The link below is to an article that asks ‘why people aren’t reading books anymore?’ It also briefly comments on other survey findings, which seem largely irrelevant to the main question of the article.
The link below is to an opinion piece/article that looks at ebook reading and privacy settings – worth a read and consideration.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the ebook revolution.
Books are always transforming. The book we hold today has arrived through a number of materials (clay, papyrus, parchment, paper, pixels) and forms (tablet, scroll, codex, kindle).
The book can be a tool for communication, reading, entertainment, or learning; an object and a status symbol.
The most recent shift, from print media to digital technology, began around the middle of the 20th century. It culminated in two of the most ambitious projects in the history of the book (at least if we believe the corporate hype): the mass-digitisation of books by Google and the mass-distribution of electronic books by Amazon.
The survival of bookshops and flourishing of libraries (in real life) defies predictions that the “end of the book” is near. But even the most militant bibliophile will acknowledge how digital technology has called the “idea” of the book into question, once again.
To explore the potential for human-machine collaboration in reading and writing, we built a machine that makes poetry from the pages of any printed book. Ultimately, this project attempts to imagine the future of the book itself.
A machine to read books
Our custom-coded reading-machine reads and interprets real book pages, to create a new “illuminated” book of poetry.
The reading-machine uses Computer Vision and Optical Character Recognition to identify the text on any open book placed under its dual cameras. It then uses Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing technology to “read” the text for meaning, in order to select a short poetic combination of words on the page which it saves by digitally erasing all other words on the page.
Armed with this generated verse, the reading-machine searches the internet for an image – often a doodle or meme, which someone has shared and which has been stored in Google Images – to illustrate the poem.
Once every page in the book has been read, interpreted, and illustrated, the system publishes the results using an online printing service. The resulting volume is then added to a growing archive we call The Library of Nonhuman Books.
From the moment our machine completes its reading until the delivery of the book, our automated-art-system proceeds algorithmically – from interpreting and illuminating the poems, to pagination, cover design and finally adding the endmatter. This is all done without human intervention. The algorithm can generate a seemingly infinite number of readings of any book.
The following poems were produced by the reading-machine from popular texts:
deep down men try there
he’s large naked she’s even
while facing anything.
from E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey
how parties popcorn
jukebox bathrooms depressed
shrug, yeah? all.
from Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction
Oh and her bedroom
bathroom brushing sending it
garter too face hell.
from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s
My algorithm, my muse
So what does all this have to do with the mass-digitisation of books?
Faced with growing resistance from authors and publishers concerned with Google’s management of copyright, the infoglomerate pivoted away from its primary goal of providing a free corpus of books (a kind of modern day Library of Alexandria) and towards a more modest index system used for searching inside the books Google had scanned. Google would now serve only short “snippets” of words highlighted on the original page.
Behind the scenes, Google had identified a different use for the texts. Millions of scanned books could be used in a field called Natural Language Processing. NLP allows computers to communicate with people using everyday language rather than code. The books originally scanned for humans were made available to machines for learning, and later imitating, human language.
Algorithmic processes like NLP and Machine Learning hold the promise (or threat) of deferring much of our everyday reading to machines. History has shown that once machines know how to do something, we generally leave them to it. The extent to which we do this will depend on how much we value reading.
If we continue to defer our reading (and writing) to machines, we might make literature with our artificially intelligent counterparts. What will poetry become, with an algorithm as our muse?
We already have clues to this: from the almost obligatory use of emojis or Japanese Kaomoji (顔文字) as visual shorthand for the emotional intent of our digital communication, to the layered meanings of internet memes, to the auto-generation of “fake news” stories. These are the image-word hybrids we find in post-literate social media.
To hide a leaf
Take the book, my friend, and read your eyes out, you will never find there what I find.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Spiritual Laws
Emerson’s challenge highlights the subjectivity we bring to reading. When we started working on the reading-machine we focused on discovering patterns of words within larger bodies of texts that have always been there, but have remained “hidden in plain sight”. Every attempt by the reading-machine generated new poems, all of them made from words that remained in their original positions on the pages of books.
The notion of a single book consisting of infinite readings is not new. We originally conceived our reading-machine as a way of making a mythical Book of Sand, described by Jorge Luis Borges in his 1975 parable.
Borges’ story is about the narrator’s encounter with an endless book which continuously recombines its words and images. Many have compared this impossible book to the internet of today. Our reading-machine, with the turn of each page of any physical book, calculates combinations of words on that page which, until that moment, have been seen, but not consciously perceived by the reader.
The title of our early version of the work was To Hide a Leaf. It was generated by chance when a prototype of the reading-machine was presented with a page from a book of Borges’ stories. The complete sentence from which the words were taken is:
Somewhere I recalled reading that the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest.
The latent verse our machine attempts to reveal in books also hides in plain sight, like a leaf in a forest; and the idea is also a play on a page being generally referred to as a “leaf of a book”.
Like the Book of Sand, perhaps all books can be seen as combinatorial machines. We believed we could write an algorithm that could unlock new meanings in existing books, using only the text within that book as the key.
Philosopher Boris Groys described the result of the mass-digitisation of the book as Words Without Grammar, suggesting clouds of disconnected words.
Our reading-machine, and the Library of Nonhuman Books it is generating, is an attempt to imagine the book to come after these clouds of “words without grammar”. We have found the results are sometimes comical, often nonsensical, occasionally infuriating and, every now and then, even poetic.
Warning: this piece features frequent coarse language that may offend some readers.
Since Adam Mansbuch’s 2011 bestseller, Go the Fuck to Sleep, book titles have been swearing profusely to grab audience attention. The author followed up on the winning formula with You Have to Fucking Eat and Fuck, Now There Are Two of You.
Book covers compete with a barrage of information and images, so it’s no wonder many writers resort to shock tactics. It works. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is testament to this, selling 2 million copies and translated into 25 languages. Without the “Fuck” this would very likely have been a different story.
In the English language, at least, fuck and other words on the more extreme end of profanity are the last frontier of using language to shock. In 2020, we find ourselves in a place of extremes so they come in quite handy.
But with so many fucks on book covers, where do writers go from here to express our fear, horror, rage and disgust?
Heard it all before
Eventually we become desensitised to the overuse of words. Shit, a taboo for older generations, is now so lacking as an obscenity it is written on the covers of notebooks and pencil cases available in stationery chain stores popular with schoolchildren, such as Typo.
According to a 2019 ABC study of 1,538 subjects, Australians are seeing and hearing more coarse language than they did five years ago, both in the media and in public.
“In line with this normalisation of coarse language, concerns relating to the use of coarse language in the media have diminished over time,” the study found. Of people studied, 38% were offended by coarse language on TV, radio or the internet in 2019, compared with 47% in 2011.
Tennis, one of the last bastions of politeness, does constant battle with players like Nick Kyrgios who rack up massive fines for dropping the F-bomb on the court.
Fines, like detention, seem to be on the train that has left the station when you consider reputable online booksellers currently carry almost a hundred books with fuck in the title. Most of these are self-help books, because we are, obviously, quite fucked and need help, and cookbooks, such as Yumi Stynes’ The Zero Fucks Cookbook. Kitchens seem to be a hotbed of fucks, a trend set some time ago by Gordon Ramsay.
Meaning and language are in a constant evolution and can act as a moral barometer. Expressing the fears and horrors of her times 200 years ago, author Mary Shelley created a “fiend”, formed through “unspeakable” horrors. Some initially derided the work as “disgusting”, but the extremes of her Frankenstein left an impact on literature and society of mythic proportions, without resorting to profanity or cheap tricks. She left the unspeakable to our imaginations, yet it broke boundaries and challenged our understanding of life and human nature.
In 1959, the unabridged edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published with several instances of fuck. The edition was banned. In 1963, fuck was included in the Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, triggering complaints to schools, libraries and the police.
Taboos and standards are forever in flux and younger generations always seek a boundary to break through. In our times of consumption and greed, we are eating our way through those boundaries at a great rate, along with as many of the Earth’s resources as we possibly can.
Several hundred book covers later, fuck is completely worn out.
Sure, there is still coarser language that will work for a few years until it also becomes a meme; until we wear it out as a book title or, perhaps, if we think too hard about what it means and how we might use it.
Language can only evolve creatively with a dynamic culture, deep education and critical practitioners of the literary arts, within and outside of the academy. Words are weapons; they are our way of making sense of life and without them we are unspeakable.
Language and how we use it really matters. It creates knowledge, culture and community. If we are to navigate our way through the future and avoid reaching a place of anarchy, we need a language for it.
Resorting to coarse language on book covers could be a symptom of society’s collective misery, but it could also be attributable to the starvation of the arts by government and a desperate need to grab readers’ attention. If literature loses the power to shock then it loses an important mode of engagement, according to postcritical theorist Rita Felski. It’s enough to make you want to swear and curse and scream. Unfortunately, as a word to save for extremes, we have really fucked up fuck.
Donna Mazza’s new novel has an f-word in the title but it’s Fauna.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at ebooks and libraries.
The link below is to an article that is worth considering in the library ebook lending controversy – for Amazon is probably the worst offender when it comes to this.
The links below are to articles reporting on the continuing controversy concerning ebook borrowing at libraries.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that takes a look at reading ebooks on the Microsoft Surface Duo and Neo.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the history of the ‘death of books.’