Daily Reads: 8 December 2014

Daily Reads

Morning all! I’ve got some particularly good stuff for you today.

Tim Parks thinks we should be writing in our books with pens. We tend to treat the written word as sacred, he says, and it impairs our ability to think critically about what we’re reading and engage with it. He finds that his students perform much better after he’s got them reading with a pen in hand. I think Parks had classic and literary fiction in mind here (the ‘important’, intimidatingly authoritative stuff) but it’s still worth thinking about.

As a fairly critical reviewer, I’m already on Parks’s side. I take loads of notes on my Kindle, and I pencil notes in my print copies. I’m still wary of the pen though. I understand his point – the permanency of the ink gives the pen greater authority, thereby giving you more authority, and so encouraging you to think more critically. But these days my print copies are among my most valuable books (signed, limited edition, hardcover), and so I don’t want to write in them with a pen any more than I want my cat to scratch an expensive piece of furniture. I might be willing to try it on a cheap paperback, but I sometimes I lend, sell or give my books away, and the recipient probably wouldn’t appreciate comments in ink.

Still, I appreciate the sentiment of this article. Even though I already leave comments and underline/highlight passages, I love how Parks is encouraging even more – 3-4 comments on every page, underlining everything you love or hate, everything that moves you in some way. It’s not about simply criticising texts, but understanding and engaging with them. When re-reading you could see how your feelings might have changed over the years. I also think that more notes are always better than less for review purposes. Most importantly, more notes can help me learn more about fiction with more in-depth dialogue. What works, what doesn’t, why do I feel the way I do, how could this be better?

Now to pick a book to sacrifice to my pen…

Robert Jackson Bennett reviews Nexus by Ramez Naam over at The Book Smugglers. I’ve never paid that much attention to this book (not for any real reason other than being unable to take note of everything), but Bennett makes it sound absolutely brilliant. I’m totally sold.

Charles Stross laments the lack of cultural estrangement in far-future sf. If a story is set a few centuries in the future, how could a contemporary “Anglophone developed-world middle class lifestyle that lots of folks aspire to” possibly be a universal norm? As he points out, even in “in the context of our own history, we are aliens”. If you travelled back even a century in time, you’d be totally lost, so it’s unlikely you’d feel at home four centuries into the future. Granted, implausibly familiar societies are easier on writers and readers, but Stross makes a good argument for the harder option. Great food for thought for sf writers and readers.

Daily Reads is my feature for helping me get more organised about my online reading, and sharing my favourite posts with you. If you know of something cool you think I should check out, please let me know in the comments 🙂