Books

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Courts Unlikely To Stop Google Book Copying

Here's a good story about the Google Print Library Project. Experts interviewed in the article, including Jessica Litman, author of Digital Copyright, and William Fisher of Harvard Law School, predict that if the case were brought to court, Google would win, and their scanning would be upheld as fair use. I'm surprised to have found this story via digg rather than Copyfight, but you can find plenty of good background information and opinion posts on Google print here, here, here, here, and here.

Lord of the Rings as told through Princess Bride quotations

Nice little crossover here, should appeal to many of you.

Hey, you know what? I have never seen or read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's terrible, and I'm as ashamed as I should be.

Via de.lirio.us.

Should Las Vegas high school students read Plainsong?

In early March of this year, Gerald McGee, a high school English teacher at Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, assigned Kent Haruf's Plainsong to his students, and then look what happened:

Seniors at Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, Nevada must have been confused when their English teacher took away books they were still reading: Kent Haruf's acclaimed novel, Plainsong. At issue was a brief sexual passage. Without submitting challenges to the novel to a review committee, the assistant principal ordered teacher Gerald McGee to "collect all the books, box them up and put them away immediately."

I'll admit, I haven't read this book (but I'm recalling it from my library), but Gerald is one of my best friends, and I trust his judgment when it comes to selecting books. High school students are not children, and the public high school English classroom should be a space where students discuss intelligently works of literature with sophisticated themes and moral complexity, such as they probably see played out in their own lives and surroundings anyway. A passage in a book isn't going to cause students' moral fortresses to crumble. But I guess the point is to repel "bad thoughts." Sigh. It's folly to pretend these students are sheepish, or to want them to be.

More at a thread in the Sierra Nevada High School MySpace group.

Also, Gerald writes:

1. Please view the post at the link below that is titled SIERRA VISTA MAKES THE NEWS IN NEW YORK CITY:

http://groups.myspace.com/SierraVista

2. Share your thoughts on censorship with my students.

3. American rights are eroding because we are not adequately educating our children.

Thanks for helping,

Gerald McGee, M.Ed.

PS You may have to sign up with this website to get a message to my students. The whole process should take less than five minutes, but I can't think of a better way to spend five minutes.

Interview for _Uses of Blogs_

I was recently interviewed for the forthcoming collection Uses of Blogs. They probably won't be able to use everything I wrote, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here as a kind of appendix.

Genre

1)What kind of blogging do you do? Do you feel your blogging falls into a particular genre of weblog?

Well, I blog under my real name, and I don't write much about my personal life; I try to stick to my research and, to a lesser extent, politics. I'm acutely aware of discretion and the invisible line between public and private, and I rarely blog about friends and family. My family members are very private people, and they'd like me to be as well. I know they read my weblog, so before posting, I imagine what their reactions to my words might be. There are also the guidelines “don't say anything that you wouldn't publish on the front page of the newspaper under your real name” and “don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother.” If my weblog falls into a genre, I'm guessing it would be a knowledge-log, or klog. I've seen people put links to my site under the heading “Klogs,” so at least some others see my weblog that way too.

2)How do you see blogging genres evolving in the future? Will there be a point when we'll speak of these genres as distinct forms of publishing in their own right – ie a scenario where 'blogging' is no more meaningful a term than 'publishing'?

I think that even now “blogging” is only slightly more meaningful a term than “publishing.” With blogging, the special meaning is that what you're doing is self-publishing without an editor or other gatekeeper. When I first started studying weblogs in 2002, I quickly realized that making claims or generalizations about weblogs was like trying to say that X is true of all books: Maybe you can make a claim about all books, but it wouldn't be a very meaningful one. Jim Oliver, a colleague of mine, has said that a weblog is not a genre; it's a technology. [NB: He may not think this anymore.] I don't know if I agree that generic conventions are all that separate from specific writing technologies, but many genre theorists – including Carolyn Miller, Amy Devitt, Carol Berkenkotter, and Thomas Huckin – have argued that specific social contexts allow communicative genres to emerge and that emergent genres almost always have some kind of antecedent. For example, you'll often hear people compare weblogs to political pamphlets or broadsides, or to personal diaries. Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd (2004) point to the “democratization of celebrity” and its accompanying genres, including talk shows and reality television, as part of the larger cultural and generic foundation for blogging's emergence.

In the future, with the rise of podcasting, vlogging, large collaborative audio projects like [murmur], the joining together of interactive online art and graffiti (Grafedia.net), and who knows what else in the pipeline, there are going to be plenty of other ways to publish besides keeping a text-based weblog. The term “citizen media” is inclusive enough to encompass all of these technologies while still retaining the self-publishing, unedited by larger organizations aspect of this phenomenon.

Democracy

3) How do you conceptualise the blogosphere - is it a network, are there clusters, hotspots? How is it organised?

I haven't done a lot of research using network theory, though I am learning more about it, but based on my experience, I would say there are hotspots where the same people comment regularly, communities form, and readers get to know each other. Bitch Ph.D. and Crooked Timber are good examples of hotspots in the greater academic blogging community, and Chez Miscarriage is one place where a lot of women who blog about infertility come together. I find other bloggers in my referrers, on other people's weblogs when they link out to others' posts, on other people's blogrolls, and in other people's comment threads.

4)How 'democratic' is the blogosphere? What do you think about the idea of 'A-list' bloggers?

I attended a panel recently in which Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, pointed out that there are far more readers in “the long tail” of the power law distribution than there are readers who read the Technorati Top 10, so it's not as though if you're not on “the A-list,” whatever that means (the “higher beings” and “mortal humans” in The Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem?), no one will read your weblog, or that if you start a weblog, it will be all that much harder to garner an audience than it was four or five years ago. If one thinks of “democratic” in this sense as having equal opportunity to speak and be heard, I believe the blogosphere can be democratic, at least to an extent, if the blogger reaches out and joins a conversation, writes herself into the network (Walker, 2003) by linking to other weblogs, commenting at other weblogs, and making use of trackback.

However, I would argue that the bloggers who get the most traffic are in a privileged position. They amplify the voices of the writers to whom they link and expose their writing to a much larger audience. I am not trying to say that popular bloggers have any particular responsibility to link to, for example, feminist women or people of color, but I believe it's in the interest of a democratic blogosphere to seek out and bring in minority positions and issues.

I also don't think one can talk about the blogosphere without talking about its uptake in mainstream media and its representations in popular culture. In the United States, I find this to be a problem. The bloggers who get the most positive attention from major news organizations as well as opportunities to publish in other venues tend to be white men. Political, filter-style weblogs are masculinized, personal, diary-style weblogs are feminized, and the two types are overly bifurcated. Personal weblogs about parenting [Actually, blogs about personal life, whether the writers are parents or not] are represented as narcissistic and confessional, and blogging has also been portrayed as activity associated with stereotypical teenaged girls (silly, overly dramatic, self-centered). Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright (2004) found that while a majority of bloggers write personal, journal-style weblogs rather than more impersonal, filter-style weblogs, filter-style weblogs are overrepresented and taken more seriously in mainstream American culture. Insofar as “online” and “offline” life are lived by the same people and can't be separated, I would argue that the discussion about the blogosphere as well as the discussion taking place within the blogosphere contribute to its perceived measure of democracy.

Information

5)How do you evaluate the quality of information on blogs? How much danger is there of misleading information spreading through blogs?

Credibility is very important online. It must be earned, either through “real-world” credentials such as an advanced degree or other evidence of expertise on a topic or through an established pattern of writing with fairness and accuracy. If a blogger publishes something he or she knows to be inaccurate, or is proven later to be inaccurate, it can take a long time to live that down. Writers who take blogging seriously do not want to lose their credibility or their audience, and they tend to correct publicly any errors they make. Most people I know who keep weblogs consciously or unconsciously follow Rebecca Blood's set of weblog ethics. At the same time, though, some bloggers write fiction, or intentionally embellished impressions of real life, and do not want to be held to an ethical standard grounded in journalism (Delacour, 2003). Bloggers feel varying levels of accountability to their readers, so the responsibility of verifying information often falls on the readers. As with any information, print or online, it is best to question facts and interpretations and read critically.

6)Is blogging changing the way we write?

One of my colleagues, Charles Lowe, claims that he can see blogging's influence on Lawrence Lessig's writing style in his most recent book, Free Culture. For my part, I think blogging has helped me to see what kind of writing people respond to best. My writing style has always been fairly clear, but through blogging, I've learned that even in scholarly essays that have set conventions, readers appreciate some creativity and imagination in the form of narrative. I think that has carried over into my other writing. Also, through writing for such a public and vocal audience, I am much more careful about what I say: careful to define my terms and qualify my claims.

What we still need are some longitudinal studies assessing student writing before and during blogging. Composition scholars are studying the influence of blogging on student writing, but the studies that I know of so far have only assessed student writing over the course of one semester, toward the beginning of which students started blogging, so getting a comprehensive baseline assessment of students' writing was difficult. I hope a group of composition scholars will do a longitudinal study on blogging's influence on writing using on a large group of students who are new to blogging, starting with a holistic portfolio assessment of each student's writing and ending with another portfolio. Even then, it will be hard to identify criteria to track and to pinpoint which improvements are directly related to blogging and which are more attributable to students' overall intellectual development. Several teachers would have to evaluate the writing, and students would have to be interviewed at various stages in the study to get a sense of where blogging fits in.

Technology

7)How do you make your blog? Do you use RSS, and if so, how? Do you use Trackback, and if so, how? Do you use metablogs such as Daypop or Technorati, and if so, how?

My weblog runs on Drupal, which features a built-in news aggregator. I use aggregation for the same reason most people do: It makes it easy to keep up with a lot of weblogs and other frequently-updated sites. I use trackback too, but not every time I link to someone. I try to imagine a reader perusing a post on another weblog a couple of years from now. If I consider my participation in the conversation to be significant enough to be co-archived on my site as well as someone else's, I'll send a trackback. In recent months, spammers have been abusing trackback, but I have no plans to get rid of it on my own site; I think it's a great way to join posts together.

I search for my blog on Technorati, too; sometimes I don't catch weblogs that link to me in my referrers. Technorati is a good tool for finding out a little more about your audience. The tagging in Technorati is valuable as well, but when I browse folksonomies, I tend to go to del.icio.us or de.lirio.us.

Personal

8)Who is your audience?

My longtime, regular audience consists of academics in my discipline, rhetoric and composition, feminist women, and friends and family, but I can see from my referrers that a lot of other readers find my weblog in Google searches. When posting, I try to anticipate what search terms in my post might lead to my weblog. This exercise in anticipating search terms, taken with my trying to imagine how readers will react to what I write, helps me fine-tune what I say and use terms carefully. If someone finds my weblog in a Google search for a specific term, I don't want him or her to come to my weblog and find misinformation or sloppy thinking.

9) Why do you blog?

I've always been a pretty open, extroverted person, and my weblog is just an extension of that quality. I blog because it's a good way not only to get my ideas and scholarship into circulation and get feedback on them, but because it's a good way to make new friends.

10) What impact has blogging had on the rest of your life? Has it been dangerous/detrimental to expose your life to complete strangers in this way?

Blogging has had a significant impact on my career, for the better. Because of my weblog, reporters have interviewed me, I've been invited to give lectures and review manuscripts for scholarly journals, and I was even offered a scholarship to the Internet Law Program, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education warned graduate students that blogging almost certainly will hurt their careers. I hope that won't be the case with me. I rarely mention coworkers, family, or friends when I blog, and when I do, it's innocuous and complimentary, so I haven't gotten in trouble for anything I've written. I enjoy reading other people's personal writing, but I don't do too much of it myself. It's emotionally risky, even if you do it anonymously; readers can make remarks in comments that hurt regardless of whether or not your real name is connected with the writing.

Representations of the city in Toni Morrison's Jazz

Ever since I listened to Toni Morrison's Jazz on tape, I have intended to get a print copy and type out some of the passages on the city. Yesterday, the book finally came from library recall, so here they are; anyone interested in studies of the city, intersections of geography and rhetoric, etc. should enjoy these:

The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves. And in the beginning when they first arrive, and twenty years later when they and the City have grown up, they love that part of themselves so much they forget what loving other people was like -- if they ever knew, that is. I don't mean they hate them, no, just what they start to love is the way a person is in the City; the way a schoolgirl never pauses at a stoplight but looks up and down the street before stepping off the curb; how men accommodate themselves to tall buildings and wee porches, what a woman looks like moving in a crowd, or how shocking her profile is against the backdrop of the East River. The restfulness in kitchen chores when she knows the lamp oil or the staple is just around the corner and not seven miles away; the amazement of throwing open the window and being hypnotized for hours by people on the street below.

Little of that makes for love, but it does pump desire. The woman who churned a man's blood as she leaned all alone on a fence by a country road might not expect even to catch his eye in the City. But if she is clipping quickly down the big-city street in heels, swinging her purse, or sitting on a stoop with a cool beer in her hand, dangling her shoe from the toes of her foot, the man, reacting to her posture, to soft skin on stone, the weight of the building stressing the delicate, dangling shoe, is captured. And he'd think it was the woman he wanted, and not some combination of curved stone, and a swinging, high-heeled shoe moving in and out of sunlight. (33-34)

More below the fold:

What I've been reading

Prof. B. posted yesterday about the death of feminist activist Allison Crews, who was involved with Radical Cheerleaders, Strap-on, and especially Girl-Mom, a feminist online community for young mothers. I read Girl-Mom periodically about four or five years ago, when it was sometimes linked to from the Ms. boards, but I spent hours yesterday over there, reading the forums and the stories. Three you must read: Outside the Radar, A Mother's Fate, and of course Crews' germinal essay When I Was Garbage. In a feminist-themed composition course with a unit on teen pregnancy, all three of these would be required reading, and while it sounds inappropriate to talk shop in the face of this loss, I only do so because I want to acknowledge Crews' major contribution. To get an idea of how many people she affected, see the comments in the first two posts to her LiveJournal. There are memorials for her taking place in several cities, including Minneapolis. I didn't know her, but I think I might attend anyway.

Books: I finally finished The Picture of Dorian Gray last weekend. Took me a while to pick it up again, and when I did, I read it slowly. I have an intense appreciation for every sentence of Wilde. Although I'm tempted to read The Almond, the next novel on my list is Frances Burney's Evelina. When in my master's program, I took an eighteenth-century literature course, and during the time we were to be reading Evelina, I had a lot of other work to do, so I blew off reading the book and was quiet in class the days we (they) discussed it. For that, I've felt like an idiot loser ever since, so I want to read it now as atonement. Plus, it's an epistolary novel, and I haven't read one of those in a while.

Inside Higher Ed linked to Open Wounds, an essay by Chad of Physician, Heal Thyself. It's a must-read along with the Girl-Mom stories. I'm going to have to read his blog more often.

Tired (More Links and Half-Thoughts)

I got back into town last night and haven't quite recovered from the month-long trip. I'm trying to get my apartment cleaned up, groceries bought, laundry done, etc. Oh, and tons of academic work, too. I'm just sluggish. Ah well. Maybe blogging some quotidian thoughts and occurrences will help.

A good friend of mine at home was ranting about these ribbons on people's cars that are arranged so that the text, "Support Our Troops," is horizontal. "Yeah, I sure am glad they made it so we can see the text horizontally. I wouldn't have been able to read it otherwise. Seriously! People can read all kinds of ways: Diagonally, vertically, backwards even!" Indeed it is ubiquitious. Here in Minnesota too, I've noticed. Is there some special reason to stick it to the car that way that I'm not aware of?

The Blogora might switch to Drupal. How hard is it going to be to import the MT archives? Anyone have firsthand experience with that?

When I went to the office to check my mailbox, I found the 2005 reprinting of the 6th edition of the MLA style guide. I guess as it's a reprinting, they didn't make any changes or addenda, but I looked for any mention of citing weblog entries and comments anyway, but didn't find any. I know there are improvised ways to do it, but I'd like to see weblogs mentioned in the actual guide.

Computers & Writing Online is in full swing! Be sure to comment!

I just finished reading Franny and Zooey for the first time. That's got me a little drained, too. The whole time I was reading it, I was thinking that it would have made a great movie, maybe still would. What do you think? Thora Birch as Franny, or possibly Christina Ricci? Tobey Maguire, or maybe Joaquin Phoenix as Zooey? Speaking of books, I never did take that trip, so I didn't listen to those books -- actually, I listened to exactly half of The Picture of Dorian Gray just driving around town (my Oxford World's Classics edition has 224 pages. I looked, and I'd listened up to page 112), and now I have to read the rest. So far, my literature consumption since the beginning of May includes:

  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • Passing, Nella Larsen
  • Jazz, Toni Morrison
  • Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
  • and half of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Not bad, huh? I should get back to research-related non-fiction though.

Choosing an Audiobook

I'm going to Atlanta in a few days, so can listen to one of the following audiobooks I checked out from the library. Which one do you think I ought to choose? Given the drive time and that all these are unabridged, I can only listen to one. Keep in mind that I *gulp* have never read any of these:

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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