Behind the Scenes at The Word in Edgeways #3

I set a rule for myself that I wouldn’t bog down this blog with boring personal life stuff or me-me-me story time but I suppose I should explain why I haven’t been blogging regularly in the past ten months.

Shhhhh

When any blogger on the internet tells too much about their life

Let’s go back to November 2013. This time last year, I was unemployed and still living in Edinburgh, passing the time by hopping around the UK going to fruitless interviews and cringe-inducing assessment centres for jobs I wasn’t suited for whatsoever. When not lying to myself and wallowing in bittersweet post-graduation limbo, and later getting torn over a future of waiting to strike lucky in Scotland or taking a risk and going to a capital city where there were all the jobs, I was forgetting my problems by hanging out with good friends and family, getting out and about, pluckily reading books and, of course, keeping up with this blog.

While it’s true that I like partaking in reading, creative writing and a good indulgent session of literary analysis (who doesn’t!), I should be honest about my other motives for creating and maintaining this blog. Now that I’m comfortably in a role for the foreseeable future (let’s hope this post doesn’t jinx it), I think I can afford to reveal why I started this blog. And I would wager that it’s secretly why a lot of young graduates start their own blogs. Employability.

“You bastard!” scream the numerous imaginary followers of The Word in Edgeways, devout denizens of wordpress.com so socially lubricated online that they click the like button for articles and yet scroll down their feeds without actually reading them, according to my dashboard stats. “You don’t really enjoy literature or books with the voraciousness and passion as you imply! You only really did this blog so you could get a job! You’re a phony!”

But what else can you do when you have zippo going on in your life and you’ve just graduated with a literature degree? When you’ve never previously networked, interned or demonstrated enough autonomy, authority and responsibility to be snapped up by headhunters or taken seriously in the bureaucratic hoop-jumping selection process of a graduate training scheme? Where even going back to a service-related job is nigh impossible because of over-subscription for vacancies? You start a blog and you do as much as you can to develop yourself personally and professionally to make up for lost time.

But I am confident in saying that it worked. I am now in a job where being able to write well (or at least having good grammar, spelling and I hope, an engaging writing style) is imperative for the role (something I didn’t really believe until seeing firsthand our recruitment process…). Creating this blog and being able to work on and publicly demonstrate my writing skills was one thing out of many that managed to earn me an interview and then a call-back for an internship. And which, extremely luckier than that, turned into a full-time role.

How it feels to finally make more than minimum wage

How it feels to finally make more than minimum wage

So of course, with an awesome new job and new chapter in life came the 42.5-hour work week. My job is extremely interesting and varied, but doing anything religiously for eight and a half hours a day, five days a week, plus London’s mental tax of making getting from A to B painful and time-consuming (not to mention expensive, holy shit), means all you want to do when you get home is conk out and eat pasta in front of the TV like a good capitalist. Setting up and adjusting to a new life, focusing on the job, sorting out the flat, training for a half-marathon, exploring a new city, relishing crumbs of holiday and finding one’s feet in this new point in life meant the blogging shifted in my list of priorities, to the point where I nearly forgot my email password were it not for its being written down elsewhere.

I dropped the ball because I didn’t need this blog anymore. It fulfilled its underlying function – to help me get a job. It’s shamelessly true. And I didn’t feel guilty about letting it slip because, hey, I have bigger fish to fry now. Reading books and writing them up takes up heaps of time so if I have little incentive to do it then I won’t bother. I’m not sure why I’m being so brutally honest, cause what does this mean for my followers, the ones that do apparently actually read what I have to say about books and stuff? I’m not deluded enough to believe that they would truly give that much of a shit about my mixed motivations to blog or even that any of this would deeply affect them but I do feel bad that I am not giving my own readers, the few that have engaged with my writing, the respect that they deserve.

Career motivation aside, blogging is a masturbatory exercise. This one really is. What am I really offering with this blog? Does anybody really care for a personal evaluation on the different books, films and TV shows I consume? Why am I wasting precious wordpress kilobytes by punctuating my indulgent heavily-borrowed self-satisfied analysis of Pynchon novels with complementary gifs in a vain attempt to attract an audience? I haven’t been doing this for an audience’s interest in mind. I have been doing this for me.

Which explains furthermore why I haven’t keep it moving. If I’ve learned anything from this year, it’s that when it comes to the success of blogs and online media, although content is king, making anything engaging online takes actual effort, care, consistency and a certain enthusiasm for it to be worth visiting and worth others sharing, something to which I had neither the willingness, interest or capacity to commit. Replying late to the odd comment or asking a vague question at the end of a post and expecting a discussion to magically happen would never cut it. And if I am so reluctant to use Twitter, Facebook and other networks to share and spread my blog, what really then is the point in keeping one? Should the success of blogging be measured by its instant appeal and shareability? Blogs are meant to be a social medium. An opportunity for dialogue, news, community. This blog is one-sided and selfish. Despite my previous protestations, I have been going about this blogging business the wrong way.

I’ve candidly revealed what I think about this blog after letting it break away for the last ten months and realising what it really amounts to. I’ve gutted it and laid bare my past motivations behind it, but do I walk away and leave The Word in Edgeways to rot or let it rise out of the ashes of self-awareness and disenchantment like some clumsy apologetic phoenix and totally change it to offer something of genuine value and put a whole lot more effort in? I read something somewhere, I think from imgur, that has stuck with me for the past couple of days and that nails what how I feel and what I need to do if there will ever be a future for this blog: “Do you tell jokes to make people laugh, or to make people think you’re funny?”

Advertisements

Haruki Murakami’s latest novel comes with stickers for customisation

Literary legend Haruki Murakami has a new book coming out this summer, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and it comes with decorative stickers for its cover.Customize-Haruki-Murakami-novel-with-a-pack-of-stickers

Um… really?

I think Murakami is a great author but selling his novel with sachets of customisable stickers (whose designs were conceived by five different illustrators who read the novel and drew out their interpretations of plot points with assigned characters in mind) is a cheapening of his own artistic talent. Does Murakami really need this extra fluff to get people to read his books? The publisher’s saccharine story about her son’s love of stickers and how adults would also appreciate reliving this childlike activity of self-expression and decoration is bogus. It is a nauseating appeal to the kind of hipsters and Japanophiles that buy into that snowflake lifestyle of being self-consciously quirky and lol-so-random and therefore will feel compelled to read unusual books for self-identification, particularly if it comes with such a kooky attachment. An author like Murakami, renowned for his works with offbeat characters and fantastical plots, and revered for his cult status among such chai-drinking fuzzy-scarf pseudo-intellectual alternative readers, is unfortunately able to get away with something so unnecessarily gimmicky to accompany his latest release. This is marketing disguised as art.

Stickers

Stickers will be society’s downfall

In that sense, it’s lamentably brilliant and it will work. What better way to boost sales in the dying print industry than to give a book more than one function? Not only can you read the thing to enjoy and appreciate its story, if you still read books that is, but you can also make your book look pretty by tarting it up with stickers that expresses your own unique personality! You and your friends can show each other your first editions and compare how individual you really are! You can show others how special you are with an accessory that signifies your literary awareness and creative worldview when it’s not on your shelf for everyone to see!

Gérard Genette defines the paratext as all the baggage from editors, publishers and other interferences that accompany a novel such as prefaces, introductions, cover illustrations, and even the author’s name and book title. The paratext arguably informs and shapes how we interpret or how we create our own opinions about a text, often even before we have read it and decided what to think. At a very superficial sweeping level, it is judging a book by its cover, or in my case, for its cover. Stickers as paratext is certainly a new one in my books (hah).

But could this be the start of something to get readers reading again? The fetishisation of books is something that a lot of people are guilty of, myself included, but as well as being a new low that grooms issues of self-image and reading-as-status-symbol, is this a potential tactic to get people reading and cause a lot of buzz over actual books again? If so, then that’s just a bit sad, really. But I guess the literary industry is scarily dependent on such marketing strategies to get its books off the shelves and talents recognised, no matter how appalling they might be.

Qleek makes your personal media tangible, visible and homogeneous

Qleek1

Back in the day (whenever that was) we all used to accumulate DVDs, CDs, photo albums and books. Thanks to the glory of the internet and advances in computing capability, we have been able to get rid of our bursting shelves, overflowing racks and stuffed bookcases and replaced them with instantly accessible and dependable space-saving virtual equivalents. Over time, smart TVs and video streaming subscriptions replaced DVDs. Spotify and its competitors replaced CDs and even some MP3 players. Facebook and data storage devices replaced the need for physical photo albums. And for bibliophiles, the Kindle replaced books.

This was certainly a natural and inevitable step in our modern lives, putting everything onto very few versatile digital systems and eliminating the burden of material stuff to clutter bedrooms and shelves. But with these convenient methods, we have lost the romance in sharing and consuming our media. There’s nothing sexy about sending a friend a USB stick of your holiday photos or cuddling up to sign into Netflix. Being born in the 90s, I became a teenager when mixtape culture atrophied so I never got to really experience that now-nostalgic process of creating and gifting a selection of carefully-thought-over audio tracks to someone I was close to. If I were to make an actual mixtape now, the experience would be inauthentic and anachronistic. And really hipster.

Enter Qleek.

DSC_9407

Qleek aims to make our immaterial personal data physical again. Qleek wants to return our video, audio, text and other media data to a thing that we can hold in our hands, collect, swap, stack, play and share just like the good old days. Media data would be incarnated into hexagonal wooden tiles call Tapps and when a Tapp is placed on Qleek’s nifty reader, the chosen tile would sync and play to the appropriate output device.

I think this is pretty damn cool.

Data would become tangible again. There is something satisfying about the tactility and haecceity of materialised media, of holding something in your fingers that you know is the thing you’re holding, rather than a jumble of random files on a hard drive. The satisfaction touches the same nerve as that of die-hard bibliophiles who will always prefer the physicality of a book to an impersonal Kindle.

Data would be visible. The pictures show how Tapps can be collectible and commodified. Qleek’s Tapps straddle the best of both worlds: no more heavy boxes of books and DVDs to shift when you move flats and taking up space in your home, and on the other end of the spectrum, no boring and unsatisfying impersonal approach to finding a film or retrieving a file. This lovely quote I am shamelessly lifting from Christopher Mims’ article on Qleek from Quartz succinctly explains how important this visibility is on how we consume media:

As neurobiologist Mark Changizi has observed, ebooks, the web, and other libraries of digital media have no geography. Humans have an enormous capacity to remember things by locating them in space and time, so the lack of spatial constancy in our media—the way we are forced to “teleport” from one object to the next, as through a hyperlink—means we are hardly ever engaging this portion of our memories.

“In nature, information comes with a physical address (and often a temporal one), and one can navigate to and from the address. Those raspberry patches we found last year are over the hill and through the woods — and they are still over the hill and through the woods. And up until the rise of the web, the mechanisms for information storage were largely spatial and could be navigated, thereby tapping into our innate navigation capabilities.”

There was an intermediary period in the development of our technology in which we got interfaces that were both electronic and physical—the control deck of this Russian nuclear power plant is a great example. But now we’ve lost even those.

These days, the closest we get to engaging our spatial memory with our virtual interfaces is the layout of apps on our homescreens. To cope, we’ve replaced spatial memory and navigation with search. While search is powerful, it cannot exist outside of the devices that enable it, and by relying on an algorithm to recall what we’ve forgotten rather than our own intuitive sense of where it is in the world or in our libraries, we forfeit control over which parts of our knowledge we have access to

Qleek_at_home_6And finally, data would be homogeneous. Not sure I picked out the right word to describe this but I mean that all the Tapps have the same basic wooden tile structure but each one conceals different types of media to be used for different outputs. The fact that Qleek’s tiles can all hang side by side on the wall and then instinctively correspond to different output devices dependent on the individuality of each Tapp is probably the most impressive part about Qleek to me, unless I have the wrong end of the stick.

The potential for Qleek is mind-blowing. It could go far beyond its obvious appeal of storing gap yah photos in a sleek and easy way. Qleek’s Tapps could hold just about any type of data beyond media. It could conceal a beacon that can triangulate geolocation data. A Tapp could double for something as simple as a fob. Because a Tapp automatically updates data each time it is placed on a reader, users can view a newly uploaded episode of their favourite series, or tune in to a new broadcast lecture… The possibilities are endless.

Qleek is on Indiegogo and has under four weeks until it has to reach its fundraising goal. This is probably one of the only things I’ve come across that has actually inspired me to get behind a particular project so if you’re reading this and even mildly interested, I implore you to help Ozenge (the team of inventors behind Qleek) to reach their goal, even if it’s for a novelty Tapp to prove you contributed.

Train Company Amtrak Offers Free Rides to Writers

Amtrak

Nothing is quite as inspirational as coming up with ideas and writing while on a long-haul journey. It’s the perfect time and place to get ideas flowing and put pen to paper. That’s why American train company Amtrak is offering a “writers’ residency” initiative on their train. Budding writers can apply online to join the scheme where the company will shuttle them across the country with a place to eat, write and sleep – all free of charge.

The idea spawned on Twitter from the senior editor of Quartz, Zach Seward, and New York-based writer Jessica Gross, who both piped up in response to seeing Alexander Chee’s article that mentioned how writing on trains is great and how he wished such an initiative existed. Amtrak was wise to jump in and offer an off-the-cuff trial of such a journey.

One thing led to another and now there’s the opportunity to hop aboard a free Amtrak cross-country train in the name of creative nourishment. 24 lucky writers will be picked from a panel of judges. Naturally, it won’t be open to riff-raff wanting to bum a free ride and I imagine the process is very selective, but wow, pretty cool idea.

Good marketing for Amtrak and good experience and exposure for up and coming writers. Win win!

A similar initiative taking place is the opportunity to stay on a private island of writer and speaker Fredrik Härén for free to get the creative juices flowing…

Book | A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Didn’t I warn you that my blog would be left abandoned to the wind? Here’s a short post.

Let me confess to some unashamed literary snobbery right now. I didn’t fancy reading this book at first. It was a recommendation from my sister. I’m not saying she has bad taste – she doesn’t – but we differ very much in what we enjoy reading. We have read many books that we have both enjoyed (and she recommended Naive. Super to me which I liked) but her reading habits are very different to my own. She can get through books a lot faster than I can because she is a page skipper (such criminal behaviour!) and because the kind of books that she likes are kinda similar to this in density and investment.

A Monster CallsThe literary snob in me is usually attracted to books that have won some kind of award. This book won plenty but I was still put off. I’m not into teenage fiction, particularly from a trashy genre like horror. Stop throwing your rotten fruit.

But at the end of it, I was impressed.

The book is about a boy called Conor who is visited each night by a strange nightmare – a tree in his backyard talks creepily to him. Conor has to put up with this tree while dealing with his ill mother, snashy friends at school and generally the troubles of being a young kid going through maturity.

I hate limp teenage drivel about overcoming yourself and melodrama over things that would make your eyes roll, but this book doesn’t turn out to be like that. Without giving it away, it’s worth that read because it pulls off themes that teeter on the border of cliché and ends up being about something completely unexpected and pulled off in a nice way. It also has some stunning visuals as you read along.

If you want a short and pleasantly surprising read, this is definitely worth an hour or two of your day.

That’s that. Thanks for reading.