Review of Reading Beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture

August 2, 2013

[Note: Usually I review crime fiction here, but this time I'm reviewing a work of serious and heavy-duty scholarship. I've been following the work of the Beyond the Book project for a few years, now, so was excited to learn a book was on its way. It has now been released by Routledge. It will be helpful for my sabbatical project, though it's also a little intimidating. These authors did a lot of work!]

This book is a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a vast amount of qualitative and quantitative material gathered in the course of an ambitious three-year project to explore what the authors call “mass reading events” – social/cultural practices designed to bring groups much larger than the traditional book club together to read the same book. Though these events have grown popular since Seattle kicked things off in the 1990s, they haven’t been widely studied (other than Oprah’s Book Club, one form of the mass reading event.). Danielle Fuller (University of Birmingham) and DeNel Rehberg Sedo (Mount St. Vincent University) make up for that by conducting an ambitious research program in three countries (US, Canada, UK) and writing a detailed, probing look at the results. Though it may seem a highly specialized phenomenon to study, it’s one that gives the authors a chance to “interrogate the social and material relations among the reading industry’s agents and agencies” (18).

“Shared reading” they write “is both a social process and a social formation” (27). In the first chapter, “Reading,” they review the history of shared reading, including literary societies, the Great Books program, and Elizabeth Long’s research on book groups. They critique the text-focus of much reader-response theory and point out that there is a gap in how we think about reading: though the reader as the object of study has been historically situated, “there is little attention to the reader-reader interaction and no sense of the ways that nonacademic readers might employ various reading practices as part of their everyday lives as social beings” (39). Their methodology was an attempt to use mass reading events as a platform for focusing on the social experience of the reader and the interaction between book, reader, the book industry, mass media, and how those all intersect in events focused on reading as a community event.

Chapters on the ways television and radio have promoted shared reading prove an opportunity to see how reading books is framed as enlightening, empowering, self-actualizing, and entertaining, all at once. I found it particularly interesting to see national differences and similarities between the U.S. (Oprah) with the U.K. (Richard and Judy) and Canada (which has a particularly interesting situation, needing to promote local cultural production while saturated with books from the UK and US; the CBC’s Canada Reads program embodies those contradictions). These chapters would be of interest to anyone curious about how mass media work in these three countries. The cultural politics of the BBC and CBC are complex as they accommodate consumer culture and neo-liberal assumptions about the economic drivers of human social behavior.

The fourth chapter is on money – the complex dance between commercial interests (both in selling books but also in attaching the cultural value of reading to other interests. These events seek sponsors, and the sponsors seek “useful symbolic capital” (126). Again, though the topic of mass reading events may seem rather narrow, it’s a lens for looking at the relationship between consumer capitalism and cultural production in the late age of print. “Ideologically,” the authors argue, “culture ceases to be valued primarily as a ‘public good,’ and instead becomes subject to the rules of domestic and international marketplaces . . . National and supra-national legislation about trade, monopolies and mergers, copyright, and intellectual property all played their part in the commercialization of culture” (130). There is a mixing of culture’s purpose that substitutes measures of utility and popularity for social well being. The authors contrast Richard Florida’s vision of culture as an entrepreneurial economic activity that provides levers for social change without relying on state intervention. The mass reading event then becomes a vehicle for shared consumption that has a a patina of “good for you” social capital. This intersection of motives also shows up in the different ways the NEA’s “Big Read” program and the IMLS’s involvement in it make the case for reading. One is more geared to the text as a work of literature that has transformative benefits, the other is more accepting of a wider range of reading tastes and the value of many kinds of reading. The authors argue that the “one book one community” model has migrated through these English-speaking nations because it fits with dominant neoliberal approaches to cultural value. It promises betterment without threatening the status quo.

A chapter on the people who put these programs together is another way to unpack the multiple motives of community reading programs, mixing a social mission with a celebration of celebrity culture, reading as a spur for social change and a way of bringing people into the fold of normative reading practices. Nancy Pearl’s rise to “superstar librarian” status is sketched out, a different path than that of her colleague who continued to work as a librarian. She tells a moving story of reading a novel about Japanese internment during World War II and how powerful it was to have elderly internees recognized by the community. (I dare you to read that passage with a dry eye! It’s a powerful emotional argument for how reading together can actually promote understanding.) The amount of donated labor and its cost is addressed, and the British Get Into Reading program is described, offering a different way to tie mass reading events to social change. This program doesn’t market events in search of an audience or work through traditional literary channels such as schools and libraries, but takes the program into community-based social services programs for immigrants, asylum seekers, the homeless, and others who might not identify with commercial literary culture. Further, it focuses on “quality” or classic literature in the belief that it shouldn’t be only enjoyed by the privileged. In some ways, it reminds me of the Great Books program in the US, but with a bigger emphasis on outreach to the disenfranchised. This exploration of cultural workers who promote reading “demonstrates how gender, generation, and geography shape the reproduction of traditional values about book reading as socially and morally transformative activity, as well as influencing more holistic, therapeutic, and creative ideals of the social change, pleasure, and relationships that shared reading can inspire” (204).

The final two chapters, “Reader” and “Book” explore what readers experience when participating in mass reading events and how they experience books as material objects. They use the term “citizen readers” to convey people who “read to belong just as they feel that they themselves belong to reading as an activity located in a place, along with others who share the same interest” (211). Sharing reading is an opportunity for them to share their own feelings and to promote a sense of belonging. It can also provide a personal link to authors who participate as the author shares stories about their lives. There is always the possibility that this sense of community is limited and may silence or exclude people. (A discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird in the south attracted a primarily white audience, for example.) At the same time, such events can “bring attention to issues of racism, cultural difference, and social injustice” at a time when “public forums for discussion are increasingly rare, and people’s agency over their material realities has declined” (242). One Book events allow participants a chance to experience the feeling of “being and belonging.”

The authors have lived up to their promise to interrogate “the paradox of promoting a prestige-laden activity on a large scale and via mass media [that] opens up a productive critical pathway for thinking about the ways that cultural value is brokered within ‘creative’ communities” (258). Though it’s limited to one kind of reading activity in three countries that have a lot in common, this is a remarkably in-depth study that teases out many insights into what reading means to readers, how book culture combines prestige with consumerism, how the radical potential for growth through literature is entangled with a conservative desire to belong and be comforted, and what role books and reading have in mass media and popular culture. This book is an important and insightful interdisciplinary contribution to reading studies.


My Mysterious Year

January 2, 2013

I didn’t read nearly as many books as Bernadette did in a bad year, but I can’t say I suffered from lack of books to read. I participated in quite a few of the discussion at 4MA, including three series discussions, a record for me. I read some non-mystery fiction (including Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, which slowed me down because of its length, but in an entertaining way). The following are my top ten reads of the year.

Whispering Death by Garry Disher
He does such a good job of weaving together a lot of plot threads, all of them very believable.

The Gods of Gotham by Linsday Faye
Wins the “socks blown off” award from me. Loved her use of language and how she conveyed the zeitgeist of NYC when much of Manhattan was farmland.

Invisible Muder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
I enjoy the way these co-authors pull together multiple points of view. Also enjoy the not-totally-likeable protagonist.

Lake Country by Sean Doolittle
This guy writes so well and has such a tender heart for people in trouble. Loved this book.

Wolves and Angels by Seppo Jokinen
A Finnish police procedural that gave me what I want from a procedural: a realistic workplace and a nice mix of characters.

The Dark Winter by David Mark
My dark horse. I especially loved the writing style; plot was pretty dandy, too.

The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan
A different take on fathers and daughters; great setting, as always.

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller
I had to slow down and enjoy the scenery for this one. Very vivid sense of place.

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina
How does she do it? How does she knock one wonderful book out after another? Loved it.

Paradise City by Archer Mayor
Another nicely done procedural series with multiple POVs, this one including a Chinese artisan looking for her own Workers Paradise (in western Massachusetts)

If I had a top eleven, it would include Michael Stanley’s Death of the Mantis, which I enjoyed very much (another 4MA discussion book which I’m very happy I read).

Four of the ten were new-to-me authors. Four were by women authors. I am not doing charts, much as I like a nice colored chart, but thought I would map my reading in the past year. This doesn’t include all the books I read, but most of them. In some cases I had to pick one place to drop a pin though the book moved around (as was the case in Reamde, a real globe-trotter of a book).

Here’s hoping for a great new reading year for everyone!


the loneliness of the unshared e-book

May 30, 2010

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

Oh, Mr. Klinkenborg- we are on the same page.

New York Times contributor Verlyn Klinkenborg (who visited my place of work once and was overwhelmed by the “deep-keeled Minnesotan politeness that states, as a life proposition, that you should not put yourself forward, not even to the raising of a hand in class” – and used it to write an interesting piece on young women’s hesitance to claim authority as writers) reflects on reading on an iPad. And he has exactly the same reservations about the experience as I do.

“All the e-books I’ve read have been ugly,” he writes. There is no design of the words on the page, no distinction among books. They all look alike, and every at every page you feel as if you’re in the same place in the text, somewhere in the middle. It’s impossible to get a sense of how old the book is, what makes the book visually distinctive, or where you are in the text. There’s  a profusion of editions of classics and translations, but because they’re all dressed in the same burlap duds, it’s hard to tell which is newer, which is more authoritative, which is more accurate. This seeming democracy of words has made every book wear the same drab, ill-fitting uniform.

But I am particularly pleased that he ends with this point that will have the greatest impact on our reading culture.

I already have a personal library. But most of the books I’ve ever read have come from lending libraries. Barnes & Noble has released an e-reader that allows short-term borrowing of some books. [ed. note: many major publishers have insisted this feature be disabled for their books.] The entire impulse behind Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks assumes that you cannot read a book unless you own it first — and only you can read it unless you want to pass on your device.

That goes against the social value of reading, the collective knowledge and collaborative discourse that comes from access to shared libraries. That is not a good thing for readers, authors, publishers or our culture.

photo courtesy of Jemsweb.


what is lost

December 26, 2009

I bought and read my first e-book on a phone this year using an iPhone app. I don’t plan to repeat the experience, not because it was horrible but because I know too many booksellers personally and until it’s easy to buy from them I’m not planning to purchase e-books. But I felt as if I needed some experience with e-books.

The good side? It didn’t weigh much when traveling and I could read it in the dark on the long shuttle ride from the airport. The bad side?

Let me count the ways.

First, the pages look ugly. There’s no other way to put it. There is no page design, just letters poured into a mechanical box, no art in the chapter headings, no thought given to initial capitals, words broken in the wrong place, justified lines full of gaps like bad teeth. And of course no page numbers. The design of a page in a printed book is a nearly invisible pleasure. Page design is something I appreciate more since seeing what is lost when it’s absent.

Second, reading on a phone is fine for e-mail and  for short form texts on a web page, but it’s hard to get lost in a book when you have to turn pages every paragraph or so. I also found it strangely disorienting to have only a bar at the bottom of the page telling me where I was in the book. A sense of place, of orientation in the arc of the story is harder to grasp. (I found this also true when I held my most recently published book in my hands for the first time. The last chapters felt different when measured between the thumb and fingers and the growing weight of the left side than when I was scrolling to the end of a document. Though I did read the galleys on paper, I shifted the pages to the back of the stack as I read and so was surprised by how profoundly the anticipation of an ending affects the reading experience.)

Third – I don’t like a future for the book in which sharing is disabled and ownership of an immutable copy no longer exists. It bothers me that a corporation could reach into my personal library and pluck a book back or alter it. I don’t like the fact that there is no such thing as fair use in a world of licensed content and that I can’t give a friend or family member a book I read and loved. Sure, I could buy them a second e-book version, but it’s not the same as handing on the book I read.

Fourth – this post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation spells out just how much we give away to Google and Amazon when we let them be our “bookstore” and “library.” Real booksellers and librarians have stood up for reader privacy. Personal information is a valuable commodity to these corporations. I don’t like the idea of my reading habits becoming a commodity and I don’t like the aggregation of readers’ behavior becoming a huge data mine of our minds.

Google’s new Google Book Search Project has the ability to track reading habits at an unprecedented level of granularity. In particular, according to the proposed Google Books Privacy Policy, web servers will automatically “log” each book and page you searched for and read, how long you viewed it for, and what book or page you continued onto next . . . your Kindle will periodically send information about you to Amazon. But exactly what information is sent? Amazon’s wording — “information related to the content on your Device and your use of it” — reads so broadly that it appears to allow Amazon to track all content that users put on the device, regardless of whether that content is purchased from Amazon. Some security researchers have indicated that the Kindle may even be tracking its users’ GPS locations. Is this the future of reading?

God, I hope not. Cory Doctorow has put some of this in sharp perspective in “How to Destroy the Book” in which he argues that the true pirates are the corporations who are remaking our book culture so that they can be in the center of it, controlling books for the sake of profits. He contrasts this perspective with that of “people of the book” who love books, want to fill their houses with them, and pass favorites on to their children.

Anyone who claims that readers can’t and won’t and shouldn’t own their books are bent on the destruction of the book, the destruction of publishing, and the destruction of authorship itself. We must stop them from being allowed to do it. The library of tomorrow should be better than the library of today. The ability to loan our books to more than one person at once is a feature, not a bug. We all know this. It’s time we stop pretending that the pirates of copyright are right. These people were readers before they were publishers before they were writers before they worked in the legal department before they were agents before they were salespeople and marketers. We are the people of the book, and we need to start acting like it.

What he said.

photos courtesy of brewbooks and Josh Bancroft.


rebuilding trust in our trust networks

January 4, 2009

Anita Elberse once again explains why spending millions on a potential blockbuster makes sense for book publishing,* an issue that she previously explored at greater length in the Harvard Business Review.** The only way to make real money is to go after books that will sell lots of copies. In order to sell lots of copies, you have to invest even more money into marketing (e.g. paying for it to be visible in chain bookstores and Wal-Mart and be written up in newsletters: wow, this is a book we think you should read – we won’t mention the publisher paid us to say so). Interestingly, she ties this not to consumer gullibility or to clever marketing, but to the social nature of reading, which has long interested me.

Media companies’ hit-focused marketing did not emerge in a vacuum. It reflects how consumers make choices. The truth is that consumers prefer blockbusters. Because they are inherently social, people find value in reading the same books and watching the same movies that others do. This is true even in today’s markets where, thanks to the Internet, buyers have easy access to millions and millions of titles.

But, but . . . buyers also have access to loads of reader’s responses to books, thanks to the Internet.

This happens to resonate for me with a comment that popped up when a George Mason professor had students in a class on history hoaxes create their own hoax and spread it virally using the social networks made available through Web 2.0. The commentor said it violated trust networks – that people believed in the hoax not because it had been marketed to them or because it was reported in USA Today, but because historians they trusted talked about it. Their trust network, wired through Internet channels, had been breached by someone who deliberately manipulated that network and their trust for false purposes. There are pedagogical and ethical issues involved that are better discussed elsewhere – but the existence of those trust networks woven together by online connections replicates the “invisible college” or Polanyi’s Republic of Science. It’s bound together by trust and based on both expertise and disinterestedness (in John Ziman’s sense of the word).

Readers have trust networks, too. The best way people can determine what to read next is to have a trusted and well-known fellow reader make a recommendation. There are thousands and thousands of online communities that exist for this purpose. The goal isn’t to sell books, it’s to share information about really good books. A side-effect is that it leads to buying books and to satisfying reading experiences that builds an audience for books.In other words, a trustworthy and disinterested social network that promotes reading is good for business. Once it’s corrupted, it’s nearly useless.

Sadly, they are vulnerable to stealth marketing, and have been exploited that way from the birth of Web 2.0. There are countless websites, blogs, and experts explaining how to use people’s social impulses to sneak in marketing messages. To me, this is fundamentally immoral. And it totally permeates the book business, at least in US culture. I don’t see the same frantic marketing dynamic in the Scandinavian countries, where enthusiasm for books is nevertheless high. And I’ve heard British authors say it’s much worse in the US than in the UK, where a hard sell is simply boorish and unwelcome.

The only way for bookish social networks to work well is for us to draw the kind of firm line between sharing honest information about books and advertising that the best news organizations embrace. Authors, too, can be much clearer about when they are promoting their work and when they are acting as members of a reading community.

Here’s my attempt to adapt the Society of Professional Journalists’s Code of Ethics to book blogging and other social networking. I realize that journalists rank a little lower than lawyers in the public eye, but I have a strong attachment to these principles – which I have borrowed from liberally in this adaptation.

For readers (including those who happen also to be writers)

  • Seek out interesting books and write about them honestly. Don’t rely on marketing materials to make your choices. Don’t read other reviews before you form your opinion. Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of literature by seeking out the lesser-known and unusual. Shun sources that are a hybrid of information and promotion, and recognize the special obligation to speak the truth of your experience with books regardless of other people’s opinions or any potential for personal gain or harm.
  • Minimize harm. The temptation to be clever should never lead to an unfairly humiliating review. Criticize the book, not the writer or the reader of it. Pursuit of critical rigor is not license for arrogance. Balance the book’s right to a fair reading with readers’ right to know. Likewise, make sure your enthusiasm for a book you love is accompanied with concrete reasons for your enthusiasm so that other readers can make a more informed choice.
  • Act independently. Avoid conflicts of interest. Disclose any relationships that might compromise your objectivity or even the appearance of compromised objectivity. Do not review books in exchange for favors, however intangible. Don’t let the potential to grow close to a much-loved author (or to any other opportunity) influence your judgment.
  • Be accountable. Don’t get your feather’s ruffled when people disagree with you. Be open to alternative perspectives without abandoning your best judgment.

For writers in particular

  • Don’t see every social encounter as a chance to sell a book.
  • Don’t strategize everything you say based on what you might get out of it (good or bad).
  • Don’t join social networks to use them for marketing. That’s not what friends are for. Besides, it’s deceitful.
  • Don’t strike bargains, overt or unspoken, to cross-promote other writers’ works in exchange for their support. Disclose potential conflicts of interest.
  • Marketing isn’t half the job. Writing is the job.  Marketing is a semi-necessary evil that can do more harm than good.
  • Don’t go for the hard sell. Just don’t. It’s obnoxious.
  • Be honest. Be yourself. Act with integrity.

*Thanks to Maxine Clarke for pointing out his article and getting it on FriendFeed.

**In case anyone is wondering, I don’t read the HBR on principle. Any publication that will add to its expensive full-text licensed content in library databases a clause that it cannot be used for classes deserves to be shunned. I guess if your subject is filthy lucre, it’s a great way to write a license. It’s a lousy way to communicate research.


the tail that wags the tail

July 3, 2008

Fascinating article about the “long tail” in the Harvard Business Review that I picked up from Siva. Anita Elberse contents that the digital world actually favors the blockbuster. The reasons that people go for the hyped book, music, film – because it’s higher quality, it’s what everyone else is doing, and it’s abundant – are actually amplified in the world of digital choices.

Chris Anderson (not surprisingly) disagrees, but mostly over the methodology. Had she defined the head and tail differently, the conclusions would be closer to his – that the long tail has an advantage in a digital world.

What seems to me the two critical issues are that publishing still bets on the blockbuster. That’s where their resources go, and that’s where their profits come from. Second is that social urge to read what everyone else is reading and – failing a reliable source for ideas about what to read next – what everyone else is reading is a very common way of making a decision. If everyone’s reading it, it must be good. I can discuss it with others, and I won’t have any trouble finiding it. It’s probably at Wal-Mart, on discount.

This made me think about how I decide what to read next. When I started reading mysteries as an adult, I didn’t know people who read them, and I mostly relied on reviews in PW and the NYTBR. It was hit and miss, but better than the best seller lists, which proved absolutely useless. (The “quality” argument, above, fails, at least in my experience.) Marilyn Stasio introduced me to Dennis Lehane, and pretty soon I had a few names of writers I could count on. But I didn’t have a good method of straying outside that circle of known authors until I joined an online community of mystery readers. Now I don’t have any trouble at all  knowing what to read next, other than a slight feeling of panic that I’ll never have enough time to read them all before I die.

What one needs to take advantage of the long tail is a deep well of knowledge AND a good sense of which source of knowledge matches yours. For me, choosing a mystery is easy because I know what I like, and I know who else likes the same kinds of books, and we share our reading lists so each of ours gets bigger.

I don’t have that for other genres. I don’t have that for movies or music or restaurants, so I might fall back on buzz. (Actually, I’d ask my kids. They know.)

A problem with digital communities as wells of knowledge where you can learn about good stuff is that they can easily become polluted with BSP (blatant self promotion). Even more so, they’re polluted by subtle promotion, circles of authors who promote their buddies, circles of fans who promote their friends, and very little authentic reader response.

There are a lot of things that make my reading group – 4MA -  work, but one of them is that there is absolutely no promotional activity. None. Zero. Zip. And there is a ton of discussion about books, which oddly enough promotes books far more effectively. We have the advantages that hype supposedly provides: we know we’re getting recommendations of high-quality books, we have a social experience, and we know how to get our hands on the books we want because members have shared information about where these books can be purchased, even from abroad. In a pinch, we mail our copies to each other.

None of this works when trust goes out the window, when we aren’t sure if the recommender has ulterior motives. If the community of consumers is infiltrated by sellers. And the din of voices telling creative people they have to sell themselves is absolutely deafening.

That is the tail that wags the tail. Unless consumers can trust what they’re hearing, it won’t work. And right now, who’s wagging the long tail? It’s very hard to tell.


Carnival of the Criminal Minds, No. 14

April 15, 2008

Minneta State Fair

The carnival has arrived at my pitch at last! Experience the thrills and chills of the midway rides, the daring tests of skill, the jaw-dropping wonders of the freakshow. Don’t forget to take a ride through the haunted house and get yourself all dizzy in the hall of mirrors. And be sure to get lots of food on a stick. (If you have ever been to the Minnesota State Fair, you’ll understand the reference – all kinds of food, mostly deep fried, generally on sticks.) But watch out for getting too much cotton candy (or floss to those across the pond) on your fingers because you don’t want your books’ pages to get all sticky. Because this carnival’s about books.

Our previous host provided a Texas-sized helping of crime fiction blogs to read, but this time we’re going to focus on blogs that are book barkers. Pay no attention to that Matterhorn-sized TBR mountain behind the curtain! You need more books! You know you do! So let me introduce you to some enablers discerning readers who may just have the answer to that age-old question: what should I read next?

How about broadening your horizons by reading something from another culture? Peter Rozovsky has lots of recommendations of crime fiction from around the world at Detectives Beyond Borders, and has a habit of raising interesting questions for the collective to discuss. Another way to explore the world from your armchair can be found in the reviews posted at Karen Meek’s Euro Crime – there’s a handy link to all the recent reviews on the right-hand side once you’ve read all the news that’s fit to blog. For those whose tastes tend toward the dark end of the spectrum, there’s International Noir Fiction. In Ireland, Crime Always Pays. (That’s why they call it the Celtic Tiger.) For the UK, It’s a Crime to ignore crimeficreader’s expert recommendations. Crime Scene Scotland has a gritty perspective worthy of Glasgow’s mean streets. On the other side of the globe, Damien covers Crime Down Under, Kerrie tells about Mysteries in Paradise (rub it in, eh?) and Karen and her mob seem to be on a mission to make the world aware of the best in the genre from Australia and New Zealand. Luckily for us, their plot is working brilliantly.

There are some wonderful long-standing mystery book review sites online. January Magazine is one that has a wealth of crime fiction reviews, all in handy-dandy blog format (like its essential sister publication, The Rap Sheet). Reviewing the Evidence is a classic, of course, and though Mystery Scene is a traditionally published magazine (with its reviews all searchable online) it also sponsors the Bookflings blog, where Brian Skupin often pairs something old and something new – reviewing two books in combination with fascinating results. Reviewers just can’t help sharing the wealth: you can follow the reviews of Brian Lindemuth, a Mystery BookSpot reviewer, by checking out his Crimespace blog. And David J. Montgomery, who reviews for the incredibly shrinking fourth estate, reviews a “book of the week” at Crime Fiction Dossier, where he also keeps tabs on the state of reviewing.

The Campaign for the American Reader deserves a paragraph all to itself. This is an amazing testament to the wonder of new books. The brains behind the campaign, Marshal Zeringue, wants to “encourage more readers to read more books” and to do that he has several cunning plans. He makes lists, compiles author interviews, asks writers what they are reading, who they would cast in a movie, and has two tests – the Page 69 Test and the Page 99 Test, in which authors discuss what’s happening on one page of their latest book and how it fits into the whole. It’s a novel and illuminating way to get to know about books. The focus is not entirely on crime fiction, but there’s plenty of it included – ample proof you will never run out of books to try next.

A number of addicts readers share their thoughts through blogs that are a combination of review site and personal book diary. Lourdes is Lost in Books – and likes it that way. Lilian Porter has a Bloodstained Bookshelf worth browsing. Sarah Bewley takes a Cartesian stance in “I Read, therefore I Am.” The Material Witness is serious about crime fiction – and writes wonderfully detailed reviews. Keep him in custody of your RSS feed in case you need him to testify. Kimbofo confesses to a “book addiction that is beyond cure” – and lets it all hang out at Reading Matters (which has its own handy index so you can go straight for the hard stuff.)

Many of these blogs aren’t just about mysteries – but tend to include lots of them. Spuddie keeps a running list of what she’s reading every month (a mix of mystery, fantasy, and other) – along with detailed observations. Jim Bashkin reviews lots of crime fiction at Nearly Nothing but Novels – and recently has reported on a conversation with Qiu Xiaolong in a triptych of blog posts – and in his spare time has started a Squidoo page for crime fiction. Blimey, the man never sleeps! Woodstock includes book reviews at her blog, as well as contributing them (lots of them!) to Books ‘n’ Bytes. A literary feline keeps track of what she has been reading at Musings of a Bookish Kitty – and while this cat is above the perennial cats-in-mysteries debate, she gets her claws into a wide variety of fiction. Writers read too. Take Martin Edwards, who writes about what he’s been reading at Do You Write Under Your Own Name? Petrona – “thinking and linking about books, reading, writing, publishing, and more” – has kindly assembled her reviews all in one handy place so we mystery readers can cut to the chase. And wow, these reviews are works of art in themselves.

And we mustn’t forget the BookBitch. As a librarian I’m excited she’s getting her master’s in the field right now, and studying with one of my personal heroes; why, the BookBitch may well have her very own FBI file by now. The DEA may also be watching this self-identified bookaholic. She has been not only blogging about the book world full time, she publishes a bazillion reviews by various bibliophiles at her website and even gives books away. Consider her site a gateway drug. And enjoy. books in the genes

So, there you have it. A good book recommendation is only a blog away. And these blogs prove that there are lots of fellow mystery addicts out there. You are not alone! It’s not our fault, it’s in our genes! If you could peek inside, you’d see our DNA strands are all like this – all made of itsy bitsy books joined together in twisted pairs.

There’s no such thing as too many books, or too many book blogs. If I missed some that should be here, feel free to add them in the comments.

Our next stop should earn you some frequent reader miles, as the carnival will be hosted by Bernd Kochanowski at Internationale Krimis. See you there!

photos (in order from the top) courtesy of smcgee, stevelyon, olily, brewbook, and niecieden via Flicrk’s Creative Commons pool.


Steve Jobs, take a memo

January 29, 2008

People seem to think Steve Jobs is oracular. When he recently said “nobody reads anymore,” because he was annoyed the Kindle was getting so much attention, readers felt as if they had just found their name on the Endangered Species List.

Well Nielson Online, which is not institutionally sentimental about books, has just found the product most often purchased online is . . . is . . . can you guess?

Yup. Books.


reading redux

November 25, 2007

There’s a good essay by Matthew Kirschenbaum in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) that contrasts the NEA’s focus on a particularly solitary, non-purposeful, and linear form of reading with reading practices online. He describes the ways that reading is being reimagined in a digital environment – not as an inferior activity, but one that is both similar and different to pre-digital reading.

To Read or Not to Read deploys its own self-consistent iconography to tell us what reading is. In the pages of the report we find images of an adolescent male bent over a book, a female student sitting alone reading against a row of school lockers, and a white-collar worker studying a form. These still lives of the literate represent reading as self-evident — we know it when we see it. Yet they fail to acknowledge that such images have coexisted for centuries with other kinds of reading that have their own iconography and accouterments: Medieval and early modern portraits of scholars and scribes at work at their desks show them adorned with many books (not just one), some of them bound and splayed on exotic devices for keeping them open and in view; Thomas Jefferson famously designed a lazy susan to rotate books in and out of his visual field. That kind of reading values comparison and cross-checking as much as focus and immersion — lateral reading as much as reading for depth.

That is the model of reading that seems compatible with the Web and other new electronic media. Yet it also raises fundamental questions about what it means to read, and what it means to have read something. . . . The authors of the report tend to homogenize “the computer” without acknowledging the diversity of activity — and the diversity of reading — that takes place on its screen. Our screens are spaces where new forms like blogs and e-mail and chats commingle with remediations of older forms, like newspapers and magazines — or even poems, stories, and novels. Reading your friend’s blog is not likely a replacement for reading Proust, but some blogs have been a venue for extraordinary writing, and we are not going to talk responsibly or well about what it means to read online until we stop conflating genre with value.

Kirschenbaum goes on to talk about the ways that reading and writing are beginning to blur. All very interesting stuff. He also has a new book coming out in January that sounds worthwhile, if technically a bit daunting – melding technology and literary sleuthing, coming up with new ways to pore over the archives of works in progress.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers