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Books I’m reading lately #1

An occasional series of books  I read or in the process of reading, most recent first…this list is long since I’m including the books I read since July 2016.

  • Towards Relational Sociology by Nick Crossley
  • The Original 1939 Notebook of a Return to the Native Land by Aimé Césaire, translated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman
  • Clayton Eshleman: The Whole Art edited by Stuart Kendall
  • Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship by Clayton Eshleman
  • My Devotion: New Poems by Clayton Eshleman
  • The Complete Poetry: César Vallejo edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman
  • New Documentary Ecologies: Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses edited by Kate Nash
  • A Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa by Sabine Kollman
  • The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver (and you thought I was a book snob)
  • Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
  • Understanding Global Slavery by Kevin Bales
  • Jamestown: The Buried Truth by William M. Kelso
  • Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human by Daniel J. Siegel
  • Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
  • Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel
  • Paris Nocture by Patrick Modiano
  • The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard Davidson
  • The Making of a Racist by Charles Dew
  • Out of the Dark by Patrick Modiano
  • In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano
  • Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel
  • The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo
  • The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood
  • The Art of Fiction by James Salter
  • The Surrender by Scott Esposito
  • A Sport and a Pastime: A Novel by James Salter
  • Introduction to Computational Social Science by Claudio Cioffi-Revilla
  • Technique in Fiction by Robie Macauley and George Lanning
  • The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano
  • Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film by Robert Sitton
  • Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description by Tim Ingold

There’s more I’m sure. I definitely need to read more fiction.

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Readings on electronic literature, or conversations on digital narrative

I initially prepared the following list in preparation to guest lecture in an upcoming creative writing (fiction) course that will introduce students to ways of telling a story in digital media that takes forms other than linear prose.

First, why the term electronic literature (e-lit)? That’s a stiff sounding term that is a throwback to an earlier time before digital became commonplace. But e-lit is the term that seemingly has gained the most traction to refer to narratives that make innovative use of digital media. I have a slight discomfort with the term electronic literature (and also with digital literature) but my unease with the terminology is a topic for another post.

Any discussion of e-lit must involve the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) at eliterature.org. That website is quickly overwhelming but the summary page What is E-Lit? is a good place to start.

The foundations of e-lit

An essay by Katherine Hayles offers a broad survey of e-lit (up to 2007). Hayles is an important figure in media studies and this essay is a good opportunity to introduce students to her works. Hayles includes references to landmark writers such as Kittler and Manovich and positions e-lit in a larger framework of the modern digital society.

This essay by Hayles is the first chapter in the book Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, which includes a companion website. The book attempts to establish a canon of early e-lit. But Janet Murray, another key scholar in the field of media studies, points out that these early works “are useful experiments, necessary failures, and limited successes, full of interesting mistakes that if appropriately acknowledged can push practice forward.” (Murray, Janet H. Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic literature: new horizons for the literary. Modern fiction studies 55.2 01 Jan 2009: 407. Johns Hopkins University Press.)

A good summary of Hayles book on e-lit is provided on The Quarterly Conversation site in an article subtitled How Electronic Literature Makes Printed Literature Richer. Anyone who finds Hayles even slightly interesting should read her book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics.

Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature is the best source for understanding where e-lit comes from through an examination of pre-web hypertext literature in the years between 1986 and 1995. The scholarly literature on e-lit often refers to seminal works such as Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (1995) and other hypermedia texts created through tools developed by Eastgate System. However, the technology to actually read those works of e-lit today are inaccessible to most people. While Pathfinders does not provide a simulation of Patchwork Girl, it offers an intriguing methodology of showcasing how Shelley Jackson and readers interact with Patchwork Girl.

The present state of e-lit

There’s something odd about e-lit: it appears to be mostly discussed within academia and it’s difficult to find good examples on the web of what is called e-lit. How could that be?

Writer Paul La Farge provides a great comment:

“I actually don’t think digital literature is suffering from a lack of theory at this point; if anything, it suffers from a lack of practice. We need more writers! And a more diverse and robust way of getting their work into the world: not just more competent critics (we have some), but more kinds of competent critics, and more places where conversations about digital literature can happen, and more avenues by which digital lit can reach readers. All of this will surely happen in time. What I think the medium needs now is encouragement, and perhaps rescue from the forbiddingly technical language in which it has been theorized. It depresses me to think of digital literature as being exclusively an academic specialty: it’s as if Film Studies departments had sprung into existence all over the world, before anyone had made any movies.”

This quote is from an excellent series of posts by author Illya Szilak that appeared on the Huffington Post.

Note: I will be updating this post with new readings.

 

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E-lit postings by Illya Szilak

Over the course of a year (late 2012 – late 2013) author Illya Szilak wrote a series of articles on Huffington Post about electronic literature that are worth reading for anyone interested in the topic. Szilak is the author of Queerskins – A Novel and Reconstructing Mayakovsky – A Novel of the Future.

Unlike most people who write about e-lit, Szilak is a physician and not an academic. As a creator of contemporary e-lit she brings a perspective that is often absent from the conversation on this topic.

Due to the navigational features of the Huffington Post it isn’t easy to read her articles in the order they were written. So, I arranged the following links to each article in chronological order.

The Death of the Novel: How E-Lit Revolutionizes Fiction 11/08/2012

Video in the House of the Word: How e-Lit Intersects With Cinema 11/20/2012

What Does a Polar Bear Do in a Jungle? How E-Lit Expands the Habitat of Literature 12/11/2012

The Death of the Author: E-lit and Collective Creativity 12/27/2012

It’s Got a Good Beat and You Can Dance to It: E-lit Plays With Time 1/17/2013

New Wor(l)d Order: E-lit Plays With Language 2/7/2013

It’s All Fun Until Someone Loses: E-lit Plays Games 3/7/2013

Just Playing Around: Why E-lit Matters 3/15/2013

Killing the Literary: The Death of E-lit 3/19/2013

Books That Nobody Reads: E-lit at the Library of Congress 4/24/2013

Fleshly Data: E-lit and the Post-Human 5/10/2013

Remembering the Human: E-lit and the Art of Memory 5/15/2013

Reorienting Narrative: E-lit as Pyschogeography 6/11/2013

The Silent History: E-lit Looks to the Future 7/1/2013

A Book Itself Is a Little Machine: Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction 10/30/2013

A Book Itself Is a Little Machine: Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction, pt 2 11/4/2013

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Starting to read (again) Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

Of all the books I’ve read in the last few years Gramophone, Film, Typewriter has stayed in my mind the most. In my notes I find the date 4-12-11 as my first reading. The book’s author Friedrich Kittler was still living then. I was living on the coast of Argentina, which seemed much longer than two years ago. But my daughter was a mere baby then and I stayed up late many nights, unable to sleep, knowning she would soon wake and cry to be picked up. I stayed awake so that my wife could sleep as much possible. (Anyone who has had a baby knows the preciousness of sleep at that stage.) In those periods while my family slept at night I read Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. During the day I worked on developing an iPhone app that told the story (in the form of a walking tour) of Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. I took up Kittler’s book as part of my ongoing interest in narrative through digital media.

The book opens with carefully constructed, brief sentence: “Media determine our situation.” Seems so obvious that one wonders why that is a controversial statement to many unless they’re living in denial of contemporary life.

I’m reminded of a phrase from Roland Barthes that appears in The Preparation of the Novel: “typography determines reading.”

Our ideas and thoughts are shaped and influenced. Even with words the way we absorb and understand the text may be influenced by the layout of the writing on the page (or screen). The same with websites and e-books. With apps like Flipboard we’re influenced by the algorithms. Our patterns of behavior (what we buy, how we amuse ourselves) are determined by apps. The app determines.

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Will iOS apps for children need to support iPad 1st generation?

The first generation iPad does not support iOS 6. As operating systems evolve it’s not surprising that older hardware is obsoleted. AppAdvice on the matter: Get over it. But is that so easy for a publisher of apps made for children? Developers would prefer to deal only with the latest version of an iOS release. However, if you publish apps for children there’s probably a very high percentage of children who have the first generation iPad. As mom and dad upgrade to a newer iPad then that older model gets handed down.

My 1st generation iPad runs 5.1.1. It’s pretty slow at times, especially when there’s a lot of books in iBooks. Movies run great. No problem there. Some apps are slow to start and some are sluggish. But, still, overall it’s a decent device. And for a young kid it’s a great device.

If children are a significant customer segment for your apps, then you’re likely to be supporting iOS 5.x for a long time. With the hardware limitations of the 1st generation iPad Apple probably didn’t have a choice in leaving it out with iOS 6. But for those selling apps in the children’s market it’s not such an easy decision to abandon that model.

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Reading in Print Again

Last night as I climbed into bed I discovered that the battery on the iPad was empty. Urgh. No bedtime video watching or reading. Well, I could have used the iPhone but I prefer the larger screen iPad. So I went over to the bookshelf where I still maintain a fairly good collection of print books. It had been well over a year since I’ve read a print book. All my reading this last year has been on the iPad, using either the iBooks or Kindle apps.

My reading choice:

Great book!

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