ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: social media

ReaderWriterLinks: How To Read a Book edition

One of the things I’ve noticed about online media, both legacy and online-origin, is that a particular story idea will spread across several sites in a short time. Sometimes it’s generated by a research paper, like this one about how the TV you watch affects your political leanings. Or at least researchers found that what Italians watched when Berlusconi both headed up RAI and was a political leader affected their political attitudes. I could write a whole post on how one study does not a general theorem make, but that’s for another day; you can understand why this one went viral; it’s catnip for mediasplainers.

Today I have links from two major and historically respected newspapers which are designed to help people read books again. As you may have noticed, book coverage has changed to being about book culture rather than book reviews. I wrote about this a while back. And book culture is mostly about social media these days. Here’s the Guardian on how to love reading again. Presumably this is aimed at people who used to love reading but now find themselves not reading much, as opposed to people who were scarred by required reading in school and are just fine with not reading for pleasure, thankyouverymuch:

1. Follow book accounts on social media
If you’ve been away from reading for a while, it can be hard to know where to start. It can also be really tough to go from living your life online to building a separate one. By following Instagram accounts that regularly post about books, you’ll get ideas: try Book of the Month, Books on the Subway and Strand Bookstore for beautifully shot recommendations.
2. Read what you want to
If you haven’t read in a while, it can be tempting to set yourself lofty goals. For many of us that’s unrealistic, so instead: are there particular topics you’d love to read a non-fiction book about? Is there an author you’ve found easy to read before who has other books? Is there a favourite you can reread? When I’m finding it tough, I often punish myself by trying to slog through something hard before I let myself enjoy something that’s 200 pages and a laugh. But it’s enjoying the 200-pager that gets me in the swing of things, and makes it easier to concentrate on something tougher.
3. Join a library
Libraries are dying, and it’s partly because a lot of people don’t seem to consider them an option. But if finances are holding you back and you can trek to a library, it’s worth it. You can get recommendations, read for free and give up on books you can’t get into. Many have book clubs, too. For readers in the UK, you can find your nearest library here.

There are three more suggestions, and as the comments BTL (below the line) point out repeatedly, several of these involved using social media to get over your social media distractions. Yeah, that works well. But then this is someone who thinks libraries are dying because people don’t go to them, rather than because they are being starved of money. But I guess if the idea is to make reading trendy, pointing to social media is the way to go.

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Social Media Downsizing

As advertised, I’ve deactivated my main Twitter account. I kept it for the year I was off Twitter because the other two times I killed my accounts someone immediately grabbed the username. But Twitter will have to become something entirely different for me to return, and since that is unlikely it doesn’t matter to me if @ProfNita is swept up into Botland.

I’ve also deleted my Goodreads account. Longtime readers and friends know about my love-hate with Goodreads and my hesitance about going back. It’s been a much better experience this time and I’ve enjoyed a lot of my interactions. But as usual, I have negative visceral reactions when Someone Is Wrong on the Internet, and it sucks up my time and energy to fight my inevitable desire to correct them. It’s a stupid trait but not one I’ve been able to eradicate. I love talking to people about books, but the people I most want to talk to aren’t the only ones I wind up interacting with or paying attention to.

Thanks to Laura Vivanco I just read a post by Meljean Brook that describes my condition exactly, because it’s apparently her condition as well:

Twitter has a constant stream of info coming at you from people who really do have a lot of interesting and important things to say. But I wasn’t doing a good job of prioritizing my own mental health and needs.

(And ha, this was explicitly demonstrated to be the right move, because I deleted my Twitter right before the plagiarism/ghostwriting scandal erupted, and although I of course followed it…not having a Twitter account that is connected to so much of romancelandia made it all much easier check in on the few people I still follow, then go. So I was informed but not obsessively checking, and it made a huge difference.)

I have done this exact same thing with Twitter (especially before the recent Horrible Redesign) and I do it with GR too. There are key public groups whose discussions I can compulsively read and with which I am mentally arguing on a too-regular basis, and I don’t seem to be able to stop. They’re not as bad for my well-being as rabbit holes and kerfuffles of the past, but they’re not good either and they distract me from producing rather than consuming. I’m so much better than I was, but I’m still not where I want to be.

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ReaderWriterLinks

Readerlinks are back!

This article on McDonald’s as a community space resonated with me because I see these kinds of groupings in small towns when we drive cross-country. It’s the only time we eat in McD’s, and we don’t always go inside. But when we do, whether it’s small-town Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nevada, or Wyoming, we’ll often see tables of old people, moms with kids, or some other community group having a meal together.

For America’s graying cohort, often sectioned off by age at places like senior centers, the dining room of a fast-food restaurant is a godsend. It’s a ready-made community center for intergenerational mingling. The cost of admission is low—the prices beckon those on fixed incomes—and crucially, the distance from home is often short. And that’s just one demographic.

In spite of the plastic seats, the harsh lighting, and in many cities, the semi-enforced time limits for diners, people of all sorts can sit and stay and stay and stay—at birthday parties, first dates, father-daughter breakfasts, Bible-study groups, teen hangs, and Shabbat dinners. Or at supervised visitations and meet-ups for recovering addicts. For those who crave the solace of a place to call home that is not home, a fast-food dining room offers it, with a side of fries.


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ReaderWriterLinks

Andy Miller, who runs the Booklisted podcast among other things, writes a funny piece about being shamed, or at least mildly chastised, for the number of books he’s read. The fact that this happened at a book festival adds a special valence to the experience.

Now. Making an audience at a literary festival boo you for reading books is clearly some kind of shit achievement. And in one respect, I was not entirely telling the truth. In the year in question, I had not read ‘something like’ [XXX] books; I knew it was precisely [XXX] books. Why did I equivocate? Perhaps I sensed at that moment that the crowd was turning against me and it was necessary to self-deprecate as a matter of urgency. But that ‘something like’ was nothing like enough. What I should have said was ‘I don’t know exactly how many! A lot! I don’t get out much haha! Hahaha!’ And the audience, sniffing the air, would have turned its slavering attention to Lionel Shriver or someone and lumbered off in pursuit of where she gets her ideas from.

It’s true that if you cut down your time online and fill your discretionary time with reading, you can get through a lot of books. I certainly read more now than I did when I was more active on Twitter and Dear Author. But there is a performative aspect to telling people how much you read that is very much part of the online age (after all, this started because of Miller’s tweets). We don’t just read, we tell people we read, and not just what it is and what we thought of it, but where it fits in our total reading experience. I’m not sure where to draw the line between interaction and performance, but they aren’t the same thing.


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ReaderWriterLinks

Like the Weeknote post, the links post is late this week, but not absent!

Here is yet another article on how news isn’t news anymore. Yes, it’s a preoccupation of mine. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on what reading the “news” in the 21stC looks like these days. I’ve talked about it in links posts, but it deserves its own discussion. In the meantime, though, read this thoughtful Guardian article on news media consumption.

The profound experiential shift we have recently experienced is not merely down to the fact that the news is now available around the clock; CNN pioneered that, way back in 1980. Instead, it arises from the much newer feeling of actively participating in it, thanks to the interactivity of social media. If you are, say, angry about Brexit, it is possible to be angry about Brexit almost all of the time: to encounter new and enraging facts about Brexit, and opportunities to vent about Brexit, in ways that would have been unthinkable as recently as the mid-2000s. If you had fulminated then to your family and colleagues as even respected peers, novelists and philosophers now routinely fulminate on Twitter, you’d have alienated everyone you knew.

One crucial difference is that raging on Facebook, or sharing posts or voting in online polls, feels like doing something – an intervention that might, in however minuscule a way, change the outcome of the story. This sense of agency may largely be an illusion – one that serves the interests of the social media platforms to which it helps addict us – but it is undeniably powerful. And it extends even to those who themselves never comment or post. The sheer fact of being able to click, in accordance with your interests, through a bottomless supply of updates, commentary, jokes and analysis, feels like a form of participation in the news, utterly unlike passively consuming the same headlines repeated through the day on CNN or the BBC.

I think that one of the reasons we feel as if tweeting and sharing and so on is “doing something” is that activism and protest have been transformed by the availability of social media. There’s no question that coordination is easier with online tools. But limiting our participation to online forums rather and foregoing the old-fashioned, effortful methods of physically showing up to a meeting or public gathering (for those of us who have that option; not everyone does) does not do much to advance collective action goals. Yes, the Arab Spring was aided by Twitter. But did you know that the most common ways of communicating information during those protests were still through voice and text? And, for all of us, there is evidence that reacting and venting on social media about supposedly newsworthy events makes us feel worse about the world, not better.


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