Coming to the realization that loving a good book doesn’t make you a good person.
The founders of the social network talk about its success in 2013 and its goal of making literature a community experience.
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"Sensory fiction" offers yet another update to our sense of what a book is.
In the fall of 2012, Ann Morgan was wrestling with a problem few of us can identify with. No matter how hard she tried, she simply could not find a book to read in English from the tiny African nation of Sao Tome and Principe. At a loss, she appealed for help on Facebook and Twitter, only to be deluged with offers from around the world to translate whatever work she chose from the Portuguese-speaking island. A small army of volunteers in Europe and the United States ultimately came to her rescue, translating chunks of Olinda Beja’s 140-page The Shepherd’s House into English.
The crowdsourcing experiment was just one memorable moment in Morgan’s quest to read one book from every country in the world in one year—a goal she accomplished just around this time last year, as New Year’s Day approached. The London-based freelance writer defined her universe of countries as “all UN-recognised countries plus Palestine and Taiwan,” and added one additional territory—Kurdistan—based on a vote by readers of the blog she maintained for the project. That meant reading a grand total of 197 books, at a pace offour books per week and a cost of several thousand British pounds. (While Morgan bought many of the books, reading some on her Kindle and others in print, she obtained others by more unconventional means; the first book she read, from South Sudan, was written specially for her blog.)
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Just before the Supreme Court’s October sitting, Justice Antonin Scalia made national headlines by proclaiming that he believes in Satan.
But before the November sitting, Justice Stephen G. Breyer sparked widespread apathy when he revealed he has read Marcel Proust’s seven-volume masterwork, A la recherché du temps perdu.
Breyer made this startling revelation in an interview with La Revue des Deux Mondes of Paris, published in translation by The New York Review of Books.*
I suspect that many Americans, told of this accomplishment, would be baffled: Why read a book in French when there are good English translations available? Why bother with a work of thousands of pages and damned little action? (Before it was published, a reader for one French publisher rejected it, saying, “My dear friend, perhaps I am dense, but I just don’t understand why a man should take 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before he goes to sleep.”)
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Every so often, a grave and concerned person will ask (as, in fact, the New York Times asked last year): “Do We Still Need Libraries?” Hasn’t the Internet kind of, you know, ended all that? Aren’t libraries falling behind?
Tellingly, the Times could find no one to argue against libraries, and that mirrors American sentiment pretty much exactly. A new Pew study finds that not only do Americans adore libraries, but a majority of us think they’re adjusting to new technology just fine.
As my colleague Svati Narula reported, some 94 percent of Americans say that having a public library improves a community and that the local library is a “welcoming, friendly place.” 91 percent said they had never had “a negative experience using a public library, either in person or online.”
These sound like incredible approval ratings for any U.S. public institution. So I wondered: Just how incredible are they? How do other icons of Americana compare?
Using exclusive and highly accurate statistical analysis techniques, I endeavored to find out. Here are the results.
The public library in my hometown has been closed and undergoing reconstruction since 2011. This hasn’t much affected me, because somewhere around the time that I acquired a taste for coffee, I began eschewing libraries in favor of retail bookstores. Browsing at Barnes & Noble with a latte in hand is more pleasurable; ordering from Amazon seems more efficient.
But a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday reveals, somewhat surprisingly, given stories about the “death of print" as well as the scant resources sometimes devoted to these establishments, that the majority of Americans strongly value their public libraries. When asked whether the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their communities, 90 percent of American adults (ages 16 years and older) said yes, it would, and 63 percent said the impact would be "major." When asked if library closures would affect them and their families personally, only 32 percent responded the way I would have—with a "no."
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Want to read books on a screen?
Up to now, two large companies would make that easy for you.
Option #1: Apple’s iBooks system. Chipper and colorful, iBooks is easy to use if you own an iPhone or iPad. In its zeal to convince you that, yes, you are reading a book!, though, it can cartoonishly oversell the reading experience. (Case in point: Apple has patented its page-turning animation.)
Option #2: Amazon’s Kindle devices. The retail giant has both its own line of gray, hardy e-readers and also makes reading software for other platforms, including Apple and Android phones/tablets. It has lots of books to read, but, once purchased, you can only read them on Kindles. Some of its software, too, suffers for its extensibility. At its worst, the Kindle system can feel like Windows 95: closed, hard to leave, and a bit stodgy.
As of this week, though, readers have a new option. Starting immediately, Penguin UK will sell its ebooks on the Readmill system. You can now read the works of best-selling authors—including George Orwell, John LeCarré, and Zadie Smith—on the lesser-known but elegant reading system, Readmill.
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In a 2005 speech to the American Library Association, then-senator Obama described his view of the importance of literacy: “In this new economy, teaching our kids just enough so that they can get through Dick and Jane isn’t going to cut it,” he said. “The kind of literacy necessary for 21st-century employment requires detailed understanding and complex comprehension.” Education secretary Arne Duncan’s response to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress earlier this week reinforced a pragmatic approach to literacy: “If America’s students are to remain competitive in a knowledge-based economy, our public schools must greatly accelerate the rate of progress of the last four years and do more to narrow America’s large achievement gaps. It is an urgent moral and economic imperative that our schools do a better job of preparing students for today’s globally-competitive world.”
Reading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers. But we worry that discussions of reading, especially public policy discussions, focus almost exclusively on its utilitarian value. What’s missing is the pleasure readers derive from the reading they do.
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Every two years, hundreds of thousands of American fourth and eighth grade students take a test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The test evaluates students’ reading and math abilities through reading comprehension questions and grade-appropriate math problems.
The results of the test have provided a snapshot of American education since 1990. Over the last two decades, scores have been rising, but slowly. The 2013 results are out, and the national average scores have increased—just barely—since 2011. Here’s what this year’s score report says about the state of American education today.
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