Tag Archives: Books

You will actually be able to consume books

Book Capsules

Recently I came across an article (I’ve lost the link) that talked about the near-future possibility of you being able to “swallow” information, such as books, theories, research papers, and even stories and novels, as pills and capsules, instead of having to go through them page by page.

It may seem quite far-fetched at this moment, but in terms of biology there is nothing extraordinary in this possibility. Brain, after all, stores information by arranging and rearranging brain cells and imprinting electro-magnetic impulses. There are already hellucinogenic drugs that can alter out perception of reality. What if the information can be sent through our blood streams instead of using sensory inputs? Artificial limbs can already tell whether the fingers are touching different temperature and different sensations. People can reach orgasm via cyber sex. This is not the issue.

I’m just wondering, do we read books for the experience, or get the information into our brains? Is knowledge just about knowing, or is it a collection of our physical and emotional expepriences that we go through while acquiring that knowledge?

The article said you will be able to learn a language by popping a capsule or you will be able to read War and Peace by simply taking a pill. This basically means that along with printed and digital versions, you may also get “capsule” versions of the books.

Of course people have different notions of what an experience is. More and more people are preferring digital books (Kindle, Nook, Play Books) despite the fact we all miss that feel of holding an actual book, feeling and smelling its pages. You can carry an entire library in your palm and I’m pretty sure within the foreseable future the concept of visiting libraries and scouring through books is going to be a thing of the past and in fact, we may no longer have the book shelves in our homes and offices. This is natural, evolutionary process, whether we like it or not.

People read books for two reasons: to entertain themselves, and to educate or inform themselves. You can’t entertain yourself by suddenly coming to know of the contents of an entertaining book. Suddenly knowing Mcbeth isn’t the same as reading its lines individually, halting for thinking, engaging in mental debate and feeling the anguish of the characters. The Mcbeth capsule may simply reveal the story to you, it even may make it easier to recall certain pessages and dialogs, but it doesn’t make you a part of the story, which is why we normally read stories. We develop an empathy, or an aversion towards characters and circumstances when we need a novel or a play, that won’t be there is we simply swallow it.

What makes a book a classic?

This Salon article throws some light on many factors that make a book or a novel a classic. According to a Goodreads discussion thread on the same topic:

It has stood the test of time. It is filled with eternal verities. It captures the essence and flavor of its own age and had a significant effect on that age. It has something important to say. It achieves some form of aesthetic near-perfection. It is “challenging” or innovative in some respect. Scholars and other experts endorse it and study it. It has been included in prestigious series, like the Modern Library, Penguin Classics or the Library of America, and appears on lists of great books.

Not everything is classic, as you often see on television when they are showing a black-and-white movie (some of them are horrendous despite being black-and-white and despite featuring top-rated actors and actresses of the time) they say it is a classic. The same can be said about books. It is often said that there is no set formula for a book becoming a classic or a movie becoming a hit. Keeping some in the mental factors common, it is a random phenomena. For every War and Peace and Crime and Punishment there must be thousands of other books equally well-written and relevant but never saw the light of the day or never reached their intended readers. I often wonder why Shakespeare is such a reputed bard or playwright and when I read The Count of Monte Cristo I didn’t have a very high opinion of Alexandre Dumas. Similarly among Indian authors I really feel that writers like Premchand, R. K. Narain and Ruskin Bond are overrated. An author who sells a lot doesn’t necessarily become a good writer, but I think I’m entering another plane. Amritlal Nagar on the other hand, my recent discovery, is an exceptional writer and he can be easily compared to the best in the world and if I am in a position to compile my list of classics, I’m definitely going to add one of his books, especially Karvat.

There is a scholarly way of deeming a book classic and there is a personal way and I think whether a book becomes a classic all over the world is a mixture of scholarly and personal acceptance as well as a matter of chance.

Is the Internet really making us stupid?

These days I’m reading this really interesting book titled “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains”.

Although I haven’t read much yet, the basic premise of the book is that the Internet has totally altered the way we consume and assimilate textual information. Very rapidly we are growing impatient and distracted and this shows the way we quickly browse through multiple pages without reading complete texts. There is too much information available, says the writer (Nicholas Carr was nominated for Pulitzer in 2011 for this book if I’m not mistaken), and this information is too easily available. Until just a couple of decades ago, if you wanted some data or some research information, you needed to sift through a ton of paper and books and you would normally spend weeks, even months reading reference material.

Now, you can just go to Google.com and look for the information you need. In fact, the writer has come across many people who have altogether stopped reading complete books. For instance, there is some university grantee who simply picks up relevant text from Google books and he hasn’t read a single complete book in the past five years.

Surprisingly, mine has been a slightly different case. Sure, I could have been more productive without all the distractions manifesting on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes, an unplanned thread begins and before I realise, two hours are gone. Sometimes a complete day goes by because distractions definitely take their toll. But on the other hand, I have little to complain because my business depends on the Internet, although not specifically on Twitter and Facebook.

Technology has helped me read more. I have never had a problem with reading long texts whether they are blog posts, detailed technical articles or political analysis. Reading it on computer and laptop used to be a problem so these days I make plenty of use of GetPocket. This is a bookmarking service and you can get a small add-on for your browser. Whenever I come across an article that I would like to read but cannot do so right now, I simply click the +Pocket button on my browser and the text-only version of the article is added to my GetPocket account that later on I can access on my tablet and read at leisure. This has tremendously augmented my reading.

Talking about my tablet. I have a Samsung Galaxy tab that now I have been using for more than a year to read books. Many people don’t recommend this, especially in the times of some excellent digital book readers like Kindle and Nook, I find my tablet more useful. Unless I’m hard pressed for work on a project, unless there is some other pressing need in the family, I normally spend around two hours everyday reading a book. The number of books I have read on my tablet in one year, I can safely say, has surpassed the number of books I must have read in the past 20 years.

Reading conventional paperbacks and hardcovers was always a problem for me. Since I can only use one hand, it was always difficult to keep the book open in front of me, especially when the fan was running overhead. Also, I couldn’t read a book while lying in bed. This I can do now. I no longer need to take care of the fluttering pages.

I also have this tendency to immediately look for the meaning of words that I don’t understand. Previously I used to keep a dictionary with me. These days, I use an Android version of dictionary.com and whenever I come across a word I don’t understand, I can easily look it up.

The greatest advantage of using digital books, at least for me, is that they are just a click away. I can easily purchase new books from my tablet itself. Previously I always had to depend on others when I needed a new book.

With Internet I feel smarter rather than stupid, to be frank. I believe people who are distracted would be distracted, Internet or no Internet. I often say, sometimes vainly, when some of my friends were whiling away their time downloading porn from the Internet or lurking in the chat forums, I was looking for online business opportunities. If it wasn’t the Internet, something else would have distracted them.

But the distraction let loose by the Internet and all the social networking websites cannot be underestimated, especially when esteemed writers like Zadie Smith have to use Internet blocking applications to keep them focused. So yes, there is a problem and sometimes this problem seems formidable, but since it is a part and parcel of our everyday life, we will have to learn to live with it. There are many people on Twitter and Facebook who are really stupid, but then I see equally stupid and dumber people on various TV debates. So stupidity and dumbness is not exclusive to the Internet. I will share more thoughts on this later on.