Victor Hugo Kindles Some Thoughts

This post has been revised and reposted under the title “Victor Hugo’s New Notre Dame.” Please click  here  to read the revised post.

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm  Comments (10)  
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  1. The Kindle probably has a better chance of winning you over than does the baby cabbage.

    I have always been called a fussy eater, a term that still drives me crazy. I’m not fussy; I eat what I like. I believe brussels sprouts taste the same to everyone — just as a painting looks the same, or a piece of music sounds the same, or hurtling down a steep hill of snow on two sticks feels the same. The difference is simply that not everyone likes those sensations. Your reaction to the ebook readers may be in this category.

    On the other hand, you might find that they do serve a purpose in certain situations. I listen to audiobooks in the car, not because I enjoy the experience of sliding in a CD, but because they allow me to listen and learn while I’m driving. As much as I love real books, when I’m behind the wheel I need to find an alternative. Not so at the dinner table: why eat beets if you don’t like them? And why try them if you already know you don’t like them? I’ve never tried bullfighting, but I know I wouldn’t like it.

    bronxboy,

    Yep – you’ve just made my point again. All of these gadgets are tools – for learning, for convenience, for enjoyment – and we’re the ones who determine how they’re used. As I like to say, a hammer’s a hammer – we determine whether it’s used to pound a nail or crack open a skull.

    Last week I was told by an acquaintance that she spends two hours a day on Facebook, updating her status and such. Yesterday I walked through Target and noticed fully half the customers were buried in hand-held devices as they moved through the store. The number of accidents caused by inattentive drivers who are not only talking on cell phones but watching videos, texting or googling “risks associated with Brussels sprouts” is rising exponentially. Audio books are a little different, although I’ve found I’m not able to listen to them while working or driving because I get so wrapped up in the book I don’t pay attention to what’s going on around me.

    I’m fascinated by your contention that paintings look the same to everyone, music sounds the same, Brussels sprouts taste the same, and that the only difference in our experience of them is personal preference. My immediate response is “Gosh, NO!” But I don’t know why I think that, or feel it so strongly. Now I’ve got something new to ponder!

    Well, that, and my list of “things I’ve never tried but know I wouldn’t like”.

    Linda

  2. It occurs to me that you are actually writing an “E-Book” here.
    I get to enjoy the first draft.

    Ken,

    Can you see me grinning? Good. ;-)

    Linda

  3. Maybe this solves a puzzle I have been working on for some years.

    Since first touring England, Scotland and Wales I was impressed with the architecture and came home to wonder just what we have built (besides highway interchanges and super malls) that could compare to a ruined Hadrian’s wall or a well preserved castle near Loch Lomond. I guess the most modern architecture that I liked was the Monuments to the King and Queen of Thailand built on Doy Inthanon. So most buildings and ruins I admire were certainly built long before the printing press.

    It comes to mind that the Bas relief at Angkor was a form of writing/printing and (if it ever existed) Ozymandias’ Plaque could well be “comment # 1” on Ra’s Blog.

    Ken,

    I’m laughing even more now – love the thought of Ozy’s Plaque as a blog comment!

    Your comment about Doi Inthanon reminds me how much of a “closed book” parts of the world are to us. Of course, geographical proximity doesn’t always help with that. I once knew a woman who lived outside Victoria, Texas, who’d never been to San Antonio, let alone Houston. She saw no need to go because, as she said, “I have everything I need here.”

    And of course, there are inner-city Houston children who’ve never been to see the buildings on Galveston’s Strand and people in Houston’s suburbs who never have been to the 4th Ward to see the shot-gun houses and “read” the history there. Thank goodness there are those who’ve dedicated themselves to preserving these “texts” and restoring them for all of us to learn from and enjoy.

    Linda

  4. Hi Linda,
    Another very thoughtful and enjoyable story. I am sitting on the fence on this one. I still get the “paper” newspaper delivered every day to my home, and when I have time I enjoy holding that newspaper and reading it….when I don’t have time I catch a few of the headlines on the computer. Best of both worlds.

    I have a full wall, floor to ceiling built-in bookshelf in my living area and it is full of books. I used to read so much, maybe 3-4 books a week if not more..now in the past 20 years it has been hard to read even a few “pleasure books”. So I grab my “pleasure reading” when I can get it…like when I come here and read your stories! (Pleasure reading as opposed to reading I must do for work or for “self improvement”) I will always enjoy the Printed book like I enjoy the printed newspaper.

    I think I could imagine eventually trying out one of the new reading gagets. But buying one of those is so far down on my “to buy wish list” it will never happen.. It is not even close to being a priority. Plus, expensive equipment tends to get destroyed easily… I was about 5 years behind everyone else in getting a cell phone! Then I destroyed a few of those before I got the hang of not getting it wet, dropping it or losing it. I still do not have a lap top computer; I am attached to my big desk top. LOL

    And I have never like Grits and still do not like Grits and I tried them a few times and could not change my mind. And for a Southern Girl not to like Grits is the same as a Southern Girl not liking Ice Tea which I do not enjoy either. That is almost a sin in my family. And I have tried tea many times.
    I will not eat Brussel Sprouts either.. and never even tried one.

    Thank you so much for another interesting read.

    Patti,

    See – you’re a “both/and” person, too! I remember that you read the Sun-Sentinel in the mornings – that’s how you always know about Ken’s great articles. From what I’ve seen of the SS online, it might be a better paper than our Houston Chronicle. I get most of my news online now, just because the Chron has become so watered down over the years – and their point of view has taken over their reporting in many areas.

    I sympathize re: your gadget motality. When I’m working, I keep a truly cheap, Radio Shack AM/FM radio around. I can’t tell you how many of those have gone in the water over the years. People have told me I need an iPod, but I can tell you I don’t. I need something I can put three feet away. I know one guy who thought he’d solved the problem by taping his iPod to his arm. Then, he fell in the water. ;-)

    When I finally tried grits, I was astonished that people eat them and seem to enjoy the experience. I did try them several times – with gravy, with butter, salt and pepper, etc. Nothing helped. But you’re right – your “Southern Girlness” is at risk if you’ve turned your back on grits and iced tea!
    (I don’t think anyone puts anything at risk by not eating Brussels sprouts!)

    Thanks for stopping by – so glad you enjoyed the read!

    Linda

  5. “I’m fascinated by your contention that paintings look the same to everyone, music sounds the same, Brussels sprouts taste the same, and that the only difference in our experience of them is personal preference. My immediate response is “Gosh, NO!” But I don’t know why I think that, or feel it so strongly.”

    I think you would agree with me if I had done a better job of saying what I meant. If you and I are listening to a piece of classical music, we hear the same notes — the sound waves moving through the air and into our ears are identical. What happens after that is subjective, and maybe unique for everyone. If we’re looking at a painting, we see the same colors and shapes; what those colors and shapes trigger, including how we feel about them, might be completely different. I think it’s the same with food. If you like crawfish and I don’t, the difference isn’t in what they taste like, but rather in our reaction to that taste. At least that’s my current theory. Check back tomorrow.

    By the way, I love this post, especially the “books of stone” imagery.

    bronxboy,

    Hmmm… I take your point. But it still seems a bit mechanistic to me. Let me give it another try.

    The first thing that strikes me is that word: “if”. “If you and I are listening…” “If we’re looking at a painting….” That makes clear that being in the presence of music or painting doesn’t guarantee receptivity.

    Remember the famous experiment, where Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten asked Joshua Bell to give a little concert in a Washington, DC subway station during morning rush hour? At 7:51 am on January 12, 2007, a few months before he won the Avery Fisher Prize, Bell, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, took out his 1713 Stradivarius and began to play. More than a thousand people passed by, and few stopped to listen. Even fewer recognized Bell. As Weingarten wrote his his Pearls Before Breakfast,

    “No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

    The article’s always worth a re-read, and it’s relevant here. Some stopped to listen, most of the thousand who passed by did not. One woman recognized him and tossed a $20 into his case, but his take from other folks was $32.17. The same notes were echoing around all of those people, but that doesn’t mean they “heard”.

    As far as paintings – well, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry, here. Maybe I should do both, since I’m such a both/and kind of gal. Last week I was diagnosed with fast-onset glaucoma in my left eye. If I look at a photograph, a painting or the world outside with my left eye, the colors are washed out, with no vibrancy whatsoever. I looked at a friend’s photo last night and with my right eye the cirrus clouds were lovely. With my left, I couldn’t see them at all.

    If my two eyes can’t see the same color and shapes…. Well, you take my point. ;-)

    Now, I’m just laughing – and thanking you for bringing this second comment. I never imagined I’d find a way to put my glaucoma to use so soon and in such an interesting context! I’m hoping new glasses and medication will help my poor left eye’s perception. We’ll have to find some different ways to work on those folks who cruised past Joshua Bell!

    Linda

  6. Did you know taste buds have memories? Your mention of my family’s onion rings brought the flavor to the tip of my tongue just now.

    They were rightly famous. When my brother, Jeff, was running the place and going through a ton to a ton and a half of onions a WEEK you know you’re doing something right.

    Probably the biggest “name” to enjoy them had to be Jackie Kennedy and her kids. When they were on the Cape they made the 30 mile drive with the Secret Service agents several times for the rings and fried clams.

    Another name people of our generation will remember who loved them was Ted Mack of the Original Amateur Hour. For several years he and his wife rented a place in Chatham and every day, if it wasn’t raining, he’d come over for onion rings. His wife would never get out of the car, though. He always ordered the same thing each day…an order of onion rings, a small coke, a box kite and two balls of twine. He’d take his order to the small dunes behind the stand, eat his rings while flying his kite. When he was finished he’d find a child and give them the kite, get in his car and leave. I don’t think his wife ever ate a single ring. Her loss.

    Of course all of us kids learned how to fry them, too. In the summer of ’64 I had my own place up in Wellfleet near the harbor. It was a horrible summer for rain that year. One day I had sent my help home and was just getting ready to shut things down and leave, myself, when an elderly woman came in and ordered a half-pint of fried clams. These were REAL clams, bellies and all. Not the strips most people are familiar with. She ate the first one and said, “You know, I’ve only had clams as good as these one other place in my life.”

    “Where’s that?” I asked expecting her to say my dad’s place.

    “The White Spot, in Woburn, Mass.”

    “You’re not going to believe this,” I said, “but I learned how to fry clams from my dad, and my dad learned to fry them at the White Spot.” The amazing thing is I watched the White Spot burn to the ground in ’52, but a dozen years later this woman’s taste buds remembered.

    oldsalt,

    I love your stories of life on the Cape, and understand perfectly the taste of memories. I do remember Ted Mack, and the show, and that combination of onion rings and kites seems to fit him perfectly. I love that he’d give kids the kites when he was done playing.

    What’s truly amazing is that woman. Apparently there’s a gastronomical analog to oral-tradition story-telling – the taste can get passed down from generation to generation. Don’t you know she had to be thrilled to discover a favorite taste again?

    All of this reminds me of the famous passage from Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past“:

    But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

    And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.

    For you, onion rings bring back the Cape. For me, lemon chiffon pie brings back Iowa. It’s wonderful.

    By the way, I was interested to see a good bit of Chatham when Hurricane Earl was roaming around. The Weather Channel had a reporter there, doing the usual Weather Channel thing – breathless interviews at the water’s edge, etc. But it was fun to see.

    Linda

  7. Linda, once again I marvel at the way your mind works, and wends its way from sprouts to Victor Hugo to e-readers. Reading your posts is a bit like taking a walk through wonderland, never knowing what’s going to show up next! And I mean that in the best possible way :)

    In terms of e-readers, I, too, was a total nay-sayer when the Kindle first appeared. Never! I declared emphatically. Give up the paper and ink I love so much? Heresy.

    But…

    One of my dear friends (who is 20 years older than I, by the way) has fallen in love with her Sony e-reader. We had occasion to travel together, and it was there that I came to see the value of these things – at least for me. I do travel a good bit, and it’s so nice to have five or six books stocked up to take with me, rather than hauling a suitcase full or having to buy more while I’m gone.

    However, when I’m home, I’m still hooked on the old fashioned version.

    As for sprouts – well, I love ’em, and your description of those cooked in garlic and served in a pretty bowl with lemon on the side made my mouth water. For real.

    Becca,

    My poor mind does tend to bump around a bit. I still like the image of a kaleidoscope for creativity. All the bits are there – it just takes a bit of a twist to find them arranged in a new pattern. I came to the kaleidoscope image myself, but later found the concept expanded and developed by the terrific management expert, Rosabeth Moss Kanter. There’s a nice article here that you might enjoy. I’ve found all of her writing simulating and encouraging, and herLeadership Tips from Tony Hayward in the Harvard Business Review is a classic.

    I certainly can see the value of e-readers for folks who travel a good bit – and, as I see Arti’s pointed out down below, for those books you know you’re not going to want to keep. The ability to enlarge text is of value, too, particularly for books which aren’t normally published with large text. See? All of that is rational… But, still…. ;-)

    Luckily, using e-gadgets doesn’t make a person “better” than others, and not carting around a Kindle isn’t a moral failing. We’ll all sort it out in our own way and time – but isn’t it fun to talk about?

    And yes, garlic and lemon is a pretty good combo. If you like Brussels sprouts, I think you’d be a fan!

    Linda

  8. The phantom of Roland Barthes emerges here again. If you’re just looking for the ‘text’, then the eReader is sufficient and convenient. You can store hundreds of texts in their digital form to retrieve any time. Further, there are lots of ‘airport paperbacks’ that only warrant one read and be thrown into the donate box, then the eReader may be a practical alternative. You’ll save a lot of trees too.

    But if you love a particular title, yearning to touch its soul in tangible form, the object d’art itself, pages, spine, design art, and the relational and affective experience, then you’ll need to get hold of the ‘hard copy’, no, the ‘hard original’. Just like some books you’d borrow from the library, read and return. Yet there are some you’d want to have a personal copy to keep and cherish, and a good copy of that too, that you’d look for your favourite edition, buy it and keep it so you can relate to it as if it has life on its own, to handle it, touch it, smell it, write on it, underline it by hand, make works of art in its space… as you’ve passionately pointed out.

    So it’s not either/or, but it’s definitely a choice or preference regarding the book itself and how much you treasure that particular title. Barthes may be the best person to write the manual and ad for the eReader today.

    Arti,

    So interesting. And I think I agree with you. I’d be happy, for example, to put Strunk and White on an e-reader. It’s a resource, to be consulted as needed. I’d be more than happy to put “airport reading” on a Kindle. Although I enjoy Tom Clancy, for example, I’ve never read one of his books more than once.

    But I’d never put Annie Dillard on a Nook, or Durrell on a Kindle. It just doesn’t seem right. Your analogy with the library is spot-on. Many times I’ve read and re-read a book, and then purchased my own copy.

    But here’s a question: what about a “new” book, one we’ve not read, and that we aren’t able to categorize as e-book material or bound-leather quality?
    Is it possible that first coming to a book on an e-reader, as pure text, might actually affect our reading and response to the book? Would such a spare, stripped-down experience mitigate against experiencing the richness of the writing and the pleasure of the book? To put it another way, could we be prejudiced for or against a given text by its digital or print context?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions – but I do wonder about them. Here’s one of the reasons: when I was in grade school, I read the Readers’ Digest condensed version of Kathryn Hulme’s “The Nun’s Story”. I’ve nearly forgotten the story, although I do remember that Audrey Hepburn starred in the movie.

    For years, I’ve also remembered vividly a scene which took place after the Sister had been diagnosed with TB (?) As I recall, her physician recommended she be given two egg yolks daily. Whatever she received, it was brought to her in a fine crystal wineglass, which certainly surprised her convent-shaped expectations. When she asked about it, the good doctor looked at her and said, “Sister, for an invalid, presentation is everything.”

    And presentation may be more important for readers than we realize, too. I truly do suspect that the same words, presented as plain text in plastic or beautifully printed and bound, will be received differently. Five years down the road, there’s a thesis in them-thar propositions!

    Welcome home, by the way – wonderful to have you back and I can’t wait to read about your other adventures!

    Linda

  9. Many thanks to my reader SP, who sent along this wonderful video. It’s such a delight I just had to insert it here as a treat for you.

    And, as these things happen, one video led to another, which I also had missed. So, compliments of Al Cyone, the medieval helpdesk!

  10. You are so right about the Brussels Sprouts – Jake described them perfectly when he said putting a Brussels sprout in your mouth is like eating a fart.
    I’d love a Kindle though – just for fiction, I could download, read and discard. I simply don’t have space for any more novels in this house.

    Jeannine,

    Ah, Jake. Dead-on, he is. The only description I’ve come across that might equal his is the suggestion that the lowly sprout resembles a monkey brain. Apparently they truly are a love/hate sort of veggie.

    One thing I’ve learned through all this is to ask lots of questions that most people would think just too basic for words. Like, “What does this thing do?” I’ve just discovered the Nook also is an mp3 player. Whether that’s true for the Kindle, I don’t know. Apparently the days of single-function gadgets is over, and I need to get with the program. Imagine – I still think a phone is for making telephone calls! ;-)

    The thought of being able to read and discard things you have no desire to keep around is tempting. And the ability to enlarge text is good, too. Not everything worth reading comes in a large-print edition!

    Linda


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