One of last week's class discussion topics was reading, and reading is one of my favorite things, mostly to do. I hadn't thought about thinking about it. I'm a pleasure reader, so concerned about literary scholarly apparatus only in the sense that I am also a librarian and think publishers who release nonfiction books without a bibliography and index should be given a vicious wedgie.
Now that I am thinking about reading in a more academic way, my mind is spinning with it. I woke up this morning contemplating the concept of print books as "old media," literature being read in the one-vs.-many paradigm, whether social reading is merely social or also pedagogical, and how brains process text vs. computers. Further, I got to a topic that my group touched on but didn't explore in the report back, which is note taking.
Are print books old media, as in passé, no longer valid? Per Matt Gold's introductory remarks, and the 2013 Pew Snapshot of Reading in America, reports of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated. A section of the Pew report is titled "Few readers have abandoned print for e-books." I can report anecdotally that the majority of the traditional age college students I work with prefer print books (and digital articles, which I don't know if they print or not). So, not passé and still valid, but are they lesser than "new media," which were referred to synonymously as "rich media" back in my dot com days, working at a streaming media network that crashed in the crash of '00?
What do ebooks have that print books don't? They're certainly more portable, and I like them because I can borrow them from a library without having to go to the library to pick them up or return them. (NO OFFENSE LIBRARIES; YOU'RE JUST NOT ON MY WAY HOME, AND YOUR HOURS COULD BE BETTER.)
We don't have many book drops in NYC because New Yorkers can't be trusted not to drop all manner of nastiness in them. We are horrible. CC licensed photo by Yusuke Kawasaki on Wikimedia Commons.
Since I'm cheap and a bad consumer I don't buy books from Amazon and so didn't know until Matt brought it up that you can "View Popular Highlights & Public Notes" on a Kindle. I don't engage in any social reading on my ebooks that I don't with print books (I'm guessing 90% of my reading this year will be e). Before we discussed our reading habits in class, I would have said that I'm not a social reader. I review everything I read on my blog, not on an social site like Goodreads or LibraryThing, and I don't even have comments turned on because bots can't be trusted not to drop all manner of nastiness in them. However, I've been part of book clubs, including one that meets solely via IM between my library school homie and me and another where my partner and I discuss books via email. I also participate in Twitter #FridayReads (via my work account, on behalf of our library's staff).
My library school homie and I aren't reading the same copy of the book at the same time, though, so it's still a one-to-one medium, versus the web, which is one-to-many, which seems more new or rich media to me, and more potentially exploitable for digital humanities purposes.
The next question is whether my book club and Twitter reading is more than just social, whether I'm Learning from it. The in-person book clubs I've been involved in have mostly provided a context for hanging out that isn't eating or drinking. The digital (virtual?) book clubs have been more edifying. The one with my librarian friend because we are both Readers, and the other one, about perimenopause, because its purpose is explicitly didactic. #FridayReads generates a little "me, too" or "I'll read that next" or "ugh, really?" but I wouldn't base a literature course around it.
However, the social reading we did in class last week, discussing articles in small groups was incredibly generative. It was downright invigorating to be sparked by others' highlights and interpretations. I didn't know the others in my group, but now I feel a connection with them, and feel like I know them a little. When I say "a little" I don't mean that knowledge is superficial, it's that I know a little piece of them, one that wouldn't be the first thing they'd show if we were stuck in a broken elevator together. But, jazzed as I was by the discussion, without it being committed to pixels and available for further comment and sharing, it's not digital humanities.
Digital humanities requires some sort of computer mediation. Of the media. I'm meditating on the connection between media and mediation and also Matt's question in class about whether humans prefer to read (or bowl) alone. To bring in Alan Liu's discussion of web 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0, do we want a reading 2.0? Based on the popularity of social reading sites including bookstores, and reading groups on Facebook and presumably other social media, I'm going to venture that we do, and that there are plenty more apps to be made for comment sharing directly in texts, perhaps within select networks, rather than Amazon-mediated by volume.
Many library catalogs offer social reading opportunities--inviting patons to share reviews, add tags, and rate materials, but those features aren't well-utilized (based on the fact that only one of the last ten books I borrowed from NYPL has community tags). The library supplements them with outsourced recommendations and reviews.
Potential DH Projects
There is a lot of information to be gleaned, aggregated, compared, analyzed, and visualized about people's reading and what they like to share about it. I can imagine determining patterns in book reviews by author demographics, comparing contributed keywords and formal subject headings in library catalogs, exploring the trajectory of content selections and types on the recently defunct Bookslut blog, or analyze reviews from blogs vis a vis high status newspapers and/or television. I seem to be interested mostly in comparison, but per Franco Moretti's Graphs chapter of Graphs Maps Trees, in time, we will be able to identify reading trends--I hope more easily than Moretti and his fellow data collectors did.
I'd also be curious to determine a method to evaluate and visualize neurological and psychological responses to reading print vs. ebooks, and how discussing them in various fora affects comprehension or the richness of one's experience of a book. That's where the somewhat tangential area of interest I identified in my introduction comes in, as well. A study conducted by a Princeton Ph.D. candidate showed that handwritten notes are more effective than typewritten ones. I would also be curious to explore what the impact is of students taking notes in the language a class is conducted in, versus the language they think in. What happens in the brain when it's simultaneously interpreting and translating. Can we develop a DH project to study that? I'm excited by the interdisciplinarity of digital humanities, and the potential to make just about anything into a DH project, including studying one of my favorite activities, reading for pleasure.