What I’m reading: August 2020

Between working from home and an upcoming sabbatical in the fall, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

What I’m reading for work/research

“Informing Visual Poetry: Information Needs and Sources of Artists” by Sandra Cowan: I’ve been taking a deep dive recently into studies on the information-seeking behaviors of various creative populations, including visual artists and writers. This particular article was published in 2004 but it articulates almost exactly many of the frustrations I feel about these types of studies (and LIS literature in general), especially the underlying assumption that the library is or should be a necessary part of the creative information-seeking process. Cowan argues instead for trying to understand the information seeking behaviors of artists as they actually are rather than trying to shoehorn libraries into that process. Really good stuff.

Citation: Cowan, Sandra. “Informing Visual Poetry: Information Needs and Sources of Artists.” Art Documentation 23, no. 2 (2004): 14–20.

The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing by Zachary Petit: I’ve gotten to a point in some of my research where I’ve realized that the best next step is going to be interviewing members of populations with direct experience of the topics I’m hoping to study. This is my first time using interviewing as part of my research (…or really any form of methodology that will require interaction with actual humans and therefore IRB approval), so I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about how to go about doing this, which has led me back to Zachary Petit’s guide on freelance writing. I’ve read this book a couple of times and though it’s become a little outdated since it was first published, it’s a treasure trove of useful how-to information, some of which actually helped me get this blog going. Petit includes an entire chapter on interviewing and though his approach is much more journalistic than research-based, it still has a lot of information that I think is going to be applicable if/when I do get to start conducting interviews with actual subjects.

“Academic” writing books: A while back I conducted a study of 10 popular books on creative writing in order to learn whether and how these books talk about the role of research in the creative process. I wrote about that project here and in a draft of a scholarly article I was hoping to submit for publication. Unfortunately, the feedback I got on my draft was that there wasn’t enough there in my findings to be worth publishing. I needed more data, so I went in search of more books on creative writing but this time ones that were more “academic” in nature—in other words, books that are more likely to be used as texts in creative writing programs. The actual process for determining which writing books to use got a little convoluted but I eventually narrowed it down to a list of about 17 books that I think qualify. So now I’ve started a new project of reading through this new set of books in search for further evidence on my topic. I started a few weeks ago and have managed to get through three so far. Like with the last project, I’ll be dedicating posts to my thoughts on each book I read (starting later this week). Right now, just know that I’m having trouble resisting the urge to throw the damn things against the wall.

What I’m watching for fun

The Circle on Netflix: Okay, so I had a week off recently and it’s not like there’s much to do so I spent a lot of time trying out TV shows that I normally wouldn’t invest in. One of those shows was The Circle, a reality competition series in which the players interact only over social media, never in person. I decided to try one episode out of curiosity and ended up losing three entire days of my life to this thing. Part of what makes the show so compelling is that while some players play as themselves, using photos and information from their real lives, others play as catfish, using photos of someone else and made-up profiles. Needless to say, some of these catfish players are more prepared than others when it comes to playing the part of someone else. This makes for surprisingly compelling stuff despite the fact that the show is literally just scenes of people alternately talking to themselves and shouting at their screens. There are three versions of the show on Netflix: an American one, a French one, and a Brazilian one (the original British version is on Channel Four, apparently). What I liked best about the American version, which I’ve watched in its entirety, is that it’s the rare reality show where you basically like everyone on it—some more than others, maybe, but there are no real villains here. In the French version, which I’m about halfway through, the players are much more calculating: everything is about strategy and they’re constantly screwing each other over, both intentionally and not. The show is basically fun trash but I do think there are some interesting connections to the information creation aspects of information literacy, which I hope to write a blog post about at some point.

What I’m playing for fun

Sneaky Sasquatch on Apple Arcade: When the pandemic started, everyone was really into Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I decided to try it, even purchasing a Nintendo Switch Lite for that purpose, but for whatever reason I couldn’t get into it. I just didn’t like having a little raccoon yelling at me about money and rent during what was already a stressful time. But I still wanted a more casual game to pick up every now and then, so I turned to Apple Arcade and shortly thereafter discovered Sneaky Sasquatch. This is a game that seems to have a lot in common with Animal Crossing in the sense that a lot of it revolves around gathering items that you can sell for money and then use that money to do stuff with within the game (no in-app purchases involved) but to me it feels like there’s more of an object to it because you have to complete all the tasks while playing as a sasquatch who must sneak around a camping park full of easily scared humans and mean park rangers. Though the game is simple to play, it gives you that sense of learning and mastery that I personally find most enjoyable about good video games, as when it took me nearly an hour to figure out how to successfully complete a simple task where I had to scare four campers without getting caught by a park ranger (spoiler: I was able to do it only after discovering, completely by accident, that some of the bushes you hide in can move with you and be used as a portable hiding place—ha!). I’ve never had much luck with phone games in the past, but I’m basically addicted to this one right now.

Firewatch on Nintendo Switch Lite: Okay, so I’m about five years late on this one but to be fair I only started playing video games two or three years ago and even now I tend to stay away from first person games because I’m spectacularly untalented at them (seriously, I tried to play Call of Duty once and gave up after all of five minutes because I couldn’t figure out how to walk forward). I picked up this game because I was looking for something I could play on my Nintendo Switch Lite and I vaguely remembered hearing about it a lot when it first came out. Despite my usual love for spoilers, I went into this game with basically no knowledge of what it was about or what would happen and for that reason I was not at all prepared for how deeply unsettling the whole thing is almost from the start. The only other game I can think of that came close to making me feel this way was The Last of Us (the first one), which was grim and violent but also took place in a world that was different enough from ours (pre-pandemic) that it didn’t feel all that threatening. Meanwhile, Firewatch is a game that takes place in a world that is much more recognizable and deceptively peaceful but it’s clear from very early on that something here is Just Not Right. I mean, this is a game in which nothing particularly violent happens and yet there was a moment near the middle that was so startling I actually screamed when it happened. The fact that you can’t see any faces (because the character you play is mostly alone and the people he does encounter are generally viewed from far away) just adds to that creepy feeling. I love it.

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