Monday Miscellany

How we read now

Amanda Katz writes in the Boston Globe about the quickly advancing trend of digital reading, or ebooks.

And this is the hitch. For the last 1,500 years or so, the idea of the book and the book as object have been indivisible. We readers respect and adore long-form writing, whether it is argument, explanation, history, how-to, or story – and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t take digital form. But digital immigrants are used to the book being something else, too: a tangible object, and a symbolic one. We kiss our holy books; we build beautiful libraries, temples of learning; we scan the shelves at our friends’ houses and strike up conversations with book-reading strangers. We want books to fit comfortably in our hands. We gaze at our shelves to remember what we’ve read, and make stacks on bedside tables of the books we’ll devour next.

The Price of Typos

Anyone who reads a lot has noticed the increased frequency of spelling errors over the past few years, even in best-selling books from major publishers. Virginia Heffernan writes about these errors in this opinion piece in The New York Times. Readers castigate publishers for getting rid of the ranks of copy editors and proofreaders who used to correct these errors. Publishers tend to blame writers, saying that manuscripts from authors are much longer and messier now. Some even say that writers had gotten sloppier and now think that they can count on spellcheck to clean up their errors.

More interesting here, though, is how Heffernan extrapolates from the fact of more typos in published material:

Bad spellers are a breed apart from good ones. A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of “algorithm” or “Albert Pujols” — tends to see language as a system. Good spellers are often drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage.

Why every novelist is holding out for a hero

Only by creating an enduring character can a writer entertain thoughts of a literary career

Has plot driven out other kinds of story?

“An emphasis on strong plot and the rejection of fiction‘s digressive powers seems to be the order of the day,” writes John Lucas in the U.K. Guardian. A “relentless focus on plot” has given us books that, like films, depend on fast-moving action, to the detriment of fiction: “Film focuses on plot: on external action. The novel can do something different: it can show us how we think.”

My nomination for the kind of book Lucas is referring to is Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz.

ThrillerFest VI: How To Become a Thriller Writer in 13 Easy Lessons

We all have a book in us, as the saying assures us. If your book happens to be a thriller, you could benefit from the wisdom that Barbara Hoffert picked up at the recent International Thriller Writers conference.