David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell at Brookline Booksmith

The Monday before Thanksgiving, I trekked across the river to Brookline to see David LevithanRainbow Rowell, Bill Konigsburg, and Paul Rudnick at the Booksmith. Each author read from one of their books: Rudnick read from Gorgeous, Konigsburg from Openly Straight, Rowell and Levithan from Fangirl (hers) and Two Boys Kissing (his). This might be the first time I’ve seen a pair of authors do a joint reading like this – Levithan made a very funny Levi – and they seemed like they were really having fun (though maybe YA authors just have more fun, in general).

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After the readings, they opened up Q&A right away. Here are some snippets:

Levithan, on the 10th anniversary of Boy Meets Boy: “Boy Meets Boy was about creating reality. With Two Boys Kissing I wanted to write something that reflected reality.”

On a reaction to Rowell’s decision to write a novel about college-age characters: “‘College students don’t read.’ I know, be offended, write a letter! ‘Nobody wants to read about college students.’ But I don’t think of writing for one specific audience.” And, she added, readers often want to read about characters a little bit older than themselves (e.g. high school students would be interested in reading about college students).

On the extra pressure Levithan felt for his novel Love is the Higher Law: “You write a bad book, that’s okay. You write a bad book about 9/11, that’s bad.”

Levithan, on writing the character A in Every Day: It was less difficult than he expected; “[When you] take gender out of the equation, sexual orientation doesn’t exist.”

Rowell, on humor in writing: “Funny is subjective.” If a joke she wrote made her laugh, she fought to keep it in the manuscript, even if her agent or editor wasn’t sure about it.

Rowell, on why she chose the physical appearances for Eleanor and Park that she did (chubby and red-headed, and half-Korean, respectively): “You make the decision and you don’t always know where it came from, but it comes from somewhere.” And on attractiveness and attraction: “Attraction happens between two people. That’s it. Two people become attractive to each other.”

Levithan, on making stuff up: “If you’re a writer you make up everything. You’re always being presumptuous.”

On Rowell’s jealousy of the Harry Potter/Internet generation: “Fanfic writers have different rules than published authors.”

Rowell, on writing: “The more you do it, the better you get.”

Levithan, on writing: It’s like the cello. No one expects you to pick up a cello and play a concerto your second time playing. It’s like a muscle you have to develop and strengthen with practice. “Allow yourself to fuck up a lot…Don’t put an expiration date [on your writing], just keep going.”

Someone asked, “What happens when The Lover’s Dictionary Twitter account (@loversdiction) reaches the letter Z?” Levithan said he’s going to wait and see how Sue Grafton (A is for Alibi) handles it, because she’s going to get to the end of the alphabet first. The Twitter account, which he started as a promotion for the book’s release, is now longer than the actual book. He’s currently on the letter G (“Good, adj.: You should choose this so much that it no longer feels like a choice”), and expects to be done in a decade or so. (On losing track of time: “Isn’t 2013 like twelve years from now? No, it’s not.”)

After the Q&A, the authors signed copies of their books. Here’s my new paperback copy of Every Day:

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And here’s my new hardcover of Eleanor & Park. The first time I “read” it was the audiobook – and Rebecca Lowman is superb – but I’m looking forward to reading it again in print.

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Of course, I already do love them.

The dog, however, is less impressed. Here she is in the background of the title page of Every Day:

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She’d be more impressed if she could read, though. (Or if paper tasted more like chicken. But I’m very glad it doesn’t, or none of the books in my house would be safe.)

Anyway…YA books! Read them! Especially these ones.

 

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Media Consumption Assignment

Catching up on those blogs that I read regularly but not every single day, I saw this post from Dan Gillmore at Mediactive: “My Media Habits: One Day.” Gillmore teaches a course in media literacy at Arizona State University, and this was his assignment for his students (and himself):

For one full day, keep track of your own media consumption.  I don’t care if it’s reading a newspaper (in print or online), TV or radio program (broadcast or online), Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter or anything else. Take notes. Then, do a blog post on your own impressions of how you get information and entertainment. For example, what are your main sources of news? Why do you trust them (if you do), and which do you trust more than others? Do you go to news organizations’ home pages or do you mostly read articles via links from other places, such as Facebook? A key question: What do you think you might be missing? Do you care? In general, I want you to explore your own use of media as a consumer. (We’ll look at media creation later on in the course.)

I decided I would do the assignment also. I chose a weekday that I was off work (November 8), and here’s what it looked like:

~9:30-10:30am: Checked e-mail, Twitter, Feedly (webcomics including xkcd, food blog Smitten Kitchen, etiquette blog Emily Post, friend’s blog post that included a link to a piece in Ploughshares Literary Magazine, which I saved to read later). Finished reading an interview (Neil Gaiman interviewing Lou Reed) that a friend had sent me a few days ago. I have a separate e-mail folder (Unroll.me) for newsletters, etc., and I get daily e-mails of headlines from The New York Times and Boston Globe there. I added photos to a blog post for work (about six-word memoirs) and published it (I suppose that’s creation, not consumption). Glanced at Facebook notifications, didn’t click any links or spend more than a minute on the news feed page. Also from Unroll.me folder: Goodreads with updates on what friends have read or added, Publishers Lunch newsletter. Did not check weather (I usually use weather.com), and was surprised by some hail later in the day.

substitutions

~12:30pm: Read a few pages of This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

~4:30pm: Used Amazon to look up the title of a book someone recommended to me over coffee; requested the book through my library catalog. Used Scrivener to figure out a typeface, then replied to a thread on Twitter; followed a link from Twitter and read an article from The Atlantic. Used Feedly to read the three most recent posts on Copyfight, skim the last few days of posts from Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, and read the most recent three posts on Dooce.

~9:00-10:30: Read more of the Ann Patchett book; watched two episodes of 30 Rock (final season) from Netflix.

I’ll answer Gillmore’s questions one by one, starting with…

What are your main sources of news? nytlogo379x64

The New York Times and the Boston Globe, but primarily the NYT. Also, fairly often: the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian (UK), Slate, BoingBoing, Wired, TechCrunch, and NPR. If it is a local news event, I’ll check the Patch.

Why do you trust them (if you do), and which do you trust more than others?

Many of the publications I read online have a long history in print. I trust that the journalists used sound and ethical methods, the articles have been edited for copy and content, and the facts have been checked (though some error is inevitable, especially with the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle). Reputation is part of it, but consistent quality is also important.

Do you go to news organizations’ home pages or do you mostly read articles via links from other places, such as Facebook?

For the Times and the Globe, I get daily e-mails of the headlines. The Globe tends to be sports-heavy, but the Times includes the first three headlines of each section of the paper, so that gives a broader overview (on November 8, I noticed headlines about trans fats, health care, food stamps, and the Twitter IPO). I will occasionally click links from Facebook, but I’m not on there very much. I’m more likely to click a link from Twitter, where I follow a few friends but mostly literary sources (booksellers, librarians, publishers, authors, book bloggers) and related people/organizations (ALA-OIF, EFF, etc.).

What do you think you might be missing? Do you care? 

I realize that most if not all of my usual sources have a liberal slant (anywhere from moderate to pronounced), so I’m not getting articles from a conservative point of view (though I am seeing the liberal reaction to conservative views and actions). I tend to read multiple articles on the same topics over time; there are topics I will pass over entirely, and certain issues I follow closely.

Also, nearly all of my media consumption is through the written word, whether online or in print (we get The New Yorker and Rolling Stone at home); I rarely see TV news, and only occasionally do I hear radio news (except for NPR’s weekly news quiz show, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” which isn’t exactly news itself). Though I wish I had time to read more in-depth, long-form journalism from international sources, I feel like I get a good enough overview from my daily sources and frequent nonfiction books.

LibraryThing vs Goodreads, redux

Back in April I wrote about transitioning from Goodreads to LibraryThing after Amazon bought Goodreads. The transition was a bit halting, but I have now more or less stopped updating my Goodreads account (though I still contribute to my library’s account for readers’ advisory purposes) and shifted all my activity over to LibraryThing.

Though both Goodreads and LT are social reading sites, they are different in a number of ways. For example, let’s look at the messages on their home pages, before sign-in. Here’s Goodreads:

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And here’s LibraryThing:

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Goodreads (“Meet your next favorite book”) is encouraging readers to find new books to read, through lists (“shelves”), ads, and other users’ reviews. LibraryThing, on the other hand (“A home for your books…A community of book lovers”) emphasizes its cataloging quality and its user community.

There are a variety of uses for social reading sites (and by no means are Goodreads and LibraryThing the only choices), but my primary uses are (in descending order of importance):

  1. Keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read.

  2. Write and store reviews and notes on the books I’ve read.

  3. See what my friends are reading and read their reviews.

I also appreciate the chance to get the occasional early review copy (I’ve gotten one or two from Goodreads over the past six years, and at least four from LT over the past year), and the serendipity of connecting with authors (more than once, authors on Goodreads have contacted me after I’ve written a review of their book: one ended up attending a book club meeting, and another gave a presentation at the library).

So, how do the two sites compare? Let’s go point by point.

Keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. I’m certainly able to do this on both sites. Goodreads has “read,” “currently reading,” and “to-read” shelves, whereas LibraryThing has “to-read” and “currently reading” collections (everything else is, by default, “read”). I like Goodreads’ “date added” sorting option, but I like that LibraryThing offers different display styles.

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Write and store reviews and notes on the books I’ve read. One of LT’s aforementioned display styles includes reviews – so you can see all your reviews at a glance, rather than having to click into each book’s record. You can also click directly into the review to make any edits. There is no way to skim all your reviews in Goodreads.

See what my friends are reading and read their reviews. Goodreads has a clear advantage here, because most of the people I know who are on a social reading site are on Goodreads. I’m not that interested in reading strangers’ reviews, but I do like seeing what my friends are reading. Fortunately, I still get e-mails from Goodreads with updates that include friends’ reviews.

goodreads_greenbuttonIn terms of function, then, the sites aren’t all that different. Though I’m committed to LT now, I still don’t find it as intuitive or user-friendly as Goodreads (though, like most LT users, I’m not a fan of Goodreads’ dreaded green button).

LibraryThing organization

Even after a few months of using LibraryThing, I still don’t navigate it effortlessly. The font is absolutely tiny, which leads to a cluttered appearance. Searching within your library takes a second or two longer than I’d like to return results (yes, I’m impatient). The organization also takes some getting used to – the Home tab shows your most recent books, but if you click into a book’s record from there, it just shows metadata and other users’ reviews, not your review or when you started or finished the book; that information is under the Your Books tab (this is where you can choose your own display style).

There’s a separate tab to Add Books, and when you search, there’s usually only one edition of the book, whereas Goodreads lists all of them (hardcover, paperback, mass market, audiobook, various publishers, etc). However, if you put in the ISBN of the specific edition you’re looking for, it will show up.

The other tabs – Groups, Talk, Local, More, and the mysteriously named Zeitgeist (“more information than you require,” indeed, though it’s probably useful/interesting for some) – I don’t use often, though I probably should look at the Local tab more often to see what’s going on. It’s customizable too, so you can choose your favorite bookstores, libraries, or other literary venues to see what authors might be in town. The More tab includes the link to Early Reviewer books.

Stats are accessed from the Home tab; I don’t look at stats that often, just a few times a year, but LT presents them pretty creatively. For instance, my library (which, to be fair, includes books on my “to-read” shelf as well as those I’ve read and am currently reading), if stacked book upon book, would be slightly taller than the Great Pyramid, slightly shorter than the Washington Monument. The value of its weight in gold would be $22,173,471. Goodreads data, on the other hand, is a bit more straightforward – number of books read in a calendar year, number of pages read, etc. I wish LT had these types of numbers as well.

Overall, I’m not thrilled with LibraryThing, but I’m going to stick with it because it isn’t owned by Amazon, which means my personal data isn’t being harvested (at least not so rapaciously and overtly). Perhaps some of the things that irk me about it will change, and more of my friends will join over time. Till then, it does what I need it to do.