"The point is that good writers find ways to adapt to and play with available technology" #wymhm

The goal is economy of style, accomplished, like most good writing, through vigorous editing. If you tweet, you know the drill: You've got a spot-on observation, deep thought or humorous nugget to get off your chest and onto the screen. You type away and you end up with, say, 220 characters. So you whittle, and you whittle some more. You work in a contraction or two. If you value the integrity of your writing, you avoid cute rhyme abbreviations ("Gr8!").

"Some plagiarism is so blatant that you wonder if the songwriters ever thought they could get away with it." #wymhm

In 1969, John Lennon inserted a phrase from Chuck Berry in "Come Together", almost certainly as a tribute, but Berry's publisher was a Rottweiler and demanded recompense. If Lennon had used "Here Come Old Flattop" as his title, he might have been safe. For settlement, Lennon agreed to record some Chuck Berry songs on his album Rock'n'Roll, so it was no great hardship.

George Harrison had a worldwide hit with "My Sweet Lord" in 1971. It is odd that its producer, Phil Spector, never pointed out the similarity with "He's So Fine" by the New York girl group The Chiffons. After Allen Klein fell out with The Beatles, he bought the publishing rights to "He's So Fine" and sued Harrison in revenge. He won and over £1m changed hands. After the case, the judge remarked, "I actually like both songs", to which Harrison replied, "What do you mean 'both'? You've just ruled they're one and the same."

Related to a recent tweet by @stevendkrause, a thought bundle on reading books and e-books, print and screen

we want the fruits of our labor to exist between hard or even soft covers in our own time and after us (and accept that the pages containing our being will turn brown and become brittle), it means something to us to see and speak of a book as a weighty tome or a slender volume, we like to be able to locate a passage we've already read spatially on a page, we are interested, even as we are dismayed, to discover that we are the first person in 61 years, eight months, and three days (according to the "due date" slip) to check a book out of the library, it pleases us to think of Whitman's leaves of grass as pages of a book
via tnr.com

 

For me, reading is a physical experience, one that vanishes, evaporates completely, the minute you read something on a screen. Books also have an architectural dimension. Rooms full of books are meaningful places where people assemble. And yet, one of the things that defines reading is its very intimacy—which is what I love about it.

 

So real books and e-books will coexist. That has happened time and again with other new technologies that were prophesied to kill off old ones. Autos didn't wipe out horses. Movies didn't finish theater. TV didn't destroy movies. E-books won't destroy paper and ink. The Internet and e-books may set back print media for a while, and they may claim a larger audience in the end. But a lot of people who care about reading will want the feel, the smell, the warmth, the deeper intellectual, emotional, and spiritual involvement of print.

 

Quick Review: Extra Lives, by Tom Bissell

Experiential writing and anecdotal evidence can be worthwhile additions to discussions of meaning. However, I remain unsure if either stands all that well on its own. Personal perspective can help others come to see how we view something, but if we desire to convince others of why that something matters, we need to do more. This might be my main issue with Extra Lives, by Tom Bissell. Rather than doing more, Bissell does more of the same. He engages in revelry, not revelation. As this is a book intended for a mainstream audience, perhaps this is okay, but I found significant portions of the text lacking.

Bissell's account is personal, but not unique. Anyone reading this review has had comparable gaming experiences, perhaps even attempted to relate them to friends and colleagues who just don't understand. Countless blogs and forums are further testaments to a certain commonality of experiences in videogames. No one can say Bissell doesn't like, or even love, what games like Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV provide, but if it was the author’s intention to go beyond that and support the “why videogames matter” subtitle, success is questionable. 

If it had been “why videogames matter to me,” I would have had different expectations as a reader. I wouldn’t have been disappointed about the missing definitions of “character,” “narrative” and “story,” terms that Bissell throws about in an irresponsible manner. Bissell does refer to others who play and/or make videogames, like Cliff Bleszinski, Jonathan Blow, Clint Hocking and John Hight, but these references most often regard problems of the medium. Given how many words and paragraphs given to these problems, a better subtitle might have been “why videogames don’t matter” or “why videogames don’t matter yet.” 

The main title, “Extra Lives,” fits well with the content of the book. The idea/argument that part of videogames’ appeal involves exciting escapism, the opportunity to experience additional lives is one that Bissell makes accessible and appealing. What gets in the way of this argument, though, is Bissell’s writing, which I don’t think is very strong. It reminded me of something Marci told me about Julie & Julia, how distracting the book was because the author thought she was so self-aware, self-referential and funny and that the movie was much better because all those attempts at humor weren’t present. In other words, Extra Lives reads like a series of blog posts; some good and/or interesting ideas are present, but none get fleshed out because there isn’t a comment section. 

Related to this is how Extra Lives just kind of stops. The last couple lines of the last chapter resonate well, but I wanted to turn the page to something more conclusive. After all the personal accounts of various gaming experiences and conversations with assorted industry insiders, I hoped Bissell would perform some kind of a wrap up. It isn’t that I wanted everything together in a neat, little package; I just had an interest in Bissell returning to the introductory “Author’s Note” in which he states that we are in a “golden age of gaming.” That Bissell never revisits this statement is unfortunate and, for me, supports the idea that many of his ideas are unsupported and/or incomplete.

I don’t think Extra Lives can or should be the text to validate videogames to the masses or to, as Entertainment Weekly put it, “make you feel better about spending 50 hours on Call of Duty." 

"We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television" #wymhm

It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.

Quiet contemplation has led to its fair share of important thoughts. But it cannot be denied that good ideas also emerge in networks.

Yes, we are a little less focused, thanks to the electric stimulus of the screen. Yes, we are reading slightly fewer long-form narratives and arguments than we did 50 years ago, though the Kindle and the iPad may well change that. Those are costs, to be sure. But what of the other side of the ledger? We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television.

Right now, I'm reading A Better Pencil, by Dennis Baron. It's a fantastic, timely work about arguments against writing technologies from Plato onward. It also provides excellent counterpoints to Nick Carr and others about the influence of technology on our thinking processes.

"Pick up just about any novel and you'll find the phrase 'somewhere a dog barked.'" #wymhm

Most authors, however, employ the trope as a narrative rest stop, an innocuous way to fill space and time; since the bark is hollow, a reader can read anything into it, or nothing at all. Charlaine Harris, queen of the vampire authors, in Dead as a Doornail: "The entire parking lot was empty, except for Jan's car. The glare of the security lights made the shadows deeper. I heard a dog bark way off in the distance." The chief of Scandinavian crime writers, Henning Mankell: "She begins to tell him. The curtain in the kitchen window flutters gently, and a dog barks in the distance" (The Eye of the Leopard). And "genre" books aren't the only guilty category. Take 2666, Robert Bolaño's magnum opus: "The window looked out over the garden, which was still lit. A scent of flowers and wet grass drifted into the room. In the distance he heard a dog bark." For all we know, these dogs are off-camera sound machines set to woof.

Is there a similar trope in academic scholarship and writing, one that is as concrete and noticeable? I can think of certain turns of phrase, transitions and the like, but nothing comparable to "somewhere a dog barked."

"I like your idea of an internet-incapable computer." #wymhm

I’ve set up a second computer, devoid of internet, for my fiction-writing. That’s to say, I took an expensive Mac and turned it back into a typewriter. (You should imagine my computer set-up guy’s consternation when I insisted he drag the internet function out of the thing entirely. “I can just hide it from you,” he said. “No,” I told him, “I don’t want to know it’s in there somewhere.”) In fact, you ask me whether I feel there’s any difference between my fiction and essay—well, not (I ardently hope) either quality or commitment-wise (in that sense, yes, writing is writing), but lately, à la David Shields, process-wise I find I do want to Google while I essay, and while I’m always certain I need that other, internet-disabled computer for writing fiction.
via pen.org

An email correspondence between Jonathan Lethem and David Gates, touching on the influence of technology in all things writing. I have a growing interest in what we deprive ourselves of when we get down to writing, whether we perform better by way of sensory deprivation or overload (writing in silence vs. writing to music), whether we invest in programs like Anti-Social and Freedom and/or simpler word processors like OmmWriter and WriteRoom.

How many of us become cloistered when we write?

"an inevitably incomplete typology of bookmarks" #wymhm

something like this:

  • Pointer: a bookmark with no additional content. Underlining. A bare quote.
  • Note: a bookmark with some additional content. Marginalia. Adding something to the text, alongside it.
  • Reference: a bookmark with a link to some other content. Adding something to the text, pointing elsewhere.

This seems simple, but it’s quite key, with regard to inline bookmarking. Then there’s the more general stuff associated with the whole text, or groups of texts.

"The Rock Band 3 story deals with every aspect of embargoes" #wymhm

One site has information that could endanger the exclusive going to someone else, so they're threatened in order to have it removed. Other news outlets ignore a story they know is true because it might break their embargo, only to find out that USA Today has the exclusive, so their own stories are going to feel like yesterday's news by the time they're allowed to publish. In some cases, writers go see a game, only to have the details, images, and gameplay details published by the developer before the embargo drops, destroying the value of the pre-release briefing.

 

"What do I need to maximize my writing this summer?" #wymhm

Academic writers have lots of different needs. For example, some people need to physically share space with others while writing, some need a stern authority figure to answer to, some need solitude and the kind of support that is silent, some need a quantitative accounting of their progress, some need to be in groups with similar others, some need to be regularly inspired, some need ongoing substantive feedback by those in their specialty field, some need regular cheerleading, some need therapy, and some need an occasional exorcism (from the demons of bad academic socialization). It’s even OK if you need all of these things at different times! The important thing is to identify what you need without judgment, shame, or self-flagellation.