As a writer, I feel better already. Last week I learned books are not dead, book stores and libraries will be around during the next decade, authors, publishers and printers will still be able to make a living, and the Web, e-books and tablet computers will synchronize with all of the above to augment and accessorize the reading experience.
WHEW! But wait, not so fast…top-selling author Margaret Atwood and keynote speaker at RIT’s three-day Future of Reading symposium last week said: “People read e-books because they are cheap and can reach you immediately. But would you put your will in e-form? Only if you have the brains of a squirrel.”
In agreement was Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, who said “Kindle is not a superior reading service; it’s a superior delivery service.” And UCLA professor Johanna Drucker who said tablets and the Web are simply “competition for the eyeballs” and offer a discontinuous, less immersive reading experience.
A bevy of RIT experts joined the fray including Amit Ray, professor in the College of Liberal Arts who discussed the Wikipedia community, which has almost become the 21st century archival bible in more than 270 different languages; Rachel Gootnick of the RIT Open Publishing Lab who led an interactive session on self-publishing basics; and Scott McCarney of the RIT School of Print Media who discussed books as objects and bookbinding tools and techniques.
As a wordsmith, I was totally engaged with Richard Lanham, professor emeritus from the English department at UCLA. He showcased an animated video from 30 years ago, “Revising Prose,” and it left a strong imprint.
Business professionals, college professors and students, politicians, everyday people are all guilty of this kind of writing: “The blah, blah, blah factor that makes the reader feel like they are sitting in a penalty box.” Lanham recommends removing all prepositions, using active verbs and cutting the prose to half the original.
Or as he comically says, “Reduce the lard factor to 50 percent and get rid of the verbal diarrhea.”
All that was missing at the end of the symposium was a talisman. We needed an animated crystal ball where we could slide our fingers left to right to read the words that would spell out the future for the next generations of readers and writers—before we reach the 22nd century in 2101.
But again, Atwood beat us to it—and it becomes stranger with fiction.
In her book, The Handmaid’s Tale, the epilogue itself is a “transcription of a Symposium on Gileadean Studies written some time in the distant future in 2195.” The end result: Concubine Offred was about to be escorted away in a van to an unknown fate.
And so it is with reading. It’s not the end of story, but a new beginning.