Tag Archives: books

Post-Interview Reflection: Michelle Wagner

Overall, the online interview via e-mail that I conducted with Michelle went well above my expectations.

I had imagined that she would provide answers that would be “sufficient,” but not long, and most likely flavored with guardedness. I can only imagine how someone might respond about details that are personal. If our interview pertained to information of the professional or clinical genre, I would expect a lengthy response as there would be no concern of privacy or disclosure.

However, since Michelle has already been an active member of  an online community (Circle of Moms), perhaps she had gotten used to opening up about personal details due to the nature of the forum, sharing them with women that she had only had online or “virtual”  conversations with. And, perhaps her frame of mind carried over into our dialogue. This is just my conjecture, but at any rate, I was glad that she was both interested in my topic and eager to share with me her experiences.

In her response, Michelle shared specifics with me about growing up being home-schooled, and how her parents would spend quality time every afternoon and evening by reading books to her and her siblings. Michelle’s parents, Stan and Linda, communicated to their kids that they cared about them enough to make it a priority to read to them every day. To Michelle, their commitment and attitude toward reading books to their kids said, “I love you.”

From my interview with Michelle, I learned that she developed a fondness for books not just because she like to read, but also because books were a physical point of connection to quality time spent with her mom and dad, and her brothers and sisters. Every child yearns and needs to know that from his or her parents. So, from Michelle’s own childhood experiences, I could see that she learned that spending quality time by reading books together was an effective way to say, “I love you”.

This was a core aspect of her emotional attachment to books, which she carried on by spending quality time with her own son and daughter reading to them.

I expected Michelle to share with me about how she read to her son, Asher, and daughter, Nyah, and what sorts of activities she enjoyed doing with them, as most moms relish sharing about their kids. For example, Michelle stated that she takes Nyah to the library every week and either she or her husband Tim reads to both children every night. But, it was background Michelle shared about on herself and what it was like growing up with books that provided me the most context; it was a surprise and a delight.

If I were to do the interview differently, I think I might have tried composed my questions on a Word document instead of in the body of the e-mail. With e-mail I am very limited in how I can “flavor” the content through adding layers of formatting and graphics–a little “marketing” to open up the rapport.  Using a Word document would allow for more creativity and personal touch to color the content, per Mann and Stewart’s assertion in Postmodern Interviewing, (p. 88).

However, at the time I felt conflicted because I had it in my mind that there was something about getting an actual Word document that implied formality, a sense of intimidating permanence, despite artistic flair. To avoid any glitches, I opted not to take a risk (or so I perceived it to be so). I wanted to keep in the flow of an “online presence” as much as possible. I am not sure whether transferring my questions to a different format would have generated a less open response or not, but I was hesitant to add anything that might change our working dynamic.

As a whole, this interview gave me a great perspective on emotional contexts that are attached to books, but I do not yet have a perspective from someone who loves books solely for the book itself, (the book not serving a “dual role,” also as a gateway to nostalgia or a means to family bonding.) I would like to get additional perspective from folks who appreciate the qualities/components that are unique to the book as an object.  However, so far I have seen how the book is a gateway to our memories, stirring within us great bonds of affection.

To see additional details of my online interview with Michelle, I invite you to view my post Interview on Traditions in Literacy: Storytime for further reading.

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Post-Interview Reflection: Dr. Andrew P. Surace

This first portion of this post is a transcription of my interview with Dr. Surace; the latter part discusses my reflection post-interview.

Growing up, Dr. Surace’s parents didn’t read to him, as they themselves were not fans of books.

About books, Dr. Surace says, “It was not popular when I was little.”

He gravitated towards books on his own and around the 4th, 5th, 6th grades were the Danny Dunn series of adventure books.

(Dr. Surace): “You know it’s not like today, where there is such a prolifery of books out there. Back in the day when I was in 4th, 5th, 6th grades, it was Danny Dunn and Dr. Seuss. I had both of those collections. Then you know, science was always big because I wanted to be a doctor. I had a lot of biology, that kind of stuff.“

(Me): Did you read science fiction?

(Dr. Surace): “No, I don’t read fiction hardly at all, with the exception of Danny Dunn when I was a kid. Once I got to high school, it was only books that were centered on reality. “

(Me): Did you keep any of your books that you had when you were a kid?

(Dr. Surace): “You know, I have one. I wrote it actually. I wrote it when I was in the 6th grade, it’s like 40 pages long. I can show it to ya. It’s pretty funny. It was about the adventures of this kid…I tell ya the truth, I haven’t looked at it in 10 years, but it’s in my drawer in a manila envelope. “

(Me): So, you kept that book all these years—it being something like a family heirloom?

(Dr. Surace): “Again my parents weren’t really readers, but I’m going to leave some books for my kids, including the books that I wrote. Now, my son, who’s never cracked a book in his life is writing a book. He’s writing a novel, he’s reading books like they’re toilet paper. My daughter Beth is writing a book. All my kids are getting into reading and writing in their twenties. In college [for me] it was all commentaries by the great Biblical writers and commentators. In college, I was in Bible school so it gave me a wealth of books, because preachers are into books. “

[Clarification: Dr. Surace mentioned in the beginning of the interview that he wanted to be a physician growing up. He did attend pre-med school but dropped out in his sophomore year; that is the point where he shifted his direction and began seminary school.]

(Me): So, studying Hebrew roots…

(Dr. Surace): “A lot of these books are word studies. I have a real love of words. Because words are power–if you can put something into words. But you have to have a grasp on words. “

(Me): Do you have any books that are classics, or versions of the Bible that are really old?

(Dr. Surace): “I have a Bible that’s about a foot thick, and it’s from the 1800’s. Somebody gave it to me, and it’s an amazing book—it weighs about 50 pounds. It’s an old, old ancient Bible. “

(Me): Why is it so thick?

(Dr. Surace): “You know, that’s a good question. It sure is big enough, and the writings not that big. It’s not a study Bible or anything, it’s just a big, big Bible from the 1800’s. I do have other books, but most of them are not old, they’re just classics. So, like ‘new-old’ classics.”

(Me): Hmm… sounds very “tome-ish,” like a relic. So, what about the sensory experience of reading a book?

(Dr. Surace): “You know, if someone was reading the book and was wearing perfume, I can smell it when I pick up the book. Like I have books that smell like suntan lotion, ‘cause I read them at the beach. And when I pick up one of those books and I smell that suntan lotion, oh man, it brings me back to those memories. Some of my books that I take to the beach have sand in them, which I don’t really like, but at least it doesn’t ruin them.”

This interview was a great experience for me and it went better than I expected in terms of how candid Dr. Surace was with me. Dr. Surace has a high-energy personality, and is typically extremely busy, yet he is very easy to converse with and down to earth.  Dr. Surace is originally from Brooklyn New York, which is where he grew up, and after living in southern New Jersey for over 30 years, he still has a thick New York accent.

The only avenue I was hoping for more information that I would still like someone’s perspective on was appreciating books as one who is acquainted with the parts of the book and the processes required to construct a book.

However, this would require the individual to have a background in book-binding, book-making and printing presses.

I can’t assume that because someone is an author that he or she has some knowledge of these areas pertaining to books. (However, I was quite impressed with the enormous sized Bible from the 1800’s Dr. Surace told me about.)

Personally, after being immersed into the  many  intertwining and overlapping aspects surrounding the culture of bibliophilia, I think I may have subconsciously associated “author” with “book expert” because they are related, yet–very different. So, this was also a fascinating experience for me, as I got to observe the effects of immersion into an unknown field of research on myself, and the subconscious associations and relationships that I formed in my mind, unaware I was doing so (or had done so.)

Where I hope to go next, (even though it will most likely be after my semester comes to an end) is to speak with someone who has an affection for books as an object of art, or master craftsmanship. I am not looking for someone who is a collector for the sake of monetary value, but instead because he or she has a depth of knowledge of the design principles and technical processes it takes to create a beautiful book.

Interview Schedule

In thinking about the information I am looking to gather for my research project, I figured that my best bet in aiming to construct a diverse perspective would be to gather points of view from people of different ages, backgrounds and levels of expertise – however, all having sharing the same core connection to my research topic.

As my project has been progressing, I have been talking with people in my various social circles about my research topic. A friend of mine who, at one time, did not particularity care for books, shared with me how she took an informal course on the creative process, and ended up getting into reading some poetry – but through an unconventional means. I was curious about this, and I asked my friend if she would sharing with me the name of the person she took the informal course under. I figured, if he could get her to actually want to crack a book, there must be something to his course. So, this week I got in touch with him. Turns out that Robert Mulvaney is currently a teacher at a Cape May County high school, and also has some background in theater. He sounded like a bookworm on the phone, but not a real avid enthusiast of electronic/new media. That’s ok, conflict creates an interesting story, (and I’m always open to hear opposing views.)  I am really looking forward to talking with him about his observations in the classroom setting on how students view books these days, and how he feels the creative process ties in with sparking interest in something, where there was no prior interest.  I am not sure what direction this may take, but I’d also like to get into some discussion about the human relationship with tactile, “hands-on” experiences and the corresponding interaction with the sensory memory and information processing. Robert will be one of my in-person interviews, and we’ll be meeting this weekend, either 3/12 or 3/13.

My second, in-person interview will be with an author, Les Tomlinson Jr., who has recently published his first book, The New Song. I had seen the book for sale at my church, but I did not realize that the author actually lives relatively close to me until my dad bought a copy of the book, and I happened to read the biographical information on the back cover. I’d like to ask Les if he is considering having his book put into digital format, so as to sell on e-readers as well as in print. As a published author, I’d like to know what his take in on the publishing industry, and if he would consider it a worthwhile investment to branch into the having his work available online.Granted, Les is a newly minted author, so he is no Stephen King (yet!), but I would still like to hear his thoughts on how he feels having (or not having) his work in digital format would increase profit for him. Les and I are planning on meeting the week of March 20th.

Using some of my own new media connections, I downloaded Circle of Moms app on my Facebook account and proceeded to try and get to know some new moms. Thinking back to the discussion we had in Core 2 with Dr. Wolff last Tuesday, I wanted to look into how moms interact with their little one using books. I ended up connecting with mom, Michelle, who lives in TN, and has a toddler and a five-month-old. Michelle shared with me how her own mom, Linda, used Blurb to create custom books for her two grandchildren, and now the whole family enjoys this personalized, book-making technology. Blurb showcases Linda’s books with high resolution, colorful photos of the family, along with text, which are lyrics to songs that Linda sings with the kids. Michelle shared how her kids love turning the pages, looking at the photos, and hearing Linda sing – sometimes they even sing back! It seems that having these books creates a very special bonding time between Linda, Michelle and the kids, and this bond using books as a vehicle is what I would like to explore. I would also like to ask if Michelle or Linda would ever consider reading to the kids using a Nook or a Kindle, (if they had one), and why, or, why not. Additionally, I am curious to ask Michelle if/ how often/ what kind of books Linda read to her when she was little. If her mom read to her when she was little, did it build degree of  fondness for books which Michelle enjoys today? Michelle and I plan to convene online either 3/19 or 3/20.

For my second online interview, I am still waiting to hear back from a couple of folks that I had contacted earlier last week. I have yet to hear back from them, but I will give it another shot. But, as you have heard it said before, the squeaky wheel gets the oil! These are people in the book designing industry and most likely, they are probably really, REALLY busy. I also feel that having their perspective is vital as it really grounds the research on my topic.  So, instead of settling, I’m hanging in there for now and if, in the next couple of days I don’t hear back, I’ll update this post to include an alternate choice.

More to come soon!

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Now on the road to research, I am excited to announce that my topic has officially been approved by Dr. Wolff!

The driving force will be the core question, “What is it about books that humans so love?”

The most difficult part will be separating my own assertions and leaving the topic open for exploration. Not so easy to do will be making it a practice of having a constant awareness of my own theories, and being careful not to let them influence my trajectory of exploration too much.

However, a research technique that I feel may assist me in extracting my own suppositions will be to incorporate some Phenomenology. Edmund Husserl’s technique when using phenomenology was to “bracket out,” or “epoche” one’s own experiences and theories in order to best arrive at a clear, unbiased perspective. (Clark Moustakas discusses Husserl’s strategy at length in his approach on hermeneutic phenomenology.) Certainly this should help, but I am not expecting to produce completely non-filtered results–this would be humanly impossible because we all have a lens which we view our world through, one could never extract that completely.

Another aspect of the research technique of phenomenology which I feel would suit my sphere of focus is that it would enable me to, “describe the meaning for several individuals of their lived experiences of a concept, or a phenomenon.” If I were to ever figure out the reasons that people prefer the tangible book over an e-reader, I would most certainly need to talk to a lot of people. (Whereas in a narrative analysis, typically only a couple of subjects are looked at in depth.) The “phenomenon” in this study would be why people do or do not prefer the tangible element of a book or a magazine, over the intangible connection of a Kindle, Nook, iPad, and the like.

In his reply regarding my research topic proposal, Dr. Wolff sent me a video, Wings: Making the Notes 2010 Fall Edition, which served as an excellent starting point to catapult my journey. I know I will be doing a lot of observation of how people interact with books and magazines, and what their emotional histories are with their favorite books. I want to know what shapes and creates the context for them to love a book, (or a something in print that they can get their hands on.) What are the internal and external elements that form and shape and determine that relationship? I will also be looking at the psychology behind the design of tangible forms of printed material. (This is otherwise known as Information Architecture, which I happen to be currently taking a course in! You can check out our blog, entitled Frank Lloyd Writers, here.)

Well, it looks like that Starbuck’s giftcard is finally going to come in handy–I’ll be sippin’ on a chai tea and doing phenomenology research at the same time observing all the techies typing away on laptops alongside their bookworm peers!

“Book Bonding,” Research Proposal

I am immersed in technology, and being in graduate school, I also have a mountain of reading to do. Ergo, my frame of mind is to maximize the time spent while driving, (which is averages to about 14 hours per week) and listen to some of the course readings selections instead of reading them all.

Another issue of practicality has been carrying around a large purse (more like a carry-on!), a laptop, and a third bag for several course books = sore shoulders + lower back pain. (Whew!) I have purchased the course books in hard copy form, but I have to say, due to sore shoulders and lower back pain, an iPad, Kindle,or Nook was looking pretty darn good.

So, what did this experience do for my research project? It got me thinking in the direction of the psychology and human behavior studies of transitioning from reading and interacting with text in the hard copy form, to reading and interacting with it in a digital form.

We love the accessibility and convenience of our favorite reads available on electronic readers. But how much, and in what ways do we miss the feeling of a well-worn book in our hands? How about thumbing through the slick pages of a colorful magazine? I can say that I have a bond with my favorite books. (And I have lots of “favorite books”–actually bookshelves full.)

I argue with myself that perhaps I should give them away or sell them, but I just can’t. I have grown too fond of them! I love to look over at my bookshelf and scan through all my rows of books, each row having a different topic that I’ve collected on. I know their different sizes, weights, typefaces, and dust-covers. I know where some are dog-eared, underlined in ink, and highlighted. In some I can see fluorescent Post-It notes still peeking out from where I had made notes.

You see, in each book there is a history of my interaction with it.

A bread crumb of my own personal history is reflected in each book. They are tangible artifacts of personal journeys, topic studies, and intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth in my life. The dog-eared pages, notations, underlining, circling, and highlighting all reflect the internal dialogue with information that I have had throughout the years. There is an element of human bonding through the relationship of discourse, even though it was all in my mind.

Do they merely represent information that could otherwise be more efficiently stored on an electronic device?

No. To me, the book is much more than sheets of text bound and glued together. The book is a tangible link to the experience I had as I progressed through reading it. Contained is not only what the author had to say, but what I thought  and concluded about it as I progressed–a “little universe” if you will.

My favorite part is when I go to revisit the thoughts contained in these “universes” that have been constructed by the author and myself, and I have something tangible to build upon. I love the flip back to old book-marked pages and read my notes scrawled in the margins. Oftentimes the words trigger insights or questions I had at the time, and am now able to expound on.

Additionally, I would like to assert that there is the simple, but very powerful element of human touch.

Of course, I could easily download many of these books and make clean, crisp notations on a screen and use a mouse to highlight areas of interest. I could add links here and there, and even embolden a pull-quote or two. The possibilities are almost limitless, and I’m sure they would surpass by far in efficiency what “notes” I manage to take in the hard copy version. Yet, to me, the bond and relationship would be missing.

Nooks, Kindles and iPads are fantastic, yet there is something cold and sterile about them. To me, they lack warmth. But, does everyone feel that way?

If we are all about efficiency, why don’t we just slowly eliminate hard-copy reads and go with their digital counterparts?

Are we already doing that, or instead simply making digital counterparts for convenience? (So that grad students like myself will not physical therapy for shoulder and back problems!) What changes, if anything, for people who use more electronic versions of their books than hard copies?

What is it exactly about books that humans so love? I have a hunch it has something to do with relationship, bonding and physical touch, at least it does for me. And it is this topic of information processing and human interaction that I would like to look into further.

I plan to explore this research topic in the creative nonfiction genre, but may wonder outside of those parameters to include some other genres as well, depending upon the direction my research takes me.

I feel that the creative nonfiction genre is the best fit overall, as opposed to another genre like narrative journalism, because creative nonfiction affords me a richer description and the ability to incorporate reflection. I will also be doing a lot of interviewing and am looking forward to building in-depth profiles of the people I will be observing. Additionally, most of my training is in journalism and news reporting, so taking on a genre that is relatively new should be a stretch–but in a good way.

In my search for publishing outlets, I was excited to come across Fourth Genre.

Fourth Genre is published twice annually by Michigan State University Press, the publication is a literary journal that explores the boundaries of contemporary creative/literary nonfiction. The editors invite works that are lyrical, self-interrogative, meditative, and reflective, as well as expository, analytical, exploratory, or whimsical. The Fourth Genre journal encourages a writer-to-reader conversation, one that explores the markers and boundaries of literary/creative nonfiction. (I also love that Fourth Genre has a Facebook page.)

In my research I hope to discover findings that will highlight the current pulse of literary interaction with readers, both in electronic media and traditional print medium for students and educators, children and teens, as well as those who read for recreation or topic exploration.

The next publication I explored was The Futurist. I am intrigued by their unusual niche as they, “cover a wide range of subject areas–virtually everything that will affect our future or will be affected by the changes the future will bring.” Past articles that they have been published are focused on technology, planning, resources, economics, religion, the arts, values, and health. They look for articles should have something new and significant to say about the future. A couple of recent titles of their current pieces are, The iPad and the Future of the TV, and 6 Exponential Technologies of Tomorrow”.

In my research project, I will be looking at the relationship humans are building with technology by the way we interaction with products such as the Kindle, iPad, the Nook, etc., for personal reading and learning. As I explore cross-generational interaction with technology, I will also be simultaneously looking at what our relationship with the traditional print media has been, (i.e., books and magazines). As I progress in my research, I will be researching how interaction with technology has also changed the younger generation,  (since interaction with technology has become much more prevalent for them than previous generations.) As I progress in my research I look forward to offering  future projections as to the evolution of technology based on our current interaction with it and our expectation of what it can deliver.

When I came across Coffeehouse Digest, I immediately thought of the countless times I’ve nestled into a comfy, vintage chair with a great book, chai tea in hand, in a coffeehouse. Now, notice I said with a book.

I can’t help but wonder how many people come into a coffeehouse with a book or a magazine, and how many come in with a laptop or a Kindle? A facet of my research will involve exploring what kinds of things people are looking for when they interact with an electronic reader. Are they looking to get the same experience out of it as they would a book? Another aspect I will explore is if they are also multitasking as they read, perhaps Twittering, blogging, etc. It used to be that when you curled up with a book, you were looking to be engrossed in the material. It was a time to be alone, a time for reflection. So for the coffeehouse crowd, indeed, this could be right up their alley.

Coffeehouse Digest has transitioned from print to online, and is currently working on getting their website up. However, they state that they are looking for, “cutting edge articles to interest everyone who may walk into a coffee-house.” They are open to an eclectic mix of topics and offer suggestion such as, reviews of coffeehouse music, books, electronic gadgets, product tests, and the like.

The last publication I explored submitting to was Flaunt magazine. Flaunt’s content, “is mirrored in the sophisticated, interactive format of the magazine, using advanced printing techniques, fold-out articles, beautiful papers and inserts to create a visually stimulating, surprisingly readable, and intelligent book that pushes the magazine into the realm of art-object.” The publication also claims to represent a hybrid of all that is interesting in entertainment, fashion, music, design, film, art and literature.

Depending on the evolutionary process my research takes, my project may take on a form that will enable me to incorporate multiple genres. As my work takes shape through the research process, I would like to leave it open-ended enough to leave room to incorporate elements of creative innovation—such as poetry, photography, and narrative, in addition to creative nonfiction.