Thursday, 20 October 2016

Blogging question #3: how we read, and why

Next week we'll be turning to a sequence of classes on e-books and related topics, which raises the  question of our own reading practices. That's a question we'll discuss in class, but let's also use the blogs to think through the question more slowly, and in relation to some of our secondary readings. It's a deceptively simple question: what do you choose to read on screen versus on paper, and mostly importantly, why?

When I say "on screen," that could mean a range of screens and formats, from dedicated e-reading devices like Kindles, to phones, to tablet computers and laptops. It could also mean different file formats, from EPUB (and other ebook formats) to .pdf to good old fashioned .txt files.

For example, when I got my first iPad a few years ago, I found it completely replaced my reading of articles and other PDF-type files in print. When I download a journal article to read it now, or when I receive a student essay, I no longer print it, but read and annotate it on the iPad. (The only exception is when I'm proofreading something like publication proofs; those things get printed, read very slowly at the kitchen table while leaning forward, and marked up in pencil or pen.) Yet oddly enough I almost never read e-books, and still buy printed books that I annotate yet can't search, the way I can search my digital annotations. Admittedly it's not the most rational system, but I think I stick to printed books because their physical inconvenience forces me to finish the ones I purchase, and not to purchase books unless I really mean to read them. Pleasure reading, usually before going to sleep, is always in print so that the light of the screen doesn't throw off my circadian rhythms and keep me from sleeping. (For what it's worth, I just began re-reading Geraldine Brooks's novel People of the Book, a fictionalized set of historical stories linked by the forensic work of a book conservationist.)

One consequence of this combination of habits, however, is that my reading results in a bifurcation of genre and platform, with articles and student writing being entirely screen-based, and long-form books being print-based. Format and genre have a long and complex relationship, of course, but in this case it's my own reading habits that have introduced a new pattern.

This blogging question is also an opportunity to think about our own reading habits in the context of various kinds of scholarship on reading. Several of our recent and upcoming required and recommended readings deal with the experience of reading, digitally and otherwise. Hayles and Kirschenbaum from last week (and parts of Striphas this week) deal with interface questions, Pierce, Erickson, and Murray and Squires deal with digital reading in broader social contexts (including childrens' and young adults' literature, in Pierce's case). Trettien, Benton, and Bornstein -- and, to a lesser extent, my "Enkindling Reciter" article -- deal with connections between typography and meaning. There are other threads to draw from these readings and others not on the syllabus. Steven Berlin Johnson's piece on commonplacing also discusses reading strategies and tactics: the specific techniques of reading that may be well or poorly supported by technologies of reading. In your own reading habits, what are the various relationships between technology and technique?

So, part of the challenge for this post is to think about and articulate your own reading practices (and strategies and tactics), but also to contextualize them in relation to scholarship on the topic. In other words, I'd like you to go beyond simply describing your own reading practices -- i.e. how we read -- and use secondary sources to provoke some reflection on the bigger question: why.