Friday News: BBC’s best books, can Kindle change books?, Tolkien as Father Christmas, and how to draw Manga
The 10 best books of 2017 – Although we’re positively besieged with “best of” and “must buy” book lists at this time of year, I appreciate the levels of diversity in this list, and despite the Saunders book (YAWN), there are some entries that may deserve a bit more of our attention, including Louise Erdrich’s dystopian fantasy, Cristina Garcia’s visitor narrative, and Sherman Alexie’s memoir. – BBC Culture
THE KINDLE CHANGED THE BOOK BUSINESS. CAN IT CHANGE BOOKS? – This article’s value may lie less in the idea of Amazon revolutionizing the book and more in the question of what that means and whether it is desirable or even possible. David Pierce traces the evolution of the Kindle, now a whole decade old (in some ways it feels like a hundred years, while in others it seems like we saw the first Kindle last month), noting that while the device itself has changed, that Amazon’s contribution to reading has not pushed much beyond a device and a platform (and even the platform can be modified by the reader). So what of books? Pierce argues that because Amazon hosts Audible, among other platforms, that they could fundamentally change the book. But what would that mean? At what point does a book become not-a-book, and what does that look like? Is reading a book enough for most power readers, and who, really, is Kindle’s target audience?
For a decade, Amazon’s relentlessly offered new ways for people to read books. But even as platforms change, books haven’t, and the incompatibility is beginning to show. Phones and tablets contain nothing of what makes a paperback wonderful. They’re full of distractions, eye-wrecking backlights, and batteries that die in a few hours. They also open up massive new opportunities. On a tablet, books don’t have to consist only of hundreds of pages set in a row. They can be easily navigable, endlessly searchable, and constantly updated. They can use images, video, even games to augment the experience. “The Kindle’s aura of bookishness was the modern equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible’s aura of scribalness,” Nicholas Carr, the author and media scholar, wrote in 2011. “It was essentially a marketing tactic, a way to make traditional book readers comfortable with e-books. But it was never anything more than a temporary tactic.” Carr should have been right, but six years later nothing’s really changed.
The next phase for the digital book seems likely to not resemble print at all. Instead, the next step is for authors, publishers, and readers to take advantage of all the tools now at their disposal and figure out how to reinvent longform reading. Just as filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh are experimenting with what it means to make a “movie” that’s really an app on a totally interactive device with a smaller screen, Amazon and the book world are beginning to figure out what’s possible when you’re not dealing with paper anymore. – WIRED
J.R.R. Tolkien Is Our Favorite Father Christmas – I’ve tried to avoid posting too much Christmas-specific content here, but since this piece features Tolkein, I’ll make the exception. Beginning in 1920, Tolkien wrote and illustrated a letter to his son, John, who had recently taken an interest in Father Christmas. Tolkien’s impersonation is pretty darn charming, and his illustrations are just lovely. I hope he was as loving a father as these beautiful letters seem to suggest.
For the next 23 years, every Christmas Eve, Tolkien wrote a letter to his four children from Father Christmas. What began as short, informative letters—“I am just now off to Oxford with a bundle of toys”—evolved into longer tales about life at the North Pole. The 1932 letter begins, “Dear Children, There is alot to tell you. First of all a Merry Christmas! But there have been lots of adventures you will want to hear about. It all began with the funny noises underground … ”
Next year, you will be able to see these letters at Oxford’s Bodleiean Libraries exhibition Tolkien: The Maker of Middle-Earth, along with a trove of other Tolkien artifacts. – Atlas Obscura
How to Draw in the Style of Japanese Manga: A Series of Free and Wildly Popular Video Tutorials from Artist Mark Crilley – For those of you who don’t know about Cruller’s 250+ video tutorials on Manga, here is some background, as well as a link to the collection. He provides instruction on everything from facial features to action scenes, and offers it all for the unbeatable prize of $0.00. Happy Holidays!
In Japan, the word manga refers broadly to the art form we know in English as comics. But as used in the West, it refers to a comic art style with distinctive aesthetic and storytelling conventions of its own, originating from but now no longer limited to Japan. Just as the past century or so has seen the emergence of Western masters of such things thoroughly Japanese as sushi, judo, and even tea ceremony, the past few decades brought us the work of the Western mangaka, or manga artist. Mark Crilley stands as one of the best-known practitioners of that short tradition, thanks not only to his art but to his efforts to teach fans how to draw in the style of Japanese manga themselves as well. – Open Culture