Book Review: Book Scavenger

Now, here’s a book with a cool story (and perfectly suited for read-aloud, as I did with my son) that comes with a perfect activity for all of us book-loving, game-loving fools of the world. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is a mystery story of sorts, as our protagonist, Emily, must solve a series of puzzles, found in books, to solve a larger mystery of a game set across the city of San Francisco. It all begins and centers on Edgar Allen Poe, but that’s about all I will say, so as not to give anything away.

Suffice it to say that Bertman has infused her novel with a love of books on many levels, with allusions all over the place to much-loved classics, and established Emily Crane as a heartfelt character. Her family moves .. a lot. Her parents aim to live in all 50 states, and then write a book about it (they already blog about it), and so Emily (age 12) never connects with other kids her age. She knows it is all temporary.

But James, a boy whose family owns the house where Emily’s family rents, is the first kid whose love of puzzles and challenges draws her into an unexpected friendship, as both kids try their hand at Book Scavenger, a website where people hide books and others find them, and collect points. Garrison Griswold, publisher and creator of Book Scavenger, has set in motion a new game, but then falls victim to a subway attack. Emily finds one clue and then game begins… and the story twists and turns, full of cryptic notes and odd discoveries.

Although Book Scavenger, the game and website, is part of a fictional novel, Bertman (and no doubt, her publisher) have created a real-life Book Scavenger site, where you can hide books and track the progress of those books being found. My son was very interested in this literary hide-and-seek game, and I am sure we will be doing some book hiding in our part of Western Massachusetts. Of course, we hope others in our area have read the book and followed the path to the website. (And you can track activity via the #bookscavenger hashtag on Twitter)

Now, the question is: what book shall we hide? And where?

Peace (hidden but in plain view),
Kevin

The Daily Arganee: A Slanted View

Daily Arganee video

I spent a good part of the first 100 days of the Networked Narratives adventure trying to do the Daily Arganee prompt just about every day, both in my guise as The Internet Kid and Horse with no Name, and as myself, using an app called Legend to create short bursts of creativity. I stopped at the 100th prompt but may soon jump back on board. (I hit 98 with the Kid/Horse combo but only 79 as myself, according to the Daily Araganee leaderboard).

I stopped to take a breather when it started to feel like a chore rather than like fun. In addition, the NetNarr experience has shifted into a Mirror World element, and that has included new personas (I have another alternative fictional character in play) and different activities. I’ve been concentrating on that NetNarr aspect for now.

Using the Legend app gave me both some freedom (merging art with words and movement) and structure (limited text/characters) and I worked hard to try to see each prompt from a different angle, to come at it from the slanted view. I can’t quite explain what I mean, except that I never tried to directly address the prompt. Instead, I tried to come at it from an unexpected angle. Obviously, some days were more effective than others.

I have now gathered up many of the prompts that I responded to (although you can find them one at a time at the Daily Arganee site, too) , and put them into Animoto as a curated video space. I like the effect of them all together.

Take a look.

Peace (each day),
Kevin

Book Review: Best American Non-Required Reading 2016

One “count on me reading it” book is often the latest edition of The Best American Non-Required Reading collection for a number of reasons:

  • I can often read pieces I missed during the year from publications like the Iowa Review or Granta or various chapbooks that would likely never be in my radar;
  • The collection is always curated by high school students from California and Michigan as part of the 826 Valencia (an organization started by Dave Eggers) and proceeds from the book purchase support the literacy work of the organization;
  • There is always a cool mix of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and comics, and other assorted odds and ends, and that mix is right up my alley as a reader.

While Eggers has mostly moved on from this project (yet still has his hand in the mix, I think), the venture remains in solid hands, and the high school students who spend a year as curators of material makes it always worth a look because it provides some insight into what is deemed important and interesting to at least one group of young literacy buffs.

The 2016 edition of Best American Non-Required Reading has the expected wide range of pieces, from an oral history of a Palestinian refugee’s life story to the conception of an amazing collection of mostly forgotten bird taxidermies on display in Iowa to the graphic story of a homeless man that shows the cyclical nature of despair to a studied history of the Black Lives Matter movement. There are always a few pieces that I skim through, but that’s to be expected in a collection like this.

Overall, I trust the judgment of the high school curators, and each year, my trust is rewarded with an enriching reading experience. This collection is no different.

Peace (read it and write it),
Kevin

Where Social Media Tumbles into Civic Engagement


Wired Laundrette flickr photo by mikecogh shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I was recently re-reading an interesting article by Clive Thompson, in Wired magazine, entitled “The Social Medium is the Message,” (which has a different title online, for whatever reason) and some of what he writes about resonates with the connection between social media, storytelling and civic imagination that forms the core anchor of the Networked Narratives course.

Here are some bits from Thompson’s article that stuck with me, and then some of my own commentary afterwards.

“Over the next year, the mainstream culture will grapple, for real, with the civic and political effects of our lives online.” — Clive Thompson, Wired, “The Social Medium is the Message”

That’s a fact. Whether it will be a productive discussion remains to be seen. The opening days of this presidency are not holding out great hope, with talk of “alternative facts” and outright lies to the American public and media.

“The most effective disinformation usually begins with an actual fact then amplifies, distorts, or elides; ban the distortion and you risk looking like you are banning the nugget of truth, too.” — Clive Thompson

See above. Trump, as Thompson notes, smartly understands this piece of how disinformation can be used. I suspect media outlets will be under gun until they find a way to harness the power they do have to hold officials accountable for their actions, and their words, and their tweets. We’ve already seen that happening in some of the major news organizations.

“There are limits to what technological fixes can achieve in civic life. Though social networks amplify American partisanship and distrust of institutions, those problems have been rising for years.” – Clive Thompson

Which means it may not be technology, but us, the people, who need to find ways to make this new system work. We need to pressure social media to reduce our bubbles (don’t just share with me things I want to read) and we need to reach out to others. Obama’s quote of calling on someone, in person, to discuss differences of opinions? Yes on that.

“The old order was flawed and elitist and locked out too many voices; it produced seemingly consensus by preventing many from being heard. We’re still fumbling around for new mechanisms that can replace that order and improve upon it.” — Clive Thompson

It seems to me that the Networked Narratives is evolving at the right moment in time, and that while we are celebrating the notions of digital storytelling in a very connected age, we also have to acknowledge and grapple with the reality of darkness that comes with such a shift. This week, we saw some of that darkness emerge with Facebook being the platform for a murder, playing out for the world to see, and all of the ensuing questions that arise about responsibility and censorship and viral natures of digital platforms.

If we want ourselves, and our children and our students, to become engaged in civic life, then we need to find ways to harness the potential positive power of networks for the good of the world (even though what one person defines as “good” might be “bad” in the mind of someone else).

I’m curious to know what you think.

Peace (brimming through the wires),
Kevin

Slice of Life: When Fidgets go Viral

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every now and then, something comes along to remind you about the viral social nature of kids. This past month, it has been the Spinner Fidgets, which is a sort of three-pronged plastic object with a spinning fulcrum in the center.

One day, there was none.

The next day, they were all over the place.

It’s really strange. And then, inevitably, they become a distraction and a problem as opposed to being a stress fidget, and we have to remind our sixth graders about “toys” in school, and how some students can use fidgets but not everyone. At a staff meeting, other teachers in other grades also complained, so much that the principal promised to send a message out to the entire student population about toys and school.

We try to not give that speech to our sixth graders, for its seems a bit draconian.

We gave that speech this year, just before Spring Break.

Here’s what struck me as even odder, though. My son is a sixth grader, too, but in another school, another school district. We received an email home from his sixth grade teachers, saying they were dealing with toys in class, and they were asking us parents to remind our studeto keep those objects home, please.

Spinners? My son says, everyone has them.

What about small cans of modeling puddy clay? We saw a quick rise in those, too, and we had to talk to students about stretching and modeling clay during class-time. Sure, I support hands-on creativity but not when I am trying to get them to write.

Yep, my son said. Those little canisters are everywhere.

Then, we hosted a friend of my son who lives near the Boston area — about 3 hours away from us — and guess what? Fidgets and modeling clay are a problem there, too.

Oh, and earlier this year, it was all about flipping/spinning/juggling water bottles, trying to get them to land with perfect balance. We’re still dealing with that one, and have cleaned up more spills of water than any other year I can remember.

Kids are funny like that.

I suspect that YouTube is the cause of all of this, as funny viral videos inspire viewers into replication.

I wish there would be a catchy writing and reading video that went viral. Then, all kids everywhere would be wandering with piles of books in their arms and writer’s notebooks spilling out of their pockets. We’d let that viral moment go without a sound.

Peace (spinning)
Kevin

Experiencing the Art of Sound

It was by chance that my wife and I found ourselves inside Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum the other day, and I realized with a strange sense of “of course” that one of the exhibits was something I had shared out to the Networked Narratives world a few week ago, during our work with Sound and Story.

And here I was, wandering into the Art of Sound.

Stewart’s museum is intriguing, as the inside “palace” inside is chock full of all sorts of artistic wonders, and a few missing pieces (the museum was the scene of a great unsolved art heist many years ago). She was a patron of musicians, as is evident from collections of letter and music-themed art.

The Art of Sound is a series of sound pieces scattered about the museum (and other public spaces around Boston, apparently) that seeks to offer “new insights into the spatial, social, and aesthetic dimension of sound,” according to the museum information.

Each piece does have an interesting aural experience for the listener, and I appreciated how difficult it must be to create a sound experience in a museum built on the visual. One work, with LED lights and hanging crystals, reacts to your presence, giving off a sonic hum, as if enveloping you into the experience.

Stewart Museum sound

Another work is centered the purring of cats, which my wife and I found quite amusing. As you stare at huge close-up portraits of cats, who seem quite content to get their image taken, you listen to headphones of purring, and you move through the different tonal qualities of each cat’s individual purr. We found ourselves trying to remember the purr of our late cat, Coltrane.

Stewart Museum sound

In another piece, a massive room has been converted into a soundscape, where lights flicker on and off on the floor as a melody plays. The walls are full of speakers, set at different heights, to give an other-worldly element to the exhibit. We were there during the day, but I bet in fading light, the colors connected to the music would be even more interesting.

I found this video at the museum site, talking about one of the exhibits out in Boston that you can experience via an app.

Peace (listen),
Kevin

 

Writing Before the Morning Begins

Half Awake from a Dream

I am an early morning writer, so all this month, as part of National Poetry Writing Month, I have been concentrating on using the prompts at the NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo site first thing (after walking the dog and brewing some coffee) to write a poem each day. I shared out the first week’s batch last weekend, and here is another round of poems. Given the nature of the quick writing, some are more refined and inspired than others.

Here are the first lines of the poems from the week (some have contextual elements for form and substance, as part of each day’s poetry prompt), and a link to read them over at Notegraphy, which is where I have been writing and hosting my poems this month, this year.

I’m awake
from a dream of
a poem …

more here

The camera dances in his hands;
the stories still unfolding ..

more here

The folded note in the cookie
promised good fortune …

more here

Perfect —
Another poem
about alliteration …

more here

13 Ways to Forget a Prompt

1. Don’t even look …

more here

Saxophonist John Coltrane
blew the world through his horn …

more here

I am writing, dear child,
in hopes you’ll remember

more here

I hope you’re getting to write some poems, too.

Peace (doesn’t have to rhyme),
Kevin

A Collection of Comics: The (New) Adventures of the Internet Kid

Daily Dda17

The other day, I wrote about reaching my 100(plus) comic for the Networked Narratives Daily Arganee prompt with The Internet Kid and his friend, Horse with No Name. I just uploaded all of the Kid comics that I had created for NetNarr into Flickr.

If it interests you, here is the Flickr album where they now reside:

NetNarr -- The Internet Kid and Horse comics

There are comics in the collection that require some context, which is what the Daily Aragnee prompts are about so I am not going to give context for each comic. Phew. But you can check out the Internet Kid’s collection of prompts, and the Horse’s collection, too, at the Daily Arganee site.

I also wanted to put out a few comics that I liked …

Daily Dda67

Daily Dda77

Daily Dda80

Daily Dda63

Daily Dda37

Daily Dda44

Daily Dda29

Rope wrangling

World4

Peace (shine a light),
Kevin

Five Voices in Search of a Poem: This is the Truth

This is the Truth in Soundtrap

Inspired by my friend, Sheri, and her Poem for Three Voices about a young writer that she, and I and Melvina recorded and shared last week, I wondered if I could expand that notion a bit and write a Poem for Five Voices, and get four other people from different geographic locations to use Soundtrap to record.

I did, and we did, and it sounds like this:

My aim in writing the poem was to offer up a critique of the media/news landscape, and try to discern some central point about the elusive nature of Truth. I am a former journalist, a writer of news, and an avid reader of news now. I am both disheartened by the declining State of Media, and heartened (in a very strange way) that Trump’s imperial presidency and Bannon-led attacks on Media have actually galvanized and strengthened the major news operations, and attracted readers.

The use of multiple voices in the poem is designed to show all of us, together, sorting out what is real and what is not, and what is spin and what is not, and calling out media and political leaders to account for the information flow. Yes, we all have a responsibility. That doesn’t mean we can’t do this together, and find a way to make the world a better place for all. THAT is the truth, from my perspective.

You can view my poem here and feel free to remix it, use it or ignore it. This screenshot is the first of two pages.

This is the Truth poem

Process Notes: We used the online site, Soundtrap, as a way to coordinate our voices. It would have been a whole long easier if we had been in the same room, same space, with poem in front of us. That wasn’t physically possible.

So, what you hear is some vocal dissonance, as our phrasing weaves in and out of each other. Recording a poem like this is complicated, we quickly found, and I edited audio tracks to fit as best as I could. We began with Melvina doing a master track, which we then worked off individually, and then I edited to make it sound like a whole.

Notice the different sounds of voices. Quality of microphones becomes a potentially technical hurdle, and I used compression and other effects to try to align them as best as I could. In the end, maybe that flattening didn’t matter. Maybe, in fact, the different sound qualities are part of the composition — showing different views through sound. I might be stretching here.

I want to warmly thank Sheri, Scott, Melvina and Terry for patiently following me on this collaborative adventure. We organized ourselves on Twitter, and then had our voices meet in Soundtrap. It was a grand adventure.

Peace (in poetry),
Kevin