversary Issue: I. (Spring, 1979), pp. 423–452. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/468921>:
But a text can only enter into the full life of the canon when it is woken by, housed within, the negated distance of precise memory. It follows that “total reading” has an inherent logic of dispensation, that it tends towards a condition in which the materiality of the text is no longer required. The icon has been wholly internalized. (p. 444)
10. As Twain put it in his last known story, Captain Stormfields Visit to Heaven (1909): “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself—it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”
11. A recent, semi-humorous example can be found in Sean Fennessey’s post (“Cancel Publish: A Call For the End of Tumblr Book Deals.”) On GQ’s pop culture blog, The Verge. (04-27-10). Fennessy calls for an end to such “spawn of social media,” noting that:
Agent Jason Allen Ashlock explained to Galleycat why he connected at the idea: “The blog to book projects seem tired because so many of them have been one-trick ponies. They’re based around a gimmick: They tell a joke and then they tell it again and again. Image, caption, laugh. Image, caption, laugh. Their concepts are thin. The ones that have been really successful, and have a chance of making the backlist, have had a clear editorial voice: there’s an honest critique or cultural observation built into the ostensibly humorous project.”

Circular shelving (murketing)

Posted in Books on April 21st, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

The idea of the book, cont’d: Circular shelving.

The Lies in Textbooks are Upon You

Posted in Books, education on April 20th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Recently the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE] voted to approve changes to the social studies textbooks of the state’s schoolchildren. These changes will now task students to read several Things-That-Are-Not [TITANs].[01] For example, instead of calling capitalism capitalism, it will now be known as something that it is not, so that the textbooks of Texas will print “free enterprise system” instead of “capitalism”.[02]

The Board also approved revisions that would skew the historical context of the phrase “separation of church and state,” substituting it also with a TITAN, perhaps a “unity of church and state.”[03] After all, the integration of church and state carries benefits aplenty—what could possibly go wrong in suggesting the merger of those who are exempt from taxes with those who collect them?

I am frankly appalled at the language spewed forth as a result of the Board’s new policies.[04] Why tote such loaded words? Already the students of Texas are adapted to high levels of TITAN exposure through journalism, advertising, other forms of mass media, and professional sports.[05] Surely kids can handle a few more TITANs in their lives—why shouldn’t their textbooks be infiltrated as well?

This is not to suggest that the SBOE’s new policy will transmit any kind of reason to its students. For reason (wisdom, logic) is always good, otherwise it would always be good to always be unreasonable—yes, this occurs hourly on cable news, but thankfully no reasonable American watches it)[06]—but to advocate children to believe in TITANs cannot be called reasonable. It instead cloaks the Board’s will to increase the ignorance of the Texas public student populous.

But just because the SBOE’s policy prevents the promotion of reason does not mean that a lack of reason can be blamed for its policy. The SBOE’s underlying reason for approving its new book policy emerges easily to any onlooker: by nurturing Texas schoolchildren with standards of the past, such students might further be inspired to rise up, radicalize, and protest—the same way their hippy grandparents did in the 1960s.[07] Only by spotlighting Phyllis Schlafly, the Moral Majority, the Contract With America, or the NRA can the SBOE point the schoolchildren of Texas towards their proper twenty-first century scapegoats.

It is truly conservative to preserve a textbook tradition that provokes radical protest. The Board has seen the results. They know these methods work, and it is time to apply them again, particularly when there is no fear of this tradition spreading to other states.[08] One should thank God for blessing Texas with such a bureaucracy as the SBOE and its TITAN-ic policies.


Notes

[01] The source for this terminology comes from Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels (1726), Part IV, Chapter V. But there is also Plato’s Cratylus which tells us:

Nor can we reasonably say [that] there is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known.  [Plato. Cratylus. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. The Dialogues of Plato Translated into English. (1892). Vol. 1. Third Edition. Oxford, UP. p. 388. on Google Books.]

So we may take it that the very nature of the knowledge of capitalism will change when it is no longer called such. Compare also Plato’s Meno:

For this is what our discussion is really about—not if there are or have been good men here, but if virtue can be taught—that is what we have been considering for so long. And the point we are considering is just this: whether the good men of these times and of former times knew how to hand on to another that virtue in which they were good, or whether it cannot be handed on from one man to another, or received by one man from another.  [Plato. Meno. In Great Dialogues of Plato. Translated by W.H.D. Rouse, Twelfth Printing, (1956) New American Library. (92B–93E) p. 59.]

One generation cannot handoff to the next any knowledge of capitalism or a “separation of church and state” if the nature of the knowledge of these things has already changed. Hence these things (capitalism and the separation of church and state) become Things-That-They-Are-Not [TITANs].

[02] Coverage on the “free enterprise” / “capitalism” distinction for the textbooks of Texas is wide and varied:

[SBOE chairman] Lowe’s most fraught vote came when she supported the move by Board Member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, to remove references to “capitalism” in the standards, using instead the phrase “free enterprise.”

Last summer, a compromise had been struck with the group of teachers writing the economics standards about how to refer to the country’s economic system. The challenge was finding a term that conformed both with common academic language and the state law, which calls for the use of “free enterprise.” The result was the phrase “U.S. free enterprise (capitalist, free market) system.

Cumbersome, indeed. But Mercer’s objection was not about the economy of language. It was ideological.

The word “capitalism” has a negative connotation and the standards should not apologize for the nation’s free enterprise system, he said.

And Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, agreed.

“I do think that words means things,” Leo said. “I see no need, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia,” who have written “distorted and liberal textbooks.”  [“SBOE chairwoman tips balance for conservative votes” by Kate Alexander of the Austin American Statesmans politics and government blog Postcards (03/11/10).]

A majority of the State Board of Education decided Texas students should be shielded from exposure to the perfectly good word “capitalism” — one frequently heard in college-level economics classes. Why? Because member Terri Leo, R-Spring, doesn’t like the sound of it.  [“When God was handing out brains…” an op-ed in the (03/27/10) Austin American Statesman.]

When [the SBOE] instructs textbook writers to always use the term “free-enterprise” and never the term “capitalism,” it isn’t doing so because it feels solicitude for imperialists or the big-money set.

Heavens no. Board members are doing it to vindicate the little guy, to wrest the language away from an intellectual elite. As Don McLeroy, one of the leaders of the board’s conservative faction, put it in last year’s debate over evolution, “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.”  [“Don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed” an op-ed by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journal political blog Opinion Journal (03/17/10).]

[03] Coverage over the outcry of the phrase “separation of church and state” also runs plentiful:

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” Board member David Bradley said. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”  [“Conservatives on Texas Panel Carry the Day on Curriculum Change” by James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times. 03/13/10. Section A; Column 0; National Desk; p. 10.]

SBOE chairman Gail Lowe insists:

“A critical priority of the State Board of Education in our revision of the curriculum standards has been to emphasize the founding documents, such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution. We believe students need a stronger grasp of the freedoms guaranteed in these documents. The First Amendment very clearly prevents Congress from establishing a national church, but it also promotes the free exercise of religion. Students need to understand that this is what the founders intended.

“It is inaccurate to say the founding fathers were neutral about religion; most were strong proponents of religious faith but did not believe in a national church controlled by the federal government.”  [“Q&A: Texas Board of Education Chairman” from in The Baptist Press, by Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist Texan (03/29/10).]

Yet Lowe’s comments would not rule out the possibility for teaching through textbooks an advocacy for state churches, county churches, school district churches etc. And because of things like—

“The conservative faction handily defeated an amendment that would have required children to learn the significance of the separation of church and state and rejected several attempts to include more minorities in the curriculum.”  [“Education board OKs changes” by Zahira Torres of the El Paso Times (03/13/10).]

Board members defeated an amendment by member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, that would have required students to examine the reasons the Founding Fathers “protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”

The seven social conservatives on the panel—several of whom openly question the legal precedents affirming the separation of church and state—were joined by the three moderate Republicans in voting no.  [“Texas education board refuses to require religious-freedom lesson” by Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News (03/12/10).]

—it can be reasonably concluded that the SBOE “have deleted [references] to church-state separation.”  [“Analysis: Texas influence on national textbook market is small and shrinking” from the Texas on the Potomac blog of the Houston Chronicle, analysis provided by Brian Thevenot of the Texas Tribune (03/29/10).]

Even Baptists groups were dismayed. See “Baptists decry Texas education board’s curriculum votes” by Robert Marus of The Baptist Standard (03/16/10).

[04] Examples of such appalling language appear endless, beginning with mild exaggeration such as Mike Chapman’s post “Stop the schoolyard bullies of the SBOE” on Burnt Orange Blog (03/26/10): “the SBOE are systematically engaging in an extreme ideological agenda in an effort to skew history,” to the slightly silly title for Robert McHenry’s post “The Creedalists” at American.com, (03/25/10).

Yet fiercer language abounds. Take for instance the op-ed “When God was handing out brains...” in the Austin American Statesman (03/27/10) and its use of phrases like, “a jihad against knowledge” and “handicapping Texas students.” Or “Don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed,” an op-ed by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journals political blog Opinion Journal (03/17/10) that spews: “the proceedings appear like a sort of Texas inquisition.”

[05] In journalism, take Jason Blair, the Balloon Boy saga, or the yet-to-be-found (though thoroughly reported on) WMDs of Iraq. Even so, the public students of Texas are completely used to TITANs in other forms of mass media such as the fake violence of some video games, or the false sense of creativity felt when playing Guitar Hero, or reality’s clash with Disney’s aesthetics and ethics via the pretended powers of characters and superheroes in movies and comic books. In professional sports, take not only the steroids scandals throughout the Olympics and Major League Baseball, but the fact that some ballplayers perjured themselves before Congress and with no apparent consequence. Kids in the twenty-first century are inundated with Things-That-Are-Not (TITANs) so why should the content of their textbooks be any different?

[06] Terry McDermott’s “Dumb Like a Fox.” Columbia Journalism Review for March/April 2010 recently notes:

Cable news is not literally a broadcast business, but a narrowcast. At any given moment, there are a relative handful of people (in peak hours less than five million and in non-prime hours half that, out of the U.S. population of 320 million) watching all of these networks combined. American Idol, in contrast, routinely draws 30 million.

One need only look at the recent example of CNN’s audience decline for further support of McDermott’s observations.

[07] Robert McHenry makes this point in his post “The Creedalists” at American.com, a magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute:

Does the Texas board member pause to reflect that those radicals of the ’60s were schooled on the textbooks of the Eisenhower years? Perhaps not. That they then went off to college, discovered that a few facts had been omitted from their schooling, and promptly made a fetish of them? Does [SBOE member Don McLeroy] stop for just a moment to wonder if what he is doing now is likely to have the desired effect?

[08] See note 3 above of Brian Thevenot’s comments in: “Analysis: Texas influence on national textbook market is small and shrinking.”

The idea of the book, continued… (murketing)

Posted in Books on March 8th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

The idea of the book, continued….

Oxford Companion to the Book (Classical Bookworm)

Posted in Books on March 8th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Classical Bookworm: Want..

Readers re-Joyce: Finnegan brought right back to life (Irish Independent)

Posted in Books, Language on March 5th, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Readers re-Joyce: Finnegan brought right back to life – Books, Entertainment – Independent.ie.

Some Light Reading – Luzinterruptus (Gizmodo)

Posted in Books on March 3rd, 2010 by Christopher – Be the first to comment

Some Light Reading – Luzinterruptus – Gizmodo.