Oblique Reading: a Tutorial

January 19, 2011

At SCS in New York last week, I talked about some of the books I’ve made, and about Network Realism: one of the thing that might happen to writing in the future (blatantly contradicting what I said about technology and writing in the last interview, but there you go).

At the end, I gave the audience two challenges, which I’m going to repeat here. I’ve sort of covered this before, but they bear repeating.

1: Start an invisible book club

Choose a book and read it at the same time as a bunch of people you hang out with regularly—your friends or colleagues, or just your partner. But: do not discuss the book.

Allow the world of the book to seep into yours. Enjoy the sensation of temporarily inhabiting a common fiction, a shared memory palace. Crack in-jokes, reference characters and situations, share metaphors. No pressure. Just enjoy the experience.

2: Go for a walk with an audiobook

I did this with William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, which in the city engendered strange feelings of techno-invincibility, conspiracy and surveillance. I imagine effects would vary widely and interestingly with different choices of literature and setting.

Take a narrative and treat it as a soundtrack. Instead of walking through the streets to a beat, or treating yourself to Vaughan Williams in a field, allow an author’s words to wrap around you. Allow yourself to be distracted. (Don’t get run over.) Ambient literature is as powerful a mood-enhancer as your favourite album.

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