On Reading: Reading the 21st Century

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.

Reading the 21st Century

Reading the 21st Century

Reading the 21st Century: Books of the decade, 2000-2009 
by Stan Persky
published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.

I should have posted this blog last night. Instead, my son and I had an all out battle on SingStar. We belted out power ballads and I wiped the floor with him thanks to Bonnie Tyler and Queen. In some cases we sang songs familiar to both of us and in other instances we sang songs new to us. What blew me away though was my son singing Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. The rapping is phenomenally fast in that song. My son has only heard it a couple of times yet he was able to keep up with the text flying across the screen – I could not. Earlier in the day he spent a few hours reading his fifth novel for the summer holidays – Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire (“it isn’t as good as the first one, mum”). I also know that amongst his feeds and apps he subscribes to daily Sports news (as a teenaged sports nut is wont to do) and SBS News (“you have to have a balanced world view, mum”). He had also watched five episodes of Community with the captions turned on. I consider my son to be an average reader. Continue reading

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So many Johns

This is a belated postscript to Ripping the Ass out of Vassiliki

I had an great reaction to my post about my name with lots of comments and people posting their name stories on their own blogs which made for interesting reading. Something I did pick up on was that many people seemed to think that the habit of changing names was an exclusively “Anglo” thing. I don’t agree. This happens across all cultures. People have a predilection to adapt names, traditions, behaviours to fit within their own comfort zones.

There is a wonderful book called “So Many Henrys” by Letta Schatz with trippy seventies illustrations by John Kuzich.

So Many Henrys

In this book Henry Emory Demery discovers that he is not the only person with the name Henry. From realising that he shares the same name with his grandfather, Henry then travels the world to discover all the many variations to his name. I loved reading this book to my sons as we would replace Henry’s name with either Peter or Paul and we would continue the journey discovering the many variants of their names and to this day I will call out to them choosing the country of the day from Boutros to Ferris and Pablo to Pol.

My husband’s name is John. Yes John – with a silent “h” not a silent “athan”. He is of an English background, named for his grandfather and great-Uncle who used to tell his mum “Every child should have an uncle John”. As an aside – I have 5 uncle Johns, many of my cousins, friends and even a nephew are called John and many friends and relatives are married to Johns often necessitating me to say “My John” which can somewhat be misconstrued. My uncle John, who is married to my Aunt Vassiliki (I kid you not), would say

Σπιτι χωρις Γιαννη, προκοπη δεν κανει – A house with out a John, makes no progress

John is such a great and flexible name yet it seems to be out of fashion with the current generation. Whether that is because all their father’s are already called John and we will have a new wave in the next generation remains to be seen.

When my John met my mum she told him that his name in Greek is “Yianni”. My mum calls him both John and Yianni, which my husband tells me he loves.

John, Vassiliki, Vassiliki and John - my husband and I with my uncle and aunt namesakes :)

He has no issue with my many Greek relatives that have Hellenised his name. And I am sure that had I been Italian he would have been Giovanni, or French to Jean or Russian to Ivan and Sean or Ian or Zane or Ewan or Juan, Hansel, Jack, Johan, Jan, Vanya and so on…

I don’t think that changing names to fit within a cultural norm is the domain, nor an act of oppression deliberately brought on by Anglos. Every culture does it. The change can be a comfort, a diminutive of sorts. How we feel about having our name changed is unique to all of us. Some of us balk at it and others love it and in no way can it be predicted by our cultural background.

Thanks to Sandra Antonelli for her assistance with this post. She too has her own John.

I’m in a library (or am I?)

I had an interesting exchange with my son the other day. He was doing a school assignment on life in Ancient Egypt and having the boffin information maven mother that he has been blessed with, he knew he needed to log on to “authoritative information”. I had spent some time with him earlier in the week showing him how to log into library databases rather than using free to the web resources.

My son called out to me to say that he couldn’t find the Ancient and Medieval History database on the website so I went over to him and saw that he had clicked on the “In Library Databases”. Now, by late Thursday afternoon I was already fed up with Ancient Egypt and my son’s assignment so I was a tad cantankerous when I snarkily said to him “Why did you choose the In Library Databases. You need the At Home ones. Are you “in” the library?” Bless my gorgeous son who ignored my sarcasm and said “But Mum – I am “in” the library. Look” and he pointed to the library URL. It is at this point I cringed at my Old Skool 20th Century concept of place, apologised and led him through to the resource he needed.

This did lead me to think about when I am physically “in” a place or virtually “in” a place. For me being “in” a library still means being physically “in” a bricks and mortar building. Yet, for most people, it is the library website that is their first port of call. For many users, once they have received their library card, it is their only port of call. So calling library resources “In-library” and “Home access” – I did a quick (oh so scientific) survey of 6 library services and they all used these terms – is catering towards an older user demographic and not towards younger users whose concept of being “in” a place differs substantially. To add to that, often those valuable In Library/Home resources are secondary to the library catalogue – a tool which necessitates a physical visit to the library to use the resource found. This seems a tad ass-end backwards to me.

From that thought, I moved to my sense of having my nose buried “in” a book. When I visualise this, I have in my mind myself as a reader with book open, nose seemingly pressed against the crease of the open book mind completely focused on the words on the page. Somehow, my nose buried “in” an ebook lacks the same sense of hiding amongst the pages for me. Have I been lost “in” an ebook? Absolutely. I am lost “in” digital reading for hours every day. There are days I need to be reminded that it is time to feed myself and any other dependents that may be around me. But I don’t physically feel as though the ebook provides a shelter for my mind. It is not a space I hide “in”. I could not hide my face in an ebook should it make me cry in public (because we have all been there, damn you Barbra Conklin’s PS I Love You). But in neither experience – traditional print or ebook – am I physically “in” the place that I am reading about. As much as I may escape, or be lost in the story, unless I am reading in situ I am not really there.

I spend hours travelling the world on Google Maps. I discover small towns, I follow roads, I enter places that I doubt I will ever physically visit. Do I consider myself to be “in” those places? My answer is No. I am “in” Google Maps but not the place I am exploring. I need to physically experience that place to be there. Just as I am not really in my books.

However, online gaming allows you to be “in” that space. Whether you are playing Fifa 13 or World of Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed the only place to have this experience is online. As a sideline you can have cosplay, you can attend fan conventions however the virtual space is the primary space.

With these other examples in mind, I am thinking again of the public library as a physical place or as a virtual space*.  The reality is that, unlike the chicken and the egg, the physical place did come first so it is natural that our terminology is still couched with a bricks and mortar mindset. Though the industry has shifted, public library websites need to become the creative library branch where users add value to the site rather than purely being recipients and searchers of information. Some libraries already have some user led content creation particularly in the area of local studies and oral histories but this is mainly engaging with older generations (which is great in itself but needs to now be expanded upon). It won’t be until user led content creation for libraries is driven by youth, who are already engaged in creative screen based and digital culture and already think of the library website as being the main entrance, that the local public library will be a a primarily virtual place for the community to get lost “in”.

*I want to take a moment to highlight that I do not feel the same way about  State and National Libraries which are also public libraries. For many people in Australia, their only experience of the National and state libraries as a place is the website.

My books are worth their weight in silver

Like most homes, we have a small stash of 5 cent, 10 cent and 20 cent coins that pile up in a coin jar. This coin jar is used regularly so there is rarely any more money than five dollars in it. My youngest son can only take canteen money from that jar to pay for his garlic bread or frozen oranges  and I get to use my handful of silver when I head down to my local opshop/charity shop.

Books at my opshop cost anywhere from $1 to $5. I will often throw some coins in my bag and head down to buy myself a book. When I did this today, I was overjoyed to find some Charlotte Lamb, Carole Mortimer, Anne Mather and Penny Jordan reprints on sale. These were reprints from their later books but even these reprints are nearly 10 years old and out of print. I counted my silver and found I had enough money to buy 3 books, all with 2 novels in each binding. I chose the ones I would buy, went to the front of the shop and waited to be served. The woman ahead of me was buying some interior decorating magazines. These were being sold for $1, too. There was a woman hovering to my side and when it came to my turn to be served she said to the woman at the checkout “Give her the Mills & Boon 3 for a dollar. I just want to get rid of them”. It turns out hover woman was the manager.

Now her comment took me aback somewhat. This is an opshop. Is there a place for snobbery in an opshop? I expect a certain egalitarianism from my opshop. I have often seen Target shirts hanging beside Ben Sherman shirts here. I have seen Sportsgirl skirts next to Jigsaw skirts. Frankly, my Mills & Boons, clutched closely to my bosom, had, just moments ago, been sitting on a shelf alongside John Banville’s the Sea and V. S. Naipaul’s Half a Life (ah! the sweet irony that they still sit on those shelves unpurchased). Isn’t shopping at an opshop an opportunity to give to a charity while benefitting from finding an item that is no longer easily purchased from mainstream retailers? For others it is a way to dress and clothe themselves while on a tight budget and for others it is a thumbing it to the big corporates in an attempt to be alternative.

Now this opshop only had 20 M&B titles which is quite a low amount in comparison with the opshop in the neighbouring suburb which has hundreds. And this was a good day! It often has none. Though on the one hand I was quite excited at the lower price so I hurried over to the shelves and chose another 6 books and bought 9 books for $3 (which being doubles means that I scored 18 new books today!) I was also angered. I wanted to shake my fist at the sky and shout “How could you denigrate these wonderfully written books. How could you value them less than a three year old tattered House and Garden”. But I didn’t. I did make a comment about literature snobs after I gave her my pennies.

I am offended on behalf of my reading love. My offense won’t last long as you develop a thick skin as an out-of-the-closet romance reader. But I choose to be affronted when my reading choices meet disdain, scorn and ridicule. I am going to love my books. And they are worth their weight in silver.

Postscript: Like most people, I buy my books from a broad range of places. Retailers, online, markets, opshops and second-hand bookshops. In anticipation of anyone reading this accusing me that if I felt that strongly about Mills & Boon why don’t I buy them new I would like to say that I only buy my in print Mills & Boon at full retail prices. And they are the books that are worth their weight in gold.