Thursday, March 1, 2012

The New Reading

Remember the hullabaloo about the New Math when it hit elementary schools?  I am just the age group who had to learn the New Math because that's what my kids were learning. Nobody then worried about the New Reading because reading was reading and how could it ever be anything else?

That was 40 years ago.  And, lo and behold! There is a New Reading, a whole new way to read using our old alphabet. Surprisingly, nobody's making a fuss over it, so far as I know.  I suspect it's that those who haven't been reading on eReaders, don't realize that the experience is vertical as much as horizontal.  Those who have eReaders, often don't reflect on what you can do with eBooks that you can't be do with paper books.

Well, I'm 77 years old, certainly eligible for the Old Fogy Cohort. I taught myself to read, my mother said, when I was 3 years old.  So, I've been reading--voraciously I may add--for 74 years, 73 of them on paper books.

For me, my re-education began, as so much does, with SIL, who got a Kindle 2 years ago. When asked her favorite electronic device, she named her Kindle.  Since I had introduced her to the iPhone, I was surprised.  She urged me to try the Kindle, especially since I had no room for books when traveling in my RV.  In fact, despite my floor to ceiling bookcases all over my house, I had problems finding space for new books.  Every time I bought a new one, I had to rearrange shelves, send some books to the Siberia of our attic, and, of course, dust every shelf and book.  I'm sure that part of my physical agility is owed to my physical book gymnastics. 

However, the Kindle drove me nutty. When you turned a page, you got an afterimage of the previous page.  SI.L told me to blink when I turned a page, but I couldn't get in sync with blinking and turning.  I know millions do. In fact, TRK, my erstwhile colleague and neighbor, who introduced me to a Kindle early on, snidely commented that I saw things other people don't.  That may well be true, but I saw what I saw and couldn't read that way.  The new Kindle Fire has eliminated that problem, but that's not the point here. I mention it only to be fair.  In any event, whether you liked it or not, those early eReaders were pretty much the old reading, but in a convenient package. 

When finally I broke down and got the first 7" color Tablet from Barnes and Noble, I was delighted.  Of course, SIL and I got into a running debate about our different readers.  Then, one day, she emailed me with "What I love about my eReader"  I agreed with them all. You can carry your whole library with you wherever you go, find your place instantly in a book, and the like.  Then came the Kindle Fire and the upgraded Nook Tablet.  Naturally, although we'd argued about which to buy, we ended up with different choices, and both loved what we got.

Then came the revelation.  You can do things with an eReader Tablet that you can't do with a physical books. First SIL ecstatically wrote me about reading memoirs of Arab women.  As she was reading, she googled the place names they mentioned, including streets, descriptions of the Souks, customs, Islamic beliefs, even the clothing that they  mentioned. She even found pictures of the men's outfits worn on special days. Of course, on a color tablet reader, the Kindle Fire, she saw vividly. (It was as vivid on the Nook Tablet).  I pointed out to her that she couldn't have done that with a physical book.  For one thing, she couldn't have googled.  Yes, she might have delved into encyclopedias or other reference books, or gotten up and gone to her computer to google things.  However, all this would interrupt the reading experience.  Instead, by placing her finger lightly on a word, she was given its definition and if she wanted more, she just lightly touched Google. When she finished reading about that item, she seamlessly returned to the text. 

I had a similar experience reading an Enhanced Edition of Kafka stories.  When Kafka mentioned a street, I was able to see instantly that street and how it looked in his day.  Similarly, important people he mentioned responded to a finger touch, explaining who they were and showing what they looked like.  I even saw the room Kafka wrote in.

Both SIL and I had discovered the joy of reading vertically as well as horizontally.  That is the greatest change in reading since Gutenberg.  SIL gives another example, one in which she found out far more than the author of the book had said.  We were both reading The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. Early on, he says that Joseph Banks went with Captain Cook to Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus, but he doesn't say why this was important.  Well, SIL doesn't let anybody off for not giving the whole story, so she Googled "Transit of Venus," and not only found out why it was so important, but also it will occur again in June 2012.

SIL and I discovered another bonus.  When I upgraded from the NOOKcolor Tablet to the Nook Tablet, since SIL wanted to read some of the books she knew I had, I sent her my NOOKcolor.  Naturally, it had on it, all of the books in my library.  I quipped, "In the olden days, we shared books. Now we can share libraries."  What was remarkable is that she discovered that in our combined libraries of over 300 books, we had only one in common. So, she sent me a Kindle registered to her so I could access her library, and she kept the Color registered to me so she could access mine.  In both  instances, any new books we bought, went on the Nook or Kindle, respectively. In other words, every addition to our libraries became immediately  accessible to each of us.  On both Kindle and Nook, you're allowed to have up to 6 people registered to your name, and every purchase goes automatically onto everyone who has the device.

There's yet another advantage to this.  On all eReaders that I'm familiar with, the reader can highlight and/or leave a note on any passage.  These are kept in the Table of Contents of each book under the tab "Highlights and Notes."  Touching on one takes you immediately to the correct spot. (You can choose not to have them display on another reader.)  Early in our joint readership, SIL made it clear that she expected my comments, and, in return, she would provide hers as well.

On the previously mentioned The Age of Wonder, a 600 page tome, we both commented as we were reading.  Then, SIL commented on many of my comments, so I commented on hers.  What is wonderful about this is that you see what pops into someone's mind as they read.  Yes, with physical books, you can read reviews, but these are quite different from the spontaneous thoughts that run through your mind as you are actively reading.  That you can't get from physical books, or you can't get them organized in the TOC as you do in eReading.  If I want to recall exactly what SIL thought about a certain phenomenon, all I have to do is go to the TOC, find the comment, and touch on it to go to the page it's on, That's quite different from trying to decipher handwritten notes on a paper page, much less trying to find the one you want.  And, the comments often give you new insights, which spur you on to new conclusions.

If two septuagenarians find themselves reading so differently, and with so much more depth, using eReaders, what about children who are used to vertical reading by the time they're  7  or 8?  How will they react to the classics in physical book form?  Will they accept reading in conventional texts on any topic?  I think not.  Schools will have a harder row to hoe with the New Reading than they did with the New Math.  Then again, if they adopt electronic reading devices, kids who would never have willingly read paper books, may well enjoy electronic ones.  There are even Vooks, books with embedded audio, animation, and video clips in the text. Of course these are also examples of vertical reading.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Have a laugh on me!

Gil got me on my last post, pointing out that I had misspelled both infinite and infinity--in a post about literacy.  Well, when I went over the post, I found several other apparent misspellings. Sorry, Gil, but they were typos.  Each one involved a missing i.  The computer I was using has a very stiff keyboard, and I type very rapidly,  Apparently, when I zipped though words, I didn't hit the i hard enough.

Don't get me wrong. I was still wrong for allowing those mistakes to get published.  Had I run spellchecker, I would have caught the errors.  Instead of the post I planned to do tonight, I corrected the offending one.  Anyways, thank you for pointing out the errors in that post.  I needed the comeuppance.

It's 1AM now. I'll try to write a very different post tomorrow, one on the new reading.  Reading as we know it, is changing--and, I think, for the better.  You may be appalled, but whatever stance you take, there is no getting around what is rapidly becoming fact: reading is becoming a very different experience from what it was even three years ago..