Teaching

My Fall 2018 Classes at Queens College and Pratt Institute

The weather in New York right now is very hot— the temperature has reached the mid-90°s on Tuesday and will continue through Thursday. And although it seems like I should be packing for the beach, the fall semester is upon us. This semester, I am teaching two classes: one at Queens College and one at Pratt Institute.

Contemporary Media

This class acts like a sequel for Media Technologies, where we survey various media forms. However, this class sets aside the mechanics and the history and instead focuses on the how contemporary media industries function. One theme that I hope to address throughout the term and across all the modules is digitalization and how that changes what we mean by “media.” It’s not like the record industry sells records, that people read newspapers on newsprint, and that television programs are necessarily watched on televisions.

I’m teaching this class on two separate days: Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/contemporarymedia

There are two textbooks for this course:

  1. Straubhaar, Joseph, Robert LaRose, and Lucinda Davenport. Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2016.
  2. McChesney, Robert W. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York: New Press, 2013.

Documentary Film

This is the first time I’ve taught this class. When I was a cinema studies graduate student at NYU, I always wanted to teach a documentary film survey. Most of the classes that graduate students did were very narrowly focused—often closely related to his/her dissertation. I felt that this was a disservice to both undergraduates taking these class and the graduate students teaching them. It was unfair to undergraduates because they didn’t get a good foundation in cinema studies. And it was bad for us budding teachers because we didn’t get to develop classes that might be useful to teach after we graduated, especially if we didn’t get hired by a big film program.

Like a decade-and-a-half later, I finally get to do a survey of documentary film. However, as I’ve been working on this class, I can see why it’s tempting to avoid surveys. There is so much material to exclude. I literally have to prune my list of ninety-plus films to about twenty. I would feel a lot less guilty teaching a class like “Binging Truth: Documentary Films in the Netflix Age,” “Beyond the Interrotron: The Films of Errol Morris,” “WPA, FDR, and NYFPL: Interwar American Documentary and the New Deal.”

I remember an NYU professor teaching a whole semester’s seminar on the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Can you imagine how deep you could get with a topic like that? My class however is breadth over depth.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/documentary.

There is one textbook for this course: McLane, Betsy. A New History of Documentary Film, 2nd ed. New York and London: Continuum, 2012.

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Finals Week Strangers

If you’ve taken a large college class, you’ve likely experienced the situation where your class looks empty for most of the term, but then, all of a sudden, at the final exam, the lecture hall is full again.

Back in December, I kvetched back about how many of my students in Queens College classes fail, and I aimed to take measures to improve the success (failure?) rate. One such measure was to require students to actually attend class. Here is what I was thinking about at the time:

For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.

One step is to implement two new attendance policies:

  1. Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
  2. Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.

And that is in fact what I did. This past spring semester, in each of my syllabi at Queens College, I wrote:

For in-person classes, regular attendance is required. Attend twelve or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than four classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

For hybrid courses, regular attendance is required. Attend seven or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than three classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

This policy does not apply to online courses.

It might have worked, at least a little bit. In my Media Technologies class this semester, there was only one absentee student who showed up to take the exam. That student also walked in thirty minutes late to the final, something that the student did for the midterm exam. I directed that student to the written policy from the syllabus, and I did not permit that student to take the exam. Failing that student seemed like the right thing to do as that student’s absenteeism really did warrant retaking the class.

However, the 20% rule that I bemoaned in December emerged in another way. In my Media Criticism class, I added a policy that each student must meet with me—either in person or through an online call—over a two-week period to discuss his/her draft for the two written essays due in that class. Many flaunted the policy, and when it came time for them to submit their final drafts, I alerted them that I would not accept them, as stated in the policy on the syllabus.

Alas, just after the midterm exam, about 20% of the students enrolled in the class dropped because of this policy, suggesting that we as teachers are powerless against the larger social forces that CUNY students face.

My Revised Online Summer Intensive Course

This summer, I’m teaching two online courses at CUNY Queens College.

  1. Media Technologies, between June 4 and June 27
  2. Contemporary Media, between July 2 and July 26

I’m following a similar structure from the past, which I have described before on this site. Each course includes twelve modules, and for each module students will have to complete the following:

  • read an assigned chapter from the textbook
  • watch a video lecture of a narrated slideshow
  • take an online quiz consisting of objective questions

After four modules, students will take an exam consisting of subjective questions that they will have five days to complete.

In the past, I used to release module consisting of a video lecture and a quiz for a course topic and would have them due the following day. But having read a blog post by Anastasia Salter about “Rethinking the Online Summer Intensive,” I rethought my own online summer intensive courses. I didn’t quite go as far as Salter who released all the modules at the beginning of the course. Instead, I wanted to strike a balance between giving students the flexibility of completing work on their own schedule but also provide some structure where students won’t feel overwhelmed.

I kept the daily release schedule but changed the daily deadlines for quizzes to a weekly one. Everyday between Tuesday and Friday, I will post a recorded lecture and a quiz. But instead of making them due the following day, I’m providing students some flexibility and allowing them to submit the four quizzes by Monday night. That gives students at least three days to complete their quizzes. They can either keep apace completing a quiz per day or they can procrastinate and binge the weeks’ material.

And I’m also setting up twice-weekly office hours via Google Meet, which I’ve only used once, but I think is a tremendous improvement over Google Hangouts.

I didn’t implement her other changes, such as the 100-point grading scale for the whole semester. I understand the appeal of a “progress bar,” but how would I account for getting ten quizzes and three exams to add up to 100 points? That would require granting students four points for a quiz of at least ten questions.

Students Charge Not Their Computers or Their Phones, but Their Vape Pens

In almost every college classroom, there’s some pretty stiff competition for the power outlets. Students need to charge their notebook computers and, of course, their smartphones. But last night, I saw a new device charging in one of my classrooms. It was a vape pen.

Vape pen charging in a classroom at Queens College, Kiely Hall, third floor

While I didn’t ask the class whose pen this was, I did try to shame its owner by snapping a photo and indicating that I was posting this on the Internet.

I wonder, though, if this will be the next class of digital distractions that we teachers have to confront in the classroom. Not just that they use an otherwise unused outlet to charge a vape pen, but when they start vaping. Because vaping is as natural to them as having a touchscreen device at their fingertips.

Apples and Oranges: A Comparison

What follows is a silly attempt to explain what constitutes a comparative essay or what my K-12 teachers used to call a “compare-and-contrast” essay. I assign a fair number of these in my classes, and I wanted to have an example to show students what such an essay might look like.

In colloquial English, it is common to liken comparing two different objects to comparing apples and oranges. This a curious expression because the two share three common characteristics. First, apples and oranges are not only food, both are tree fruits. Second, along with the banana, they are among the most common fruits consumed in the United States. You can almost certainly find them packed in a lot of schoolchildren’s lunch boxes, if contemporary parents still pack a lunch for their children. Third, the two fruits are about the same size, which might be why they are so commonly eaten: on school lunch trays, in the brown-paper bags of blue-collar tradesman, and on the desk of a white-collar worker.

In this essay, I will compare apples to oranges to determine what specific differences exist between apples and oranges. I will use five criteria to evaluate their differences: their color, their shape, the edibility of their skins, their taste, and the different climates in which they are mass produced and harvested.

Color

First, the color of each fruit is significantly different. An orange bears the name of its color: orange. After evaluating many different oranges in a variety of locations, oranges appear to come in just one color. In fact, the richness or the paleness of that orange is often a visual signifier for its freshness, its juiciness, and its sweetness—qualities that are reasonably subjective and relative to the eater’s taste.

Apples, on the other hand, can come in at least two colors: red and green. Within each color, there are some variations, indicating the different varietals of apples that are available at most grocery stores and at farmers markets in regions, such as New York, where apples grow aplenty. However, despite all these varieties, there are no apples that appear orange, and no orange appears in red or green colors. The skin color alone is a determining signifier of whether an apple is an apple and whether an orange is an orange.

Shape

Second, the shape of the fruits are also different despite being reductively described as round. First, oranges are almost perfect spheres. They are commonly packaged and displayed at stores in a fashion where orange fits in the crevice between the other oranges, as illustrated below. This allows one to evaluate the orange by a glance.

This is usually only possible with perfectly round objects, such as tennis balls.

Apples, on the other hand, do not have this exact same shape. While they are mostly round, their differing shape makes it difficult to evaluate in this fashion. You can see the bottom, the stem, or the body of the fruit, but picking one requires picking it up to evaluate the color, firmness, and whether it has suffered bruising.

Edibility of the Skin

Third, the skins of each fruit are also different. The apple skin is very commonly eaten, except perhaps by some picky schoolchildren who had a parent peel their apples before packing them in a lunch box. According to a study by Kelly Wolfe and Rui Hai Liu, a food scientist at Cornell University, an apple skin contains a lot of important nutrients that provide multiple health benefits, which one does not get from eating a peeled apple.1

An orange peel however is largely inedible. It is tough in texture and bitter in flavor. Not only that, the only sources that seem to recommend eating orange peels are a few online quack doctors with questionable credentials and motives. For example, Dr. Mercola advocates eating orange peels because, he says, the peels “may prevent histamine release,” “cleanse your lungs,” and “improve oral health.” However, let’s not forget that he has drawn a lot of controversy for advocating medical practices that fly in the face of conventionally acceptable practices and may harm public health, such as criticizing vaccines.

Taste

Fourth, the taste of these two fruits are considerably different. While taste is largely subjective, an apple is noticeably sweeter than an orange. An apple has a prominent sweet taste with a sour aftertaste. An orange, on the other hand, has a mostly sour taste although one certainly savor its sweetness along with that bitterness.

One way to evaluate each fruits sweetness-versus-bitterness is to examine their use in pie recipes. I compared two pie recipes at the Taste of Home website, and you can see how apples largely provide their own sweetness in this apple pie recipe:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 to 7 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large egg white
  • Additional sugar

The sweetness of the pie comes from the added sugar, but mostly from the natural sweetness of the apples.

However, the orange pie recipe in this popular website recommends making a frosted orange pie with not only more added sugar but also adding frosting to offset the bitterness that inhere in most oranges.

Climate

Finally, the climate where each fruit is grown can vary significantly. In the United States, apples are mostly grown and exported from two states: New York and Washington, two states with relatively cool climates. Apples also peak in the autumn and are usually harvested in the months between August and November.

Oranges, on the other hand, are grown in warmer climates, and the two US states best known for growing and exporting apples are California and Florida. The harvest period is also a bit later than it is for apples. Oranges are harvested in the winter months after the apple harvest has concluded.

Conclusion

In conclusion, apples and oranges, among the most commonly eaten fruits in the United States, share many similarities but as I’ve compared above, they also bear many specific differences that make them assuredly different. It’s no wonder, then, that we have that aphorism about apples and oranges. In recent months, the cable news network CNN has run a series of ads as part of its “This is an apple” campaign. The ad takes aim at President Trump’s attempts to discredit the press as “FAKE NEWS” when it criticizes him and his policies:

This is an apple. Some people might try and tell you that it’s a banana the ad. They might scream banana, banana, banana over and over and over again. They might put BANANA in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.

The ad plays on the common sensibility of most (but sadly, not all) that there’s a difference between an apple and a banana, much like we now assuredly know there are at least five differences between an apple and an orange.


  1. Kelly L. Wolfe and and Rui Hai Liu, “Apple Peels as a Value-Added Food Ingredient,”
    Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2003 51 (6), 1676-1683. 

Happy New Year

Apple Watch had a festive animation for the new year.

Apple Watch had a festive animation for the new year.

Happy new year, everyone!

I spent the last week of 2017 and the first couple of weeks of 2018 in Southern California, extending going “home for the holidays” into a twenty-six day vacation. There’s a lot of reasons why I stayed out there as long as I did, but most of them are related to weather and my schedule.

First, New York can be a pretty sad place in January. It’s cold, and there aren’t a lot of social activities happening during this time of year. Consequently, people are pretty anti-social this time of year. People stay at home to cook at home, doing a dry-January thing, or are just bundling up at home because, like I said, it gets really cold this time of year. I’m not missing much being away from New York this time of year.

Second, the extended holiday vacation allows me to visit new places throughout the ever-changing Southland. Like most other places, Los Angeles shuts down during the holidays. I would often fly back to New York in early January and miss out on a lot activities in Los Angeles because a lot of interesting things happen again in mid-January. Staying out there later allows me to do these things in a strange land. And, of course, it’s noticeably warmer in Southern California than it is “back east.”

Third, I don’t plan a summer getaway like most everyone. As popular as it is to complain about the heat and humidity of New York summers, I actually really like New York during the summertime. Regular readers know that a lot of my favorite activities —specifically cycling and softball—happen during the summer, and the fair-weather New Yorkers depart for the shore until Labor Day weekend. That makes the city a kind of playground for those of us who remain, and when the douche-set returns in September, I don’t mind getting away then. As a friend once quipped, “September is the new August.”

Lastly, my schedule this time of year gives me some degree of freedom. I taught an online winter class at Queens College this semester, which I was able to run from my parents’ home and a couple of area coffee shops. I did have to come back for my first in-person class at Pratt, which started on Wednesday, January 17. Consequently, I didn’t fly back until the day before, on Tuesday.

I had reserved four tickets to the Broad Museum, but only my mom could make it so we gave these two Dutch tourists our spare tickets. They looked hot and tired, and I wanted to assure the Dutch that Americans are nice, despite our president.

There were many highlights on this trip. I did a lot of cycling, and I drank some beers, both of which I will cover in a separate post. I saw some family members. I visited the new Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles, whose location across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, strikes me as a middle-finger from Broad to the museum he cofounded in the 1980s. I shopped a fountain pen store in Monrovia, California, run by a gentle yet passionate expert in pens and inks. I visited the Wende Museum of Cold War objets in Culver City. I dragged my mom and dad out to the same movie theater, where a generation ago, I would have been embarrassed at being spotted with either my mom or dad. As I’ve said before, young people are stupid. My dad and I teamed up to take and print my own passport photos; it’s harder than you think.

But now, I’m back in New York. Aside from jumping back into work, I finally got around to doing that MoviePass thing and started going to more movies. That’s been great because, as I said earlier, everyone is anti-social, and something I can do on my own.

Twenty-Percent Rule

A few moments ago at a Starbucks in Sylmar, California, after grading a set of take-home exams and posting grades to CUNYFirst, I finished another teaching semester at Queens College. I now get about a week off before starting anew with an online, winter session course that I will be conducting from my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house. This shortens my winter break a bit, but the online course allows me to extend my stay here in California until mid-January. New York is always so cold, sad, and boring in early January, and I am not the least bit bereft about missing out on whatever winter dreariness there is back east.

While I should be excited about finishing another semester and again submitting grades on time, allowing me a peaceful Christmas break, that enthusiasm is tempered because just over 20% of students in my Media Criticism course didn’t receive a passing grade. Nine out of forty-five students outright failed, and one student just stopped attending but still submitted a take-home final exam. In all but two cases, the students just stopped attending class.

Sadly, this is a common occurence at Queens College. I was shocked to see that, in the first class I taught there years ago, about a third of the class failed. Up to that point, I had only limited teaching experiences: as a TA at UCSB and NYU, and teaching one introductory film course at Marymount Manhattan College. In those situations, there was always one or two students who didn’t complete the course, usually because of an extraordinary circumstance, but having ten students fail a single course was a terrible surprise. In my second semester at Queens College, I alerted my students to this fact, imploring them to not repeat this same, terrible feat. For whatever reason, in that second semester, the failure rate was much lower, but since then it has crept back up.

I don’t have a single explanation for why so many Queens College students fail these courses compared to similar courses at other colleges. However, a few factors, however, come to mind:

  • Some students have challenging socioeconomic circumstances.
  • Some students have demanding family obligations, either raising their own children or tending for other needy relatives.
  • Some students work full-time and are taking courses in their scant spare time.
  • Some students’ commutes make it hard to attend class.1
  • Some students are returning to school after an absence and are having a difficult time readjusting to school and/or learning how to “do” college.
  • Some students come from NYC or other urban public schools, where they largely excelled because they stayed out of trouble, not necessarily because they were academically proficient.
  • Some students are stuck in “K-12 mode,” treat the classroom as a battleground between student and teacher, and are consumed by what they “get away with” in class, with assignments, and on exams.

These are some pretty significant obstacles to overcome, and it’s not unreasonable to see how students facing these would have trouble in a college class, especially where I really push the students beyond procedural learning into more conceptual terrain. In other words, my courses are hard because I expect a lot of students, and I haven’t yet come to terms with dumbing down courses for more favorable reviews or a higher passing rate.

For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.

One step is to implement two new attendance policies:

  1. Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
  2. Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.

These two seem a lot more consequential than factoring their attendance as a percentage of their final grade.

I’m also instituting a second policy in my Media Criticism course: require students to present on assigned readings. This worked really well in the New Technologies class that I taught years ago but never got to do again. The class relied a lot on readings and developing conceptual frameworks for understanding media. It also spared them from having me lecture, pontificate, and yammer for a three-hour (!) class period.

I hope these policies keep students engaged and invested, not just for my Media Criticism courses, but for all their other courses at the college. We owe it to our students to push them into realizing their greatness, especially in the face of the formidable circumstances many of them face. Allowing them to pass, by doing subpar work or missing many class sessions, is a disservice to what they should expect from us and why they enrolled in the first place.


  1. My eight-mile commute from Brooklyn to Queens College is a lethargic agony. I can bike there in less than an hour, but it’s through some pretty bike-unfriendly terrain. Alternatively, I can take public transportation, which will take about an hour-and-forty minutes to travel those eight miles, via a mix of subway lines and busses. 

When Google Calendar’s Appointment Slots Displays the Wrong Timezone

I’ve been a reluctant user of G Suite for Education—or Google Apps for Education, as it used to be known—for a few years. There have been a few headaches teaching classes with Google over the years, but because I so despise full-service learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard, I’ve integrated G Suite and Google Classroom with my own vanilla HTML website to manage my courses.

About a year ago, I learned that Google Calendar supports self-scheduling appointment slots. It basically works like this:

  1. I create blocks of time in my Google Calendar where I’m available to meet with my students, either in person or through Google Hangouts. For regularly scheduled office hours, I make those slots a repeating event.
  2. I share the appointment slots event page link with my students, both on the course syllabus and on my own website.
  3. Students book an appointment through the link, after signing in with a valid Google account.
  4. I get notified of the appointment date and time, and I see who booked the appointment. Because I configured the appointment slots to alert me in advance of the appointment, I get an alarm at five and ten minutes before the appointment starts.

Yesterday, I learned about a bug in the system. Some students see the wrong appointment time. In one instance, Google Calendar showed a student the available appointment slots in UTC, not New York time. She booked an appointment for 3:00 PM on the appointment slots event page, but inadvertently scheduled it for UTC time. When she showed up for our appointment at 3:00 PM New York time, she had missed it. My calendar app saw that the appointment was made for 3:00 PM UTC and correctly displayed and notified me that it was at 10:00 AM Eastern Time.

Reading through the Google Calendar support forums, it seems to happen to a lot of other users. The conventional wisdom about this problem is that I have my Google Calendar set to GMT-5 (America/New York) while my student may have her Google Calendar set to UTC. However, many people insist that the college, university, or organization sets everyone’s calendar to their local time ( GMT-5 in my case). However, my students will often use their personal Gmail accounts instead of their university issued G Suite for Education account. There’s no guarantee that their calendar is set to their own local time. It might be set to UTC. My intuition says this is what likely causes the timezone display bug and why it’s not consistent.

Good news, though! I did find a workaround that worked for me. I had to override the timezone Google Calendar displays by appending my own timezone to the appointment slot URL. Here’s how I did that:

  1. I created appointment slots in Google Calendar as I normally would.
  2. I copied the appointment page URL that Google Calendar provides to share with my constituents. It should look something like this:
    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=2AHtwhQ0cknZcpXB1vwH (except perhaps a bit longer).
  3. I pasted that URL to where I could share it with my students.
  4. I added the following text: &ctz= and my timezone. In my case, it’s America/New_York. You can find out your own timezone, organized by country, by browsing this list. Be sure you include the underscore if your location includes a compound name.

This will force the appointment slots event page to display in the timezone you indicated. If you and your students are in the same time zone, then both of you should be scheduling appointment as you would without anyone seeing a timezone in UTC time.

I do however foresee one potential limitation for my workaround: online classes where teachers and students might be scattered across different time zones. In those cases, I might want to indicate that the appointment will be in the timezone of our home institution, regardless of whether the student or I is actually in that particular timezone.

UnionDocs is Looking for Winter-Spring Interns, Apply by November 17

UnionDocs, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn–based center for documentary video production, is looking for interns who work in “some aspect” of film and video: curation, production, or film theory. Interns help with realizing UnionDoc’s mission to foster nonfiction media, programming, events, production, and storytelling.

Interns would have responsibilities that including:

  • event documentation
  • event planning
  • social media marketing
  • programming support

Interested students can read more about it on the UnionDocs website and complete an application. The Winter/Spring internships run from mid-January through mid-May. The deadline to apply is Friday, November 17.

Apply by November 17

The University of California Press, or Another Case of Why Academic Publishing is Doomed in the Digital Age

I’m currently reviewing Hollywood, 1938, written by Catherine Jurca and published by University of California Press, for adoption in the American Film Industry course that I sometimes get to teach.

Since I am low on space and constantly on the move, I requested an electronic book. UC Press used the Vitalsource platform for this particular electronic book. I see the logic in using this platform for review copies since it allows them to control the distribution of the book. For example, should an instructor not adopt the book, the publisher can revoke access—or more likely, set an expiration date—so that the instructor doesn’t get a free book. Notably, UC Press sent me a DRM-free review copy of Precarious Creativity, but that book was licensed by a Creative Commons license and did not have “all rights reserved.”

I’ve been an outspoken critic of how academc publishers misuse electronic books. More often than not they commit one of two crimes:

  1. They saddle to book with so many digital rights management restrictions that the book is unusable. One common scenario is when the ebook application requires an internet connection to access your library, but because you are—for example—flying in airplane or trapped in a subway train, you can’t read a book that you paid for.
  2. They merely reproduce the pages of the print edition and put those on your device. That usually works except on a mobile device, such as a smartphone. I could be wrong, but I think there’s a few college students that own smartphones. I wonder if they wouldn’t mind reading their textbooks on a device they own.

In this case, the University of California Press committed both.

First, they using Vitalsource, a platform that makes it difficult as possible to open a book because it imagines every possible scenario where “unauthorized access” might occur. They should obviously take the opposite approach: imagine every possible scenario where someone might want to use your product. Even a seasoned veteran encountered an issue where I had to deauthorize my old iPad Air so I could read this book on my new iPad Pro. It wasn’t a difficult task, but it was certainly inconvenient.

Second, the book is unreadable. To their credit, whoever adapted this book for electronic distribution seemed to consider that the most natural way to advance through text is through vertical scrolling, as one does when reading a webpage or when looking through a social media feed. Instead of flipping virtual pages, you can advance through the entire text of a chapter by scrolling vertically. However, the text of this book is so small it is unreadable.

An entire nine-line paragraph is a mere two-and-a-half centimeters tall. Thankfully, you can enlarge the text. There’s a hidden menu that allows you to resize the text.

Can you find how to enlarge text?

Increasing the size helped a little bit, but it didn’t add any room to the tightly spaced text, as one can do with the EPUB format. Yes, I wear glasses, but I feel I still have pretty good eyesight. However this ebook strained my vision to where I couldn’t read beyond the first paragraph.

There was one function however that did make “reading” the book much easier. Vitalsource will allow you to speak the text. Some reading apps, such as Instapaper, have the same feature. It works for short works, such as news articles or blog posts. However, having a computer voice read to you for extended period of time ruins my experience of imagining the author detailing the historical moment and constructing an argument about Hollywood in 1938. And when you’re being read to aloud by a computer, it also elicits some confused and puzzled looks on the faces of various passersby.

The above link to Amazon is an affiliate link. Shopping through that link will kick back a referral fee to me, which I feel I deserve after having to endure reviewing this terrible ebook format.