Slow down, you read too fast…

Paul Raven @ 24-02-2009

mosiac of a man reading a book… you’ve got to make the moment last. Or so says Ian McDonald over at the Pyr blog, confessing that he’s a slow reader and proud of it:

What interests me here is not so much the dwindling of attention spans, as what I call ‘nuggeting’ – scanning only for the important points, the catching points where the eye and the brain latch on to information – a point of change or transition or a contrast. Nugget to nugget, getting the eye-kicks in at the required bpm. I wonder if that’s what the commentariat mean when they say ‘the storyline did not engage me’ –the nuggets, the changes, the beats didn’t come fast enough. I think it’s a sad and bad thing. If we’re exposed to only what stimulates, it deadens the response. Reading isn’t only about finding out what happens next. Why hurry to the end? Take your time. There’s plenty to enjoy on the way.

I half-agree with McDonald here – certain books demand to be read more slowly, either because they are richer in ‘nuggets’ or because the prose itself is satisfying to linger over (or because they’re not written very well, though I tend to give up on bad books these days, as life’s too short already).

But equally there are books that demand to be read quickly, and are all the more fun for that. And most of all, I think there are big risks in making general statements about how and why people should read for pleasure; McDonald naturally has a creator’s concern about his work being appreciated as he intended it, but I know I’d be a resentful of being told how I should best enjoy a book by anything other than the book itself. [via SF Signal; image by takomabibelot]

What about you – is it fast-moving page-turners that you’re after, or do you prefer books that you can lose yourself in for a week or two?


Does the future of the novel lie with the cell phone?

Edward Willett @ 29-01-2009

cellphones According to a recent report in Japan Today, ten of Japan’s print bestsellers in 2007–selling about 400,000 copies apiece–were based on cell phone novels, or “keitai shousetu.” The genre was born in 2002 when an author named Yoshi wrote Deep Love: Ayu’s Story for the cell phone. It was enormously popular and now lots of Japanese authors are writing short  intended to be read on cell phones. (Via GalleyCat.)

From the Japan Today story, which notes that according to a recent survey, 86% of high school, 75% of middle school and 23% of grade school girls in Japan read cell phone novels:

The way it works is this: novels are posted by members of cell phone community sites to be downloaded for free and read on other cell phones. Reading often takes place in crowded trains during long commutes. The works are published in 70-word installments, or abbreviated chapters that are the ideal length to be read between shorter train stops. This means that, despite small cell phone screens, lots of white space is left for ease of reading. Multiple short lines of compressed sentences, mostly composed of fragmentary dialogue, are strung together with lots of cell phone-only symbols. The resulting works are emotional, fast-paced and highly visual, with an impact not unlike manga.

Of course, you’re probably thinking “if they can write novels in 70-word instalments for cell phones, I could probably write a novel in 140-character installments on Twitter!”

You wouldn’t be the first. A post at ReadWriteWeb lists some attempts in that direction.

The future of reading, apparently, may lie with those with short attention spans, and the future of writing with the terse.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]reading,novels,fiction,cell phones,Japan[/tags]


Do novels help our morals evolve?

Paul Raven @ 15-01-2009

Victorian era typewriter keysAre there hidden messages and subtexts in stories and novels that help reinforce and strengthen the values our society holds? A group of evolutionary psychologists researching Victorian-era fiction suggests that the classics of the time…

… not only reflect the values of Victorian society, they also shaped them. Archetypal novels from the period extolled the virtues of an egalitarian society and pitted cooperation and affability against individuals’ hunger for power and dominance.

[…]

The researchers believe that novels have the same effect on society as oral cautionary tales of old. “Just as hunter-gatherers talk of cheating and bullying as a way of staying keyed to the goal that bad guys must not win, novels key us to the same issues… “

The idea of culture as societal regulation valve is nothing new, I suppose, but it seems the researchers were focusing on the canonical literature of the era rather than what would have been considered popular by the man on the street. What about the Victorian precursors of the pulp magazines, for example, or their oft-unmentioned love of porn and erotica? There was a very different set of values embedded in those, I think we can assume…

That said, I think there’s probably a nugget of truth in the assertion that art contains coded value systems from the society that produced it. So what does that mean for us 21st Century types? We have somewhat different values nowadays, and we no longer have such a dominant monoculture as the Victorians. [image by k4chii]

Looking back on the science fiction novels we’re reading today, what would an anthropologist or evolutionary psychologist from a century in the future make of our values?


Famous First Lines

Arun Jiwa @ 30-07-2008

io9 has posted a piece on some of the most famous opening sentences in SF novels.


How much science knowledge do you need to write science fiction?

Edward Willett @ 16-06-2008

Tom Swift Cover On her blog, author Jo Walton laments that:

I can’t write science fiction because I know both too much and not enough science.

I know too much to spout total crap and not care, and I don’t know enough to inherently get it right. So I can write it and be sort of right and I need to get it checked.

(Via io9.)

But getting it checked, she goes on to complain, slows her down so much that she can lose momentum and be unable to write the story at all:

The way I write, I inclue as I go along and plot develops as I go along and background develops out of that, and my understanding of the world develops (even if lots of it doesn’t end up on the page) and if half of what I think turns out to be wrong then it just gets to the point where it isn’t worth doing in the first place. The people who know science suggest alternatives that totally screw up what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it, and I lose all confidence in it and decide I should stick to stuff I understand.

She then gives a specific example.

I know where she’s coming from: I got held up quite a bit on my most recent novel, Marseguro, while I tracked down the information I needed to ensure that my spaceship’s habitat ring rotated at the correct speed, given its diameter, to generate something approaching 1 G in the outermost layer–and that at the central core my characters could believably make the transition from non-rotating section to rotating section without getting their arms ripped off.

Non-SF writers never have to worry about stuff like that.

So: if you’re a writer, how much time do you devote to getting the science right, and if you’re a reader, how much accuracy do you demand? (Movies, of course, are a whole different kettle of fish where even non-SF films never get the physics right.)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]science fiction, books, writing, novels[/tags]


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