An American Editor

April 15, 2015

On Today’s Bookshelf (XXI)

My acquisition of new titles to read never ends. I keep thinking I need to stop and put the money I spend on books into my retirement account. But books have a special allure and I find nothing is as relaxing as sitting in my recliner reading a well-written and well-edited book (and nothing as frustrating as starting a poorly written or edited book :)).

Here is a list of some of the hardcovers and ebooks that I am reading or acquired and added to my to-be-read pile since the last On Today’s Bookshelf post, including some children’s books:

Nonfiction –

  • The Wandering Who: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics by Gilad Atzmo
  • Blood in the Snow, Blood on the Grass: Treachery, Torture, Murder and Massacre – France 1944 by Douglas Boyd
  • The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
  • The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV by Anne Somerset
  • Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset
  • Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips
  • The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold
  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, and To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne (trilogy)
  • Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman
  • Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire by Robin Waterfield
  • The Bolter by Frances Osborne
  • Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
  • Dickens’s England: Life in Victorian Times by R.E. Pritchard
  • The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
  • Saint-Exupéry: A Biography by Stacy Schiff
  • The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane
  • The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain by Alan Stewart
  • Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford
  • A Woman of Courage on the West Virginia Frontier: Phebe Tucker Cunningham by Robert N. Thompson
  • Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America by Tony Williams
  • American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit by Paula Uruburu
  • Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich
  • 1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

Fiction –

  • Twist by Dannika Dark
  • The Clockwork Dagger: A Novel by Beth Cato
  • Fatal Enquiry, Some Danger Involved, and The Black Hand by Will Thomas (3 books)
  • The Sword Dancer Series (Sword Dancer, Sword Singer, Sword Maker, Sword Breaker, Sword Born, Sword Sworn, and Sword Bound) by Jennifer Roberson (7 books)
  • Forbidden, Mortal, and Sovereign by Ted Dekker (trilogy)
  • The Legend of Eli Monpress series (The Spirit Eater, The Spirit Rebellion, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit War, and Spirit’s End) by Rachel Aaron (5 books)
  • Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina
  • Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Dead Like You and Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James (2 books)
  • Snow Wolf by Glenn Meade

Children’s Books –

Now that I have grandchildren, I try to keep an eye out for good books for them, both for now and for the future. A series I have been buying for them and that I highly recommend is Brad Meltzer’s “I am …” series. So far the titles are:

  • I am Albert Einstein
  • I am Rosa Parks
  • I am Amelia Earhart
  • I am Abraham Lincoln
  • I am Jackie Robinson
  • I am Lucille Ball
  • I am Helen Keller

Other children’s books that I have bought/preordered include:

  • Find King Henry’s Treasure: Touch the Art by Julie Appel & Amy Guglielmo
  • Crankee Doodle by Tom Angelberger
  • Time for a Bath by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
  • The Princess and the Peas and Carrots by Harriet Ziefert
  • Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert
  • Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae & Korky Paul
  • The Chandeliers: The World-Famous Giraffe Family Appearing Tonight and Every Night! by Vincent X. Kirsch
  • Look! Seeing the Light in Art by Gillian Wolfe
  • This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

It’s never too early to start children on the path to literacy, so building a children’s library makes sense to me. Besides, there is great joy in having a grandchild sit on my lap and “read” along with me. Just as books are an adventure for me, so books are an adventure for children. Certainly much better than staring at a TV or computer screen.

For previous listings of books I’ve acquired, see previous On Today’s Bookshelf essays.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 23, 2012

eBook vs. pBook: Imaginative Discovery

Before anyone jumps to an unwarranted conclusion, let me say upfront that I really like ebooks for reading fiction (but not for nonfiction) and that given my personal preference, I would read fiction almost solely in ebook form. However, …

I have been observing the reading habits of a young child of a friend, sometimes getting a closeup view while babysitting. What I have noticed is that he seems to interact more with pbooks than ebooks. I have been thinking about that for several months now and I think the reason is what I call imaginative discovery.

The ebooks give him animation, which he does find entertaining. But I think he finds the animation to be similar to how I find a movie: great entertainment but it is someone else’s imagination that shapes the scene, not mine. I especially noticed this with the Lord of the Rings movies. Peter Jackson did a great job imagining the story, and although I enjoyed the movies greatly, I also remember commenting to my son how this scene and that scene were not how I imagined them when I was reading the book. With the Lord of the Rings movies, Peter Jackson did all the imagining for me; I had to exercise no creativity at all.

When my friend’s toddler reads a pbook, he often flips back-and-forth, or even folds over pages so that he can see two illustrations simultaneously. Sometimes he takes crayons and colors black-and-white illustrations or adds another head to a character or changes the colors used. Occasionally, he adds to the illustration additional characters or images. He interacts freely with the pbook and lets his imagination be his guide. He either seems to find that difficult to do with an ebook or is not motivated to interact with the ebook in a similar way.

It is this interaction that I call  imaginative discovery. I think imaginative discovery is a very important component of reading, especially for those who are just beginning the lifetime adventure that reading can bring about. When adults watch a movie or play a video game, they tend to become absorbed into whatever action is occurring before them. They do not independently discover new things or use their imagination. They follow the creator’s storyline.

In contrast, when an adult reads a novel — whether ebook or pbook — the adult uses his or her imagination to fill in what is missing, whether it be dialogue or visualization of the scene or how a character looks. But adults do so from a lifetime of experience. As we grow from childhood to adulthood our sensory experiences grow and we are increasingly able to imagine that first kiss, or how a teenager feels when bullied, or how slimy a frog’s skin is. Because we have built these experiences, it really doesn’t matter whether the book we are reading is a pbook or an ebook — we bring these experiences to both. Thus our preference for an ebook over a pbook is really guided by other factors, such as cost, ease of reading, ability to carry hundreds of books simultaneously without back-breaking strain, and the like.

But the young child doesn’t have that lifetime of experience to bring to the reading experience. He (or she) is only beginning on the road to building the tools needed for imaginative discovery. Thus the tactile capabilities of a pbook may be more important than all of the enhancements that an ebook can bring.

Even for an adult, an ebook can be a failure. Consider these two books: Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews (2002) edited by Houman Sarshar (ISBN 0827607512) and Five Hundred Years of Book Design (2001) by Alan Bartram (ISBN 0300090587). Each of these books relies heavily on visuals; that is, the illustrations — their detail and their color — are important to the tale being told. In neither case would reading the book on a Kindle or a Nook be what I would consider a quality experience. Not that they couldn’t be read on such a device; just that the experience would not be as fulfilling as when read in pbook form. The books are really designed for the pbook experience.

Just as those books are really designed for the pbook experience, I am increasingly convinced that the reading experience for beginning readers should be a pbook experience rather than an ebook experience. The reason is not because ebooks cannot be excellent children’s books, but because they are not able to give the emerging imagination the ability to imaginatively discover. The enhanced ebook’s experiences of such things as alternative endings or the ability to choose a different outfit for a character make for a wonderful tale, but limit the child’s creativity to a set of predetermined (by an adult) choices, when, instead, the child should be encouraged to design his or her own creations.

The pbook for children encourages a child to start with what is in front of him or her and to then rename, redo, recast, reshape the story as they see fit. Should they want to rename a character from Oscar to Annafrannabumpkin, the child can with a pbook; with an ebook, they are limited by whatever the programmer has opted to include. It is easy to add a second horn to a unicorn and call it a duocorn in a pbook; not so easy with an ebook that doesn’t have the option already built-in.

eBooks have a place in the scheme of reading, but I do not think they are yet ready to replace pbooks as the source of reading material for children, simply because of the limitations inherent in ebook creation that stifle the imaginative discovery that is essential to the mental growth of children. When it comes to reading, what to read and how to read it (i.e., ebook or pbook) should always be based on what is best for the reader, and in the case of children, on how well imaginative discovery is promoted.

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