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One of the NYRB‘s free articles is a review article discussing two books and a film about libraries. I’m a huge library fan. It opened the world of books to me from the time I was able to read, first in private lending libraries in Bombay and then the wonderful public libraries of the US. I fell off the wagon for a number of years, mostly because I had access to university libraries, but a few years ago I reacquainted myself with my city and county libraries and haven’t looked back. I love this description of what libraries offer us all:

Klinenberg is interested in the ways that common spaces can repair our fractious and polarized civic life. And though he argues in his new book, Palaces for the People, that playgrounds, sporting clubs, diners, parks, farmer’s markets, and churches—anything, really, that puts people in close contact with one another—have the capacity to strengthen what Tocqueville called the cross-cutting ties that bind us to those who in many ways are different from us, he suggests that libraries may be the most effective. “Libraries are the kinds of places where ordinary people with different backgrounds, passions, and interests can take part in a living democratic culture,” he writes. Yet as Susan Orlean observes in her loving encomium to libraries everywhere, aptly titled The Library Book, “The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace.”

The article covers Susan Orlean’s new book about the LA library fire, Eric Klinenberg’s nonfiction study of libraries as engines of community, and the great Frederick Wiseman’s documentary of the New York Public Library. I haven’t seen it yet, but Wiseman’s work is unparalleled and whatever you watch will stick in your brain forever.


The Guardian has an article on the mess that Amazon’s review and recommendation systems has become. This is a general problem for Amazon, with bots and fake reviews messing up the ranking systems, but the books issue is in a class of its own:

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Windows 10, Chicken Little, and the Digital Divide

Windows 10 released last week, to more hoopla and good press than Microsoft usually gets these days. I downloaded and installed my free upgrade on Thursday and have been tweaking it and getting used to it slowly. I only have it on a tablet at the moment, but I’m liking it enough that I will probably install it on my MacBook Pro (my work machine) via BootCamp.

In addition to the laudatory articles, there have been a series of articles about various aspects of the new release, especially those having to do with integrating different functions: Cortana, which draws on email, browsing, and calendar (among others) to optimize its efficiency, and WiFi Sense, which allows the sharing of hotspots and personal WiFi networks among socially connected users.

The toplining of “smart” software has been met with considerable apprehension, some of which tips over into breathless headlines such as “Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do.” Microsoft’s security settings are long and detailed, and their explanations offer more transparency about data collection and recording than we’re used to. For example, telemetry has been around for years, but now people are noticing that it can’t be turned off.

Unlike the two big mobile systems (iOS and Android), Windows is overwhelmingly identified with computers. Not tablets, not phones, just computers. Something like 90 percent of the world’s computers run Windows, while only tiny fraction of tablets and phones run Windows or Windows Mobile. So shrinking the gap between mobile and computer has different ramifications, both practically and symbolically. In the case of Windows 10, some of the most talked-about changes are features that people take for granted in mobile but haven’t thought about as being part of their computer use.

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Trust and Secrets in Romanceland

When I closed VM and started this blog I said I wouldn’t write about Romanceland anymore. And for the most part I haven’t wanted to. But Wendy’s post about the broken nature of the community struck a deep chord, one that writing a comment at her post can’t fully address. If you’re interested, read on. If you’re done with thinking about Romland, skip this and come back to read the next post.

When DA Jane told Romland that she was also author Jen, I was obviously at ground zero for the announcement. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the Jane/Jen revelation created a seismic shift. Not for everyone; some readers, mostly people who aren’t deeply invested in Romland relationships, will keep right on reading Dear Author and/or Jen Frederick’s books. They don’t care much about the connection. Other readers won’t. Authors and longtime members of Romland seemed to fall most frequently on the sense of betrayal side. Writing communities in this genre are a combination of professional development, friend circles, and expertise exchange, and the friend/bonding component appears to be stronger here than in many other professional settings with which I’m familiar. That, combined with DA’s loud and sustained emphasis on disclosure and reader-only spaces, led to a deep sense of resentment even among Romland people who didn’t personally encounter Jen Frederick.

I think that what the DA announcement did was put the final nail in the coffin of the idea and the reality of widely-followed, reader-run sites. if Dear Author is an author-run site (which it now turns out to be), then there are no water-cooler-type review and discussion sites in Romland which are are not author-directed zones (or industry-directed, in other cases). To a great extent I think this is a reflection of the way Romland has changed over the past decade. There is little incentive or ability for someone who is only a reader to own and operate a major review and reading blog, forum, or website. It takes an enormous amount of work and time, and you need to generate a lot of content to stay in the online public’s eye. At the same time, any site that does attract readers is also going to attract authors and industry professionals, partly for the conversation, but also because selling books is a difficult task and the word of mouth praise of readers is golden. So a reader-run site with a growing reach is going to face huge pressures to be coopted. Whether that’s by taking ARCs, featuring authors, running giveaways, or transitioning from reader-blogger to industry-blogger is going to depend on the individuals, but the incentives for cooptation are enormous.

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