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Book roulette, a small introduction:
I was an early adopter of audiobooks, and ebooks. and we're not talking I had a sony reader in my teenage years. Although that would have been cool. I obtained my first audio book subscription when it became clear to my parents and teachers that I would keep failing the third grade, unless adjustments were made. so around the age of nine, maybe earlier. The problem was this was 1997, or so. The audiobook industrial complex wasn't nearly the multibillion dollar juggernaut it is today, commercial audiobook publishing was a redheaded stepchild of the publishing industry, and most audiobooks were produced in what is called abridged form. Where someone would edit the text of a book down from about a ten hour program to perhaps three or four hours. This was done so that it would fit on as few cassettes or vinyl records as possible. Unabridged Books were obscenely expensive, and very hard to find in the days before Amazon started carrying everything. For instance a copy of the unabridged Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone would cost or around $66. In today's money, and the prices only went up as one moved into more young adult and adult reading. A copy of Tom Clancy's Executive Orders for instance would run you and inflation adjusted $120. Prices only went down slightly after the move to CDs. Because if we can keep profit why not?
This had consequences for both individuals and libraries, I owned very few books growing up. I think by the time I moved out the only book I had left from childhood was a copy of Return of the King, which had suffered So much abuse by that point, it was only good for decoration. in addition libraries would have very limited selection, often years out of date, and mostly of abridged titles. Although my local library growing up did have a surprising collection of World War II related stuff, and british mystery authors in Unabridged form.
So how then did young disabled people gain an education or read for pleasure.
Unsurprisingly there's a federal program for that. It's called the National Library Service. And it was begun during the new deal to provide work for out of work actors. They originally sent books out to blind people on I special sixteen and one third RPM long play record record, upgraded to four track audiocassette in the mid seventies. And usb audio cartridges in 2010.
Nowadays a qualifying patron can just go to their state's repository site. And download whatever they want, or if that can't be done for whatever reason call and have a special USB drive sent to you with selections.
Back in the day however this worked a little differently, You could still order from a catalog, but one of the goals of this program especially for children was to give a steady supply of reading materials. the catalog also was not the full catalog of everything available but only monthly digests of what was new or newly available. Although fairly early on there was and internet based catalog. Exposing patrons to books they may not be familiar with was a secondary goal.
Point was if you didn't order anything or didn't have your borrowing limit maxed out you would be sent random books on a monthly basis. These were picked out by actual humans based on your reading history, and a survey you filled out once a year. My borrowing limit was fifteen books, and I only typically ordered five specifically. This led to me reading a lot of random books growing up.
my mother had a rule however that I had to read at least three chapters of any book that I was sent before I was allowed to send it back. which had some surprising effects, I doubt that I would be a fan of David Bowie today without this particular arrangement. And my store of random trivia would be far less deep and wide then it is. I received my last book under this arrangement in 2012. It was on the Arab conquests of the ninth and tenth centuries, and the role of Islam in the same. Like I said these days you have to seek out your reading material. Which is a better system in some ways, but recently I've been missing this subscription box approach.
All Grown Up
I tend to read the same kinds of things over and over again now whereas under the old dispensation, I would read many on many different topics, and this would keep things from getting boring.
In any given month you might go from Ursula K Le Guinn, to a National Geographic guide to the island of Cyprus. and the aforementioned guide might spark your interest in cold war era foreign policy, which would then lead you to order a book on the watergate scandal. But not the usual one Woodward and Bernstein. You accidentally ordered the autobiography of the presiding judge in the criminal case. All the while you're still exploring high fantasy and scifi during fiction time. The proceeding was not a hypothetical example, that all happened during my sophomore year of high school. You basically went down multiple slow motion rabbit holes.
How to play
I have long wanted to reconstruct something of this system to get me invested in reading again, and to broaden my horizons a bit. Seems like all I do is read catholic theological texts these days. And I may have finally found a system that works. Here's how.
- Whenever you run across a reference to the title of a book, whether it be on a blog, in a chat, in casual conversation, anywhere. put that book title in a text file one for fiction, one for not fiction.
- When ready have the computer pick a random title from said file.
- Read at least the first three chapters of the selected book
- remove title from file
This seems to work well for the moment. I just finished a book called Military Justice in America By Jonathan Laurie, and I'm currently working through Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Earth. The one on the history of court marshals in America surprisingly more readable than the utopian climate fiction. But Kim Stanley Robinson is rather hit and miss in my experience.
I've only been doing this for two months but it seems to be working so far at least in getting the excited about reading again. Obviously there are some exclusions I won't read anything by jordan Peterson for example, or anything overtly fascist. And for now I've decided to exclude catholic theological and history texts from the pool just because I've read so many in the last year I'm getting board.
Well anyway, that's the story of book roulette hope you enjoyed.
Copyright © 2023 Matt Arnold CC-NC-BY-SA 4.0