Category Archives: reading

Do Men Read Women Authors?

There’s a bit of chatter going around about how men don’t read fiction by women.

I guess I could be some sort of outlier. My reading tastes have always been eclectic and gender-neutral. It’s not that I don’t think there may be patterns of differences between the way men and women write, but I find the differences interesting and broadening.

Some of my favorite contemporary spec fic authors are women: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Nancy Kress, and Margaret Atwood. I like Candace Bushnell (yup, I’d rank Trading Up with Gatsby). In the last year, I read Gillian Flynn and Janice Y. K. Lee, among others. And as indicated in my post on Vendela Vida and Julie Orringer, it’s not as if I changed my habits last year.

Anecdote is not data, but it’s some sort of evidence.

Book Readings

Vendela Vida has a new novel out, The Lovers. I can’t wait to read it.

The Lovers

It is the third in a trilogy of novels “on the subject of violence and rage.” The other two are And Now You Can Go and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name.

I’m a big fan of Vida, and my case probably illustrates why it’s a good idea for authors to do book readings. I might never have found out about her or read her books but for the fact that way back in 2003, I attended a book reading she did (along with Julie Orringer, who I also admire) in Harvard Square. I had no idea who she was and knew nothing about her novel. She read a section from And Now You Can Go (beautiful book), told a funny story about her book’s Japanese translation, and I was hooked.

(I had her sign my copy and asked her an idiotic question about how long it took her to write it — hangs head in shame. She was very nice about it, and remarked that it seemed a “very writerly question.”)

So authors, book readings do work. Don’t give up, you really can get lifelong fans out of these things.

The Memex

Quotations below are from Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”, The Atlantic, June 1945.

Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, the federal agency created to coordinate scientific research for military applications during World War II, conceived of the “memex,” an ebook reader to extend the reach and speed of our memory, back in 1945:

On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk … Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals, newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place.

The memex photocopies the contents of any reading material dropped onto its platen into its memory, from which they may be retrieved later for reading:

Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted with far greater facility than if it were taken from a shelf. As he has several projection positions, he can leave one item in position while he calls up another.

But the full potential of the memex is not revealed until we add in the ability to link between books:

The human mind … operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.

Before him are the two items to be joined, projected onto adjacent viewing positions. …The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined.

Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button…. Moreover, when numerous items have been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed in turn, rapidly or slowly, by deflecting a lever like that used for turning the pages of a book. It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.

There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected.

Thus science may implement the ways in which man produces, stores, and consults the record of the race.

This is a vision of the Web in which readers, not Web site coders, are the primary makers of links. With these links, readers can draw semantically rich connections between books speaking to each other across time and space, string together personal intellectual scaffolds that other readers can follow and add to, and make sense of the accelerating accumulation of human knowledge.

How far we are still from that vision, and how pale the Web is compared to the memex.

The Top Idea

Paul Graham:

I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.

I’ve found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I’ve already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done.

Words to live by. Certainly makes me rethink a lot about how I ought to go about dealing with disputes.

Kindles on the Subway

I’ve been seeing a lot more Kindles in use on my commute, as well as other ebook readers. Last night, for example, I counted three ebook readers near me.

I’m sure more than a few people are reading on their phones too — it’s how I do the bulk of my reading these days.

When things change, there’s never a big neon sign flashing “THE FUTURE IS HERE.” It just happens from day to day. I remember writing letters in college as a freshman every week. And then, by the time I graduated, I realized that I hadn’t written a letter in a long time. I can’t tell you the day the shift happened.

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