Read a lot of stories and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and the lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others. – Martha Nausbaum
2012 was a big year in reading for me. I read a 63 works of fiction, 26 works of non-fiction, and 20 graphic novels.
My New Favorite Author:
This was the year that I discovered the works of Michael Ondaatje, an author that blew my heart out with every sentence. His haunting and dream-like novel Divisadero is my favorite work of fiction read in 2012. I first read it in March and then again in August after I’d cycled through all of his other novels at least once (or in the case of Anil’s Ghost, twice). I also read a lot of his poetry, though not in book form. My favorite poem by him is The Cinnamon Peeler. It makes me long to visit Sri Lanka.
I also read more contemporary books this year than in years past. There was a lot of good stuff that came out in 2012 and I didn’t get to nearly as much of it as I would have liked. Of particular note were a few debut books from authors like Christopher Beha, G. Willow Wilson, Robin Sloan, Katherine Boo, Lawrence Osbourne, and Kevin Powers. There were also some strong books by established authors like Andrew Miller, Per Petterson, Jami Attenberg, Scott Lasser, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Graham Joyce.
My Top Ten Books published in 2012:
- What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha
- Can Animals Be Moral? by Mark Rowlands
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
- Pure by Andrew Miller
- The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
- It’s Fine By Me by Per Petterson
- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Honorable Mention: The Forgiven by Lawrence Osbourne, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek
Full list of stats:
All titles can be found HERE.
Total Fiction: 63
Total Non-Fiction: 26
Total Graphic Novels: 20
# of above read as eBooks: 15
Average per month: 9.1
Average per week: 2.1
Best month: November (13 titles)
Worst month: January (5 titles)
Favorite Fiction Book Read: Divisidero by Michael Ondaatje
Favorite Fiction Book published in 2012: What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha
Favorite Non-Fiction Book Read: *The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film* Michael Ondaatje
Favorite Non-Fiction Book published in 2012: Can Animals Be Moral? by Mark Rowlands
Favorite Graphic Novel Read: Habibi by Craig Thompson
Favorite Graphic Novel published in 2012: any of The Unwritten titles by Mike Carey that came out this year
John Palfrey recently gave a short TEDx talk about his work with the DPLA. It’s a good introduction to the project and why it is needed.
More info at DPLA
Need a concrete example of how publishers are “inserting friction” in order to make it difficult for libraries to share eBooks? Just look at the price difference.
Full version of above picture from American Libraries Magazine (pdf)
Ursula K. Le Guin says this of “frictioned” eBooks in libraries:
If the part libraries play in distributing ebooks gets “frictioned” into insignificance, it will be easier for the corporations to take further control of what ebooks you personally can obtain, how long a book will stay on your reader before you have to pay for it again, and whatever else they want to control. If they see profit in doing any of this, they’ll do it. If small publishers try to sell the books they don’t sell, the big corporations will eliminate the small publishers.
We’d be wise to keep our information base as broad as possible, by supporting the existing public libraries in their heroic and amazingly successful effort to carry on their job in the electronic age.
The goal of the public library has been to give anyone who needs or wants it permanent, unlimited, free access to books. All books.
The goal of the public library in the electronic age is what it always was: to give permanent, unlimited, free access to books — print books, ebooks, all books — to everyone.
Cory Doctorow’s recent talk at the EBLIDA-NAPLE 20th annual conference in Copenhagen is worth spending 14 minutes on. He addresses the issues that librarians should be thinking about in regards to the future of e-books in our libraries. The first 13 minutes lead up nicely to his final plea to librarians (emphasis mine).
It is a feature and not a bug of ebooks that two people can read them at the same time…We are the people of the book and it’s time to start acting like it.
In conclusion, I have a simple but radical proposal for you. Stop buying ebooks with DRM on it. Period. I know it’s not easy, librarianship is not easy, librarianship has never been easy – ask the people at Alexandria. You are, after all, the specialists who safeguard information in the information age. Access to information has always been a radical political act. But you wouldn’t accept a publishers demand that its representatives be allowed to put hidden cameras in your collection to discover who was reading which books. You wouldn’t accept a publishers demand for access to your circulation records. You wouldn’t accept a journal publisher who said that your physical copies had to be confiscated and burned if you terminated your subscriptions. The digital equivalents are no more acceptable than the physical ones.
BoingBoing’s LibraryLab has a great post about how Douglas County Libraries are experimenting with eContent in a way that is simple and easily accessible for their patrons. I love it.
The digital branch allows patrons to view and explore digital content using their hands and eyes the same way they might explore a traditional collection, with added functionality like immediate access to staff recommendations, most popular titles, and new content. Digital branch technology and features will change and improve as Douglas County Libraries’ eContent collection grows and patron use of digital content evolves.
Philosophy, in the final analysis, is the art of thinking clearly. And even if we are all amateurs when it comes to our own lives, this does not preclude thinking clearly about those lives and what is important in them. – Mark Rowlands
Last month I wrote a post highlighting some of the topics I was thinking about during March. It was an endeavor inspired by Claire Creffield and her blog post discussing the important reflective properties of blog written with the “imagined eyes of another” in mind. Adhering to the notion of blogs as public journals with powerful self-reflective properties, I am writing a post at the end of each month to summarize a few of the main ideas that were important or interesting to me.
These posts are for my future self; however, since I keep this as an open and public space, I hope that anyone else who stumbles in here will find some of what I record interesting and edifying.
On The Philosopher and the Wolf, Animal Rights, and Eating Meat: Three years ago, in April of 2009, I unexpectedly happened across Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher and the Wolf while browsing in B&N just a few weeks after its release date. After reading the first few pages, I decided to break my rule about purchasing hardcover books from chain stores. Since then The Philosopher and the Wolf has made a perennial appearance on my reading list. Rowlands combines many of my interests in this philosophical memoir and he does it with style and moving prose, which is not always easy to find among philosophers.
When I returned from Mongolia the previous summer (2008), I drastically reduced my meat consumption in an effort to work towards a more ethical and healthier diet. Before that I had been an on and off again vegetarian at several different times in my life but was never able to fully commit. Then came my fortuitous discovery of Rowlands’ book. It was exactly what I needed to read, the final catalyst required, to push me into full acceptance of and commitment to the ethical principles I was dancing around for years.
What is interesting is that Rowlands’ book is not about animal rights or vegetarian/veganism, per se. But, as he says in his 3:AM interview from earlier this month, his book approaches the way we differentiate ourselves from animals and the “stories we tell to convince ourselves of our superiority.”
Each story, I argued, has a dark side – each story casts a shadow. And in each case, what is most revealing is not the story itself, but the fact that we believe it and think it important. I focused on three common stories. The first is that we are better other animals because we are more intelligent. The second is that we are better because we have morality – we can understand right and wrong – and they do not. The third is that we are superior because we, and we alone, understand that we are going to die. Intelligence, morality and our sense of our own mortality were the three major themes of the book. I am far from convinced that to any of these stories can establish or underwrite a critical gulf between us and other animals.
This was the first time I looked at animal rights from a justice perspective. I immediately picked up his more rigorous and philosophical work on the topic, Animals Like Us. The lucid and carefully constructed arguments in this book impressed me a lot. Here was Rowlands taking the philosophical arguments (Justice as Fairness) I had most closely studied and adhered to as an undergrad and applying them to animal rights. How had I missed this? Finally I had a deep and convincing philosophical perspective from which to approach the issue.
Motivated by Rowlands’ latest interview (linked above), I spent many nights this month rereading Animals Like Us and revisiting the arguments. Now, as we are nearing the second half of 2012, I am getting more and more excited for the release of his newest book, Running with the Pack.
On the Future of Libraries: My post about library e-books sparked some excellent conversation on my Facebook page. What started out as a discussion about lending e-books morphed into a debate about the future of libraries and why many people no longer find them relevant. The entire thread is too long to share here but I was able to engage with several of my friends – all young, educated, and articulate people – who are not library users.
One of my ongoing frustrations is that we, as librarians, are struggling to offer services that this demographic wants. This is where we need to explore new models of service – content creation, maker space, &tc. Not only should librarians be doing user surveys, but they should also be talking to non-users too. As I said in the Facebook discussion, this is a very interesting time for librarians who are willing to test the boundaries of the traditional model. We need more experimentation and less standardization, more proactivity and less reactivity.
Here’s a key quote from one of the comments made by my friend Mark in that discussion:
…without innovation, patronage will shrink and with shrinking patronage comes shrinking budgets. The last time I used a library for anything was the basement of the one you work in for opening day of blood bowl league 2 years ago, because the game store hadn’t expanded their playing space yet. I can’t remember when I needed a library before that. When I was a kid, I used the library constantly, daily in the summer. I used it all the way through college. For me the change is partly caused by the changes in my life, I don’t write papers anymore, although I still do research, but more because of changing technology. Most of the time I spent in libraries was leisure time or a mix of leisure and work. Now I can accomplish all the same things from home and I have no compelling reason for a library. I would love to have a reason to hang out there again. I really think the reality is change or die.
On My New Job: I am a month and a half into my new job at the GFJ Library and I LOVE it a lot more than I expected. It is so satisfying to see the help I give someone make a measurable difference. Even something as little as teaching a patron how to attach a résumé to an email – a task most of us take for granted – has a big impact on them. When living in a world of constant connectivity, playing with all my different devices and gadgets, it is easy to forget that the digital divide is real and that a whole group of people are being left behind (even in this fairly affluent area) because of it. I am glad I play a part, no matter how small, of ameliorating this problem.
On Reading (Comics and Kindle Singles): I spent much of April catching up on comics. The standout is Mike Carey’s The Unwritten. It is some of the smartest writing being done now. Anyone who admires the powers of storytelling needs to follow along. I find myself in awe at least once or twice every TPB and getting genuinely excited about the start of a new issue.
This month I also read a few Kindle Singles on my iPad. I enjoy this publishing model because it offers a way to pay for quality content that is not quite book length but longer than an essay or article. I am not sure that writing like this would have much of an outlet otherwise – unless, perhaps, as collected in books or anthologies. It certainly would not gain the same audience.
In addition to Kindle Singles, I started to check out some stuff published by The Atavist. The first book I read from them was Mother, Stranger. It is an oddly compelling story about the author, Cris Beam’s, relationship with her mentally ill mother. A soundtrack that strums softly in the background and in-text additions of map locations, notes, noises, and photos enhances the e-books.
On Gardening: April brings garden prep and unpredictable weather. I started some tomatoes and cucumbers by the window under my makeshift growing lamp (2 bulbs and a cut furnace shield). The first few weeks of May will be for starting herbs, squash, zucchini, and beans. I usually buy one or two pepper plants and sow greens and radishes right into the ground towards the end of the month.
On My Favorite Reads From Around the Web This Month:
- Infinite Reading – an interesting blog post by Sarah Werner about reading DFW’s Infinite Jest on the iPad
- The Rise of e-books – fascinating results of a survey from Pew Internet about e-reading
- Libraries as software: dematerializing, platforms and returning to first principles – important and thoughtful blog post about ways for libraries to move forward
- The Crisis in American Walking – the first essay in a series about walking and pedestrianism in the US
- Tree of Life: The missing link discovered – an answer to the CGI dinosaurs in Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life
- How tiny Estonia stepped out of USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan - Internet done right
- The Maniac in Me - a NYT’s Magazine essay about living with anxiety
- The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future - The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal urges entrepreneurs to look beyond the Facebook model
- Why I break DRM on e-books - a publishing exec explains why DRM is a bad model
- Services More Meaningful than Ebooks - a call from Aaron Schmidt for librarians to focus their energy on places besides the already-lost e-book fight
- Craig Mod’s three satellite posts on the digital-physical divide (note: that link is to the first of three)
On Living Meaningfully: Last August I read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. It was the most influential and disturbing book I read that month (year, actually) because it dealt with a feeling that has lurked around the edges of my thoughts for the last three or four years. A quote from that book has gone around the Internet lately.
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
For a long time I felt that living a meaningful and ethical life meant you had to do something big, make an impact in a large way. But over the years I have come grasp the obvious fact that there is no one path to a meaningful life. An accumulation of the little things matter too. How you approach your days, treating your friends and family with generosity and kindness, learning new things, and cultivating empathy and understanding on a day-to-day basis are where a solid foundation to a good life begins.
Sometimes I fear that the pervasive cynicism, irony, and self-absorption that our culture (and especially my generation and those younger) is so steeped in obfuscates such a simple fact’s verity. We often can’t talk seriously about any of this and it makes me sad.
So, I listen to this:
Which brings me to…
On The Cheese of Accomplishment:
Ze Frank is back! Here’s his Invocation for Beginnings:
Last Sunday’s Ethicist column in the NYT’s featured a question about eBooks and the lending loopholes for Kindle users.
Through my public library, I can check out a book on my Kindle for 21 days. Then the system sends a signal to erase the book and make it available for someone else. But there’s a loophole: if my Kindle is offline, the book isn’t deleted and is still available for another reader. So if I need another day, I leave the Kindle offline and continue until I’m done. When I go back online, the book is deleted. I say that’s fine. But my co-worker says that I promised to return it after 21 days — just like a physical book — and I must honor that promise.
The Ethicist uses an excellent example to approach an answer to this question. To paraphrase: Suppose your physical library book is due on Sunday, but you do not return it until before the library opens on Monday as you know that it the book is not counted until then. Is your reading of the book on Sunday afternoon wrong? It seems rather clear that most people would say this is acceptable; your holding it through Sunday evening in no way impacts your agreement with the library (to return it in a certain amount of time) or hinders another person from checking it out.
However, I think that this question and how one answers it gets to another point about eBooks in libraries: the seemingly arbitrary idea of lending limits on something that is not subject to the same scarcity problem that a physical copy is. Leaving out the real world matters (libraries pay the publisher for rights to a certain number of eBooks, &tc, &tc…), limiting access to digital content feels strange and antithetical to the times we live in today. It feels like the dying swings of an institution trying to keep content “institutional” when everything in the world is pushing in the opposite direction – towards openness.
This is why I would expect that the co-worker, the one who wanted the woman posing the question to turn her Kindle on and allow her book to be deleted after 21 days, is probably in a small minority with her opinion. This worries me for another reason. On a certain level, agreeing with the woman’s use of the loophole says everything libraries need to know about patron’s view of lending limits on eBooks: it is an artificial limitation not worth full compliance.
This is a small but important point. Perceptions of libraries and librarians are changing. Information is no longer limited to the physical. It’s no longer hidden behind walls or cloistered in a room somewhere. What happens when patrons embrace this faster than libraries?
** I realize that there are important and difficult questions libraries need to deal with in regards to digital content and I do not mean to make a simple or reductive point. But, in the end, the point is both rather simple and reductive (maybe libraries need to get better at phrasing the issue?) for many people: making it difficult to access or imposing seemingly arbitrary limitations on content is not acceptable. Patrons, especially of the younger generation, will not even put up a fight about this. They will simply find what they need elsewhere, legal or not.