I’m a picky reader.

There. I said it.

My pickiness has not so much to do with what I’m reading and more to do with the process of reading. What I mean is that everything about the reading process has to be just right. There needs to be the right level of light, the right level of noise, and it has to be a comfortable environment that’s not too hot and not too cold.

Another symptom of my pickiness comes from an acute awareness of sitting position, or more specifically how comfortable I am while I’m reading — including whether or not the book I’m holding is properly supported. I thought the advent of ebook reading would solve that problem, but it really didn’t. Sure, a Kindle device is easier to hold than an 800-page book, but support it long enough, and it feels heavier than it really is — which then becomes a huge reading distraction.

I had the opportunity to test a solution to this first-world problem when I was given Dockem’s iProp.

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In episode 208 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester welcomes two of our newest Irregulars, Sarah Chorn and Ria Bridges, along with a couple of long-term Irregulars, Larry Ketchersid and Lisa Paitz Spindler to discuss three books we want to read before the end of the year.

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October 6 is Star Wars Reads Day

Are you ready for Star Wars Reads Day?

October 6, 2012 has been designated Star Wars Reads Day, a multi-publisher initiative that celebrates reading and Star Wars, with events taking place in bookstores and libraries across the United States. (Alderaan is supposed to be participating, but they could not be reached to confirm this…)

Press release after the jump…
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Everyone has their quirks and habits as a reader, and one of mine is that I dislike not finishing a story. Many readers share this predilection; the reasons vary, from a generalized love of reading to specific ideas of “giving a story a chance” or showing how durable one’s reading fortitude is. For me, it is partly a matter of fortitude, but also of curiosity. Even when I do not like a book, I want to keep going to see if I can understand better what the problem is or perhaps find something of merit farther along. For many years I prided myself on this trait, until I returned to writing a few years ago and started penning reviews and fiction again. I read books that were so-so, that were terribly flawed, and that were outright awful. I read Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold so I could say that I had read all of his novels; I read a Gor novel to see what it was all about. I churned through a number of mediocre and problematic books, telling myself that this would prepare me to be a better writer and critic.

But what was I really doing? In retrospect I didn’t learn a lot from some of those reading experiences. All I learned from Farnham’s Freehold was that Heinlein could stumble mightily in terms of a premise and its execution. The Gor novel I read some of to my high school friends late at night after a D&D game so we could laugh at, and yet be (to varying degrees) strangely titillated. The mediocre books were more trouble to read than the really bad ones, because there was less to shake one’s head at in them. When I started graduate school I underwent a change in how I viewed books; they were now items to extract nuggets of information and argumentation from so that one could augment one’s own work. I think this is the period where I learned to skim books, prioritize sections to read, and left some books unfinished in the tsunami of reading we had to navigate and absorb.
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“In metaphorical terms, one could say that the processes essential to the reading mind are not mechanical or computational, but more oceanic, that is, dynamic, fluvial and fluctuating.” Michael Burke. Literary Reading, Cognition and Emotion: An Exploration of the Oceanic Mind

Reading is on my mind at all times right now, not just because I (like everyone reading this) does it many times per day, but because I’ve been immersing myself in different scholarly disciplines and genres that try to theorize and analyze the practice. When I first started reading about reading, I had no idea that there was such a dense history of its study or that there would be so many theories about the practice that no one book could contain them all. Someone has been trying to grasp how the process works, and how best to teach and utilize it, for almost 2,500 years. From the earliest forms of Mental Discipline Theory to the latest revelations via fMRI and other scientific scanning processes, humans in literate societies have been attempting to understand just what it is we’re doing and why we do it that way. This history is fascinating, but its vastness can be overwhelming without some thought about what you want to learn from it.

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It’s time for a Quick Meme!

Answer these three questions:
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My latest space opera novel, The Returning, follow up to last year’s The Worker Prince, wound up being modeled after thrillers like Robert Ludlam’s Bourne novels and got me thinking a lot about great science fiction and fantasy thrillers. Obviously science lends itself well to the thriller genre, and the thriller genre is one of the easiest and most fun to cross-mix with other genres. So based in part on Amazon listings and recommendations from friends and fellow writers, here’s list of 15 such thrillers SFSignal readers might enjoy.

One can’t talk about Science Fiction and Fantasy thrillers without first mentioning two very important classics which are precursors. Both were published at the end of the 19th Century and remain popular even today.

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“All writing depends on the generosity of the reader.” – Alberto Manguel

I have a lot of ideas rattling around in my head this week, so I thought that I would write them down, still-forming and tentative, and see what I can make of them. And I ask you, the reader, to let me know which of these notions make sense, and which seem counter-intuitive.  A few of them are intentionally excessive in their speculations — little thought-exercises to stimulate debate and reflection. My goal here is to articulate my conjectures and then start taking them apart to find out which ones are most useful and evocative for examining the reading experience and process.
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David Barr Kirtley has discovered this gem of a video…and recording from the 1986 4th Street Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, where this Roger Zelazny reading was recorded. It an exceprt from Blood of Amber called “Loki 7281“.

Watch closely for Steven Brust at 1m 48s and 2m 14s and others I should recognize, but don’t.
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“At this very moment, your brain is accomplishing an amazing feat — reading.”

- Stanislas Dehaene

“[R]eading does not begin or end when eyes apprehend the words on the page, but long before that and indeed long after it.”

- Michael Burke

Last week I sketched out a too-brief examination of the basic cognitive processes of reading. This week I want to elaborate on that, and start filling in the picture of how we read. As fascinating as those processes are (and there is certainly more to discuss about them), in the end they are only one aspect of the practice of reading. And, while they demonstrate how we read, they only hint at why and what we read. Reading is a doubly amazing activity because it is not only an unforeseen adaptation that changed how humanity lives, it has an enduring power and utility garnered from the puzzles and connections it creates and reveals. As Oliver Sacks has noted, “Writing, a cultural tool, has evolved to make use of the inferotemporal neurons’ preference for certain shapes” and the process of reading functions in dialogue with that retooling of function. I think that “evolved” is a somewhat loaded term, but the fact that writing and reading developed culturally rather than biologically has to be kept in mind, so that we do not lose sight of the innovative core of these practices and the ways in which they have been transformed over their history.

Many books have been written about that history, but I want to briefly touch on the points that seem most relevant to discussing the reading of fiction and fantastika. What began as a mnemonic aid has become a practice that can shift us from the world around us into one unfolding in our heads by giving our predilections for speculation, prediction, and adaptive social organization ample fodder and an outlet for sharing them with others. What made humans start to read and write? There are multiple theories, but most likely symbols were used as a tool for accounting. As human social and political systems became larger, more elaborate, and more hierarchical, there was a growing need to keep track of obligations. “Initially it was the simple faculty of extracting visual information from any encoded system and comprehending the respective meaning” (Fischer, A History of Reading, p. 12), but the use of this faculty supported a number of social changes that led to the gradual elaboration of these systems. From simple marks denoting a number or symbolic linkage more sophisticated symbols, such as abjads and ideograms, were developed to meet new needs of information transmission. At this point, the marks denoted additional meanings, such as sounds and words, representing aspects of spoken language and, eventually, distinct ideas.
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In episode 119 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks a panel of SF Signal Irregulars: What are you reading?

This week’s panel:

© 2012 SFSignal.com
Featuring original music by John Anealio
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If you are in the New York City area on Tuesday, March 6th, it’d be worth your time to check out The New York Review of Science Fiction Reading scheduled for that night: A Journey to Barsoom! The event is to help promote John Joseph Adams’ new John Carter anthology Under the Moons of Mars

Press release follows…

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SF Tidbits for 9/7/09

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SF Tidbits for 7/31/09

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