Tag Archives: e-books

Book Glutton: Two Thumbs Sideways

Ok, I’m finally getting back to talk about Book Glutton, and I’m probably not being fair to them since I actually finished Treasure Island more than three weeks ago. I’ve probably been delaying because it’s always easier to review or talk about something that you love or hate. Easier to get exercised and visceral when you want to damn things to perdition, or when you think we’ve arrived at A-MOMENT-OF-WORLD-HISTORICAL-REVOLUTION. Perhaps unfortunately for Book Glutton, it strikes me as neither world-historical or revolutionary. It is–in that damnably tepid turn of phrase–“OK.” Or as I sometimes say on my student’s papers: “Not Too Bad.” No wonder they hate me.

First what is Book Glutton? On the one hand it is just another of many online sites where one can get full-text versions of literary classics and not-so-classics, though they also promise to be a publishing venture for contemporary writers. The books are loaded into a reader in your computer browser. The reader is the approximate size of a typical paperback, and through several nifty features the reader gives human readers a lot of options that aren’t available either through other e-book services and readers or via traditional board and paper books. For one thing, I can join an online club reading the book I choose, and we can leave each other notes filled with our readerly wisdom. We can also communicate in real time via a chat window attached right to the reader window itself. Thus I can talk and read at the same time, something my children and my students seem to find unexceptional but which I still find somewhat like patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time.

I’ve been on record as having my doubts about e-books, so let me go on record first with what I liked or found interesting about the whole experience. The first thing to say is that reading the book itself was, well, surprising like reading anything else, at least insofar as the story itself was concerned. I liked the yellowish-white cast of reader’s pages since it looked a little bit like a slowly aging paperback, and it reduced eyestrain to boot. I also liked the page-like feel of the presentation itself. One problem with many online texts is something we might otherwise think would make them convenient, the scrolling itself. I’m not alone in finding the long lines and the unending page of text in a lot of online e-texts completely maddening. There is something comforting and rhythmic about completing 30-40 medium size lines of text and turning a page, the sense of completion somehow necessary to the process of going on. A little bit like  breathing in a swimming stroke.

Book Glutton accomplishes this in much the same way as dedicated ebook readers, recreating the approximate page size of a normal books such that I can attend to the text, complete it and move on. And for the most part, the story was still the story that I could read and absorb and be absorbed by just as I might any other novel. As I suggested in my last post on Treasure Island, I found the book great fun. As an academic, I found it thought provoking in ways no one else would probably care to find thought provoking. In other words, its being an e-book by itself didn’t do too much to alter my reading experience as such.

I think I would go so far as to say that there are a couple of features of Book Glutton’s presentation that I even liked better than traditional books. The scroll bar at the bottom of the page told me how much further I had to go in a particular chapter. Thus the reader has both the best features of a traditional book–page length chunks of prose–while also overcoming one of the few annoying features of traditional books. When I get bored with a book I’m reading, I’m given to flipping through pages to see just how many pages I have to the end of the chapter. It can be vaguely exasperating to flip and not find what I’m looking for, whereas Book Glutton let’s me know exactly how far I have to go, and I can determine whether it’s worth my time to just plow on through or give up for the day until I can get more interested.

I also have to say I liked the fact that at the click of a button I could enlarge the text so that my aging eyes could read just a little more easily.  The text automatically reorients while still retaining page length chunks of prose, just less prose per page.

Some features of Book Glutton hold a lot of promise, but didn’t work too well for me. I created a book club, but no one came. I invited the entire faculty of my college to join me. I think three people said they would, but I don’t think anyone actually read it. I had three anonymous online folks say they wanted to be part of the group, and I signed them up, but they were never on when I was reading, and I couldn’t find that they left me any nifty notes with pearls of wisdom.

Clearly Book Glutton requires a more hands on and somewhat fascist book group leader than I am. Someone who demand more participation. Maybe someone who would get everyone on board to be reading at the same time. Theoretically I can see an interesting place for this kind of thing. Studies show that people who read with groups or who at least are around other people who read are more likely to keep reading through their adult lives. This, in general, is a great service the web provides, connecting readers from around the world. Book Glutton is another take on this general principle, enabling real time participation in common reading. I could see this kind of thing as being really useful for secondary and even college classrooms, and especially for the task of getting kids interested in reading. In this age driven by buzz, it’s not the thing itself that is inherently cool, it’s the fact that everyone around you is in to it. So Book Glutton or similar services could be a route toward making books “the bomb” so to speak. But it just didn’t work out for me.

There were some negatives. I found lugging my computer around, booting it up, connecting to Book Glutton all just a little bit tiresome and inefficient. Why can’t I just open my books and start reading, I wondered. I also had the problem of connecting. I brought my laptop several places and tried to get connections while I was waiting around for something else to happen–a common time to spend reading. Problem is that Wifi isn’t everywhere, no matter what the TV commercials tell me.

The heating pad effect of my laptop lying on my capacious belly was also a bit unnerving. I’m not used to getting belly sweat from a novel.

As I suggested above, most of the reading experiences themselves were not terribly different from a regular novel, but I did find the lure of the internet a bit astonishing even for an incipient codger such as myself. In the normal course of reading a section of a book that started to bore me, I’d skim through until my interest picked up again. With BookGlutton, however, the ready availability of email or other texts was all but irresistable. Rather than skimming through the book, a way of sticking with it, I would abandon the book and go read my email for a half hour. At the end of which I couldn’t quite pick up the thread of the reading again.

Similarly, the chat mechanism is promising, but I also found it insidiously distracting.  I actually had a conversation online with one of the poohbah’s an BookGlutton.  A really nice and helpful guy who was very receptive to some of my suggestions.  Sorry, I can’t remember his name.  It was the only chat time I got during the whole experience, and I found after thirty seconds or so that i was more interested in chatting than in reading.  This is, of course, a common feature of book groups.  They don’t actually talk about books, if they even read them.  However, it is a peculiar thing to have this happening while you’re reading.  It’s almost as if you’re in a library but people you don’t know come up and start talking to you about the book you’re reading.  Many of the people who do this in library, of course, are either homeless or otherwise imbalanced, so what does this say about denizens of Book Glutton.  No, just kidding.  However, I did actually end up disciplining myself to not open the chat feature while I read a chapter, only opening it at the end of chapters.  The temptation to keep seeing if anyone else was around was compelling, a feature of the internet that interferes with the kind of absorption typically associated with literary reading.

This distraction is an important consequence of reading online I think, something that digital utopians champion as a “new literacy.”

Maybe.

I tend to think that describing the frantic skimming that goes with reading on the web as “new literacy” is a little bit like me saying my belly fat is a form of stored energy. It is, but does that really tell me anything or make me feel any better. No, but it does give me a convenient reason for not working out. Call it conservation.

In a similar fashion I think all the discussion of new literacy is a somewhat fancy name for the inability to attend.

Still, overall this is not too many negatives associated with BookGlutton. So why only two thumbs sideways?

I guess I feel like e-books need to demonstrate a clear superiority to board and paper books, a reason that this technology is clearly superior to the technology I already have in hand. At this stage they don’t present themselves to me as such. While there’s some nifty things associated with Book Glutton, I’m not sure most committed readers are really interested in being nifty persons. Book Glutton is kind of neat, but not neat enough to make me spend my time on Book Glutton instead of in a book store.

It’s a little like a decent three star summer movie. Kind of glad I went to see it, and might go see another one, but I don’t feel like my life will miss much if I had missed it.

Or even more, it’s almost as if we’ve got a good television show that a movie theater decides to show on a big screen. It might be kind of neat to watch “Lost” on the big screen, but at some point will you really start watching all your television shows down at the theater. I kind of doubt it.

The personal economy of Kindles: Or, “Say what????”

I admit I’ve been a little hesitant to buy a Kindle, not out of lack of interest or complete antipathy to e-books. Indeed, I’m kind of intrigued if not totally convinced. But the biggest thing stopping me has been the cost. When I realized this I just thought I should do a little mental calculating.

Professors aren’t as well off as people tend to think, but on the whole full-time professors–a diminishing breed–are still solidly middle class. My salary as a full professor with about 8 years of post collegiate education and 16 years of full time teaching experience is in the low 70s. And, to be honest, most professors, especially at small schools or third rank state schools make a lot less than I do. In general I make less than a high school teacher with similar experience and education; who, am I kidding, I make less than my plumber.

Yes, I’m griping, but I’m also realistic that this isn’t a bad life. I remember being thrilled a couple of years ago when I started realizing that I could afford to purchase hard cover books–it mattered not a whit to me that books were on their way out. Indeed, one of the reasons professors can be paid so little relative to their expertise and experience is that they are pleased with so little. Give me a book and four or five weeks clear of having to prepare for classes or other administrative work in the summer, and everything seems like gravy.

Still, I’ve hesitated on the Kindle. 400 bucks is at least an hour or two of my daughter’s prospective college education. Who knows, with interest I may be able to add an hour or two. And it makes me wonder just a bit about the business plan associated with dedicated e-book readers. I would be, I think, a prime candidate for an e-book reader. But on the other hand, I’m an absolutely atypical American when it comes to books purchasing. Most Americans say they buy five books a year and read four. My guess is the other sits on the shelf in order too look kind of impressive even though it’s never read. Reading as many as 12 books a year is considered being a dedicated reader by a lot of folks, and was the benchmark employed by the NEA in some of their recent pronouncements.

So let’s start with the typical American reading, or claiming to read, four books a year. For fun, I went to the Amazon web site. It’s not nearly as much fun a bricks and mortar store, but book lust may still be fed even online. I compared Kindle books prices to standard paperbacks, using the sale price for new books. I leave aside the fact that I could get the books much more cheaply via the Amazon sellers system. Let’s just be fair and try as much as possible to compare apples to apples, a new paperback versus a new e-book.

Roughly speaking I found that the e-books saved about three to four dollars on the e-book. I realize I could add to this if I considered shipping costs, but it’s not inconceivable that a person would buy four books at one time and have no shipping costs at all. Still four bucks. Not bad, you say. True. Who wouldn’t want to save four bucks when they can. This means that the average American book reader would save 16 bucks on the four books they read during the year–this is the best case scenario of assuming that all four of those books were actually purchased new instead of being borrowed from a friend–something hard to do with e-books–or borrowed from the library. Or shoplifted.

This means that it would take the typical American reader approximately…wait…I have to get my calculator. Yes, I wasn’t wrong. It would take the typical American reader about 25–that’s TWENTYFIVE!!!–years to pay off their 400 dollar investment in a Kindle.

But let’s be fair, there’s also a marginal cost of gas to drive the mile to Barnes and Noble, so let’s say it will take 24–that’s TWENTYFOUR!!!–years to pay off their 400 dollar investment in a Kindle.

Let’s assume that there are enough readers like me out there to sustain a Kindle investment. I probably buy about 25 books a year–whether I actually read them is another story. Many of them are hardbacks I get via Amazon resellers for a fraction of the original price, but let’s still go with the new paperback price, even though its more than I often pay for hardbacks in good condition. I won’t count the multitude of other books and journals I read or look at from the library, since, after all, I get them for free and I wouldn’t pay 400 dollars for something I now get gratis.

Assuming I buy 25 books a year and I can save 4 bucks a book–questionable, but let’s say it’s possible–I can payoff my Kindle in 4 years.

Now, I still have books on my shelf that I bought 30 years ago, and my parents still have books on their shelves that my grandfather bought and read 100 years ago. So far in my 20 year marriage we have gone through four computers and are on our fifth. That’s a new computer every four to five years. Can someone at Amazon promise me that I will get a brand new Kindle for free when mine wears out, or when I drop it in the lake, or when they upgrade so far that it can no longer read the e-book files which are created six years from now? Somehow I truly doubt it. This means that I’m likely looking at shelling out four or five hundred dollars every five years just to maintain my collection. That means the cost of my e-book purchase keeps increasing throughout the lifetime of the file, simply because I have to keep investing new money in order to maintain my e-books. (To be fair, this increasing cost will continue, but diminish if I maintain more and more books. But it will increase)

I freely admit that paperbacks have some similar marginal maintenance costs. A new book shelf every once in a while will cost me a 100 bucks–or 15 if I’m willing to have cinderblocks and boards–but on the whole, this cost is made up by the fact that I sell old books or donate them to charity, something I can’t do with Kindle books at all.

In other words, I actually think Steve Jobs is probably on to something when he says people don’t read anymore and so there’s no future in e-books. This isn’t quite literally correct, but it seems to me that the long term business model depends upon an extremely small demographic. People like me who read a lot of books, but also people like me who would be willing to shell out what is ultimately more money per book than the cost of a paperback.

And why exactly should I do this again??

Death of the (Paid) Author?

The London Times reports a great deal of panic on the part of British writers as they contemplate the gradual demise of the longstanding business model associated with print books. E-books legitimate and illegitimate are apparently the main culprit, or at least the main cause of fear. Writers note that digital piracy is rampant, not unlike the problems that the artists associated with the music industry have been complaining about for several years.

Google is doing something that appears more legitimate since it’s pursued by a big company, but if the universal library is successful without any form of compensation for writers, it’s hard to see what incentive will continue to exist for compensating writers at all.

Of course, it’s hard to remember now, but the “professional” writer who makes his or her living by the word is a relatively new invention. Samuel Johnson was, perhaps, the first, and was a rarity then. Writers used to be people who did their work as moonlighting, or because they had the money and the time, or else as officials of the court. In a more ancient vein, poets were troubadours, making their money through performance rather than through commodities.

I wonder whether we are entering a period when the very idea of a professional writer is coming to an end. And I’m not sure whether to be sanguine about that or not. I’m not a member of the cult of the amateur, even though I value anyone writing whatever may be on their minds and imagination. Still, there’s something to be said about the tradition of craftsmanship, the guild of writers that, at its best, professionalization managed to maintain on some level. Of course, there’s always been a lot of crap out there, but I’m not certain that craftsmanship will maintain the same aura in digital forms.

Maybe. Maybe.

Books as sign

In “Snoopers on Subway, Beware Digital Books,” Susan Dominus of the New York Times points to the ways in which books act as social signifiers and the ways in which Kindles and other e-book readers challenge that particular moder of signification.

Trying to get a read on people who are reading is one of those aimless but satisfying subway pleasures that may eventually go by the wayside, like scanning the liner notes on the way home from Tower Records. The Kindle, an Amazon electronic book reader, may make getting your hands on a book faster, but in the process, it could “make it a lot harder to indulge in the crucial cultural task of judging books — and the people who read them — by their covers,” wrote the columnist Meghan Daum in The Los Angeles Times last fall.

The Kindle may rob New Yorkers of a subway pastime that’s more specific to this city: judging people’s covers by their books. That young guy slouched in his seat, with the hoodie pulled tight over his head — his posture suggests sheer indifference. The book in his hand, “Egyptian Cosmology,” suggests something otherwise (to guess what, exactly, would require a passing familiarity with Egyptian cosmology).

This goes along with my general sense of reading as a signifying act in an of itself, and that books function socially to communicate much more than information. Most of the stuff championing e-books emphasizes their superiority at delivering information. That MAY be true. I’m reading Treasure Island on BookGlutton–admittedly not a dedicated e-book reader but an e-book nonetheless–and I’m not totally convinced. More on that in the future. When I actually manage to finish Treasure Island, that is.

Still, I think the emphasis on books as an information delivery system misses the point that these systems themselves function as cultural artifacts and so themselves enable certain forms of communication just by being, regardless of the information that they contain.

Dominus goes on to say:

Of course, the Kindle won’t stop people from reading in public, but it might make that potentially public act seem oddly private. And we risk stripping reading of the extra work it does, enlightening us about the curiosities of the people with whom we so often seem to share space and nothing else.

I think this is right in a peculiar way. I’ve mentioned on this space before my sense that I am the only person in the coffeeshop who reads books anymore. This lends itself to a particular sense of isolation that has nothing to do with the peculiarity of my activity. Buddhists meditating together are “isolated” in one sense, but the shared silence–or chanting–is a form of cultural communication nonetheless. I feel more distinctly isolated from a person on a laptop than I do from a person reading a book. This may be irrational, but is a fact nonetheless.

Computer use does not serve the purpose of bonding me to the people in my immediate vicinity in the way that reading a book in the library or the bookstore does, or at least seems to do. In a peculiar way, the computer connection homogenizes my cultural spaces. They are all equally points of connection elsewhere, as if the laptop turns everyplace in American into a strip mall–the strip mall that homogeneous space wherein every American can feel they are familiar but alienated.

Bookporn in my idle hours

I’ve been away from the keyboard for a while. Although it’s spring break I’ve been swamped with work–mostly grading–and keeping up with the kids. I’m hoping to get back to some more regular posting in the next day or so, although I’ve also got a couple of conferences coming up. Never ending. I sometimes wonder if dedicated bloggers actually have real lives. Maybe they aren’t real people. Maybe they are committees that work feverishly to put stuff together.

Still, thought I’d just call attention to Rachel Leow’s newest editions of Bookporn (#28 & 29)over at a historian’s craft. I’ve said several times before how much I love these studies in books, so there’s not much more than I can say.

I’m not sure I like these quite as much as some in the past, but I really do enjoy her study of the blueSeminary Co-op Bookstore University of Chicago–Photo by Rachel Leow pipes winding their way through and around the Seminary Co-op Bookstore at the University of Chicago. I get a weird feeling of zen peace just contemplating these books molding themselves in to every nook and cranny of a building. Of course, in some of my other ruminations on e-books, this is not so much a thing of beauty but a sign of waste. So far in my engagement with e-books, this seems to be the biggest selling point for those who are their aficionados: efficiency. Especially storage efficiency. All those books are so…well…so wasteful. So much neater to have 400 books stored on my Kindle than have 400 books littering my room. Hmmm…something there is in me that says they just don’t get it. The sign of knowledge is a man or woman nearly lost in a labyrinth of books.

Treasure Island on Book Glutton: an invitation

I’ve decided to actually get around to reading a book on Book Glutton in honor of National Reading Month. Because my son is currently reading Treasure Island, IRobert Louis Stevenson, by Nerli thought I’d plunge in with that. This is an open invitation to any readers of this blog to come over to Book Glutton and join me in reading Stevenson for the next three or four weeks. (Ok, we’ll bleed over and make April National REading Month as well).

Create a login (it’s free), and search for Treasure Island. You can either Muppet Treasure Islandread as a member of the public or you can join my group. I’ll be honest and say I haven’t even figured out what difference it makes yet.

I’ll probably try to blog a bit about the experience since all I’ve said about it to this point has mostly been speculation about what it must be like to read on Book Glutton rather than actually spending a lot of time reading.

Anyway, Yo Ho Ho! And all that. I think there’s a National Speak Like a Pirate Day somewhere. Probably comes out of Stevenson, or Disney’s take on Stevenson, or Johnny Depp’s take on Disney.

Here’s to intertextuality. Hope you come along.

Boys and Their Toys

Mark Bauerlein, blogging for the Chronicle of Higher Education, posted some interesting reflections on boys and reading this past week . He’s reflecting on the iPulp Fiction Library, which is probably worth a blog in itself. The library, run by a friend of Bauerlein’s, exists to promote reading, especially though not exclusively for boys, by reinvigorating the tradition of the dime novel by providing free onlineipulp fiction.

A few excerpts from Bauerlein’s blog:

Five years ago I would have written back with something like, “C’mon, can’t we push a little Melville and Swift instead?”

Not anymore. Books of any kind compete with so many digital diversions that just about any fiction that encourages long reading hours is worth a look — pulp or sports or Western or murder mystery or classic novel. Reading researchers believe that sheer volume of reading plays a large role in the acquisition of basic literacy skills and vocabulary, and that print matter of even child-oriented books can be more verbally challenging than some of the best television shows. (Read this entire article and note its far-reaching findings.)

Furthermore, I believe, the boy reading problem is reflected in the growing achievement gap between girls and boys. Admissions officers see this every year. At my old school, UCLA, the entering class last year was 59 percent female. Across town at Cal State-LA, the undergraduate population is 63 percent female. And officials expect the discrepancy to increase.

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Real Men Don’t Read

Bauerlein is touching on one of my pet concerns, partly because I have a son who reads a great deal, while also trying to maintain his coolness quotient in being a basketball and soccer player. While being further concerned with enhancing his growing reputation as a lady killer. Lady killers not found in libraries as a general rule.

“Real Men Don’t Read” could probably be a slogan on a best-selling adolescent t-shirt, is my general guess. Boys learn mostly to impress girls by carrying their books, not by reading them. I also feel this poignant sense of protectiveness for the few men who wander in to my literature classrooms. Among English majors nationally, women outnumber men 3 to 1.

(Side note: a quick google search calls up 5180 pages with some version of the phrase Real Men Don’t’ Read. Fewer than I might have thought, but the idea is out there.)

So, I mostly agree with Bauerlein here. It is surely a truism by now in higher education that there’s a problem with young men and higher education. Indeed, it’s fair to say that more and more colleges are starting to treat them like an underrepresented minority.

(And, incidentally, I see more and more posts from women—including a response to Bauerlein’s blog–that, in a different context, would sound just like white people ridiculing the supposedly inherent inferiority of black people. Along the lines of “If boys weren’t so stupid, there wouldn’t be a problem.”).

The reports from the NEA emphasize just how drastic the non-reading problem is for men as opposed to women. This, in fact, is one of the main reasons I’m dubious of those defensive responses that suggest reading on the net is just as good as any other kind of reading. Studies used to suggest, at least, the higher levels of comfort boys had with the net and all things digital, but that is long past. Even if men are now spending all their time reading online, it apparently isn’t doing them any good. They score consistently far lower than women on all kinds of tests for reading comprehension and language abilities. Indeed, studies suggest that girls now spend more time online and post more written content than boys. Boys dominate in only one area—video content:

Girls continue to dominate most elements of content creation. Some 35% of all teen girls blog, compared with 20% of online boys, and 54% of wired girls post photos online compared with 40% of online boys. Boys, however, do dominate one area – posting of video content online. Online teen boys are nearly twice as likely as online girls (19% vs. 10%) to have posted a video online somewhere where someone else could see it.

All of this goes to show why my daughter thinks it’s weird that I blog, and my son ignores it entirely. I am, no doubt, working out of my feminine side, or perhaps my inner 17-year-old female child.

In any case, generally speaking, I have my doubts that boys are making up for their lack of reading books with a lot of reading and writing on the net.

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What Should Big Boys Read?

I think that not a lot of attention has been given to reading material especially for boys in schools. I’ve mentioned Jon Sciezka on this blog before, and I think the work he’s doing with boys’ reading is important. A colleague seemed flummoxed when I suggested to her that for a lot of boys, maybe most boys, The Great Gatsby is the equivalent of a chick flick, as is most of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and most of the others we call greats. Generally speaking, though, I agree with the following post: “Why Hemingway is Chick Lit.” Among other things the post gives us the following completely unscientific but telling anecdote:

“When women stop reading, the novel will be dead,” declared Ian McEwan in the Guardian last year. The British novelist reached this rather dire conclusion after venturing into a nearby park in an attempt to give away free novels. The result?

Only one “sensitive male soul” took up his offer, while every woman he approached was “eager and grateful” to do the same.

We can talk about patriarchal power all we want, but in general patriarchal power is exercised on the playground by those boys who make fun of Shakespeare, not those who actually bothered to read something other than the Spark notes.

Still, I’m a little hesitant. It’s not clear to me that reading a lot of anything is by itself a great thing for reading or a great thing for boys. n+1 famously argued that we’re so obsessed with a reading crisis that we think we should praise everything that’s written and praise anyone who reads the morning paper. I’m not sure that reading a dime novel is in and of itself superior to a film or even a complex video game; better, probably, for developing vocabulary to some degree, but not better for other kinds of developments–assuming that a film and a video game develop different kinds of competencies and visual literacies. It would be important to understand reading on a continuum. What builds the habit of reading in boys, and what makes reading seem like just another drudge assignment?

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Can Reading Make You Cool?

More from Bauerlein’s blog

More leisure reading might help, and books like iPulp Fiction Library’s appeal to boys a lot more than the “problem stories” and identity narratives that fill Young Adult shelves in the libraries and bookstores. Back in high school, I remember boys passing around books as a kind of cool underground connection — including jocks and “stoners” (as they were called then). I was hit hard by The Brothers Karamazov and The Sound and the Fury when I was 18, but those didn’t catch on. What did was Ball Four, a knuckleballer’s diary of a season with the Seattle Pilots; North Dallas Forty, a novel about a receiver for an NFL team; Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying (yes, really); and someone snagged a copy of The Happy Hooker, too.

Do these kinds of secret reading networks still exist? We have Harry Potter, of course, but that’s a different thing, a juggernaut of popularity. Also, there is little evidence that Harry Potter has made many teenage boys read a lot of other books besides Rowling’s. We read the books above not because everybody else did, but because they met a curiosity, or a need, or insecurity, or humor, or heroism that we felt inside, or wanted to. Some of them had some good writing in them, too.

Bauerlein looks like he must be about my age, and the list above confirms it. I never actually got around to Fear of Flying and The Happy Hooker. Much too repressed. On the other hand, Ball Four and North Dallas Forty…Yes, god, yes… Also the Brothers K. Must have been the in book with high school administrative poohbahs in the 70s.

I’ve reflected in the past on the idea that books function as signs to other readers as much or more than as stories that are to be read. The person that—in an earlier generation—carried Catcher in the Rye or On the Road in his hip pocket or who sat sullenly under a tree reading a book while dragging on a cigarette was making a kind of public statement.

To some degree I think this is still true, but I wonder if its been permanently displaced by digital culture. People make a statement by having old-fashioned books at all, not the specific texts that mark them off from readers of other books.

Of course, secret reading networks do exist. One wants to ask Bauerlein if he’s ever been online. But partly that’s the point. They exist facelessly on far flung digital networks rather than being part of the identity formation of groups within industrial-sized high schools.

Also, they have now mostly been displaced by video games. My son and his friends are sorted in two different ways: those who read books and those who don’t, and those who play Halo and those who don’t. The difference is important. Book readers are lumped together regardless of content of what they read—whereas in an earlier age of adolescene boys might have sorted themselves by whether they read Ken Kesey, Isaac Asimov, or Herman Melville. Gamers discriminate among themselves assiduously, marking themselves as belonging to different groups by the games they play and their competence at their choices.

To some degree I wonder how this works with e-book readers. The e-book itself shapes every text to a common and universal appearance. Thus, reading my e-book in the local coffeeshop, I can make a statement about myself as an e-book reader that will draw the attention of others and show my solidarity with others who are technologically sophisticated. But I can’t display the title of the individual book. The dividing line is not between Peyton Place and Moby Dick, but between digital and non-digital, with little room for specific self-display.

Nevertheless, none of this I think gainsays Bauerlein’s general opinion that iPulp is probably a very good thing in general. I browsed over the site. Not generally my cup of tea, but it should be right up the alley of the alienated middle schooler who likes that kind of thing. It looks to me that the site is set up for use on ipods and iphones, but I couldn’t figure out anyway to load to any other kind of reader or even to download to a computer.

Of course, that may itself be only a sign of my general unhip uncoolness when it comes to digital illiteracy. I’ll have to ask my 13 year old how to do it.

After he gets past teaching me how to play Call of Duty.

And Halo.

And Gears of War.

And…