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The Edge of the Precipice: Why Read Literature in the Digital Age?

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Can a case be made for reading literature in the digital age? Does literature still matter in this era of instant information? Is it even possible to advocate for serious, sustained reading with all manner of social media distracting us, fragmenting our concentration, and demanding short, rapid communication? In The Edge of the Precipice, Paul Socken brings together a thou Can a case be made for reading literature in the digital age? Does literature still matter in this era of instant information? Is it even possible to advocate for serious, sustained reading with all manner of social media distracting us, fragmenting our concentration, and demanding short, rapid communication? In The Edge of the Precipice, Paul Socken brings together a thoughtful group of writers, editors, philosophers, librarians, archivists, and literary critics from Canada, the US, France, England, South Africa, and Australia to contemplate the state of literature in the twenty-first century. Including essays by outstanding contributors such as Alberto Manguel, Mark Kingwell, Lori Saint-Martin, Sven Birkerts, Katia Grubisic, Drew Nelles, and J. Hillis Miller, this collection presents a range of perspectives about the importance of reading literature today. The Edge of the Precipice is a passionate, articulate, and entertaining collection that reflects on the role of literature in our society and asks if it is now under siege. Contributors include Michael Austin (Newman University), Sven Birkerts (author), Stephen Brockmann (Carnegie-Mellon University), Vincent Giroud (University of Franche-Comté), Katia Grubisic (poet), Mark Kingwell (University of Toronto), Alberto Manguel (author), J. Hillis Miller (University of California, Irvine), Drew Nelles (editor-in-chief, Maisonneuve), Keith Oatley (University of Toronto), Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia (British Library), Leonard Rosmarin (Brock University), Lori Saint-Martin (translator, Université du Québec à Montréal), Paul Socken (University of Waterloo), and Gerhard van der Linde (University of South Africa).


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Can a case be made for reading literature in the digital age? Does literature still matter in this era of instant information? Is it even possible to advocate for serious, sustained reading with all manner of social media distracting us, fragmenting our concentration, and demanding short, rapid communication? In The Edge of the Precipice, Paul Socken brings together a thou Can a case be made for reading literature in the digital age? Does literature still matter in this era of instant information? Is it even possible to advocate for serious, sustained reading with all manner of social media distracting us, fragmenting our concentration, and demanding short, rapid communication? In The Edge of the Precipice, Paul Socken brings together a thoughtful group of writers, editors, philosophers, librarians, archivists, and literary critics from Canada, the US, France, England, South Africa, and Australia to contemplate the state of literature in the twenty-first century. Including essays by outstanding contributors such as Alberto Manguel, Mark Kingwell, Lori Saint-Martin, Sven Birkerts, Katia Grubisic, Drew Nelles, and J. Hillis Miller, this collection presents a range of perspectives about the importance of reading literature today. The Edge of the Precipice is a passionate, articulate, and entertaining collection that reflects on the role of literature in our society and asks if it is now under siege. Contributors include Michael Austin (Newman University), Sven Birkerts (author), Stephen Brockmann (Carnegie-Mellon University), Vincent Giroud (University of Franche-Comté), Katia Grubisic (poet), Mark Kingwell (University of Toronto), Alberto Manguel (author), J. Hillis Miller (University of California, Irvine), Drew Nelles (editor-in-chief, Maisonneuve), Keith Oatley (University of Toronto), Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia (British Library), Leonard Rosmarin (Brock University), Lori Saint-Martin (translator, Université du Québec à Montréal), Paul Socken (University of Waterloo), and Gerhard van der Linde (University of South Africa).

30 review for The Edge of the Precipice: Why Read Literature in the Digital Age?

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    What will become of reading? In particular, what will become of reading and engaging what have been considered the great works of literature from various cultures (no canon arguments here!)? With the advent of digital media with writing that comes to us in blog posts, tweets, and laced with visual content, what will happen to sitting down to read a long work like Don Quixote or War and Peace? With the growing emphasis on STEM education in our highly technological economy, will reading that seems What will become of reading? In particular, what will become of reading and engaging what have been considered the great works of literature from various cultures (no canon arguments here!)? With the advent of digital media with writing that comes to us in blog posts, tweets, and laced with visual content, what will happen to sitting down to read a long work like Don Quixote or War and Peace? With the growing emphasis on STEM education in our highly technological economy, will reading that seems to yield no immediate job skill or tangible benefit still have a place? These are among the questions explored in this collection of essays. One of the things I realized immediately in reading this collection was that I was among my people! These people love reading and books and consider this love to have had a profound shaping influence in their lives. I suspect that people like that will love this book, particularly if they have been engaged in literary studies in the last several decades. Some of the essays explore the questions of physical books versus various formats of e-books. The first is titled "Why I Read War and Peace on a Kindle (and bought the Book When I Was Done)". A later essay, "Don't Panic: Reading Literature in the Digital Age", covers similar ground but is more hopeful about the value of e-books versus the aesthetics and advantages of physical books. These and other essayists in the book cover the now-familiar territory of discussions about how the media shapes our engagement with the content of books. Some are more reactionary, such as Sven Birkerts, in "Why the Novel and the Internet Are Opposites, and Why the Latter Both Undermines the Former and makes it More Necessary." Yet, even as is implicit in the title of the first essay, I suspect most readers will engage in some hybrid of the two (or three if we include online, web content), which increasingly is my own view. The medium is a tool and every tool has particular uses and advantages. I wonder if in the coming years both publishers and users will become more discriminate to connecting medium to use. Other essays focus on the value of great literature in our lives. Perhaps the most striking to me was Leonard Rosmarin's narrative essay on "How Moliere and Co. Helped Me Get My Students Hooked on Literature". This essay underscored for me what seems essential to grasp for those who care about great literature: we will never get people to read because they should but rather because they catch the love for great writing and make it their own. It was fascinating to me to learn how many of the essayists loved books from childhood and grew up in contexts where books were valued or were around inspiring teachers who imparted this love and ushered their students into the world of books. Other essays that explored the value of literature were that of Drew Nelles ("Solitary Reading in an Age of Compulsory Sharing") Stephen Brockman's "Literature as Virtual Reality" and the concluding essay ("Why Read against the Grain? Confessions of an Addict") by Gerhard van der Linde. I believe it was in one of these essays (not easy to track down in the e-galley form I read this) that I also came across the great idea that one of the things that fosters reading is having books of ones own, and not just those of parents or from the library. One of the unique and delightful essays was Vincent Giroud's "A World without Books" that introduces us to the work of the librarian-archivist dealing with multiple editions, translations, bindings, and preservation of these works. Digitization cannot capture all the subtleties that can be found by physically examining some of these books and often fails to provide crucial information about the provenance of digitized works. So, if you love literature and reading, or are looking for a thoughtful exploration of reading and literature in the digital age, this is a good read. [My review is based on an e-galley form of this book provided for review purposes from the publisher through Netgalley.]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Why read what matters? This slim fast-reading collection of essays tackles the title question from many perspectives along two main tangents. The place of ink on paper reading vs pixels on screen The place of long form prose (literature) vs. wikipedia sized blocks of text Books have been losing ground for several years, as libraries stock ebooks and bookstores close doors. I travel for work quite frequently and it is now clear that serious traveling readers all have an ereader, and it Review title: Why read what matters? This slim fast-reading collection of essays tackles the title question from many perspectives along two main tangents. The place of ink on paper reading vs pixels on screen The place of long form prose (literature) vs. wikipedia sized blocks of text Books have been losing ground for several years, as libraries stock ebooks and bookstores close doors. I travel for work quite frequently and it is now clear that serious traveling readers all have an ereader, and it is only the occasional traveler who buys a disposable paperback to read on the plane. I travel with my Nook HD as well and have read some books on it (Google's digitization project makes access to free classics attractive) but still much prefer paper-based reading. But other than personal preference, is there some intrinsic benefit to ink on paper reading that makes it better and in fact essential for learning, for comprehension, for retention, and for development of critical perception, judgment, and thinking? Is the solitary and dîsconnected nature of reading a book a nostalgic quirk, a restorative break from the online world, or do its benefits even exist at all? The second tangent is perhaps the more serious--if we lose literature, do we lose some essential element of humanity, the skill of contemplation, of empathy, of thinking critically for oneself? While my review is probably making this sound boorishly highbrow, the serious philosophy and literary criticism is lightened and enlivened with personal stories, common sense, and real world considerations. The essayists are from a range of countries (with a bit of a Canadian bias befitting the publisher's location) and careers, including literary professors, librarians, translators, and archivists. Along the way I learned something about why I prefer books that I had not thought of or known about myself that is a common benefit of reading literature on paper-the writer has to finish before the reader can start the conversation that occurs in contemplation of the writer's words. So this is why I tried carrying my Nook to church but found it not right. It was the wrong format for the conversation between me and God that the Bible represents. In some sections of my Bible I have written so many notes in and around the text that it almost over writes the original text. Literature is a two-way internal conversation that is powerful, personal, and essential. If you read as a hobby and an obsession this book will make you a better reader and thinker. In my last review, I talked about a genre of writing and book publishing that has been thankfully and appropriately replaced by the search engines and 140-character creators of the world. But literate writing on paper is a genre of writing and a reason for reading that will never be replaced or replaceable by GooglApple.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Adkins

    Paul Socken, a retired professor of French Studies at the University of Waterloo, has brought together a wide variety of essayist in this volume to answer the question, "Why read literature in the digital age?" Respondents were asked to focus upon the act specifically on reading literature as opposed to non-fiction, news or other genres. The strength of the work is the wide varieties of responses in the included essays. Some wrote of the joy of owning real books, others talked of the aesthetic p Paul Socken, a retired professor of French Studies at the University of Waterloo, has brought together a wide variety of essayist in this volume to answer the question, "Why read literature in the digital age?" Respondents were asked to focus upon the act specifically on reading literature as opposed to non-fiction, news or other genres. The strength of the work is the wide varieties of responses in the included essays. Some wrote of the joy of owning real books, others talked of the aesthetic pleasures of reading a fine volume. Other writers spoke of the importance of continuing to read literature for the many benefits it brings the reader without expressing a strong preference for format. There was even a discussion about the vocationalization of colleges and universities and how the decline in the reading of literature is a part of that process. A few expressed a love for the new technologies and the convenience of e-Readers. As I read the various essays I found myself reflecting on a number of issues related to my own history with books, reading, and electronic devices. Growing up in a rural area with little access to books other than through underfunded school and public libraries led to my attaching a certain sacredness to those volumes that I owned. I can understand fully the contributors who wrote of identifying as a collector of books. I also identify with the author who spoke of a "U-Haul upgrade" being needed to move their books (my last major move required a second U-Haul for just this reason). Several years ago I began moving most of my reading to my Kindle and iPad and am very comfortable doing so though I still purchase physical books to read and collect. It also seemed somewhat ironic to be reading some of the essays that celebrated reading physical books and decried the electronic book on my iPad in eARC format. Like any collection of essays some resonated with me more than others. Nonetheless, all of the essays in the volume will cause you to think about the nature of reading, literature, technology and most importantly, your personal relationship with all of these.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    This book is a collection of essays written by academics and writers, about the love of reading. Some focus on the pleasures associated with the physical (paper) book, as opposed to e-readers. Others bemoan the fact that reading "serious" literature, and studying the skills necessary for decoding literature, are becoming less and less attractive to university administrators and students alike. Another essay points out that reading is essentially a lonely activity, and that no amount of social ne This book is a collection of essays written by academics and writers, about the love of reading. Some focus on the pleasures associated with the physical (paper) book, as opposed to e-readers. Others bemoan the fact that reading "serious" literature, and studying the skills necessary for decoding literature, are becoming less and less attractive to university administrators and students alike. Another essay points out that reading is essentially a lonely activity, and that no amount of social networking (even Goodreads) can really change that. Several professors recount how their own love of reading got started, and there were several places where I experienced a sense of recognition, of familiarity. One of the most eloquent essays describes how an emeritus professor of literature managed to open his disengaged students' minds to the relevance of literature by using Moliere's plays. A thorough analysis of the behavior of various tormented heroines revealed universal truths about human behavior, the way we fall victim to our desires while still trying -desperately- to maintain control over our actions. In the end, I think that booklovers will continue to love books, and very few people who haven't discovered a love of reading by their teenage years, will discover it late in life. If you read this book, it is probably because you are interested in literature. So this book is essentially preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, I found this collection interesting and illuminating. The authors had a generally nuanced view - they all seemed to agree that, whatever they personally might prefer for their reading experience, e-readers were here to stay, and that that was not necessarily a bad thing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Interesting stuff. As the title suggests, it's a series of essays pondering why it's still important to read literature (or even just plain old books if you're looking to make distinctions) in the digital age. It would be easy for a book like this to appeal strongly to a narrow audience by just having a bunch of literary types smugly pat each other on the back for reading classics while everyone else is on Tumblr, but it doesn't really do that. There is some smug here, but most of the essays tho Interesting stuff. As the title suggests, it's a series of essays pondering why it's still important to read literature (or even just plain old books if you're looking to make distinctions) in the digital age. It would be easy for a book like this to appeal strongly to a narrow audience by just having a bunch of literary types smugly pat each other on the back for reading classics while everyone else is on Tumblr, but it doesn't really do that. There is some smug here, but most of the essays thoughtfully explore the question. The only thing I would have liked to see in this would be an equally thought out counterpoint exploring why maybe it's not important to read literature anymore, if for no other reason than sometimes it's fun to play devil's advocate.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Okay, I got sidetracked by this one. It was sitting on that wonderful display of new books at the library. This display usually shows new books that are rather esoteric and I always find something to distract me, or even better, something I had read about and wanted to read. So I thought this was not going to be that great because it looked a bit forlorn, without any big endorsements, then I read the essay my Alberto Manguel. Oh, Alberto, where have you been all my life? Then I read two more - thi Okay, I got sidetracked by this one. It was sitting on that wonderful display of new books at the library. This display usually shows new books that are rather esoteric and I always find something to distract me, or even better, something I had read about and wanted to read. So I thought this was not going to be that great because it looked a bit forlorn, without any big endorsements, then I read the essay my Alberto Manguel. Oh, Alberto, where have you been all my life? Then I read two more - this book is a fantastic collection of essays about the current state of literature and the life of readers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Leif

    A bit variable in quality, but overall these essays are engaging, convivial, and active works of reflection and thought: highlights are essays by J Hillis Miller, Sven Birkerts, and a reprint by Alberto Manguel. Enough here to get the brain going for a couple of days at least. A bit variable in quality, but overall these essays are engaging, convivial, and active works of reflection and thought: highlights are essays by J Hillis Miller, Sven Birkerts, and a reprint by Alberto Manguel. Enough here to get the brain going for a couple of days at least.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sinistmer

    I found this collection to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I enjoyed reading about the contributors' experiences with reading and their take on reading in the digital age. I like that the collection presented different ways of advocacy and highlighted places to concentrate. Worth a read if this topic interests you. I found this collection to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I enjoyed reading about the contributors' experiences with reading and their take on reading in the digital age. I like that the collection presented different ways of advocacy and highlighted places to concentrate. Worth a read if this topic interests you.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marco Goldin

    Too bad Kindle app doesn't allow copy-and-past, 'cause i would have posted tons of quotes from this book. There's so much in it and it's so dense, every single page has so many things going on. My favourite? Michael Austin. I mean, reading "War and Peace" in the fast-content age? It got me working through "Infinite Jest" once more. Too bad Kindle app doesn't allow copy-and-past, 'cause i would have posted tons of quotes from this book. There's so much in it and it's so dense, every single page has so many things going on. My favourite? Michael Austin. I mean, reading "War and Peace" in the fast-content age? It got me working through "Infinite Jest" once more.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    Some incisive comments about the value of literature and the "usefulness" of digital resources, however, somewhat repetitive and sometimes rather precious. Some incisive comments about the value of literature and the "usefulness" of digital resources, however, somewhat repetitive and sometimes rather precious.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leon Phillips

    Excellent collection of personal essays discussing why literature is still important in the digital age. SO many reminders of why I love reading and NOT Netflix.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josi89

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sylri

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim Ferry

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Great essays

  16. 5 out of 5

    M.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Beatriz

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Sullivan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jaki

  24. 5 out of 5

    John

  25. 4 out of 5

    Divya

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lianne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hong-Shu Teng

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily Graham

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy

  30. 4 out of 5

    A S Moser

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