PUBLICATION: Commonplacing the public domain: Reading the classics socially on the Kindle

August 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Rowberry, Simon (2016), ”Commonplacing the Public Domain: reading the classics socially on the Kindle”. Language and Literature. 25.3. 211225.

This was published as part of a great special issue of Language and Literature on ‘Reading in the Age of the Internet’ edited by Daniel Allington and Stephen Pihlaja.

Abstract: Amazon leads the market in ebooks with the Kindle brand, which encompasses a range of dedicated e-reader devices and a large ebook store. Kindle users are able to share the experience of reading ebooks purchased from Amazon by selecting passages of text for upload to the Kindle Popular Highlights website. In this article, I propose that the Kindle Popular Highlights database contains evidence that readers are re-appropriating commonplacing – the act of selecting important passages from a text and recording them in a separate location for later re-use – while reading public domain titles on the Kindle. An analysis of keyness in a corpus of 34,044 shared highlights from public domain titles suggests that readers focus on words relating to philosophy and values to draw an understanding of contemporary society from these classic works. This form of highlighting takes precedence over understanding and sharing key narrative moments. An examination of the top ten most popular authors in the corpus, and case studies of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, demonstrate variation in highlighting practice as readers are choosing to shorten famous commonplaces in order to change their context for an audience that extends beyond the original reader. Through this analysis, I propose that Kindle users’ highlighting patterns are shaped by the behaviour of other readers and reflect a shared understanding of an audience beyond the initial highlighter.


July 1st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Since the mid-2000s, the ebook has stabilized into an ontologically distinct form, separate from PDFs and other representations of the book on the screen. The current article delineates the ebook from other emerging digital genres with recourse to the methodologies of platform studies and book history. The ebook is modelled as three concentric circles representing its technological, textual and service infrastructure innovations. This analysis reveals two distinct properties of the ebook: a simulation of the services of the book trade and an emphasis on user textual manipulation. The proposed model is tested with reference to comparative studies of several ebooks published since 2007 and defended against common claims of ebookness about other digital textual genres.

Rowberry, Simon Peter. “Ebookness.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies (2015) <>.

PUBLICATION: Indexes as Hypertext

June 1st, 2015 § Comments Off on PUBLICATION: Indexes as Hypertext § permalink

Abstract: Digital media presents several challenges to the index, but this ignores the fact that the index has played an important role in the development of the computer. Hypertext, or links between chunks of text, is a vital concept in computation, and one which can be traced back to the index. The author explores the link between indexes and hypertext through three case studies of novels with indexes: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale fire, Mark Z. Danielewski’sHouse of leaves and Steven Hall’s The raw shark texts. This analysis reveals how indexes can be used as a subversive part of experimental fiction that authors employ to encourage the reader to move beyond superficial forms of reading.

Simon Rowberry, “‘Indexes as Hypertext.” The Indexer. June 2015, pp. 50-56

PUBLICATION: Reassessing the Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon Wiki: a new research paradigm

July 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Since the Against the Day Wiki launched in October 2006, the Pynchon Wiki collection has received over twenty thousand edits, making it one of the largest, dedicated literary reference Wikis. One can now view and add annotations to all seven of Pynchon’s novels – only Slow Learner and his non-fiction remain sans Wiki -, and a loose community of over four hundred contributors have done so. This paper will assess the importance of the Gravity’s Rainbow Wiki in transforming understanding and interpretation through asking four different questions: does the Wiki count as a disruptive force in the Pynchon interpretive industry, who contributes to the Wiki, what types of contribution they make, and how do they exploit the hypertextual features on offer through the MediaWiki package. I will suggest that the Pynchon Wiki does not fully depart from old media forms of interpretation and remains fragmented in both community, resembling a symphony of soloists, and potential connections. This is a version of Web 2.0 synthesizing both Darcy DiNucci’s original dystopian vision of fragmentation (DiNucci) and Tim O’Reilly’s utopian idea of harnessing ‘collective intelligence’ (O’Reilly).

Simon Rowberry (2012), ”Reassessing the Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon Wiki: a new research paradigm?” Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon. 1.1 (2012)

PUBLICATION: His and my reader: rereading Pale Fire hypertextually

May 1st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Traditionally, Pale Fire scholarship has focused on the question of authorship, ignoring the markers within the text referring to various readers of the text. Kinbote explicitly refers to both the Shadean and the Kinbotean reader, but there are also a few implicit references to the Nabokovian reader, who rereads the text in a non-linear manner, following their own intuition, rather than accepting Kinbote’s cross-references. This paper will argue that the Nabokovian reader is strongly promoted throughout the text as Nabokov’s ideal reader, and as an extension to this, is utilized in order to teach the reader how to explore the hypertextuality of the text. This hypertextuality plays an important role throughout the Nabokov corpus, but no more so than within Pale Fire, where Nabokov has introduced enough multiplicity and ambiguity in the text that the text is a triumph of the reader over the authority of Nabokov. This paper will consider why Nabokov a hypertextual methodology suits Nabokov’s aims in the novel, despite the fact that it presents the reader with a greater role both the production and interpretation of the text.

Simon Rowberry, “‘His and my Reader’: Rereading Pale Fire hypertextually.” Nabokov Online Journal. 6 (2012):

PUBLICATION: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire: the lost ’father of all hypertext demos’?

June 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: In the mid-sixties, Ted Nelson worked at Brown University on an early hypertext system. In 1969, IBM wanted to show the system at a conference, and Nelson gained permission to use Vladimir Nabokov’s highly unconventional and hypertextual novel, Pale Fire (1962) as a technical demonstration of hypertext’s potential. Unfortunately, the idea was dismissed in favor of a more technical-looking presentation, and thus was never demonstrated publicly. This paper re-considers Pale Fire’s position in hypertext history, and posits that if it was used in this early hypertext demonstration, it would have been the ‘father of all hypertext demonstrations’ to complement Douglas Engelbart’s ‘Mother of All Demos’ in 1968. In order to demonstrate the significance of Pale Fire’s hypertextuality and Nelson’s ambitions to use it, this paper will explore its hypertextual structure, the implication thereof for the novel and evaluate its success as a hypertext compared to electronic systems.

Simon Rowberry (2011), “Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire: the lost ’father of all hypertext demos’?” in Proceedings of the 22nd ACM conference on Hypertext and hypermedia., 319-324. HT ’11. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2011.

PUBLICATION: Literary Criticism and Hypertext

June 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: In a rare essay, Thomas Pynchon, the famously reclusive author, talks about the ‘do-it-yourself hypertextualist’, who fits into his discourse on paranoia. This paper will start to explore the questions of paranoia in both literary criticism and hypertext theory. It will focus on the paranoia inherent within one-to-one links from both general, authoritative systems, and the network of personal reader response using examples from literature including Thomas Pynchon and Vladimir Nabokov.

Simon Rowberry (2011), ”Literary Criticism and Hypertext or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Paranoia?” in Proceedings of the Narrative and Hypertext Workship ACM Hypertext 2011.