A Rational Fear of Tokyo Taxi Drivers

By Paul Brown

Rod Serling
Rod Serling


“This highway leads to the shadowy tip of reality:
you’re on a through route to the land of the different,
the bizarre, the unexplainable…
Go as far as you like on this road.
It’s limits are only those of the mind itself.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
you’re entering the wondrous dimension of imagination…
Next stop ‘The Twilight Zone'”

Nicely put, Rod. Thank you. Now tell me, did you ever visit Japan and have a love child called Haruki Murakami?! Seriously. I mean consider this from the opening stanza in 1Q84…

Imagine if you will, that you are listening to Janacek’s Sinfonietta, while stuck inside a taxi,  gridlocked on Tokyo’s Inbound Metropolitan Expressway No3. Your taxi driver offers you a way out, so that you can make a particularly important appointment, but it is an option laced with heavy foreboding…

“Please remember: things are not what they seem. You’re about to do something out of the ordinary. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than when they did before. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

[Excuse me!? Since when did a taxi driver start handing out advice like Morpheus to Neo in ‘The Matrix’? “That’ll be three thousand yen for the cab fare and if you take this red pill you will stay in Wonderland and I will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”]

Undeterred, our female protagonist, Aomame, exits the cab and begins her descent of a 3 storey-high stairway from Expressway No3, and straight down into her own private rabbit hole. Crikey, I love a good opening game and Mr Murakami nailed it with this rip in the space-time continuum. There are enough hints in Chapter 1 at the probable malevolence’s and future disruptions to come to steel a bloke for his duel with all 925 pages of this literary sumo. That, plus anything that links to George Orwell’s ominous overture 1984… well, I’ll gladly smile at the bouncer, slip him a fifty, get a Happy Face sticker slapped on my wrist just to get inside that club! (And yes, you can bet that I do look good on the dance floor. That move I’m bustin’ is a little something I concocted myself called ‘The Totalitarian Tarantella’).

As you’ll be aware by now, Sally and I are undertaking this simultaneous reading project so as to produce ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ versions of Reading Maps for 1Q84. It is certainly no small task, but for me, as a readers’ advisory educator, I’m enthralled by the opportunity to stretch and test those skills that are vital if we are sustain our role as exemplars of curated information-rich products for readers.

As for what you can expect from our respective visual representations of the world of 1Q84, well I’m sure Sally will provide you with a cerebrally delightful deconstruction, no doubt founded on some post-modern-neo-psychoanalytic-gynocritical interpretation. Typical top-drawer stuff from Miss Pewhairangi, and as anyone who knows Sally would readily attest to, that’s her trademark. Conversely, I’ll be playing it retro-cool wielding Russian Formalism as my textual scalpel of choice…but only during those times that kinky Japanese sex Murakami style doesn’t lead me astray from my primary objective. (‘Oh, come on, you mean that’s bad project management as well?!?!?!’)

I will not labour through a detailed analysis of the mechanics of producing Reading Maps here; suffice to say that they are a multifaceted tool which offers fuller and more rewarding encounters between the reader and literature than our industry standard book recommendation and/or Top 5 List. Anyway, pretty much everything that needs to be said about Reading Maps can be found here. ‘It’s the stuff around the stuff that’s important. Contextual readers’ advisory, intelligent bundling and the ‘remix’ reader” is the paper I presented recently at the Information Online 2013 ALIA Conference (in Brisbane, Australia) and at this point of time, it is the definitive treatment of the topic this side of Alpha Centauri. Informed opinions, visual data, links to Reading Maps, professional literature about methodology, and selected videos are all hosted on this one document.

“You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.” Mr Miyagi
“You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.” Mr Miyagi

So, when your readers’ advisory service is all grown up, uber-professional and ready to make a significant leap into a bigger sandbox to play in, then it’s ready to manufacture Reading Maps. But before do, heed Mr Miyagi warning to librarians-san: ‘Lots of wax on…wax off. Wax on…wax off. Wax on…wax off. Either you readers’ advisory do “yes” or readers’ advisory do “no.” No readers’ advisory “guess so.”

As some chap astutely noted, contextualised readers’ advisory products – with Reading Maps anointed the pedigree of the stable – represent an early 21st century Everest for readers’ advisors to climb, so they’re no small commitment. But it is here, right here in the Realm of Cartography of the Works of Imagination that public librarians can thrive in the role of ‘Curiosity Sherpa’s’, differentiating themselves markedly in an overpopulated book recommendation market (itself a hubris of overcrowding and doubtful opinions masquerading as ‘Authoritative’) while enhancing the library’s value as the true champion of its community’s reading habit. (And, of course, we do not have to restrict ourselves to thinking ‘skinny’ about possible applications; Maps can be just as easily applied across other entertainment platforms, to include Films, Music and Gaming).

In Reading Maps we find the intersection of Combinatorial Creativity, Data Visualisation, Quality Curated Products, Imaginative Interrogation of Texts, Networked Knowledge Gathering and Collaborative Connection Hunting. I mean, how appealing is that list for an information professional seeking a fresh, innovative challenge of no meagre proportions?

Quite rightly, modest ambition will fear to tread here. When you say, ‘It seems quite a big undertaking for library staff’, I reply, “Oh my friend, yes Biggie!”

If inspired, I genuinely wish you every success with your Reading Map endeavours… “Succeed on!” (For our international colleagues, here’s a link to a video that might help explain this obscure reference a little bit more. You see, New Zealander’s have a bit of a reputation for not boasting, even when their exploits deserve some kind of big boom stick symphony heralding their rigours of excellence. So with that in mind, here you can see and hear the one about the bank, the advertising agency and the actor Brian Blessed who walk into a Kiwi TV advert and the nation’s subconscious…)

Last Word: The next time I’m in Tokyo, I think I’ll stick to the trains and give the taxis a miss, thanks! Hey, just because you have double-think paranoia doesn’t mean The Ministry of Love isn’t out to get you!

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6 Comments

  1. alison says:

    oh I do like being a ‘first penguin’ 🙂

  2. megingle says:

    Wondering why Reading Maps aren’t bigger in libaries – is it that folks are a bit lost about how to represent this in a digital space?

    Found this example, http://readingmap4through2you.wordpress.com/ as an example of a Reading Map for one book, which has great content, but it still focuses on the starting point of one book (Through to you) without dynamic links to the other content.

    So is it that we haven’t figured out an easy way to share dynamic Reading Map content? Or are we just waiting for others to do it? Go on, be the ‘first penguin’.

  3. Paul Brown says:

    Hi Sally,
    I don’t know if the concept of Reading Maps / Plans has had much publicity in New Zealand. I would be saddened to think that some libraries have had an awareness of this RA tool but subsequently declined to pursue possibilities.

    Perhaps Reading Maps would gather greater attention if we started calling them ‘eReading Maps’ (after all, they were originally launched as a web based tool although they can be equally utilised in print as well as digital format). But stick an “i” or “e” in front of your product / service nowadays and everyone is willing to give praise and believe in the ‘Church of ‘Technological Solutionism’. (What the?! Please refer to ‘To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism’ (2013) by Evgeny Morozov).

    I sincerely hope that the reason is not because RA still enjoys ‘hobby’ status in many public libraries (where staff get to pick and choose the bits they like to do and to hell with what could excite their readers and terra-form the literacy landscape of their community). Worse still, I don’t want to hear any more how ‘busy’ everyone is in libraries to take on another dimension to a core business activity (you know, the kind of smug retort implying that being ‘busy’ is the winningest argument in the world not to do something. Folk like that are the poster children for the twilight of librarianship).

    Most of what we promulgate about the wonderful capabilities of our RA staff / services finds fertile ground in this form of contextualised readers’ advisory (and which you identified in your comments Sally). Yet, I discern an absence of a highly evolved and comprehensive RA strategy amongst many libraries when I witness the on-going, fragmented and uncoordinated provisioning of RA content via library websites and collateral. Many libraries just throw ‘stuff’ out for public consumption, wielding clumsy, blunt instruments with a narrow task focus, instead of more precise, targeted weapons of mass infotainment. So I call into question the validity of much of our self-satisfying propaganda, which regularly rolls out buzzwords such as ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’, etc. when all the while, libraries choose to ignore gilt-edged opportunities that would profit librarians and readers in this advisory game. Reading Maps are the fullest manifestation of information-rich, navigational products through which we can take a reader through the entire universe of a story. What modern readers’ advisory service doesn’t want that in its toolkit?

    I’m actually not having a go at librarians here…there’s library leadership issues and a lack of R&D in libraries which are also involved in the mix. But after we’ve been through the he-says-she-says-intellectual-indulgences we permit ourselves on every minutiae related to our professional existence, there comes a time when you’ve got to act. Or be left behind.

    I have begun introducing the ‘innovation = association’ approach in the RA workshops I facilitate at the library I am employed with. (Please see the article ‘What is the most important innovation skill I should practice?’ at
    http://www.game-changer.net/2013/03/22/what-is-the-most-important-innovation-skill-i-should-practice/#.UU4EshxkPPp). And I have found an enthusiastic talent pool ready to embrace the idea of new reading contexts for old content. We’re just talking about some basic building blocks at this stage but the work we’re doing now will lay the foundation for eventual Reading Maps production.

    Are any libraries in New Zealand charting this brave new world of book cartography, you ask? Not many, if any. Uh, uh I don’t know anybody. Although I understand that there are a few individuals in just a few libraries who are being extremely self-driven and undertaking prototype-style Reading Maps projects which may help to raise the profile of this superb RA tool when they are released. In a ‘first penguin’ approach I understand that there is even a Trans-Tasman partnership happening at the moment between a New Zealand and an Australian librarian in the construction of a highly visual and engaging Reading Map. (For more about this project please go to http://projectreadja.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/its-the-stuff-around-the-stuff-thats-important/). The final product will hopefully shatter illusions about the desirability and usefulness of standard RA outputs which have hitherto been allowed to dominate our industry.

  4. Sally says:

    So, let’s see if I’ve got this right. A reading map is a creative, visual, curated, imaginative beast that connects the dots between the reader and literature in a deeper way than most book recommendations/top 5 lists do.

    And as a result differentiates the expertise of librarians from others offering book recommendations. Plus a reading map goes even further and enhances the value of libraries as a champion of its community reading habit.

    AWESOME!

    [Notice that I’ve conveniently skipped the bit about ‘no small commitment’ because I’m more interested in connecting readers with books in ways that others in the market can’t do.]

    Why do you think this isn’t a biggie in NZ public/school libraries? Do you know of any NZ public/school libraries making forays into reading maps?

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