Friday, June 29, 2012

In Soviet Russia, Book Reads You!

Molly Flatt:

Our reading choices have always been constrained by the natural filter bubble created by our friends, and the pressures of time play as large a role as Google's search engines. So are there any steps we can take to combat the natural "you loop" in our reading tastes?

First, I propose we adopt a thoroughly disruptive stance: "If you enjoyed that, then this is the opposite." If your sister loves the erotic fantasies of E.L. James, then it's time for her to take on the metaphysics of "Gods and Monsters", and give Hari Kunzru a try. I intend to lend my mother Roberto Bolaño’s "2666" and buy my father Marian Keyes's "The Brightest Star in the Sky". And when I’ve finished the remaining 700 pages of my Norse epic, I shall ask my Twitter friends: what shouldn’t I read next?

And why stop there? How about disloyalty cards, where booksellers give us discounts for clocking up an eclectic range of purchases? Or discomfort zones, with a "books we can't stand" display, complete with little handwritten condemnations: so much more inviting than yet another card explaining why "Bleak House" is really rather good. Could there be a pop-up sci-fi corner in a romance authors’ convention or critics reviewing novels that are diametrically opposed in subject matter, style and philosophical outlook, and still liking both? As the season for lazy beach-reading approaches, let us make a stand for the joy of being thoroughly surprised.

At first reading, I thought this was protesting too much, but now, I'm thinking it might be like someone walking backwards within their own footprints in order to throw off pursuers.

For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.

The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.