Thinking About Reading & Writing

Last week 2 things happened that got me thinking, once again, about how teens read and write in the early 21st century. The first was my own reading. I started reading the audio version of The Perfect Thing by Steven Levy. The Perfect Thing is subtitled “How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness.” It’s all about the beginning days of the iPod – it’s build and pre-release – and what’s happened since it was launched. The book, from my perspective, is great. But, what was surprising to me was in the introduction, Steven Levy tells readers that the book is meant to be read using the shuffle function of an iPod. The concept being that he wrote it thinking there was not a need to create a linear story. Instead, each chapter (except the introduction) stands on its own and the book can be read in any order the reader chooses.

As I’m reading The Perfect Thing I’m thinking about each chapter as an entity unto itself and if what came before (or after) is needed in any way to make the chapter make sense. Each chapter does stand on its own so I can shuffle things around and listen in an order that is interesting and makes sense to me. That’s pretty exciting. And, for teens who live in shuffle worlds brought to them by portable media devices, the ability to shuffle a book might give them a new insight into reading and writing. What books can be shuffled? What books can’t be shuffled? What if every non-fiction title a teen read could shuffle? Is it a gimmick or does it really change the reading, and writing experience? Isn’t shuffling a book to create the narrative that makes sense to the reader is a demonstration of identity and a demonstration of critical thinking?

The same day I started reading The Perfect Thing I heard on the TWIT podcast about a new project of Audible.com. Audible contracted with 15 thriller authors who are all writing a book together – each writing a chapter with Jeffrey Deaver writing the first and last chapters. The book, The Chopin Manuscript, is available in audio format only (at least at first.)

This isn’t the first book that I know of that used the construct of multiple adult authors writing a novel together. Naked Came the Manatee was published about 10 years ago. It is a mystery novel written by a group of Florida authors including Carl Hiassen and Dave Barry. A decade ago collaboration was not as easy to do as it is in 2007. Authors can use tools like Google Docs and wikis to write content together. They don’t have to deal with attachments, lost versions, missing changes, etc. The technological tools of the ages make it much easier to collaborate on content.

I don’t know if the authors of The Chopin Manuscript are collaborating using tech tools like a wiki and Google Docs, but teens could. Not only could they collaborate on the text using these tools, but when it came to recording they could collaborate using Audacity to record and a site like PodOmatic to share and comment.

Reading and writing certainly isn’t just about books anymore. And, it isn’t about using traditional means to get ideas and stories to the reader. Some teens connect to reading and writing more strongly if they have a chance to interact with it in new and different ways. That might mean shuffling chapters or collaborating on the process via technology. There’s lots of possibilities, find out from your teens which appeals to them the most.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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