The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

E-books are terrible

Writing in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost explains better than I could why I stopped using my Kindle a few years back:

A particular reader’s receptivity to ebooks...depends on the degree to which these objects conform to, or at least fail to flout, one’s idea of bookiness. But if you look back at the list of features that underlie that idea, ebooks embrace surprisingly few of them.

An ebook doesn’t have pages, for one. The Kindle-type book does have text, and that text might still be organized into sections and chapters and the like. But the basic unit of text in an ebook does not correspond with a page, because the text can be made to reflow at different sizes and in various fonts, as the user prefers. That’s why Amazon invented “locations” to track progress and orientation in a book. You’d think the matter displayed on an iPad screen would feel more familiar—it’s just pictures of actual pages—but oddly it often feels less like leaves of paper than its e-ink brethren does. The weird way you tap or push a whole image of a page to the side—it’s the uncanny valley of page turning, not a simulation or replacement of it.

Ebook devices are extremely compatible with an idea of bookiness that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces. Some of the reading that corresponds particularly well with this conception of bookiness includes fiction in general and genre fiction—such as mysteries, sci-fi, young-adult fiction, and romance—in particular.

I guess I have my answer, then: I hate ebooks because I don’t read much genre fiction, but I read a lot of scholarly and trade nonfiction. I also buy a lot of books on art, architecture, and design, whose subjects work best—or feel most bookish—when they are large-format, open-spread, and richly illustrated. As a somewhat haughty book person, I also can’t quite wrap my spleen around every book looking and feeling the same, like they do on an ebook reader. For me, bookiness partly entails the uniqueness of each volume—its cover, shape, typography, and layout.

If you like ebooks, great. Enjoy your dim, gray screen in peace. If you hate them, don’t worry about it. Who says everything must involve a computer? Maybe it’s better, even, to protect the print-book market by building a firewall against ebooks’ expansion beyond their rule over genre fiction. Just give up and read normal books, like humankind has done for 2,000 years.

I read dozens of books on Kindles while traveling for school and work, and I remember very little of them. Yet I can often recall the place on the page where I read a particular line in a book.

Shit Went Down

Having finished Hard Times, I started a new book last night, and realized right away it will take me a year to read. The book, Shit Went Down (On This Day in History) by James Fell relates an historical event for each day of the year. The recommendation came from John Scalzi's blog. I have about 60 recommendations from Scalzi's blog now, and someday I might read a fraction of those books.

Fell's book reminds me that on this day in 1925, a jury in Dayton, Tennessee, convicted John Scopes of teaching human evolution in a state-funded school. Despite the wonderful things that have come out of Tennessee, the state's constant competition with neighboring Mississippi and Alabama for the "stupidest legislation of the decade" award always entertains. My friends from the state assure me that smart people actually do live there, but their protestations have less of a persuasive effect given they left Tennessee at the first opportunity.

In any event, I really need to carve out more time for reading. Come on, UK, open up to vaccinated visitors already! I need the airplane time.

Know-Nothings come to Niles Public Library

The Niles, Ill., public library topped lists around the world for its best-in-class offerings. As part of the North Suburban Library System, it shares resources with other world-class public libraries, including the one I grew up in. But following the Library Board elections this past April, the Niles Public Library has become noteworthy for something completely different:

Over the course of the next few months and the installation of a new Board of Directors, the library’s funding has been deeply slashed, hours reduced to below-state-standard levels, the library director quit, and essential services to the community shuttered.

Three new Board members — Joe Makula, Susan Schoenfeldt, and Olivia Hanusiak — were elected, allowing for a return to a conservative, tax-conscious voting block. All three were candidates [Board member Carolyn] Drblik sought, and now she had enough support to be elected Board president. It’s rumored they spent up to $15,000 on this small local election. Makula himself is a Trump donor, and the group, Dove Lempke believes, is working to install themselves on taxing bodies across the state and country in order to gut public institutions from the inside.

Immediately upon the board being installed, they hired a technology consultant to investigate the library’s processes and procedures. This consultant, a wedding videographer with no auditing credentials, is simply a friend of Drblik and the rest of her new Board block and campaigned for their election.

He was hired at $100 an hour with no experience and no cap.

Consequence? The Niles Public Library is on its way to not being a world-class library. And in an odd turn of events, the entire library staff joined AFSCME Local 31 in June.

The moral of the story: vote, people! Especially in local elections.

One year and two weeks

We've spent 54 weeks in the looking-glass world of Covid-19. And while we may have so much more brain space than we had during the time a certain malignant personality invaded it every day, life has not entirely stopped. Things continue to improve, though:

Finally, today is the 40th anniversary of the day President Reagan got shot. I'm struggling a bit with the "40 years" bit.

Good morning!

Now in our 46th hour above freezing, with the sun singing, the birds coming up, and the crocuses not doing anything noteworthy, it feels like spring. We even halted our march up the league table in most consecutive days of more than 27.5 cm of snow on the ground, tying the record set in 2001 at 25 days. (Only 25 cm remained at 6am, and I would guess a third of that will melt by noon.)

So, what else is going on in the world?

And now, back to work.

Mr Vice President, kick your boss to the curb now

The House of Representatives have started debate on a resolution to ask Vice President Mike Pence to start the process of removing the STBXPOTUS under the 25th Amendment. As you might imagine, this was not the only news story today:

Finally, the always-funny Alexandra Petri imagines what people who have never read Orwell believe his books actually say.

New batch of public-domain works

All works published before 1 January 1926 have now entered the public domain:

1925 was the year of heralded novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, seminal works by Sinclair Lewis, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley ... and a banner year for musicians, too. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, among hundreds of others, made important recordings. And 1925 marked the release of canonical movies from silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

As of today, every single one of those works has entered the public domain. "That means that copyright has expired," explains Jennifer Jenkins, a law professor at Duke University who directs its Center for the Study of the Public Domain. "And all of the works are free for anyone to use, reuse, build upon for anyone — without paying a fee."

On January 1 every year, a new batch of published works is liberated from the constraints of copyright. (For a long time, copyright expired after 75 years, but in 1998, Congress extended the date of copyright expiration for works published between 1923 and 1977 to 95 years.) It's difficult to overstate the importance of having work in the public domain. For example, can you imagine the holidays without It's A Wonderful Life? That movie happened to be unprotected by copyright, so it was able to be shown — a lot — for free, contributing to its establishment as an American Christmas classic.

In an article about this year's Public Domain Day, Jenkins discusses everything from the changes in length of copyright to a fascinating story about the copyright of Hitler's Mein Kampf, which also enters the public domain this year. (A dizzyingly exhaustive list of works from 1925 now in the public domain can be found here.)

I will once again raise my objections to the Mickey Mouse Preservation Act of 1998. The Constitution allows for "limited" protections; 75 years is quite enough, thank you.

President-Elect of the United States Joe Biden

The Electoral College has voted, and with no surprises, as of 16:37 Chicago time Joe Biden has received the requisite 270 votes to be elected President of the United States. And yet, we had a few surprises today:

Finally, John le Carré died at 89 yesterday. Time to revisit Josephine Livingstone's review of "the glorious return of George Smiley," le Carré's 2017 novel A Legacy of Spies.

 

Home stretch?

With 58 days until the election, the noise keeps increasing. Here's some of it:

Finally, The Smithsonian describes how Greg Priore managed to steal priceless documents from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, because he was in charge of security for those items.