Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Reading In The Mobile Era

Links to, and brief comments on, three works I’ve enjoyed recently, each read on a mobile device.


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This novel of great humanity is set in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1970’s. It explores the tensions and entanglements between and among the homestead (“the flies, the smells, the fields and the rags, …stomachs which were seldom full, …dirt and disease…”) and black people and white people (here as represented by missionaries and convents).

Colonialism, post-colonialism, feminism, patriarchy, racism---there are many themes and subtexts in the book, but I was preeminently taken by the depiction of the relationship between the novel’s narrator (Tambu)  and her cousin (Nyasha), both young teenage girls, both born in the homestead but being “recruited” by the West, by the white culture. Nyasha has spent time at school in London, both girls are students at the missionary school in their home country, and there is much in the book about them navigating the two cultures. But Tambu and Nyasha are also teenagers, fresh and smart, full of life, and the author is right on the money in capturing the “lucid irreverence” of their behaviors, in front of their families, in front of their schoolmates, in front of each other---some of it laugh out loud funny. The relationship between the girls is so sweetly rendered, that when at one point they realize their lives are taking different paths and they are saying good bye to each other---man I was almost crying like a baby.   

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Reading in the Mobile Era, by Mark West and Han Ei Chew

Obviously if Nervous Conditions were written today, it would be a different book in many ways, one being the cousins would probably be using mobile devices to communicate and to read. This report, released by UNESCO in 2014, examines the use of mobile devices, and the increase in reading as a result.  The study (a free pdf download of 7.77 mb) was conducted in the countries of Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The leap from preindustrial to digital economies in developing cultures is much written about. This report is focused on reading, and shows that reading increases as texts are made widely available via mobile devices. The conclusions are optimistic


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If Nervous Conditions represents the past, and the UNESCO report the present, this novel is the future. Situated between realistic and science fiction, and a literary descendent of Frankenstein, there are also other genres at work and play---horror, humor, metafiction, mystery, thriller et al.

It isn’t a pretty picture of humankind, and the author’s viewpoint is almost consistently a downer, but that attitude is offset by an expansive, gargantuan and Wikipedic level of erudition combined with a circus of literary antics and stunts. At 638 pages the book is a beast, but very compelling.

Here’s one of the cute, more humorous passages from the novel to conclude this post. The narrator is a young man who has fallen hard for a gorgeous woman named Lorelei who is way out of his league. Nonetheless, they have gone together to a fast food restaurant. He’s loco in love and she is 

“…radiant in a light blue hoodie, white V-neck, and jeans. Lorelei was the kind of girl that could pull off wearing a Kevlar vest while reading Wordsworth. What a first-date story this would make for the grandkids. Her, impenetrable and romantic; me, lost and longing. Her slender fingers plucked up another fry, with a grace that concert pianists would covet. She slid it through the viscous surface of her shake, like the mother of Achilles baptizing her baby in liquid Lethe. Then a subtle twist of the fingers as she pulled it free, the milkshake reaching up after it, trying to hold tight, to fill in the emptiness her fry had drilled out, until finally gravity overtook it, and the chocolate stalagmite let go, dropped back into itself, a brief peak of nostalgia, until its tip tilted downward and wept its way back into uniform smoothness, all evidence erased and forgotten…Lorelei held the fry in her mouth, like a lollipop almost, and tilted her head to the side with bemused sympathy…”

I can say with pretty reasonable confidence that you’ll be happy with any of the three works mentioned above.


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