Random House Employees Receiving $5K Bonus

New York Times Media Decoder Blog post - At Random House, Employees Will Enjoy 5000 Shades of Green

While many might turn their nose up at Fifty Shades of Grey, the amazing sales figures for the trilogy (over 35 million copies sold in the US) is now having a direct economic impact on the lives of Random House employees. The company has seen such profits from the sale of the series it is sharing its good fortune with every employee, from the mail room to the editors.

The Fifty Shades books are available on the Bortz Library’s Kindles. Check out at a Kindle in the Fuqua Technology Commons on the first floor.

Footnotes: Friend or Foe?

Alexandra Horowitz published an interest article in The New York Times lamenting the possible loss (though she seems to suggest inevitable) of footnotes with the increase of  publication for ereaders. In paper form, footnotes are easily formatted and placed in different locations in the book, generally at the bottom of the page. Once the type is set or the file is created for the printing press, the layout of the book is set and, aside from physically removing pages, there is little the reader can customize. Electronic books, like those published for Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook, have the new feature of reader resizing. Suddenly, control of font size, and consequently the layout of a page, is no longer in the author/publisher’s hands. This “moving page” style makes it difficult for footnotes to be placed at the bottom as well, causing footnotes to be moved to the end of the text, a move Horowitz appears to be suggesting will result in the eventual death of the footnote.

On first reading Mrs. Horowitz article, I found myself alining with Noël Coward, who “reputedly said that ‘having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love’” (Source). I hate footnotes. I dislike them on the bottom of the page, I dislike them on the side of the page, and I certainly dislike them at the end of the chapter or text. One of my middle school teachers marked out a parenthetical comment I placed in a research paper and wrote “why include it if it’s not worth writing directly in the paper?” I have to agree. At least, I did, until I began to think about different types of footnotes.

The first type I define as “citational” footnotes. This style includes source citations mainly used in historical papers. These do not bother me because they are not necessarily directly relevant to the reading. They take up space but little more.

The second type of citations I define as “informational” footnotes. These footnotes, designed to add slightly irrelevant or out of place information, are the ones Mrs. Horowitz seems to be mostly discussing in her article. She gives the example of the following:

I included [an] anecdote in my book about dog cognition, to open a chapter on domestication. I had … learned that raisins — and grapes — “are now suspected of being toxic to some dogs, even in small amounts (though the mechanism of toxicity is unknown) — leading me to wonder whether Pump [her dog] was instinctively averse to raisins,” as I added in a footnote.

This is the style that really bothers me. If it is not relevant enough to be placed directly in the text then it sound not be included. It completely disrupts the reading flow and often causes me to lose my train of thought.

A third type of footnotes, what I call “textual” footnotes, include comments that are not actually note side bar comments but rather integral parts of the text itself. I can see a potential disagreement brewing with Horowitz over this category’s existence but I strongly believe there exists a fine line between this and my second category. I offer up two texts as examples of this.

First, 2008 The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. In this novel, the text is divided into the main narrative and a secondary sub-narrative that exists only within footnotes, which are sometimes quite extensive. On the second page of the novel, for instance, the footnote to the sentence “Our then dictator-for-life Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina” takes up the entire bottom halves of both the second page and the third. These footnotes at first seem to be informational notes regarding the history of the Dominican Republic, one of the settings of the novel, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that they are functioning on a different metatextual level. By subjugating the text to the main one, it becomes a comment that the characters lives are constantly being influenced by forces far outside of their immediate life story. In a way, the footnote story exposes the lines of the self that Virginia Woolf propose flow out of everyone in Mrs. Dalloway.

Similarly, Jonathan Swift’s The Tale of a Tub also utilizes extreme footnoting in a metatextual manner. During the late 1600s, the period this piece was published, the author as a profession was on the rise. Men could suddenly earn a living simply by their quill. This, as expected, lead to the rise of both “good” and “bad,” or “hack,” authors. Swift, considering himself a member of the quality writers publishedThe Tale of a Tub as a means of criticizing the hack writers. The main way in which he does this is through incredibly lengthy footnote commentary on almost every aspect of the novel. The dedication, for example, is only a single sentence, but it is given four pages of footnotes explaining the reasons for the dedication and the author’s hopes behind it. These is a tongue in cheek way of pointing out substandard writers focused on irrelevant details with atrocious writing.

After considering the works of Diaz and Swift, I must say I am a little more worried about the death of footnotes. While I would not be upset to see informational footnotes disappear, I believe the lose of textual footnotes, which would inevitably occur together, would be a major blow to literature. Textual footnotes have been in constant usage for over 300 years and they provide a different style of commentary different than anything else in a book. They become a great example of the attributes of a physical novel, rather than the separate ungrounded text philosophized by the New Critics, that play a major role in the reading experience and interpretation.

Sources:

1) Horowitz, Alexandra. “Will the E-Book Kill the Footnote?” The New York Times 7 Oct. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

2) Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007. Print.

3) Swift, Jonathan. The Tale of a Tub. Web.

 

Tracing the Rise of Literature in England

The late 1700s to the 1800s marks the period of greatest change in the book industry. Early manuscripts and printed books were prohibitively expensive meaning that only the wealthiest members of the population could afford to own even a single book, a notion almost unfathomable by a modern reader. A few great houses began to grow libraries around the 1500s but libraries in wealthy households did not really begin to grow in a widespread manner until the end of the 1600s when book production prices began to fall (1). However, even with the new, more economical book production methods (“smaller type, smaller formats, and therefore less paper” (1)), the middle class and certainly the lower classes found books to be out of their reach.

It seems logical that newer, faster technology would have been the catalyst for the explosion of bookmaking and literature consumption in the late 1700s, but James Raven in his article “The book as a commodity” finds that the invention of mechanized papermaking machinery (the fourdrinier machine)  and the steam powered press in the early 1800s “did not introduce, but further extended the commercial revolution in the book and print trade” (2) In fact, “even in the age of manual printing press certain critical turning-points can be identified – most notably perhaps, the 1680s and 1690s, the 1740s, and the 1770s when particular entrepreneurship, syndicate regime change and new commercial strategies are clearly observable” (2). Mechanization, in essence, only added fuel to the fire.

Publishing rates sharply increased leading to a wider publication of material types. “Triple-deckers” and “yellowbacks,” terms for publishing styles, came onto the scene in the mid 1800s. Suddenly, written material became accessible to a many more segments of the population. People could subscribe to traveling libraries (i.e. Moody’s) rather than purchase the material themselves. Simon Eliot and Andrew Nash point out “newspapers, journals, and magazines could publish belles-lettres, poetry, drama and fiction in the form of short stories and serialized novels” (3). The advent of such types of publication were made possible by the decrease in the cost of paper and helped increase access (1).

Literature became commonplace and the business of publishing settled into a form recognizable by modern members of the industry. The notion of the author as a recognizable figure came into play; before this time one generally could not sustain a living on writing alone. A change that certainly played back into furthering the fast paced expansion.

 

(1) Leedham-Green, Elisabeth, and David McKitterick. “Ownership: private and public libraries.” The Cambridge history of the book in Britain. IV. VI. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 323–38. Print.

(2) Raven, James. “The book as a commodity.” The Cambridge history of the book in Britain. V. VI. Cambridge (GB); New York (N.Y.); Mebourne [etc.]: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 323–38. Print.

(3) Eliot, Simon, and Andrew Nash. “Mass Markets: Literature.” The Cambridge history of the book in Britain. IV. VI. Cambridge (GB); New York (N.Y.); Mebourne [etc.]: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 323–38. Print.

Conception of Modern Libraries from Changes in 16th and 17th Century England

What is a library, exactly? What purpose does it serve? Modern readers, this one included, would generally argue a library is a facility in which to deposit books in a way that facilitates reading and/or preservation. Not all libraries are created with the same purpose at heart. For example, Hampden-Sydney’s Bortz Library’s webpage states is collections purpose to be geared “to support the College’s curriculum, the strengths of the collection include American history and English literature” (Source). The Library of Congress, on the other hand, gives its purpose to be “support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people” (Source). Both libraries serve the needs of their patrons by designing the collections around a specific purpose and also house these collections in specific places. This concept of compiling collections for a purpose other than to hold the physical book (rather than the subject matter of the book) in such a place and manner stems from book culture changes in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Elizabeth Leedham-Green and David McKitterick open their article “Ownership: private and public libraries” by explaining “the history of libraries between the mid-sixteenth century and the end of the seventeenth is one not simply of expansion and multiplication, but of changes in the relationships between readers and the book trade, in the ways books were organized, and in the values placed upon them by institutions or individuals.” While the printing press was invented in the 1400s, the price of books remained extremely high well into the 16th century. Only wealthy families would be able to afford a book. At first, a household would general only have a few volumes, however, “by the end of the [16th] century, few great houses [in England] were without a library.” These new libraries were fueled by “the proliferation of genres in British seventeenth-century publishing.” But this library was not the room or rooms of books seen in the libraries of today, but rather simply the collection of books themselves. As Leedham-Green and McKitterick point out: “for much of the seventeenth century it was still quite usual, even in great houses, for books as items of relative rarity to be kept in closets and indeed in chests.” At the same time, communal libraries were beginning to spring up, though their usage was mainly intended for clergy.

These communal, institutions began to decline with the changes in book printing that arrived at the end of the 17th century; “thanks to the tendency of books generally to be printed more economically, using smaller type, smaller formats, and therefore less paper; but the fact that books could be bought ore cheaply meant a greater emphasis on private ownership, to the neglect of many of the older libraries.” But around the same time, the government acknowledged the need for a national collection of books with the passage of the first Licensing Act of 1662, which “included the obligation for stations to deposit copies of all new publications in the royal library, the Bodleian, and Cambridge University Library.” The passage of this law, the building of multi-volume libraries, and cheaply printed books  signifies the arrival of the more modern notion of the book as important more because of its content than its physicality, meaning illuminations, bindings, &c.

Source (other than hyperlinked webpages):

Leedham-Green, Elisabeth, and David McKitterick. “Ownership: private and public libraries.” The Cambridge history of the book in Britain. IV. VI. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 323–38. Print.

We Few, We Happy Few

With my college career winding down, rather quickly I might add, i have not really looked back upon my time here. I think there is no question amongst students that attend Hampden-Sydney College, that this place is special. Besides forming good men and good citizens since 1775, it does more. It changes people. the change I am talking about doesn’t come from the change of my wardrobe over the past four years, which my mother is a fan of. The change I am talking about is the change in the person. Our first night here as a student is spent in a old hot church (well due to the size of freshman classes, the church is no longer used) signing the Honor Code. Just before you stand up to write it, you are told, “Look to your left, and look to your right. One of these students will not be here in four years.” Annnnd welcome to college. Not only is this place special because of the rich history, but because it hard to graduate. When you leave here, you are in a “club” so to speak. It is a challenge here, to do well in school, to participate around campus, or to be on a varsity sports team. Much is expected from a Hampden-Sydney man.

Which is where i reflex to most. The expectations of a student here is insane. For example, once you get all of your Western Culture papers, and your Rhetoric papers out of the way after the first two years, we few (we happy few) English majors, have another two years of writing to go. A eight page paper might be due on the same day a six page paper is due. How does one priorities one paper over the other? When would you start trying to tackle one, but not the other? The English Department here has taught us this. It has taught us how to express our own voice in our writing. How to use the tone of your prose to establish your point.

This class has been no exception. The things we have looked at this semester, have been unbelievable. To making our very own paper, and marbling, to examining four thousand year old tablets, it has all been a great way to end a career. Knowing that, by age 23, and a college graduate, that I have produced a book, is something that I would have never have thought freshman year.  I believe this class should be requirement for all English majors at Hampden-Sydney, because it culminates everything that we have looked at, produced, and talked about for the past four years. English majors have a hard road ahead of them once they commit to a major, but looking back on it, I wouldnt have wanted it any other way.

To Read or Not to Read: My Personal Battle with My Laptop

During winter break of my junior year in college, I was slowly going insane. Very few of my friends were home and I neglected—for better or for worse—to get a seasonal job, such as selling Christmas trees. I was just plain bored. My sister has always been a pretty efficient reader, and by efficient I mean that she always has her eyes glued to some new book that I usually haven’t heard of. Not to say that I don’t consider myself an avid reader, but she probably has me beaten in this arena. Towards the end of the break, I came across a book in the living room that she had recently put down and immediately recognized it, due its popularity in mainstream—mostly pre-teen girl—popularity: The Hunger Games. “Hm”, I thought, “might as well give it a try”. 5 hours later I sat in the same place in which I had originally picked up the book, reeling from what I had just devoured. The writing was mediocre, the characters lacked any true depth, but the story was like a drug, impossible to put down.

I remembered that I heard something about the book being part of a trilogy and so asked my sister if she had the next two books. “No”, she said, “I didn’t want to buy them”. Now, I am in a tight spot. I don’t really want to spend any money on fiction that is really meant for someone ten years younger than me, but it was wildly addicting. “John (the guy living with my family at the time) has the second two books in digital format on his computer if that helps”, my sister chimes in, interrupting my internal battle. Ten minutes later I had uploaded both files onto my computer and started reading, hardly stopping for anything, though as I continued to read, something just didn’t feel right. Between having to balance a hot laptop on my thighs as I got into my usual—comfortable—reading position and the backlit screen, I realized how much of what I believed to be the “reading process” was being extinguished. I mean, the text in the file was formatted in a way that the spaces between the lines hardly existed and there were no paragraph breaks, just solid, continuous prose. Needless to say, I was severely changing the way that I was used to reading. I wasn’t able to pay attention to every line because they were stacked on top of each other and I was hardly retaining any of the story. I felt like a zombie, staring at a screen, attempting to read. By the middle of the third book, I could hardly read another chapter (I’m rather surprised the file even had chapter breaks). The extreme augmentation of the book form had caused me to hit a metaphorical brick wall, and it took a week or two of pause in order to finish the book.

            Thought I didn’t think much of it at the time, this example flooded back into my mind this semester as we discussed the differences between electronic and print literature. As I thought about this event with a new set of glasses, if you will, I realized how important the formatting of the story was to me. The simplest formatting issues, such as the ones I outlined above, truly do make a difference in how at least I process textual information. Resting an aluminum laptop on my knee couldn’t have been any more different than holding a paperback in one hand, the front cover folded flush with the back one, curled up on my living room couch.  Z

Now I Know Why Artists Starve.

The creation of this book awakens in me a deep and violent interest that surmounts my work, my schedule, and my life. I am sneaking into corners, ignoring homework, and losing sleep. I am taking time to write, cut, paste, obsess, and format; assemble the thousand pieces. I cannot stop thinking about it. Font, type, keys, connection, interconnection all march through my thoughts in every class. I am becoming attached to my computer, unwittingly falling into the technology era. Scan, photocopy, rip, upload, crop, insert, and print on nice paper. Save draft, republish online. And so much faster than a vatman can produce. I am learning to craft the modern book, the blog, the ebook. I am becoming familiar with the writing bender. If my desktop were not digital, it would stack to volumes. The digital age is redoubling the effects of the 19th century print explosion and I am falling romantically in love with the art and craft and spirit that I find in modern ‘authorship’.

My first taste of this obsessive and consuming joy came in the book school with the Vandercook press. I could have stood motionless for hours on end staring at and memorizing the little holes that the type goes in. I found myself begging to see the box with all the sour type, though I cannot remember its name. I wanted to sort, to memorize, to hunt and peck; I wanted to learn to type. Before me stood the literature of the ages, but someone had dropped the pie.

I was ready to take residence behind the press and mop floors. I would have booked miles running coffee to the busy bibliotorium curators. The power of the art and craft stunned me to giddiness, inspired me, but I do not know why. I had no reason to feel so compelled, not logically anyway. It was not food, water, or sex. It just possessed me. I cannot do anything but wield the force; let us just hope that I do not become a hack.

And so now I write a book about this coming of interest, this class, this new vision.
But concerning this overflow of artist desire: of late it had consumed my mind and found outlet in my book. I was losing myself in its complexity and scope; it was a compendium of all things authorship. I crammed one of every technique that I could remember into the pages and began an epic series. I stretched the basic word processor to its limits, using every tool that I could figure out. I created shape and form and words. It was a collage from childhood. I was crafting amok. But luckily, Dr. McClintock caught wind of this fever and gave me crucial advice. Put it in another book. And so due to this sage wisdom, I have a mountain of work that will not appear in the cover, but will begin my artist’s palette.

So, forgive me for gushing though, as I do consider this weak to post as my final blog post. But due to the nature and requirement of the assignment, I am saving my final comments on authorship for the book. As writers have often tailored their writings to economy, I too am tailoring mine in response to a resource demand. So those caring to see my thoughts on Wilde, the Hipnerotomachia Poliphili, and the reader’s concept of author should ask to borrow my book when it gets back to the lending library; but the list of readers ahead of you is already quite long.

In Memoria.

For my last required blog posting, I would like to look back on the semester to all of the things we did as a class and all of the exciting new things I learned personally. We have covered a whole “heckofalotta” history on the book and the topic of authorship in general. Some of the questions we raised in class were about concepts I had never even considered, such as “the quality of paper and how does it affect the overall meaning of the book itself?” Before starting the class this semester, I knew how to decipher poetry, look for symbolism, perform a detailed close-reading, etc. But, I never thought about the physical aspects of a text and how much they contributed to my understanding of what I was reading. So now I would like to take this time to refresh everyone’s memory on what we have accomplished this semester and how this class has reconstructed the way I interpret literature.

1.) Papermaking: The creation of handmade paper was something I knew absolutely nothing about before entering the class. I have always just kind of taken paper for granted as it has always been available to me, but now that I know how much effort and skill goes into handmade paper, I most definitely see it in a whole new light. The amount of labor that went into making paper before the advent of modern technology is incredible. From cutting up piles upon piles of soiled rags to getting everyone at the paper mill to come help press the water out of the pile, it is amazing paper was even made in the first place! A huge amount of labor was needed to produce a simple sheet of paper. Now that I am aware of all the hard work that went into crafting paper and the differences between a quality sheet and one that was cheaply made, I can appreciate the importance of a handmade page in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, for instance. I find myself looking for chain lines and water marks whenever I pick up an old book… But hey, I’m not complaining.

2.) Marbling: Although we didn’t spend much time on marbling paper it was still pretty awesome to have the opportunity to try our hand at the process. Like paper making, marbling is truly an art that takes practice and patience. Our paper turned out pretty righteous (the slang meaning of the term) in my opinion, even though most likely we would have been kicked out of apprentice school on the first day. Also, meeting Dr. McClintock for the first time was a great experience. The work he has done with marbling, box-making (the Valentine’s day gifts), typeface (he has a typeface modeled after his own handwriting), and publication in general is simply amazing. Dr. McClintock is the man.

3.) Typography: This was the area of the class that really peaked my interest. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time on the topic but we did touch on some very interesting points. Typography has always been a fascinating subject for me. Having the opportunity to set type by hand and print a page on a Vandercook proofing press was like a dream come true. I could have spent days in the basement of Alderman Library setting whole pages of text. The digital resources on typography like the Typography Insight app, “What Type Are You?” online quiz, and even the Arial vs. Helvetica game on the iPad were all very helpful. It was fun to look at the different Kafka title pages and make a decision if the typeface fit the text at all. I didn’t think any of them did but that’s just my opinion… Although we didn’t spend much time on typography, the class helped better open my eyes to the field and solidified my interest in type. I took my interest in type even farther outside of the classroom in my spare time watching documentaries on type (I highly recommend the film Helvetica), researching and reading on the histories of particular typefaces (some type creators are VERY VERY odd), and maybe even pursuing a job in the field of printing or typography. I am in no way trying to sound like an overachiever, I just wanted to tell you all how the class helped establish my interest in typography. Loving type is not all fun and games as I have found out. When I am out and about in town or driving, I find myself constantly looking at signs and text trying to determine if I recognize what particular type is being used. Just last weekend when I was in Richmond with my lady friend, I made sure that she was aware of six different stores that used Helvetica in their logo… Though there are many more than six! Finally she just told me to stop and now I just keep my typographic observances to myself. It is really amazing how much text and type is around us at every moment of everyday that we just overlook. Millions of dollars can be spent designing or choosing one typeface for one particular use and most of the time the public is blissfully unaware of this. A typeface that is perfectly suited to a certain text has the uncanny ability to almost subliminally transmit a chosen message to a reader, without the reader having to digest the words. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true for typeface as well. Each printed letter is a tiny work of art, pushing the meaning of the text even further. Harmony in literature exists only when text and type fit seamlessly together on the page. Ok, now I realize i’ve gotten into some strange form of “typographic philosophy” so i’ll just go ahead and stop. But heres a link to a rad book about the philosophy of typography priced at a cool $18.21! Order yours today! You can see why my girlfriend and/or anyone I talk to about type just wants me to shut up… Whatever, I do just fine talking to myself. I’ll just end this section with a small (or maybe not so small?) thought: typography is one of the unsung heroes that keeps this world turning.

4.) Books in general: We have learned so much about the book this semester that it is hard to review everything in one blogpost, I don’t have the time for that right now. As Howard from The Legend of Old Gregg would say: “I’m a man about town!” Anyway, the small random facts that I have carried away from the class are quite possibly my favorite souvenirs. It is crazy to think that medieval bookmakers would reuse manuscripts and glaze them into cover boards for other books. Think about all the calligraphy, text, and quality handmade paper that is sitting, hidden behind vellum in museums all over the world. In fact, I found an example of this technique in Hampden-Sydney’s own Bortz Library. As I was typing this post, I glanced over to one of the stacks to my right and noticed a book with a nice embossed spine and cover. What really caught my eye was the portion of spine that was missing it’s outer layer. On the spine, under the cover material, is a strip of printed paper glued to the cloth that holds the gathering together. The paper appears to be a fragment of what was once a list of books available at Henry Bohn’s Classical Library. It seems the practice of reusing printed paper in other areas of bookmaking did not die out in medieval times. Imagine if the slip of paper beneath the cover was autographed by Dickens or Wilde and accidentally got tossed into a scrap pile. The binder may have overlooked the signature and glued it into the book without scrutiny. The signature might have lay hidden for 160 years until a curious english major noticed some faded handwriting behind the torn spine covering. If that was the case I most certainly would have pulled an Indiana Jones/Lewis Bell move and pocketed that baby in the blink-of-an-eye! Another very interesting thing I noticed about this particular book is that it appears to have NEVER been fully read cover to cover. Almost every page in the book, after page 89, is still uncut from when it was folded and bound; it also has never been checked out by anyone at H-SC as the library “date due” card is blank. The book was printed by Cox (Brothers) and Wyman and published by Henry G. Bohn of York Street, London in 1852 and since then, not one soul cared to read The Odes of Pindar, Literally Translated into English Prose past page 89… With the knowledge I have gained in the authorship class, I can look at any old book and begin to uncover the history behind its physical existence. This may be boring and unimportant to some people but I think it’s pretty badass.

The main purpose of this blogpost was not to simply explain everything I have taken away from the authorship class. Rather, I wanted to briefly tell you all how the class has influenced the way I interpret literature, not just on a textual level but on physical and historical levels as well. I am able to apply my knowledge not just to a final paper or project, but to things outside the classroom. Applicable knowledge is the most invaluable kind and that is precisely what we have gained from what I like to call the “experience” of English 360: Gutenburg to Google. We students are in no way experts on any of the topics we covered this semester but I believe the class has given us a leg-up against english majors and scholars that may have never focused on the question of authorship or the physical aspects of the book. Too many people regard the subjects of english and literature as simply an attempt to draw meaning from words on a page. The truth of the matter is that authorship, books, and the written word (i’m grouping very broadly here) goes far beyond merely uncovering textual meaning. Literature encompasses every facet of life and without the book, the human race might have never made it this far.

Post Script: Thank you to everyone in the Authorship class for a great experience this semester and to Dr. Davis who brought English 360: Gutenburg to Google into existence. Fin, for now…

 

 

Persuasion

A recent study conducted by Ivan Hernandez and Jesse Lee Preston at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has concluded that a difficult writing piece – in terms of deciphering the characters on the page – can be used to reduce bias. The study’s resulting paper, titled “Disfluency disrupts the confirmation bias,” concludes “difficultly in processing (disfluency) can reduce the confirmation bias by promoting careful, analytic processing.” In other words, the slower a reader is forced to read an opinionated piece, the more time he/she will have to rationally think through ideas presented and not simply jump into the safe harbor of predisposed ideas.

The implications of this discovery on the world of authorship are, in my mind, two fold. First, typeface becomes even more important. Modern marketing practices have long called for branding guidelines. These are, generally, a set of rules applied to a company’s publications that dictate the typeface, size, color, format, &c. The effect is a unified presentation for the customer that can have major impacts subliminally. For instance, think about the power of using the Disney typeface. Just seeing a word in those iconic letters calls forth a whole range of connotations for the consumer. Now, one must also wonder about clarity of the product. Those letters are impressive but how do they effect the reader’s confirmation bias? Should the movie be titled a different way? Should the internal memo be printed in Old English rather than Currier New? All of these questions, of course, are transferable to the printing industry. The aesthetics of the type can now be said to be extremely important in terms of projecting the author’s idea.

Another way I see this study impacting writers is in the length of a work. When composing a political piece, for example, perhaps the writer should focus on length. Following the findings of the study, a longer piece would give the reader time to reflect, hopefully analytically rather than with a gut reaction.

It would be an interesting experiment to empirically test the persuasiveness of different types of composition. Would a novel be more persuasive than a short story? While I do not know the answer, I do think greater emotional attachment is allowed by the longer forms of composition, which would be another way to over come confirmational bias.

For further reading on this subject: http://hbr.org/2012/03/hard-to-read-fonts-promote-better-recall/ar/1

 

My New Calling

Ever since I became old enough to have any real idea about what career path I wanted to take, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I have never been sure at which level or what subject or about any of the particulars, but I’ve known that teaching is what I want to do with the rest of my life. This has been the case for the past seven or so years. Not any more.

My biggest worry about becoming a teacher was the crippling underpayment and resulting poverty. Having a job you love is nice, but, if it doesn’t pay the bills, you are just wasting your time. I’m not saying that teachers do not make decent money, but I’d never be able to afford the essential things in life: picture-in-picture tv, whirlpool bath tubs, tailored suits, fancy toilets, monthly vacations, my own helicopter, assorted nuts, and the like. I just don’t see how people can live without these things!

Today, I found the solution problem! Maximus Decimus Meridius: art thief for hire. I was thrilled to learn that the, in reality, art theft is less like this:

So much planning and high tech and tuxedos!

And more like this:

“I’ve always wanted a Mona Lisa of my own, darling. Grab it for me!”

How could I have been so foolish?! As with most things, this problem is solved by the wise an powerful Harrison Ford, more specifically, Dr. Indiana Jones. Dr. Jones has long been the role model for all young men who aspire to be half college professor and half rock star. I mean, look at this guy!

He’s a freaking archaeology professor! Most professors that I know have a hard enough time getting students to come in and have a ten minute conversation about their grades. Dr. Jones has a mob of students outside his office! This is despite the fact that he barely has time to do any teaching at all! Why not? Because he’s busy stealing art and punching Nazis! The man is a known thief! Yes, he steals from bad people, but he’s still a thief and EVERYONE knows it! Not only do they know it, they love him for it! There’s just one thing he does wrong.

Dr. Jones is working for the wrong side! He risks his life several times for “priceless” artifacts then he just GIVES them away! Which is understandable. Jones has family money. He can afford to give away things that people would pay millions of dollars for. However, I do not have that luxury. Dr. Jones was both a respected professor and a thief. I’ll be happy with being a respected professor. I don’t need people to know that I’m a master thief. I’d be a hired thief. And, since stealing from museums and private collectors is far easier than stealing from the Nazis, I wont be risking my life on a regular basis!

It’s all coming together so perfectly in my mind. I’ll get a teaching position at a college. I won’t be a big shot, but I’ll be good enough to be a value to the college. All the while, I’ll be accepting bids from wealthy art collectors and, in between grading papers and publishing research, stealing works of art and antiquities. I’ll pull like one or two jobs a year and I’ll be able to live high on the hog. I’ll be the Dr. Jones of a new generation. Except that I’ll wear less noticeable clothing. I might keep the whip though…..

In Defense of the Dingbat

What is it about a finely printed book that makes it a cut above the rest? Is it the quality of the paper? Is it the impeccable type? Or is it something else entirely? In my opinion, the mark of a beautifully printed book is the dingbat. You might ask, what exactly is a dingbat? A dingbat, or printer’s ornament is a character that is not a letter or number that adorns the page of a book. However, more than just serving as a way to liven up an otherwise dull page, I believe the printer’s ornament actually enriches the texts that they accompany.

My personal love affair with the book ornament first began when I was a pretty young, reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Every hundred pages or so, I would look at the bottom of the page and find three stars. I never knew why these stars were on the page or what purpose they served, and I still don’t really know why they were placed where they were. However, they for some reason made me happy, and I made it my task to keep reading to get to the next set of stars. Looking back, it seems that these pieces of text did a great service to the book in a couple of ways. First, that they made me want to keep reading, even more than I already did, and second they seemed to add a touch of whimsical flair that fit perfectly with the subject matter of the book itself.

To me, the beauty of the printer’s ornament comes from the fact that it is a piece of decoration that makes a text more aesthetically pleasing without drawing one’s attention away from the text on the page. Once again, thinking back to my childhood, and probably yours as well, it was always the picture books that seemed to make for the best read. In this way, the dingbat seems to be the grown-up version of a picture in a picture book. It is stimulating to the brain, while remaining subtle enough not to detract from the text itself. I will, however, I take my praise of the dingbat a step further. I believe a book with dingbats is inherently more interesting than a book without. You might ask, how can I justify this statement? After all, ornaments do nothing to enhance the writer’s skill at plot development, and they certainly do not help with diction or syntax. Though, I cannot really say for sure, I have a theory: It seems to me that these pieces of paratext put readers into an aesthetic state. In other words, these tiny, seemingly inconsequential images on the page, act as an appetizer, so to speak, creating an appetite for the mind so that it can properly enjoy the main text of the piece of literature. So, to return to my earlier example of Harry Potter; the tiny stars at the bottom of the page not only made me want to keep reading while adding a touch of flair to the page,  they more importantly put my mind into an imaginative, aesthetically receptive state that made the process of digesting the text that much easier.

If my theory about the importance of the dingbat is true, then it seems to have some pretty clear implications for the print industry. If printers produce aesthetically-pleasing dingbat-heavy books, then readers will have a better, more enriched reading experience.

Getting Publishing on Twitter?

What exactly constitutes “getting published?” Since the advent of the modern printing society in the 18th century, authors are considered to have been published when a printer prints the work into some sort of physical book form. This processes has almost always had a system of checks and balances of sorts. First are the gatekeepers, be it editors or the printers themselves, someone screens the work and makes a decision if it should be moved to publication or not. Second is money. Publishing a work is expensive so works are filtered by those who are able to pay (be it by commission or otherwise). The existence of the system has necessarily meant a large population of voices are not being heard. One may point out that this group is made up of most “bad” writers, but who can really say for sure the next Shakespeare has not been overlooked?

The technology revolution has, of course, removed many of the stop gaps in some aspects of mass production.  In order to make a composition widely available, a person now only has to post to a blog or update a twitter status. I am hesitant to use the work publishing here because a person posting a work on a blog seems, at least in my mind, to be inherently different from a person have a work types, printed, and distributed to the masses by, say, Penguin. But, there is a group that would like to differ.

The very first Twitter Fan Fiction Festival will be occurring this November. It is designed to “feature creative experiments in storytelling from authors around the world.” Is this actually store telling? Are these people authors? And the biggest question that comes to mind, festival implies a sort of legitimacy that is generally reserved for publication.

Cnet’s article highlighting the announcement of the festival points towards a collection of Mad Men fan twitter accounts as examples of this fiction. In a nutshell, AMC administrators did not reserve the twitter names for the main characters of their critically acclaimed television series, so a few fans snapped them up and began posting. The fans simply twit statements they imagine their character would say in television real life. For instance, poor Betty Draper (Forgive me, Betty Francis) has gained a bit of weight since her divorce. Her fan twitter account makes a few casual remarks about clothes not fitting, &c. Fun as this is for a devoted Mad Men fan, I still don’t see this is fiction. The characters are not drawing a new plot line but simply coloring in the lines already drawn by the series writers. This is not fiction in the same way a child’s picture from a coloring book is not art, per say.

All in all, I feel twitter can be a fun place to express a small idea or create a fake persona, but this is not a medium that is worthy of a festival. Perhaps a small booth at a fair but nothing as legitimate.

The Rhetoric of a Dictionary

 

 

 

After reading the preface to Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, and exploring Johnson’s skillful definitions and the corrections to the dictionary of Dr. Brinkley, I have to accept that no dictionary can be perfect. And this acceptance leads me to the disCmal pit of redefining my understanding. I have been deconstructed. Now I have to pick up the pieces of my broken perception and put them back together.

Johnson’s Dictionary shatters my perspective of the grammatical world. Johnson teaches me not only that writing a dictionary is not an exact process, but also that it cannot be an exact process. I know that language is slippery, mutable, and evolving, but I have never realized that it could be so transitory so quickly.

The Apocalypse is nigh! I thought that dictionaries had real answers; I thought that they had been solidified beyond corruption. Adding words is fine. New words always change the structure of a dictionary sure, but to know that the current definitions are fallable is a crisis. I assume language to be something that it is not. And the evidence has been right in front of me since the first day of Authorship class. The rare books have been telling me of this transience all along, but I could not read it. Even though some of these books are four and five hundred years old, their age is young compared to the life of a language, and look how much the language has shifted in so short a time.

Even with the utmost diligence, Johnson was unable to complete his dictionary; even as he defined terms in his early years of composition, these same terms would morph, requiring a redefinition before publication; several successive volumes were produced within the book’s first decade. Verbal language shifts so quickly that solidifying meaning, much less spelling, becomes a monumental challenge, and Johnson reveals in his preface how difficult the process is.

Johnson set out to congeal the shifting factors of the English Language, though he knew they could never be solidified; he attempted to slow what he termed the natural degradation of language. Johnson painstakingly constructed each entry with multiple forms of definition to bolster each history and provide each a comprehensive analysis. His definitions are explained through pronunciation, etymology, spelling, and grammatical function. The entries are also followed by contextual sentences of dead famous authors (so as to negate accusations of pandering). But in congealing the English language into its first major dictionary, Johnson also changed the language. He single-handedly, probably with his pen hand, authored widely read definitions. In standardizing the language to suit the needs of an evolving print culture, he influenced directly the way that his readers interpret the language. Johnson’s method was of his own design, and so his own interpretation informed the readers of his dictionary.

So, I will now suppose that a dictionary is always the product of interpretation. For if no dictionary can be correct by design, owing to the undulations of linguistic evolution, then the users of language, and subsequently the users of a dictionary, must be the authority of correctness—especially if my last post be believed. For, if readers had rejected Johnson’s dictionary, then it would not still be a resource today. Even the dictionaries of the academies mentioned in Johnson’s preface, and even the Oxford English Dictionary today, are interpretations and are subject to the readership and speakers for censure and acceptance. So, society validates the dictionary, as it validates any written work. And this statement opens a polemical opportunity.

If Johnson could shift the language single-handedly, again probably with his pen hand, then another can conceivably achieve the same feet. If there were a dictionary written by an individual that reached esteem, regardless that it was written by one as opposed to many, and it influenced a sufficient number of people, and then continued to do so, then that author’s interpretation could sway public opinion, public usage; though, this sway may take a generation or two. Johnson’s dictionary was influencing people long after his death, and obviously still is. In this way, the dictionary can be viewed as a very slow acting rhetorical device.

The books currently on my desk, among others, are the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, the Bantam New College Latin and English Dictionary, as well as the same book for the Spanish conversion, Cassell’s Spanish and English Dictionary, The Webster’s New World Dictionary, The Webster’s American English Dictionary, and The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary. I see also The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus, The Webster’s New World Thesaurus, and The Webster’s American English Thesaurus. Sandwiched neatly at the end of this row are two Bedford Handbooks, of differing editions, and a copy of The Little, Brown Handbook, an equal grammar handbook to the Bedford. Reading Johnson, I recognize that I have been unconsciously assuming that each of these books has solid answers. They do have answers, to a certain extent, but I have never before Johnson realized that I had placed so much stock in an infinitely shifting set of definitions. I am watching interpretations of meaning shift as readily as a language shifts, and when I view my pile, I see now argument where I used to see agreement. The nature of the dictionary has changed for me. My dictionaries take on new life now; they breathe and seethe with imperfections only to be ironed out by use. Descriptive and perscriptive, to me, have become persuasive.