Tag Archives: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

How to Hold a Book

I did a piece a few weeks back for WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) and The Wall Street Journal Asia about bookholders. These are devices made to help folk read more easily. As one of my old bosses said: “neanderthal”. But I still love to hold a book and would definitely opt for paper over digital for most reading:

You’re more likely to find them advertised on the back pages of quirky British publications such as Private Eye and The Countryman than in glossy international fashion or gadget mags, but they grapple with one of the thorniest design issues since the invention of the printing press: how to read a book in the bath. Or on the beach. Or in bed. Or at dinner. Call it The Search for the Perfect Book Holder.

The problem is a simple one: Books have long mocked the naysayers who predicted their demise in the face of radio, television, audio books, the Internet, eBooks (books you read on a hand-held device), eReaders (devices you use to read eBooks) or whatever. But books do have one design flaw: You have to hold them open. While this may not sound like too much of a trial, it can be if you’re trying to eat/type/take notes/get an even tan/wash your back/sip cocoa at the same time, or if, for some reason — through repetitive strain injury or arthritis, say — you have a problem gripping things. Perhaps if we didn’t actually have to hold a book up while we read it, at least some of us might have read Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” to the end, and J.K. Rowling would have sold even more copies of her 672-page doorstop “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” if we hadn’t been afraid of dropping it in the bath.

Here are some links to the ones I reviewed. They’re all great, the products of minds both mad and brilliant at the same time. Who would spend so much time and money trying to make a book stand up?

  • PageStay: great for cooks
  • thumbthing: great for small paperbacks
  • The Gimble and Reader Cushion: great name, great in the bath
  • BookGem: Great for standing books up on flat surfaces
  • easy-read Great for standing things up on non-flat surfaces

There are some more I reviewed, or at least heard about, which I may post later.

Old Journalists and New Facts

It’s not hard to see that old-style print media and journalists are still torn over what, exactly, the Age of Blogging means for them. For Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, it’s part of a our culture’s newfound “enshrinement of subjectivity” — a fancy way of saying we don’t really care whether something’s right or not, so long as it’s about us and our feelings. She might be right about the general trend in society, but I fear she’s unfair, if not a little subjective, herself, about the role of blogging and the Internet in the case she mentions: James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces”.

Kakutani’s scathing look at the controversy surrounding the failed fiction-turned-successful memoir – When nonfiction means facts with a flourish in today’s International Herald Tribune — says

“A Million Little Pieces,” which became the second-highest-selling book of 2005 in America (behind only “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”), clearly did not sell because of its literary merits. Its narrative feels willfully melodramatic and contrived, and is rendered in prose so self-important and mannered as to make the likes of Robert James Waller (“The Bridges of Madison County”) and John Gray (“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”) seem like masters of subtlety.

She sees the book as riding the crest of two 1990s waves — memoirs and recovery-movement reminiscences — which in turn also coincided with

culture’s enshrinement of subjectivity – “moi” as a modus operandi for processing the world. Cable news is now peopled with commentators who serve up opinion and interpretation instead of news, just as the Internet is awash in bloggers who trade in gossip and speculation instead of fact. For many of these people, it’s not about being accurate or fair. It’s about being entertaining, snarky or provocative – something that’s decidedly easier and less time-consuming to do than old fashioned investigative reporting or hard-nosed research.

This is where I think she glosses over the role of the Internet. For sure, the world of blogging and the Web is full of tripe — self-indulgent whining, where ‘feeling’ is more important than ‘knowing’ — and a place where razor-tongued opinion counts more than well-informed reason. But wait a minute. Wasn’t Frey unmasked, not by a mainstream news publication, but on a web site called The Smoking Gun, as she herself acknowledges? (The Smoking Gun is owned by Court TV, a cable network, that uses ‘material obtained from government and law enforcement sources, via Freedom of Information requests, and from court files nationwide’.)

The truth is that the Internet reflects real life, meaning that there’s both great and awful sitting side by side. We people who spend time there know this already; we’ve taught ourselves to quite quickly — 50 milliseconds, to be precise — judge the merits of a website. It wasn’t exactly a blogger that unmasked Frey, but if this tawdry little affair is to be remembered, it should include acknowledgement that, despite being atop of the NYT non-fiction bestseller list for 15 weeks, it was an obscure web site, not a broadsheet journalist, who thought to dig into the truth behind the story.