virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Marginalia: Do you scribble in your books?

Inside cover of David Foster Wallace's annotated copy of Don DeLillo's Ratner's Star. Harry Ransom Center.

Inside cover of David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Don DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star. (Harry Ransom Center)

While I find little need to defend my appetite for marginalia, I’m intrigued by Harriet Devine’s post about marginalia. To be more precise, I’m especially interested in the conversation generated by her post. Much like the underlying premise for the Huffington Post, the comments generated by a post are often where the greatest value lies.

Author and professor Harriet Devine (@drharrietd) opens her reflection with a memory collected at Oxford. A tutor borrowed her book about Coleridge and returned it blooming with marginalia.

[The tutor] had scribbled very rude comments all over it. I was slightly shocked, but he told me the book would be worth a lot more in the future because it. ~ Harriet Devine

I’d be ticked with a tutor — or even a friend — muddling my margins without first asking permission, all the more so when he assured me that it would one day increase the value of my copy (arrogant prig!) While I’m a seasoned marginalia scribbler, I feel proprietary about my books. Now if the tutor had first asked permission, and if I had a great deal of respect for his thinking, I might well have encouraged him to fill the margins of my book. Value added. But I’m getting distracted…

Defense of Marginalia

Cover of "How to Read a Book (A Touchston...

Devine references a defense of marginalia from Mortimer J. Adler‘s How to Read a Book which she’d stumbled onto via Maria Popova‘s always clever Brain Pickings.

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him. (Harriet Devine)

Comments on/as Marginalia

Though not routinely a commenter on Devine’s blog I felt compelled to weigh in, starting with my thoughts about the presumptuous tutor and then slipping into a goofy rant provoked by the [mostly] whiny comments.

While I don’t NEED to write in the margins to fully own a book, rare is the occasion I make it spine-to-spine without charting my course in the white space. I’m amazed how many commenters in this post have recoiled or at least scoffed at the practice. What a bunch of prudish ninnies. Okay, I’m hot-talking, in part because I too sometimes abstain. This is especially the case in handsomely bound hard cover books. Yes, I’m a bit prudish, I admit. And yet paperbacks welcome my pen like the lonely girl hugging the wall at the dance. “Spill your ink on my virgin margins!”, she practically gushes. I flatter myself? Perhaps. And yet, I can’t help but believe that marginalia is as human an instinct as humming in the shower (and as handy a tool as those blessed commonplace books you’re all on about.) Try it, folks. You may quickly be hooked. And for those who lament reading a text marred with previous readers’ marginalia, I say fair enough. Library books are off limits. And borrowed books. But your own paperback books? Dive in. It’s sheer bliss!

Sure, I got a bit carried away. Blog comments are like that sometimes, but take a look at what I was up against:

No never! If I am going to have a “discourse” with a book then I’ll make my notes on paper (or electronically) just as I did when I was a student. I do not agree that marking a book “keeps me awake” in any way at all, though to be fair since I have never done it I cannot really comment properly. I do agree that making notes is often essential, but I don’t want to read someone elses opinion on a book unless I actively seek it out, so I’m absolutely not a reader of pre-marked texts! ~ Dark Puss

I wouldn’t deface a book, my notes are in separate notebooks. The notes are particularly useful when blogging(!) but if I’m going back to re-read a book I don’t want to see scribbled notes and markings – it’s too distracting and would take away the pleasure of reading! ~ kaggsysbookishramblings

I could never bring myself to actually write in one of my books either, much as I love finding the marks and thoughts of former owners. I do dog-ear the pages which contain passages of interest, though, even though that also causes dismay. ~ Karyn

I’ve always wanted to but can’t make myself do it. I wonder what that says about me?? I’ve always enjoyed reading other people’s marginalia as it often says more about that person than the book itself! ~ sakura

I never write in my books. I did that when I was a teenager, usually underlining passages in inexpensive paperbacks of classics. But now, never. I use my commonplace books. ~ Joan Kyler

You get the gist. While I do hope that I didn’t scare off Devine’s eager commenters, I was genuinely surprised at how few embraced marginalia. I suppose that I never before realized that I might be the odd one out when it comes to note-taking and doodling and all manner of esoteric hieroglyphics in the margins of my books. Which begs the question, perhaps others don’t hum in the shower either? Or maybe they do but don’t admit it? Or don’t because years of virtuous restraint have made it easy/ier to scrub up and rinse without crooning into the shampoo container.

Marginalia and Pudding

Now, lest I misrepresent the commenters, here are two kindred souls.

The horrors! Well, they haven’t addressed the all-important pen/pencil question – I do write in pencil, and I do like the idea of recording my thoughts somewhere on the physical copy (but never in pen), but it can never really be a two-way exchange, can it? Not unless we ship the book back to its author to see what he/she thinks.

And as for the person who borrowed your book – that’s just the very worst sort of rudeness – not only rude, but arrogant and unrepentant. What an awful thing to do! ~ Simon T

I’m going to have to pipe up and say that I do write in my books–and in pen! Sometimes when I get a library book, I get annoyed that I can’t write in it, so I keep sticky notes handy to make notes on and stick on the relevant pages (useful for writing a review). I don’t write in every book, just the ones I’m really engaged in or want to argue with. I’m also what Anne Fadiman would call a “carnal lover” of my books, so broken spines, dog-eared pages, and so on are not unusual. However, I would never say that you have to write in a book to fully own it. ~ Teresa

Thank you, Simon and Teresa. And thank you Harriet Devine (@drharrietd) for the conversation you inspired. After all, the comments beneath a blog post are not altogether unlike marginalia, a conversation with the author, ourselves and the other readers. Sometimes the proof is in the pudding.

Marginalia: Billy Collins

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Last week I shared one of my favorite Billy Collins poems, “Marginalia”, with my reading group. I was surprised how few had heard/read it before. Billy Collins has enjoyed the poet equivalent of rock star status over the last decade, and yet nobody seemed familiar with Collins’ meandering reflection on one of my favorite subjects.

While the poem’s charm and much of its aural appeal resides in the specific instances of marginalia which Collins includes (calling out Kierkegaard, dissing Dickinson, bravo-ing Baldwin, etc.), there are three excerpts that contribute handily to the universal notion of marginalia, and I’d like to pass them along.

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.

[…]

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.

[…]

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

~ Billy Collins, “Marginalia” (Poetry Magazine, February 1996)

Spot on! One, two, three perfectly captured truths about marginalia.

Collins is a member of your family, your best friend, sharing everyday moments and feelings so vividly they become your memories as well. (Jason Weisberger, Boing Boing.)

I’m still slightly perplexed by the almost combative bent of the marginalia scribblers early in the poem. While there’s a steady evolution toward less antagonistic marginalia penned by students and admirers, a shift accentuated by the love stained finale, I don’t completely grok the poet’s intentions. Perhaps hostile marginalia is sufficiently foreign to me that I lack the requisite context. I’ll work on that!

But the notion of challenging the author on his/her own playing field (or just off the edge of the playing field) is familiar. As is the curious human instinct to plant a personal flag. I was here. I staked this ground. I exist… For me this latter category often falls under the category of reminders. Can I find this passage or that reference easily later? Let’s make sure.

Marginalia was first published in Picnic, Lightning and later included in the collection Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. If you’d like to read the whole poem now, you can access it online as reproduced from the February 1996 issue of Poetry Magazine. As with most of Billy Collins’ poems, this deserves to be read aloud. Once you’ve heard the poet read aloud, you’ll forever hear his voice when you read his words. But even in your own voice, you’ll bring the words to life in a way that they deserve. Enjoy!

Graffiti and Marginalia

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

It’s Marginalia Monday and many, many, many marginalia posts overdue for a glancing look at graffiti.

“It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. (Book Blog)

Ditto, graffiti. Evidence your nearest public restroom. Or the Lascaux caves. After all, cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yob, and the saucy rhyme next to your favorite American Standard is too! Both are simply reminders that we humans can’t resist those clean white margins. We must share our wiles or wile away time.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti and marginalia. I suspect most people do.

I remember studying Don Quixote for the first time in high school. I was cross referencing several versions of the text including a crumbly old edition from the school library. I was frustrated with the marginalia. It was a library book after all! I was almost angry to think that a previous reader had felt obliged to foul the pristine pages. Almost, but not quite. I was also fascinated. I flipped through the book reading the notes.

I have a similar reaction to graffiti, annoyed when it feels like vandalism, fascinated when it feels like a subversive art form. During my freshman or sophomore year I discovered Jasper Johns, and for the all the world his work felt to me like an extension of the graffiti I saw in New York city. Layers of visual storytelling. For a while I was fascinated with Jasper Johns and especially obsessed with Seasons. I imitated his complex collages of images and words and letters and numbers and symbols.

It took me years to realize (and then admit) that I loved marginalia. I stopped hiding the fact that I hunted through used books for the best marginalia, flipped through a book hunting for interesting asides before ever wading through the text itself. Likewise with graffiti, whether it’s a prehistoric pictograph in the New Mexico desert or a visual riff dripping down the side of a dumpster.

Now don’t take this as blanket praise for graffiti. Or marginalia. If you spray paint my car or contribute your clever flipbook animation to my vintage collection of Casanova’s memoirs, I’ll hunt you down and tattoo my least successful poems across your forehead. You’ve been warned. But, if the world is your text and you can’t resist the temptation to illuminate the text with clever, beautiful or otherwise irresistible marginalia/graffiti I’ll probably stop to appreciate your work…

Pinterest Interest

Pinterest Interest? virtualDavis ponders Pinterest...

Pinterest Interest? virtualDavis ponders Pinterest...

Are you on Pinterest? Still trying to resist the way you resisted Facebook?

Watch out, because it’s a slippery slope. When your invitation comes and you say, “Okay, well, maybe I’ll just try it out…”

You know, kick the tires, maybe even zip around the neighborhood with the roof down and the music blaring?

Don’t do it. You’ll get hooked. Pinterest. Is. Addictive.

And that’s why it’s exploding. In the good way. Out of start-up obscurity and into the gotta-be-on-it rocket that is flashing through the interwebs.

After being largely ignored for the first months of its existence, Pinterest is now being mentioned with increasing frequency… It is easy to see why Pinterest is attracting such a buzz. All measures of its growth are phenomenal. (Street Journal)

Phenomenal is the right word, but it lacks the necessary whizbang to accurately convey what’s happening with this rather straightforward social media concept

The premise behind Pinterest is for users to gather, organize, and share things they find on the Web, such as home decorations, clothing, and food. The end result is curated pinboards that are meant to help friends discover new items or get inspiration. (CNET News)

According to Mashable‘s Zoe Fox, Pinterest drives more online t than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Beginners’ luck? That’s pretty formidable competition.

[Pinterest] now beats YouTube, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn and MySpace for percentage of total referral traffic in January… Pinterest accounted for 3.6% of referral traffic, while Twitter just barely edged ahead of the newcomer, accounting for 3.61% of referral traffic. (Mashable)

You know how long it took Twitter

to get traction? You know how long it’s taken to get to this point. I suspect that the quirky crew over at Facebook are getting whiplash responding to the ticklish breeze they keep feeling in their hair, like something sneaking up from behind. Can you sneak fast? Okay, so maybe Pinterest isn’t sneaking…

Facebook reigns king of referrals, accounting for more than one-quarter (26.4%) of traffic, 4.3% of which comes from Facebook Mobile. After Pinterest, Facebook is experiencing the most referral growth, gaining almost one percentage point in December. (Mashable)

So Facebook isn’t giving up ground just to swig down electrolytes, but Pinterest’s mad dash out of the starting gates is noteworthy. Whether or not they can sustain this pace for the endurathon is another matter.

Who’s propelling its rise? 18-34 year old upper income women from the American heartland. (TechCrunch)

Hmmm… So not just bored teenagers party shopping.

To get to the bottom of what motivates Pinterest’s throngs of users, you first have to realize who those users are… Female… women tend to like to shop more than men do. You could easily define Pinterest as a way for people to “window shop” for anything that interests them… It’s a social shopping experience, disguised as a website full of interests. (TheNextWeb.com)

Brad McCarty may be right, but in my experience, there are plenty of gents aboard the good rocket ship Pinterest and more and more every day. Maybe there are male window shoppers too? Or maybe McCarty’s oversimplifying.

At heart, many of us are collectors. Stickers. Friends. Hats. Wine. Cars…

And many of us are voyeurs, happy to peak over the fence at the neighbor’s backyard digging project only discover he was planting a persimmon tree, not installing a hot tub.

In short, we’re curious hoarders on the lookout for inspiration. Is it any wonder that Pinterest has become the next runaway favorite? And with news a little over a week ago that Pinterest has partnered with Flickr “improve photo attribution” it looks like the visual floodgates may be opening. Happy pinning!

No Pants Subway Ride

On Sunday, January 8th, 2012 tens of thousands of people took off their pants on subways in 59 cities in 27 countries around the world. In New York, our 11th Annual No Pants Subway Ride had nearly 4,000 participants, spread out over six meeting points and ten subway lines… If you’re unfamiliar with this event, you might want to first read our history of The No Pants Subway Ride. Since this is the 11th year we’ve done this, there’s not too much to report other than it was another awesome time. (Improv Everywhere)

You’ve gotta love Improv Everywhere and their annual No Pants Subway Ride. Unless you’re too stiff to drop your trousers in public without blinking an eye. Unless you’re too uptight to smile and laugh when the fellow next to you drops his trousers in public without blinking and eye. Spontaneous acts of generosity and hilarity resuscitate levity which is darned near as important as nourishment, respiration and sleep. So say I.

Can you recommend another upbeat improv video or post?

If you’re in need of a wee bit more shake-of-the-blues improv happiness, check out “Black Tie Beach“, “Worst Ice Skater or Best Entertainer? and/or “Welcome To Heathrow Airport“. Bet your day’s going better already!

Monday Morning Meander

English: Meander on the River Dee just west of...

Monday Morning Meander (Image via Wikipedia)

My Mondays typically are energetic, frenetic, anxious. All weekend I’ve been building up To Do lists and massaging my timelines, and by the time I crawl out from under the comforter to share breakfast with Griffin, my Labrador Retriever, my mind is already off to the races.

I suspect that there’s a Monday Morning archetype with lots of other caffeinated-before-your-caffeinated folks who know exactly what I’m talking about. Which validates my suspicions that we all need to break pace for a few moments and meander to refresh the dreams and go juices. If you’re understanding me so far, this post may be for you. Let’s meander together for a few minutes before we pull back into heavy traffic or return to slaying dragons or charming venomous snakes.

Are you social? Digitally social? Plenty gab to be had of late regarding merits and demerits of social networks, but GigaOm‘s recent post, “Do authors have to be social? No, but it helps.“, is worth a look.

Mat Johnson described the people he follows on Twitter as his “dream party guests — interesting strangers whose wit keeps me coming back.” But Johnson also put his finger on another reason that some authors like him have taken to social media like Twitter: the ability to connect directly with potential readers. As he put it: “I’ve never had a single ad for any of my novels, had a movie made or been given a big budget push by a publisher. Usually, they just throw my book out to reviewers and hope it floats. Twitter lets me hijack the promotion plane, sidestep the literary establishment and connect directly to my current and potential audience… It’s a meritocracy; if you’re interesting, you get followed.” (GigaOM: Tech News and Analysis)

I’m borrowing Johnson’s Twitter/dream party guests analogy the next time I try to explain the joys of skinny dipping in the tweet stream to a perplexed (or dismissive) audience. And while I’m thinking about dream party guests, what happened to Kevin Smokler? Was he abducted by aliens? Or is he just giving kevinsmokler.com a fall/winter rest. Back in the spring?

@ This is why we need your #TED talk. Tyler Cowen takes a cynical, skeptical look at stories http://t.co/413wn3jy #gagreflex
@karlsprague
Karl Sprague

Are you familiar with narrative pollyannaism? Fellow optimist Karl Sprague just introduced me to its antithesis, died in the cloth story skepticism. Economist Tyler Cowen’s TEDxTalk distills the dark, devious, dangers of storytelling in his warning, “Be suspicious of stories“.

Cowen admits a weakness for compelling narratives, but he’s concerned that stories oversimplify our messy lives. He reminds us that stories distort complex human nature, interactions and institutions potentially misguiding us and fueling bias and self-deception.

He’s right, of course.

As Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics at George Mason University and co-author of economics blog Marginal Revolution and an avalanche of economics books, Cowen is right about a lot. And despite taking a few laps to warm up, his dry, self-deprecating sense of humor prevails, gradually softening his admonition. And his nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Living to Tell the Tale ultimately won me over.

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Stories do distort and oversimplify. But so do street signs, the nightly news, education, modern medicine, music and virtually every other human invention. His bottom line?

Be more comfortable with messy. Be more comfortable with agnostic…” (TEDxTalks)

I can live with that.

And what better way to wrap up than a digital recap of Sunday’s meander? Yesterday John Davis (@trekeast) and I escaped with our brides and progeny for a Parch Pond adventure. This Eddy Foundation wilderness holding includes a handsome pond which was frozen and snow-free, perfect skating. Here’s a clip shot by Mr. TrekEast on his iPhone:

For additional images from the outing, check out “Skating Parch Pond“.

2012 Publishing Predictions

2012 Publishing Predictions (image of/by virtualDavis)

Day three of the new year. Already! I’m plugging diligently away at my 2012 resolutions, but what good are resolutions without some predictions?

I’ve polished up my crystal ball, and an image is emerging… A thinly veiled wish list? Are you kidding? No way. This is the real deal, a sneak peak into the future!

I’m seeing a sea change in the publishing world, a dramatic shift throughout the creator-to-consumer landscape. Old news? Yes. But what exactly does the new publishing landscape look like? Here is my oracular best.

My top publishing prediction for 2012 is book bundling. It’s time for user friendly digital book and audio book integration. If I want/need a book, I should be able to instantly find and purchase a digital version. And it should include both the text and audio version of the book. Not a computer generated voice struggling through the language. A whiskey tenor bringing the story to life. A current favorite is  Michael Ondaatje‘s The Cat’s Table. Splendid! I want to listen while driving, exercising, showering and cooking. And when I settle into my armchair or flop into the hammock by the shores of Lake Champlain I want to be able to switch seamlessly from audio to text so that I can read. And when I want to jot marginalia or forward a quotation to a friend, I want it to be equally simple in both formats. This vision of book bundling should be the bare minimum. But my prediction goes further. Print books can remain relevant if they include the digital bundle. Gift giving demands this. I want to write a personal inscription in green fountain pen ink in the front page, and I want to be able to wrap and hand the familiar bound heft of a book. Most of us still love print books. And the appetite (habit?) will die slowly. But what better incentive to buy the print version if it includes the digital bundle so that readers can also be listeners, etc. Personally I love experiencing books in multiple formats. But the bottom line is that the future is all about flexibility. And as long as we’re imagining the perfect giftable book bundle, let’s through in the Vook or other digitally enhanced, value added version too. Icing on the cake. Consumers will love the bundle even if they only use a fraction of the content.

Are you with me so far? My crystal ball is not blurry on this book bundling issue, though it’s still not clear if the major strides in this arena will come from the “Big Six” or brave, savvy upstarts. A few publishing companies are already venturing into the territory, but who’s going to redefine the book publishing marketplace. I’m ready!

My second publishing prediction for 2012 is for an app/digital book convergence (or at least blurring). I love the crack of a book’s spine and the smell of musty old pages and contributing to the tangled marginalia of a treasured hand-me-down. But one’s head must be deep in the sand to overlook the smartphone’s manifest destiny. Not only have smartphones become ubiquitous throughout the developed world, but they’re quickly becoming the one stop shop for, well, for just about everything content/communication/entertainment/etc. Phone, email, camera, secretary, navigator, coach, movies, games, news, flashlight, car key, you name it, the 21st century smartphone is almost divine. Like it or not, your smartphone is the ideal book bundling vehicle, and the app strikes me as the most obvious cheap, user-friendly packaging for tomorrow’s book bundles. Enough said? And it is the ultimate inspiration buy!

My third publishing prediction for 2012 is platform androgynous content.  When I purchase a new digital title, I don’t want to be limited by my device. If I’m using my iPhone, Mac Pro or Mac Book Pro I want the same access and experience. Ditto for Kindle Fire, Nook, Sony Reader, in-air entertainment console, etc. Make it easy for your audience to consume your content no matter where they are and no matter what interface they use. Unshackle good books from the devices which we use to read/watch/listen to them and we’ll consumer much, much more of your liberated content. I promise!

These are my top three, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. The media is awash is publishing oracles, but Jeremy Greenfield’s “Ten Bold Predictions for Book Publishing in 2012” (Digital Book World) is the best place to start. A couple of highlights:

The publishing world is a’changing… And it’s changing fast! If you’re trying to catch up, stop. If you’re an innovator reinventing storytelling in the digital age, then sing, dance and celebrate because you are the change. And you’re living in the garden of opportunity. It’s a great time to be a storyteller!

What are your 2012 publishing predictions?

Update: I was honored by Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) with inclusion in his January 5 Writing on the Ether.

“as we flee from the prediction-prone and nostalgia-noxious equinox back into our present, we’re going to cast one brave look over at George Davis’ set of what he calls 2012 Publishing Predictions – but, ah, these are actually wishes… What Davis says he wants is a seamless read across several media… Davis wants to start in the print hardcover. Then have the e-version know where he left the bookmark. Then have the audio edition’s narrator pick up at the same place. And — I’m extrapolating here — finish the book by streaming the film, as before from the last point he left off in the audio-, e-, or tree-version. (Writing on the Ether)

Although Porter almost perfectly summed me up, I’d like to clear up one detail about the tree-versions of books. To be sure, the best-of-bundling will be seamless integration across media. To easily, instantly switch between audio, digital (text and/or multimedia à la Vook), video and print is an ambitious but enticing dream. And most likely a pipe dream, at this stage.

However the opportunity for seamless integration across digital media is considerably more attainable today than the seamless integration of print. So my prediction is for seamless digital integration bundled with the print book as “wrapper”. Many of us still prefer to hold and read and smell and marginalia-fill and gift print books. This habit will likely diminish over time, but not overnight. So give buyers what they know they want. But include a scan-able digital bundle which immerses readers in the riches of digital publishing.

Mindfulness and Flânerie

Just another listless dreamer...

New Yorker marginalia by virtualDavis via Flickr

Linda Hollier’s Mindfulness and The Flâneur examines a topic near and dear to my heart, soul and senses: flânerie.

I’m honored to be mentioned and grateful because she inspired me to update my Metro Flaneur post with a list of my favorite flanerie miscellanea. But ego and overdue “housekeeping” are just the tip of the iceberg.

Ms. Hollier (@lindahollier) is positing an insight that intuitively resonates truth to me, but which I’ve never before heard.

Speed, whether online or offline, is a characteristic of the modern world. The flâneur reminds us to set the pace of our own lives.

Cast as a character in the 21st century drama of life, the flâneur thus begins to play the role of consciousness. (here2here)

Amen. The pace and the scope. Flânerie demands an elasticity of time and space. Freedom to meander, to lose oneself in the other, perhaps even to become the other without fully detaching from self. For a while.

Anthropologist Grant McCracken reflection on Joy Walking comes to mind.

It’s a little like joy riding, except we’re not stealing cars, we’re stealing moments. Joy walking happens when we leave the house or office and start walking. We don’t have a plan. We just go… We step in and out of people’s lives. Couples in love, couples at war…  The tiny courtesies and rudenesses of public life… The key is to get out and about. To get away. To see what you can see. Steal a moment. Make it your own. (PsychologyToday.com)

Ms. Hollier’s suggestion that flânerie and conscioussness may overlap is intriguing, an idea worth passing along to my mother who’s a student of Buddhism and a proponent of mindfulness. Let’s see if I can get her to weigh in. Stay tuned.

Off to meander the digital meadow with the mingling masses…

Update:

Great news. My mother, Melissa Davis, shared her impression. Thanks, mom! Here’s what the wise lady thinks:

Mindfulness, flaneuring and turtles

Reading this after an abbreviated mindful yoga session with Jon K-Z (on tape), I am delighted to chime in. Linda Hollier’s reference to turtles on leashes reminds me of walking with a 2- or 3-year old, a great flaneur opportunity. I recently grandparented my 3-year old granddaughter for a week which required walking her to preschool and back in Georgetown, a fascinating place where equipment and men with shovels were digging up the ancient trolley tracks. Took us forever – which was as good as it gets – even better than a turtle because she had a couple of feet more within her purview AND she asked questions!

Years ago I read a NYTimes op ed that shared the unscientific findings of a city dweller observing adults accompanying small children around a neighborhood in Manhattan. She reported that the majority of them pushed strollers which ensured timely arrivals wherever the adult was headed. She contrasted them with the handful of adults who walked – meandered – alongside their youngsters, stopping to examine every interesting flower or bit of flotsam along the way. She pointed out that there was nothing more important for a child that age to do than poke along – and through – every curiosity.

I think flaneuring is like drawing, something we are born with but that schedules and school steal from us. I agree that mindfulness – being totally present in the moment – goes hand in hand (or leash) with flaneuring. I am not surprised that so many people wonder if they ate, lose their keys, forget names, obsess about how stressed they are given the mindless speed that propels them through their days. A little daily flaneuring would sort them right out! (Melissa Davis)

Amen! Way to go, mom. Just goes to show that my decision to meander the digital meadow with the mingling masses yesterday restored the cosmic balance, inspiring my mother to opine. Perhaps I should meander the soggy non-digital meadow this afternoon?

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Digital Book and Audio Book Integration

Drew Frish of Electric Type on digital and audio book integration

Electric Type's Drew Frish on digital/audio book integration

Drew Frist is the founder of Electric Type (@electrictypeco), a digital book publisher who just released their debut digital children’s app, Jungle Book: The Story of Mowgli & Shere Khan. It looks delicious! Check out the promo video, and I’m guessing that if you have kids you’ll head over to iTunes before long.

In a recent video response to the question, “What are your thoughts on audio books?”, Frist expressed a wish that I’ve been trumpeting for months: it’s time for user friendly digital book and audio book integration. Print books are familiar and nostalgic. Digital books are cheap, quick, frictionless and they eliminate paper cuts. Audio books are perfectly portable and they expand our reading opportunities to the car, the gym, the ski slopes.

Why aren’t we bundling all three? This value-added merchandising play is not only good business in an increasingly competitive publishing world, it’s actually better than all three. In short, bundling digital, audio and print is better than the sum of its parts.

Most of us still love paper and ink. Bindings. Smells. Easy marginalia. Worn pages. Dog eared corners. It’s a habit with some enduring benefits (ever read your iPad in full sun?) and a viable long tail. In short, many readers still want print books.

Digital book detractors have not immersed themselves in the experience. Just my two cents, but I find it hard to believe that print book purists don’t accept that there are some amazing opportunities with digital publishing. Instant access to almost everything no matter where you are. Did I mention instant? Did I mention cheap? Did I mention searchable content? Okay, the technology is still new and rather clunky, but progress is being made at warp speed.

I admit that once upon a time I scoffed at audio books. Remember when they were recorded on tapes? When they were almost all abridged? When the audio book technology and availability were more hindrance than help? I changed my tune almost a decade ago when my then-fling-now-bride and I were commuting between the Adirondacks and Manhattan. Five hours in the car wrestling with tailgators and snow storms was transformed into five hours of “reading” books that we might not otherwise have taken the time to squeeze into our busy lives. Outstanding recordings, many by the authors themselves, and none were abridged. In those early days we listened to CDs. Remember those? The advent of compact disks reduced the need to abridge books because they could hold so much more data than tapes. Before long we transitioned to MP3 downloads from places like Audible.com and enjoyed the dilated offerings and the instant access. Driving bliss. It wasn’t long before audio books crept into my workouts, flights, train rides, etc.

So spoiled! So many choices. So much bickering about which one is best.They’re all best! Do you remember this video?

We have so many amazing resources at our fingertips, and yet we live in a culture where opinions are celebrated without necessarily stopping to evaluate or analyze them. Remember debate? No? It was a logical, quasi-methodical framework for constructively addressing differences of opinion. Weird, right? I know. Now we just shout opinions, whine opinions, burp opinions, snore opinions, regurgitate opinions, sweat opinions and generally excrete opinions around the clock. It’s cool. It’s social…. ;-)

An avalanche of opinions. But are we evaluating and analyzing this avalanche of opinions, or are we just scrambling to keep our heads up and our opinions spouting? Is anyone stopping to ask if print books, audio books and digital books need be mutually exclusive? With such distinct merits and appetites for all three, it would make a world of sense to zip them all up together in the same pair of pants so that they could audition for the lead roll in our storytelling opera.

Some of my best book experiences lately have resulted from buying all three formats, and in many cases re-consuming large sections of the work in multiple formats. Active writers, researchers and thinkers would relish the opportunity to:

  • buy a bundled, multi-format title from their favorite seller
  • tuck into the hammock to read the print book in the shade of a towering oak tree
  • continue the story on their iPod while mowing the grass
  • bookmark a quotation while listening to the audio book so that they can send it off via Twitter or email
  • sync the audio book with their digital book reader to pick up where they left off
  • quickly locate and share the bookmarks via email, blog post, Facebook, etc.

So often while I’m listening to an audio book I’ve yearned for a quick and easy way to bookmark, quote or share a passage. So often while reading a digital book I’ve yearned for a high-quality audio performance to pick up where I need to leave off to drive to a meeting. So often while reading a printed and bound book I’ve yearned for an efficient way to search for a passage…

Isn’t it time that we integrate digital books and audio books seamlessly in a single, user-friendly app? And wouldn’t it be great if this integrated digital app were bundled with a print copy? It’s a win-win-win proposition!

Kindle Library Lending & Marginalia

Holy mackerel! Amazon is closing the marginalia gap that I’ve fretted over and soapboxed/dreamed about. With “Library Lending for Kindle Books” Amazon is partnering with OverDrive to offer the next big leap in digital books: library-ification of ebooks. But hidden in this evolution is the top item on my wish list, ebook marginalia.

“We’re doing a little something extra here,” Marine continued. “Normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you can highlight and add margin notes to Kindle books you check out from your local library. Your notes will not show up when the next patron checks out the book. But if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced.” (Kindle Nation Daily)

As Mike Cane opines, “Well, if there was any doubt Amazon has totally vanquished everyone else, there’s no doubt now.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the marginalia is user specific, so the next borrower won’t be able sift through your clever comments. But wouldn’t it be nice/handy if we could give others access to our marginalia? It should be quick, easy and fun to share my marginalia with others!

Digital storytelling must develop the potential for annotation and marginalia that print books permit. And it will be important to devise innovative ways for readers/consumers to share this marginalia. I know this sounds scary, and it poses real challenges (intellectual property rights, etc.), but it is inevitable and good. And it will unleash a viral potential heretofore unfathomable, not to mention the pedagogical implications.

Think, for example, of a teacher who lets students see/use her margin notes, etc. Or imagine the voyeuristic pleasure of observing the notes, doodles and underlining of an admired thinker or writer…

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