In our times marked by the rise of the transhuman and artificial intelligence, it is crucial to restate that “the quality of our reading is not only an index of the quality of our thought, it is our best-known path to developing whole new pathways in the cerebral evolution of our species.” An educator’s goal – and most of the contributors to this volume are educators – is to work towards developing reading skills, recognizing that reading is needed to gain not only knowledge, but also insight, enlightenment and empowerment. Reading is a key requirement for the economy, civic culture, politics and the arts, for the development of literacy and critical thinking, regardless of the motivation: whether it is reading for pleasure, knowledge or information, professional reading (close, distant, etc.), individual or social reading.
This issue of Piron has been assembled to highlight important new work in the field of reading research. It draws upon two important events: firstly, the National Interdisciplinary Project Reading Practices in Bulgaria, 2018, and in particular the work done by the Online Reading Practices group. The 2018 project has been the latest edition of the largest study of reading and literacy in Bulgaria, following three earlier ones in 2006, 2010 and 2014, respectively, all financed by the Bulgarian Science Fund. Secondly, most of the participants in the international conference “Reading Practices in the Digital Age” held at Sofia University in November 2018 as part of the project are also contributors to the current volume.
All articles tackle issues related to reading, resorting to different methodologies and incorporating different interdisciplinary directions of analysis. The volume consists of two sections.
The first section highlights the groundbreaking work devoted to studying the patterns of reading in the digital environment by the Online Reading Practices team: Glavanakova, Rone and Popov. Glavanakova’s essay positions the research done by the team within the rich critical literature on reading and fiction that has sprung up in the past two decades. She offers a generalized picture of the presence of Bulgarian readers online and projects future avenues for research within the Bulgarian context. Rone’s article explores Bulgarian writers’ (established and new) and readers’ participation on Facebook, aiming to chart a proto-map of Bulgarian literary communities in this social medium. Popov examines some characteristics of reading in a digital environment in the context of the changing potentialities for world-building in digital fiction. He studies examples of interactive digital fiction from the perspective of Wolfgang Iser’s reader-response theory, thus establishing an important connection with the research of The Reader in the Text working group also done within the 2018 project. This section of the volume opens with the article “Virtual Communities vs Imagined Communities: Twenty Years Later” by Kiossev, who offers a historical perspective on reading research from the year 2000, marked by another important international conference: “Reading in the Age of Media, Computers, and the Internet,” held in Sofia. Kiossev’s goal is to emphasize the significance of the macro-research perspective on the outcomes from the evolution in the reading practices in the digital age and their crucial complementarity to the micro-research perspective.
The texts in the second section cover a large terrain of research interests involving contemporary reading practices and readers’ behavior. They explore, for instance, the use of mobile devices for reading – e-readers in particular – by children and teenagers (Alexandrov), and the collective reading practices and gender dynamics within face-to-face reading clubs (Tselenti). They study also the interplay between games, libraries and books (Nikolchina and Stoyanov), between fanfiction and a canonical text (Bozhankova), between the original classical text and its multimodal re-writings (Lazarenko), as well as the intricacies of reading new forms of e-literature such as digital poetry (Rapatzikou). Several texts offer a “protocol” of an individual response: the conversation between Nikolchina and Stoyanov about literary presence in games, and Rapatzikou’s close reading of digital poetry. A couple of the texts in this volume can be read within the framework of Stanley Fish’s interpretative communities with trained norms and ways of interpreting a text, requiring political nuances in their individual readings. Such are Bozhankova’s study of the digital presence of the Russian classic, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and Lazarenko’s view on the interactivity between the visual and the textual in an Ukranian translation and publication of Hamlet. Two of the articles take a predominantly sociological perspective and apply the relevant methodology: in approaching gender differences in collective reading through “the paradigm of the gift” (Tselenti), and in testing the hypothesis of paper-versus-screen preferences for young children and teenagers with a special focus on the fluctuation of the e-readers’ market in key European and U.S. markets (Alexandrov).
A couple of the articles pertain to digital humanities, thus adding an important, and still rare, contribution by Bulgarian researchers to the field. Computationally generated quantitative data is central to the analysis offered both in Popov’s two texts and in Rone’s. Popov’s analysis of algorithmically assisted close reading in particular reveals how erroneous the presumption is that digital humanities research involves solely big data. In actuality, digital tools for reading research allow for the gathering and analysis of both large data sets and minute items. Popov clearly demonstrates this possibility by applying vector space models of analysis to one paragraph of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
The authors represented in this volume aim to capture the major shift of attention in literary studies and reading research to the effects of the technosphere on reading practices and readers’ behavior. They share a common understanding that the scope and analytical apparatus of reading research requires serious recalibration; indeed, vast empirical research, well-grounded statistical data are indispensable to establishing “the emerging qualities” of reading in the digital age. These tools can enhance the outcomes of research and provide significant answers to questions about literary reading that traditional forms of analysis are unable to give.
 Marianne Wolf, Reader Come Home. The Reading Brain in the Digital World, 7.
 Читателски практики в България, 2018. Национален интердисциплинарен проект, изследващ състоянието на четенето и грамотността в България, ДН 20/1, 11.12.2017 с ръководител Александър Кьосев. Научна област „Четене в дигитална среда“ с ръководител Александра Главанакова
 Ivor Armstrong Richards. Practical Criticism. London: Kegan Paul, 1929.
 Franco Moretti. Graphs. Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. New York: Verso, 2005, 53.
Аlexander Kiossev – Virtual Communities Vs Imagined Communities: Twenty Years Later. Reading Research between Micro- and Macro-perspectives
Alexandra Glavanakova – Reading in the Digital Age: Major Areas of Research
Alexander Popov – Interactivity and World in Digital Reading
Julia Rone – The Platform is the Message: Transformations of Literary Writing and Reading on Facebook in Bulgaria
Georgi Alexandrov – Book Format Preferences of Children and Teenagers
Georgi Niagolov – Competent Reading for the 21st Century: Global Trends through a Bulgarian Lens
Reneta Bozhankova – Reading the Readers’ Texts: Fanfiction and Classical Novels
Darya Lazarenko – “My most painted word”: Illustrating Hamlet in the Digital Age
Miglena Nikolchina and Enyo Stoyanov – Books, Libraries, and (Deep) Reading in Video Games. A Conversation between Miglena Nikolchina and Enyo Stoyanov
Tatiani Rapatzikou – Reading Digital Poetry: The Cases of Between Page and Screen and slippingglimpse
Alexander Popov – Vector Semantics and Algorithmically-assisted Close Reading
Danai Tselenti -The “Paradigm of the Gift”: A Framework For Assessing Collective Reading Practices in the Digital Era
Bibliography on Reading Research – Compiled by Alexandra Glavanakova
TEAM OF THE VOLUME:
Editor-in-Chief: Alexander Kiossev
Lead editor: Alexandra Glavanakova
Editor: Monika Vakarelova
Proofreader: Traci Speed
Cover design: Victor Mukhtarov
The Online Journal for Arts and Culture “Piron” is issued by the Cultural Center of the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” / ISSN 2367-7031