Sam van Zweden




Thought-stalking Jacinda Woodhead and Google Reader “test”

Right when I was thinking about whether I read enough, Jacinda Woodhead (of Meanland) blogs about Reading Anxiety.

Through that post, I was convinced that Google Reader was worth a look-in. So for the last week I’ve been giving it a test-run. And then Jacinda Woodhead blogged about Google Reader stealing all your reading time.

Dear Jacinda Woodhead – props on some awesome writing, but you’re stealing my blog posts. And I’m feeling mildly creepy for this unintentional thought-stalking. S

Okay, now that’s out of the way: Google Reader.

I’d seen a little mention of it via Gmail, and disregarded it as part of the Google-plan-of-taking-over-the-world. Then I started to see mentions of it everywhere: on Twitter, on trams, on blogs. Everyone’s been mentioning this magical program that takes hours off your online-reading time.

How? Well, Google Reader is a program to which you plug in all the websites you would ordinarily go to every day to check for updates. For me, this is many many. Many.

I’m a hardcore advocate for Gmail. I wouldn’t go back to any other email client if you paid me. So when I got onto Google Reader I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it runs in much the same way as Gmail. It constantly updates itself (while you’re in it) and makes it really easy to organise material.

You can “star” things in the same way as on Gmail, to come back to important things later. You can search through a huge amount of blog posts to find just the right one. You can view posts in a heap of different ways according to what suits you best.

The only thing is, now there’s NO posts that I miss, anywhere, ever. Now Google Reader is something that adds to my reading anxiety. Having said that, Google Reader saves these posts like unread emails – it sits in bold until I have an afternoon free to catch up on things that aren’t priority.

It’s great though. I’m chuffed. Now, along with Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, I have Google Reader constantly open. It runs calmly in the background. Right now it’s telling me that there is “(1)” new post that I haven’t read. “(1)” website that I would have had to trawl for new content, but now I don’t.

Google Reader is like hiring someone to do all the inane click-and-scroll shit that takes up a heap of your reading time. I don’t know how I did without it.

Reading Anxiety

Am I reading enough? I constantly ask myself.

Jacinda Woodhead at Meanland says no.

Jacinda talks about the guilt she feels when she does other things instead of reading. I get this. Somehow in my mind, reading has a privileged place which nothing else quite lives up to, meaning that anything else I do with my time creates guilt – apart from writing. That’s worthy. But the two should certainly be balanced and in much higher quantities that they are right now.

This last week I’ve had the flu, completed (to genuine satisfaction, too) three out of four assessment pieces that are due next week, organized a great many overdue things and put things in order… All of these things, including the homework, made me feel guilty for not reading. Somehow homework reading doesn’t feel like it counts. Most of it, anyway.

So Jacinda talks about all the different sources of reading she has, and it’s no wonder she hasn’t got enough time to keep up with it all. I know this feeling, and I’m sure you do too.

Jacinda talks about Google Reader – are any of you guys onto this? I’m not, but I know I have a few readers who are. I check back to a LOT of different blogs daily, so I think this would really help … but it has the potential to be very crap. So tell me, bloggosphere – to Google-Read, or not?

And Twitter – I’m well and truly into it now. I never knew I could get so much amazing independent news from one place! Honestly, there’s always something great offered to me via Twitter. I love it!
…but I also hate it. I follow 57 people on Twitter. and that adds up to a LOT of extra reading every day.

One problematic reading-source that Jacinda skips over pretty quickly is blogrolls.
You read someone’s post and they blow you away, and you wonder, “What does this person read?”  Enter the Blogroll… Some are so extensive that they take multiple visits to work through.

“I have so many books within arm’s reach waiting for my attention,” says Jacinda… Oh yes. The To-Be-Read Pile…
I thought I got smart on mine, I put many of them on my shelf. Not in a pile at all! Haha! Outsmarted, Reading Pile!
…but no. I took four of those books and put them next to my bed in a micro-TBR. I thought this would make it easier. Now when I go to bed I pick one until my eyelids won’t prop themselves open any longer. I don’t know if this has helped it or not though…

Jacinda also nods to awards lists and literary journals as incoming reading.

Besides these, I also have Classics (a very big pile and growing), books recommended by respected friends (friends who don’t read yet recommend things are ignored), review books for Yartz , and the supplementary stuff for school.

The world of literature is not shrinking. Does it scare the shit out of you?!

Meanland, Reading In a Time of Change

Last night the Wheeler Centre hosted the opening event for “Meanland” – a collaborative project between Meanjin and Overland. (Apparently the organizers found “Overjin” too ridiculous).

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing anything at the Wheeler Centre yet; it is a beautifully renovated old space on the Little Lonsdale side of the State Library. All the new fandangled lighting rigs and whatnot are reasonably inoffensive, and the public meeting space can seat a few hundred. The event last night was “booked out”, but had maybe 30 spare seats.

Sophie Cunningham, editor of Meanjin, MC’d the event, though her main role seemed simply to rehash between speakers and tell them when they’d been speaking too long. Fair enough, I suppose, when 4 speakers need to be squeezed into an hour.

 Before the event even started, I had a little to worry about: I was sitting two rows behind a particularly fetching baby who threatened to hijack the whole operation with its cuteness. I was also sitting next to a woman who was disgruntled about something, and kept doing this weird “T-ahhhhh” kind of sigh. She kept this up throughout the entire event, T-ahhhhing every time I picked up my pen, T-ahhhhhing every time someone moved half a centremetre, thus obscuring her view of the stage (she’s obviously never been short); T-ahhhhing at the very cute baby in front of us.

The panel for this Meanland event consisted of Margaret Simons, Marieke Hardy, Sherman Young and Peter Craven. The question on the table was: “What will reading look like in 15 years’ time?”. Each speaker was allotted a 15 minute window to voice their opinion.

One question that was tackled by all speakers was “what is reading?”. While the answer to this differed, there was no arguments about whether text are moving to screens via kindles, iPads and the like. The panel was reasonably varied in their reaction to this.

Margaret Simons held some hope for physical books because of their importance to children, and as cultural items like coffee table books, having “no intention to throw out my Jane Austen collection!”, while Sherman Young felt no hope or desire to fight for the physical text. While Simons was saddened by her prediction that e-readers would be the dominant mode of reading within five years, Young gave this transition a wider 15 years, and it’s a transition he welcomes wholeheartedly.

Marieke Hardy felt some romantic connection to books, and while she wouldn’t “want to finish The Great Gatsby and see a cursor,” she also seemed to accept that this is the way things are going. As the author of an “M-Book” (a book that gets sent in daily installments to a subscriber’s mobile phone), this seemed a reasonably inevitable position for Hardy.

Peter Craven… Look, I’m not even entirely sure that Peter Craven knew what the topic was. He rambled in an interesting way, but I wouldn’t say I came out with any coherent picture of where he’s coming from. He himself is a traditionalist, still writing with a pen which must be dipped and blotted, a member of Twitter only but another man’s hand. I got the feeling he’d resigned to the fact that e-readers and screens are the way of the future, but stood in very traditional shoes, bemoaning how sad it all is for the industry.

Sherman Young did make a very good point though. We’ve all resigned ourselves to this “the medium is the message” mind frame, saying that because what we consume is moving to screens, it’s being dumbed down, it’s losing its essence… But it doesn’t have to. We create the thing, and while e-readers present a great many “possibilities” for a world of uber-text, these don’t have to be inevitable.

I’m a bit torn on this issue myself. I certainly have fears for the industry and the tradition of reading. I have no greater pleasure than time at home alone with a good book and a coffee. I take great pride in my thoroughly middle-class collection of books on my huge-ass unstable Ikea shelving. And what happens to the fantastic pastime of second-hand-book shopping if e-readers take over? And how can those of us on student wages afford iPads or Kindles?

Having said all this, I won’t say no to not having to print off reams of PDFs for school, paying so much for ink, and lugging five trees worth of paper on trams to and from school.

I don’t think Margaret Simons’ prediction of 5 years of e-reader domination is correct. Perhaps Sherman Young’s 15-year prediction is closer to the mark. But there will always be something that physical books can do better than screens. And it is precisely that romanticized thing about the smell of pages and dog-eared pages and marking favourite passages. While e-readers allow for interactive, exciting, and changing texts, the private spaces that are allowed for in traditional books, that close relationship between author and reader, is utterly irreplaceable.

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