In which we talk with Findings about our reasons for starting the site.
Welcome to the second installment of “How We Will Read,” a series exploring the future of reading from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. This week, we talked to Laura Miller and Maud Newton, founders of The Chimerist, a new blog dedicated to exploring the imaginative potential of the iPad.
Laura Miller is a writer and critic. She was a co-founder of Salon and is currently a staff-writer there. Maud Newton is a writer, editor and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, Narrative, the Los Angeles Times, the Paris Review Daily, Granta, The Awl,and many other publications.
In addition to ruminating on the experience of using the iPad, Maud and Laura discussed the future of narrative forms, interactive storytelling, and their hopes for the evolution of publishing. What resulted was two poetic and nuanced views of what digital reading means to people who love books. Their work at The Chimerist had already distinguished Laura and Maud as thoughtful writers at the intersection of media and technology. It was incredible to hear what else they were thinking about as they navigate this new and rapidly changing space. Check out their interview below, and be sure to check out The Chimerist, too.
Tell me how you guys got together and founded the Chimerist.
Maud Newton: Well, this is the first time Laura and I have spoken over the phone.
Laura Miller: We did actually have lunch in person to talk about it.
MN: And we got drinks once. But those were the only in-person meetings we had about it. I was writing a little diary for the Paris Review about using my iPad, and I was having a back-and-forth with Laura about how annoying the app store is to navigate. I was going to quote her in the interview, so I asked her if that was okay, and we started talking about how great it would be to do a site about the iPad. That was May or June of 2010.
What about the iPad appeals to you as readers and consumers?
LM: I actually had this argument with a friend last night — he was advancing the Cory Doctorow thesis that it’s this horrible, oppressive device because it forces you to be a consumer rather than a creator. And I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that it is more a device for consumption of culture than production of culture. But I already have a laptop, so it’s not like it’s supplanting my laptop when I want to create something. Most the stuff I create for The Chimerist I create on my laptop, not my iPad.
There’s some sort of disgrace to being a reader, or a viewer, or just absorbing some work of culture — it’s this lesser activity, by that rationale. I really disagree with that. I feel like reading and looking at art and all of these things are creative acts in their own way. The experience of a piece of culture being appreciated takes two people. A poor reader cannot have a great reading experience with a great author.
With the iPad I can be more relaxed and receptive. In the industry lingo, it’s called the “lean back” rather than the “sit forward” mode. That is a buzzword, but I kind of agree — I lean back with my iPad, in a calm mood. I’m not responding to email, I’m not checking Twitter, I’m not feeling like I should be writing something, I’m just there for whatever somebody has created. I’m there to witness it, and appreciate it, and absorb it.
MN: Unlike Laura, I’m not really interested in engaging with people who don’t like the iPad, which is one of the things that appeals to me about The Chimerist. I have a lot of friends who are really skeptical of its use and its value, and that’s fine, I’m not trying to convert anyone. I don’t care. In my opinion they’re missing out, but that’s their choice (laughs).
I like the idea of having a site that is a place to think about what the potential of the iPad is — the narrative potential of the tablet and the potential of the tablet to create venues for new art and new kinds of fun that blur the boundaries of these things. It’s a really exciting time to me. When I first heard about the iPhone, even though I had the most bottom-of-the-barrel phone — that I was always losing — I said, “Ooh, I want that!” And the iPad is just vastly superior to the iPhone, as far as the user’s ability to experience art and to try new things that aren’t just games.
I think I use my iPad for a greater variety of things than Laura does. I do use it a little bit for work. And I do a lot of reading for my non-day job on it, and that basically includes everything I’m known for. When an e-galley is available, I tend to read that, because then I can read it at home, on my iPad, and then take my iPad with me on the subway, or just sync it to my iPhone and read that way.
But it is a special kind of canvas. It is a device that enables you to focus on one thing at a time, and I know some people have a real issue with that, that you can’t open another window inside what you’re doing, but I actually find that really refreshing. Even as someone who loves the internet. When I turn to my iPad, I’m looking for a different kind of distraction-free experience, for whatever I’m working on at the time.