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May 16

It’s hard not to be cynical about EA’s Dante’s Inferno. A game that scrambles its source material so hard conventional terms like reboot and recon fail to do it justice. A game with a marketing campaign which hit most of the Deadly Sins.

But when Tor released the Longfellow translation of Dante’s Inferno as a tie-in, complete with cover art based on the game, did anyone expect this?

From longtime Game Coucher Aramis:

Something amazing happened last Friday. I’m still not sure what to make of it.

I was at the library Reference Desk ready to answer questions and help people find stuff when a teenage boy came up to me looking for Catcher in the Rye. I checked the catalog for Salinger and didn’t see any hard cover copies available so I walked the kid over to the uncataloged Classic Paperbacks. His mom followed behind us and while I was browsing the S’s I overheard this incredible bit of dialog.

‘Hey, Mom! See this book?’ He grabbed a copy of Inferno, the first book in Dante Alighieri’s trilogy The Divine Comedy. ‘Remember that game you bought me? This is the book it was based on, but this book is even sicker the game! It was awesome!’

This blew my mind completely. It’s like something out of a marketer’s wet dream. A ridiculous video game induced a teenage boy of average coolness (he had a skateboard and was sporting a Bieber) to read not just a book, but a classic allegorical, epic poem written in the 14th century in which an italian poet and a dead philosopher traverse the afterlife to find the poet’s deceased girlfriend and possibly meet God in terza rima (three part rhyme).

What do you guys think? Is this a thing™ or more of a fluke? Also will “literary” games become the latest trend replacing sandbox and/or post-apocolyptic causual zombie tower defense MMORPGs? What classic book would you like to see made into a game?

See also: Score! Liz Danforth at Library Journal’s Games, Gamers, & Gaming.

Courtesy: http://www.gamecouch.com/2010/05/video-games-score-one-for-literacy/

Sep 08

Alexandra Ringe, right, an editor, and her husband, Jim Hanas, a fiction writer, both 41, fell in love over books.

SAN FRANCISCO — Auriane and Sebastien de Halleux are at sharp odds over “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but not about the plot. The problem is that she prefers the book version, while he reads it on his iPad. And in this literary dispute, the couple says, it’s ne’er the twain shall meet.

“She talks about the smell of the paper and the feeling of holding it in your hands,” said Mr. de Halleux, 32, who says he thinks the substance is the same regardless of medium. He added, sounding mildly piqued, “She uses the word ‘real.’ ”

By the end of this year, 10.3 million people are expected to own e-readers in the United States, buying about 100 million e-books, the market research company Forrester predicts. This is up from 3.7 million e-readers and 30 million e-books sold last year.

The trend is wreaking havoc inside the publishing industry, but inside homes, the plot takes a personal twist as couples find themselves torn over the “right way” to read. At bedtime, a couple might sit side-by-side, one turning pages by lamplight and the other reading Caecilia font in E Ink on a Kindle or backlighted by the illuminated LCD screen of an iPad, each quietly judgmental.

Although there are no statistics on how widespread the battles are, the publishing industry is paying close attention, trying to figure out how to market books to households that read in different ways.

A few publishers and bookstores are testing the bundling of print books with e-books at a discount. Barnes & Noble started offering bundles in June at about 50 stores and plans to expand the program in the fall, said Mary Ellen Keating, a Barnes & Noble spokeswoman.

Thomas Nelson, a publisher of religious books, offers free e-books with a print book for some titles. It is particularly good for readers who want to share books with family or friends who read in different formats, said Tod Shuttleworth, senior vice president and group publisher at Thomas Nelson. The bundles have sold well, and Thomas Nelson is considering adding more for the holiday shopping season.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com is doing its best to convince print lovers that “reading on Kindle is nothing like reading on a computer screen.” Its Web site promises a display on which “text ‘pops’ from the page, creating a reading experience most similar to reading on printed paper” because it produces neither glare in a well-lighted spot nor a glow in the dark.

Sony, which introduced a new line of e-readers Wednesday, said they were smaller and lighter than before, with clearer text and touch screens, all to make them feel more like printed books. “Consistently the No. 1 thing we heard was it needs to feel like a book, so you just forget that you have a device in your hand,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division.

This straddle-the-line marketing underscores a deeper tension: the desire to keep the print business alive so as not to alienate a core market, while establishing a base for a future that publishers see as increasingly digital, said James L. McQuivey, an e-reader industry analyst with Forrester.

“There is much more emotional attachment to the paper book than there is to the CD or the DVD,” said Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “It is not logical — it’s visceral.”

A print book bundled with an e-book would have been useful for Liz Aybar, 35, and Betsy Conti, 31, a Denver couple who like reading together so much that when they read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in paperback, Ms. Conti ripped out sections of the book as she finished them so Ms. Aybar could read them.

But since Ms. Conti, a director of technology, bought an iPad, she has gone to the other side. They are both reading Ken Robinson’s “The Element,” but bought two separate copies — a print book for $15 and a $13 Kindle version for the iPad.

“I feel more connected to a book than I do through the iPad,” said Ms. Aybar, who works at an education nonprofit group.

Alexandra Ringe, an editor, and her husband, Jim Hanas, a fiction writer, both 41, fell in love over books, with one of their early dates at a used-book festival in Manhattan. They married in a SoHo bookstore and live in an apartment in the Park Slope neighborhood with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

She collects vintage yearbooks and self-help books. But he likes to read on his iPhone.

“For me, real reading is for e-books, and books have become this kind of collectors’ object,” said Mr. Hanas, who has published short stories in literary journals like McSweeney’s and is publishing his next book, “Why They Cried,” only in digital format. “It’s kind of amazing to see people still going through the stages of acceptance that books are going away, saying they like the way books feel and smell. I was there, but I’m past that now.”

For Erin and Daniel Muskat, a couple in Brooklyn, the ink-stained quarrel has disrupted the togetherness of their reading habits.

Ms. Muskat, 29, bought an iPad for her husband, 33, who works at his family’s shoe business, before their honeymoon in June, but quickly discovered that his electronic reading impinged on her old-fashioned reading.

“I brought a book with me and I barely read it,” said Ms. Muskat, a media consultant. “We used to go to the beach and we’d both take out books, but he had an iPad, and it was almost distracting because it didn’t feel like he was reading with me.”

For Mr. de Halleux, a video game executive, the battle over reading tastes has skipped to a new generation. He and his wife both read to their 3-year-old son, Tristan. He reads Winnie the Pooh to the child on a screen. She reads it in old-fashioned paperback form.

Mr. de Halleux said he was confident the boy would eventually favor the digitized version. “He really likes it because you can zoom in on things,” he said.

And he said the discussion in his household had brought in his parents, too. His own father favors paperbacks, arguing they can be more easily shared, while his mother goes for the e-reader, which she says is easier on faltering eyesight as people get older.

“The argument is more heated by the day,” Mr. de Halleux said. “It’s a topic of intense scrutiny at the moment.”



Sep 08

Over the next 10 years, scientific experts will be dealing with "extreme weather." No one knows how weird and dangerous it will get.

Moscow already faces Bahrain-like temperatures. Downpours swamp a fifth of Pakistan. President Mohamed Nasheed, of the Maldives, worries enough about future sea levels to hold a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear. (Don't miss this on YouTube!)

Parallel thinking should apply to a phenomenon of greater concern to readers here: "extreme academe." Think of it as the hysterical upgrading of ugly visions of the future already found in polite critiques of higher ed.

Back in 2003, for instance, former Harvard President Derek Bok, in Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (Princeton University Press), drilled home the problem capsulized in his subtitle by noting that throughout the 1980s, deans and professors brought him "one proposition after another to exchange some piece or product of Harvard for money—often, quite substantial sums of money."

Though hardly the first to notice the trend—Stanley Aronowitz, in The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning (Beacon Press, 2001), produced one prior cri de coeur—Bok, as the highest of high mandarins of academe, legitimized the insight. Now a healthy genre tracks this particular slide toward extreme academe, marked by such fine indictments as Jennifer Washburn's University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education (Basic Books, 2006), and Frank Donoghue's The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Fordham University Press, 2008). By last year's Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University (University of Chicago Press, 2009), the downward spiral was such a cliché that sociologist Gaye Tuchman could mine it for laughs as well as an aperçu, with her semidisguised state-university president who's always declaring, "This is a university in transformation."

Other recent scrutinizers of academe perceive related threats. Mary Burgan, a former general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, marquees her main fear in her title: Whatever Happened to the Faculty? (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Harvard English professor and New Yorker staff writer Louis Menand, in The Marketplace of Ideas (W.W. Norton, 2010), sees a partly antiquated 19th-century university system trying to solve 21st-century problems, such as how one adapts "the lecture monologue" to "a generation of students who are accustomed to dealing with multiple information streams in short bursts." Amanda Goodall, in Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars (Princeton, 2009), warns that managerial empty suits will destroy the great American university.

Extreme academe, as a vision, ups the ante of such concerns. It adds flash and cynicism to mere trepidation. According to it, college students in 2020 will use plastic cards to open the glass security doors installed at each entrance to campus. On special occasions, the sole tenured faculty member at every institution will be wheeled out, like the stuffed remains of Jeremy Bentham at University College London, for receptions.

Plagiarism, having evolved, with the help of Stanley Fish, from mortal academic sin to mere "breach of disciplinary decorum," will be an elective track, on a par with fiction and poetry, within the creative-writing major. Several great research universities will be led by former Big Ten football coaches. Indeed, by 2020, President Bok's nightmare of the future, shared in his commencement address to Harvard's Class of 1988, may be the standard scenario across the land: corporate logos on syllabi and course materials, ads in the classroom (and presumably above the urinals), commercials during class time, and auctions to the highest bidders of "the last one hundred places" in every entering class.

My own peculiar worry about Academe 2020, offered with less than 20/20 foresight, may seem less catastrophic: the death of the book as object of study, the disappearance of "whole" books as assigned reading. Does that count as a preposterous figment of extreme academe, or is it closer than we think?

I don't mean the already overwrought debate over the crisis of the book as codex—the daily New York Times announcement that electronic readers stand primed to eliminate paper books. (This shift, of course, plays into the problem, since any shrewd publishing type can see how the paper book's demise might make it easier to digitally trim, abridge, and repackage texts in more "appealing" forms than their benighted authors envisaged.) The issue isn't the decline in book sales, though it, too, remains an element of the big picture. I am talking about the growing feeling among humanities professors—intuitive and anecdotal, shared over lunch like an embarrassing tale about a colleague—that for too many of today's undergraduates, reading a whole book, from A to Z, feels like a marathon unfairly imposed on a jogger.

To be fair, their elders increasingly encourage the thought that whole books lack the coolness of whole grains. Three years ago, Weidenfeld & Nicolson launched its Compact Editions series of classics such as Vanity Fair and Moby-Dick. The publisher explained that they'd been "sympathetically edited so that most of them are under 400 pages," but that the cuts "in no way detract from the spirit of the original." Surgery simply rendered such classics less "elitist." Dripping drollery in The Times of London, critic Richard Morrison opined that truth in advertising behooved the publisher to adjust titles as well, perhaps to Vanity Off-Peak Fare, andMini-Dick.

Any wonder that last year, two cheeky University of Chicago undergrads with literary parents—Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin—published Twitterature (Penguin), boiling down classics of world lit to 140-character bone? Here's their speed-read version of The Epic of Gilgamesh: "@UrukRockCity—Great. That's it. I'm leaving Uruk. My best friend in the world is dead, all because the gods couldn't handle our bromance."

The signs of readerly surrender pop up everywhere. Princeton student Isia Jasiewicz, reviewing a book for Newsweek this summer as an intern, admits in her last paragraph that she bothered to read only the first 10 pages. Linda Nilson, director of the Office of Teaching Effectiveness at Clemson University, posts a piece titled, "Getting Students to Do the Reading" on the Web site of the National Education Association, advising: "Look for readings with graphics and pictures that reinforce the text, and pare down the required pages to the essentials. The less reading assigned, the more likely students will do it."

Destructive cultural trends lurk behind the decline of readerly ambition and student stamina. One is the expanding cultural bias in all writerly media toward clipped, hit-friendly brevity—no longer the soul of wit, but metric-driven pith in lieu of wit. Everywhere they turn, but particularly in mainstream, sophisticated venues—where middle-aged fogies desperately seek to stay ahead of the tech curve—young people hear, through the apotheosis of tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, and sound bites as the core of communication, that short is always smarter and better than long, even though most everyone knows it's usually dumber and worse.

Another cultural trend propelling the possible death of the whole book as assigned reading is the pressurized hawking of interactivity, brought to us by the same media panderers to limited attention spans. It's no longer acceptable for A to listen to B for more than a few minutes before A gets his or her right to respond. High culture, for sure, also bears high responsibility for this, ranging back to Foucault's and Barthes's assaults on the "author," Eco's celebration of the "open work," and a score of other late-20th-century academic authorities questioning why creators of texts should determine where they begin or end as well as what they mean. On street level, we end up with commercial gambits such as Compact Editions. On syllabus level, we await the next generation of professors who will assign just part of Anna Karenina, or the best stretches ofGreat Expectations, all the while wondering why anyone ever wrote a book longer than John Stuart Mill's On Liberty.

A useful text with which to muse on this subject is Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (PublicAffairs, 2009). In it, the onetime newspaper reporter, distinguished scholar of the Enlightenment and the history of the book, and director of Harvard's libraries, swings between explanations and concerns about Google Book Search, and how the situation with books today looks in the perspective of history. Many of his observations give pause.

Darnton notices what many other professors also see in young people: "A generation 'born digital' is 'always on,' conversing everywhere on cellphones, tapping out instant messages, and networking in actual or virtual realities. The younger people you pass on the street or sit next to on a bus are simultaneously there and not there. They shake their shoulders and tap their feet to music audible only to them inside the cocoon of their digital systems. They seem to be wired differently from their elders, whose orientation to machines comes from another zone of the unconscious."

Many college-age sorts study their phones, put them away to try to focus on something else—the passing scenery outside the Amtrak train, a magazine, the old-fashioned book they've brought along—then yank the phones back out three or four minutes later and start tapping away again. Reading a book, however, requires concentration, endurance, the ability to disconnect from other connections. You have to be there rather than not there. Hyperwired young people may be making it to age 17 without acquiring that ability, let alone losing it.

Darnton recognizes that the authority of books—those objects to which, NEA studies and other data tell us, the young are not connecting—"derives from a great deal more than the technology that went into them." It comes from the years of research put into them, of revising and recasting sentences, of organizing paragraphs and chapters, of taking the time and space to set out one's evidence and counterevidence, the opinions of others, the context of one's subject, its upshot. Little of that can be done by the essay, let alone the post or tweet.

Darnton's musings intrigue because while few equal him as a lover of traditional books and their importance, he also betrays signs of "silicon syndrome" (compare "Stockholm syndrome"), a susceptibility to mounting assumptions that surround him. Darnton the Head Librarian sounds open to elevating every slight communication to a datum of significant cultural importance. "We are also experimenting," he writes of himself and his Harvard colleagues, "with plans to archive the millions of messages exchanged within the university by e-mail." Leaving aside the legalities, does anyone want to guess how the wheat and chaff divide there?

"Perhaps we suffer," he writes, "from too narrow a notion of publication, something we associate exclusively with professionals who produce journals and books."

Au contraire, the problem of the moment is that we suffer from too broad a notion of publication, applying the concept to every transient expression. The world and scholarship survived centuries—millennia—of not cataloging every comment made by people to one another. Yes, it's a shame we've lost the offhand remarks of Voltaire, what Shakespeare said to friends, and almost everything that might count as an e-mail in ancient Greece and Rome. A shame, too, that we don't have video of the Crucifixion, stills of the Flood, and things like that.

But are we worse for not having archived the ephemera of mankind, for having devoted libraries and syllabi to books—the weightiest, most important, most enduring forms of communication? The old criterion of librarianship and pedagogy was right: Save and study the substantive, don't worry about the insignificant. What will be the impact on future professors, wondering whether to assign whole books to future students, if libraries, of all institutions, start to see the book as merely primus inter pares among acts of communication? It is not a first among equals, because other forms of communication do not equal its weight, its power, its thoroughness.

Yes, we know—what is a book, after all? Anything an editor at a publishing house agrees to put between two covers, or zap to a Kindle/Sony Reader/Nook? Isn't it often truly (when the cachet of the word is put aside) just a thrown-together collection of short pieces stitched together, or a rush job, rather than a sustained, coherent text of 250 to 1,000 pages?

And who says that teaching whole books as whole books makes good sense anyway? Is every word of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, or Darwin's The Origin of Species, really necessary to understand those books? Doesn't Tolstoy run on at times?

Reasonable issues, all. But whatever clever eristic moves you make, there's a problem on the horizon—extreme academe is heading our way. Will professors hold the line? Will they insist that the most distracted generation in history rise to the challenge of reading books, or will future faculty members replace the book with the chapter? Maybe extreme weather and extreme academe will come together. As oceans rise, temperatures soar, electrical grids fail, and smartphones no longer charge, Generation Text may rediscover the real thing.

Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle, is a professor of philosophy and humanities at Ursinus College.

Courtesy: http://chronicle.com/article/Will-the-Book-Survive/124115/'

Aug 30

Literature is full of imaginary books. Given the choice, which one would you read?

The greatest books that never were
The library of St. Florian in Austria

Imaginary books seem to be nearly as numerous as the real ones, and that's even when you don't count all those bestselling thrillers people believe they'll write someday if only they can find the time to write the damn thing down. Nonexistent books certainly have some devoted fans, such as the proprietor of the ever-diverting Beachcomber's Bizarre History Blog, who is making bold moves to expand the collection known as the Invisible Library.

"The Invisible Library" has, for at least a decade or so, referred to those books that exist only within works of fiction. A man named Brian Quinette founded a website by that name in the late 1990s, presenting it as a catalog of "imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished and unfound."

The original Invisible Library disappeared from the Web in the mid-2000s (though you can still find snapshots of it in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine), and since then other pseudobibliophiles have opened their own "branches," although these too have a tendency to end up abandoned. The novelists Ed Park and Levi Stahl created a catalog of imaginary titles that inspired an interactive exhibition at a London art gallery, but they have only occasionally updated it since 2008. Loss of interest is, perhaps, inevitable, since when you maintain such a list, tiresome people are constantly proclaiming their disappointed astonishment that their particular obscure favorite isn't listed.

The pseudonymous Dr. Beachcomber would like to expand the Invisible Library to include fake books -- that is, titles that don't even exist in a fictional universe. They appear only on the spines of sham bookshelves used to disguise secret doors in exceptionally interesting houses. Charles Dickens had just such a door installed in his own study in London, with fake titles of his own devising, including "Socrates on Wedlock."

Most such titles are jokes ("Cat's Lives" in nine volumes, etc.), but then so are many of the celebrated holdings in the Invisible Library proper; if there's one thing authors relish, it's a chance to make fun of other authors. Hence, such immortal imaginary works as "Only a Factory Girl," by Rosie M. Banks, a popular sentimental love story that often crops up in the fiction of P.G. Wodehouse; "The Industrious Muse: Narrativity and Contradiction in the Industrial Novel," by Robin Penrose, in David Lodge's academic satire, "Nice Work;" and "My Big Ol' Feets Gon' Stomp Dat Evil Down" by Isshee Ayam from Trey Ellis' send-up of 1980 multiculturalism, "Platitudes."

Who'd want to slog through those -- let alone tackle another of Dickens' japes, "History of a Short Chancery Suit" in 21 volumes? The vast majority of the Invisible Library is, let's face it, better off not existing. The world does not need "Feeling GREAT," by Ashley Tralpis, M.D., Ph.D. (from Jonathan Franzen's "Corrections"). And if a reader learns anything from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, it's to stay well away from the "Necronomicon" of Abdul Alhazred, perhaps the most famous -- and certainly the most infamous -- imaginary book of all time.

Which raises an intriguing question: If allowed to choose only one, which volume in the Invisible Library would you most want to read?

Assuming that "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" counts as an imaginary book (seeing as it's also a real book, by Douglas Adams), then it would surely have the longest list of patrons waiting to check it out at the Invisible Library's front desk. Fans of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño might opt for a masterpiece by Benno von Archimboldi, whose works captivate the characters in "2666." Others would surely select something from the extensive imaginary works invented by Jorge Luis Borges -- "The Garden of Forking Paths" by Ts'ui Pên, perhaps?

For myself, the choice is easy. I'd take "The Higher Common Sense" by the Abbé Fausse-Maigre, the indispensable philosophical handbook of Flora Poste, heroine of Stella Gibbons' great comic novel, "Cold Comfort Farm" (1932). Flora, an admirer of Jane Austen, goes to live with the Starkadders, relations in the Sussex countryside, and finds herself plunged into a doom-laden agricultural milieu familiar to readers of the rural gothics popular at the time, overwrought "earthy" novels written in imitation of Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence.

Armed with the insights of the Abbé (I like to think of him as a more avuncular version of Montaigne), Flora tidies up the seemingly intractable messes at Cold Comfort Farm, from dispatching the hellfire-and-brimstone paterfamilias on a missionary road trip to shipping her oversexed cousin Seth off to Hollywood and imparting romantic and contraceptive advice to the local girls. At every turn, "The Higher Common Sense" provides her with a sound footing to tackle any challenge, including the most formidable of all -- Aunt Ada Doom, who refuses to leave her room on account of the shock she incurred as a girl upon witnessing "something nasty in the woodshed."

In times of trial and confusion, one can't help but long for a copy of this invaluable imaginary volume. Readers who'd make a different choice if offered a single checkout from the Invisible Library are invited to leave their thoughts in the comments thread.

Courtesy: http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2011/07/05/invisible_library/index.html

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