“When you’re making a print book in 2012, I actually think the onus is on you, and on your publisher, to make something that’s worth buying in its physical edition.”
—Robin Sloan, on his new (great) novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, from this interview on Morning Edition
(Seriously, Mr. Prenumbra is one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. It hits on many of my favorite things: books, technology, media, design history, typography, secret societies, dragons… Highly recommended)
“Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings. This does not come about without some effort: to compose that general book, each individual book must be transformed, enter into a relationship with the other books I have read previously, become their corollary or development or confutation or gloss or reference text.”
—Italo Calvino, If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler
I’m moving to Brooklyn next week so my current apartment is in various states of disarray—the living room is empty save for a few boxes; the kitchen is cleaned and organized, each utensil and gadget categorized and placed in its respective box to make the move easier; the bedroom looks sparse, every surfaced washed of its life. Every surface except for the bookshelf.
I’ve been saving the bookshelf for last. If it wasn’t for my collection of books, I wouldn’t have much to pack at all. Aside of general living expenses, most of my money goes towards books. When I moved to New York a year ago, I had to decide what I could bring with me to my new, smaller apartment. My books automatically made the cut. I wanted to be near them, surrounded by them.
And now it’s time to pack them again to move across the river.
I devoured this Wired profile on Russell Quinn, a software developer and designer from California who is releasing his first novel, The Silent History, later this year. What makes The Silent History so interesting is that it’s a completely iPad and iPhone native story, utilizing the strengths of a digital device:
Now after a string of behind-the-scenes successes, Quinn may be about to transform the art of storytelling itself. This summer he will launch The Silent History, a sprawling electronic novel that plays with the mechanics of how stories are told, taking full advantage of the tablet’s GPS and touchscreen, along with platform features like in-app purchasing.
Up to this point, ebooks have been little more than digital translations of the printed book, adding little new to the act of storytelling. By embracing the digital medium, Quinn includes maps and location data and ways for readers to interact with the book by submitting their own “field reports.” The novel will be released serially, a new chapter is automatically downloaded to your device every weekday for a month, and designed to be read in 10 to 15 minute chunks, catering to how we often read on such devices.
One key difference in how this e-book works is that the narrative is serialized — reminiscent of the days when novels were introduced in magazines and newspaper episodes before they were published in full. The serial is broken into six parts, each one spanning several years in fictional time. (The story begins in the summer of 2011 and ends in 2043).
Readers can join at any time and absorb the back-story. A new episode is quietly synced with your device every weekday for a month and each piece is designed to be read in 10 to 15 minutes — on your commute to work, say. There’s a month break in between each of the six parts, so the entire project will take a year to unfold.
What I love about this is it’s completely embracing the device without trying to hold on to the traditions of the printed medium. “I love the printed book,” Quinn says. “But I’m not romantic about the book, either.” I’ve long felt that if digital and printed books are to co-exist, they both need to play on and emphasize their inherent strengths. Quinn’s The Silent History seems to be pushing us in the right direction.
I loved this piece from ChangeOrder on collecting, books, physical media, and ownership:
It wasn’t always this way. Through most of high school and college, I was able to get by just with the library. When I was in graduate school, however, I would acquire and read 3 to 4 books a week—for work, for pleasure, for class, for my full-time job as an editor. In the mail, I would receive dozens of review copies a month. The bookshelves grew fuller and fuller, and since many books were referred to in class, I had no excuse to get rid of them. It wasn’t until a hurricane blew through town and flooded our townhouse’s basement—destroying about a hundred of my books—that I felt heartbroken at having to recycle all those books. Giving away or selling books, even since then, has always been a struggle.
One of the reasons I’ve been resistant to commit fully to ebooks is my love of a full bookshelf. A bookshelf is a window into new worlds but also a mirror, reflecting back to us glimpses of our own lives. I scan the spines on my shelf and am reminded of where I was when I read each book. The bookshelf, possibly more than anything else, is a testament to a life lived.
Cloud services are the grail of the computer industry, and yet they will not rid us of this desires, comforts, and traps of ownership. While I’m now breathing a little easier, now living in a space with a little less stuff, there’s a burgeoning world of eBooks and iTV rentals and Rdio.com that continues to make me uncomfortable. My iTunes has reached a point where when I put it on shuffle, songs come up I rarely recognize. These tools are designed to provide me access to more of what I want, almost effortlessly. And yet I just don’t trust myself with them.
With the endless flood of media at our disposal, it’s hard to take it all in. For every finished book returned to myself, there seems to be ten more waiting to be read, but the books that shape us — the art that shapes us — demand return visits. So tonight, I want to spend some time with the books I’ve already read. Everything else can wait.
A fantastic piece Leon Wieseltier on the the book as an object, libraries, and reading. One of my favorite parts:
There is something inhuman about the pristinity of digital publication. It lacks fingerprints. But the copy of a book that is on my shelf is my copy. It is unlike any other copy, it has been individuated; and even those books that I have not yet opened—unread books are an essential element of a library—were acquired for the further cultivation of a particular admixture of interests and beliefs, and every one of them will have its hour.
I was thinking about this on my way home last week. I’ve been reading The New Yorker on the my train rides to and from work and as I turned the page, I noticed my sweaty finger smudged the ink on the page, dirtying my hand. “That doesn’t happen when I read on my iPad,” I thought, “Sometimes print is still better.”
Peter Mendelsund adds his own thoughts on the piece, and books in general:
But this piece of writing will not, after all, become part “of my biography” the way physical texts do, as it will invariably vanish into the uncultivated, undifferentiated, un-curated part of my brain reserved for the mass of digital information, mediated by screens, that flows untrammeled through my fractured awareness almost every waking hour of every day (I’m not saying this particular article deserves to be preserved. I’m just using it as a case study). That is to say: I will forget it. It is not, and cannot be, mine in any lasting respect. Sure–this article can be saved, in the same way my photos and my music are saved, to my hard drive. But every last article I’ve abandoned to those digital archives, just like all of those jpgs and mp3s similarly consigned, has become like Indiana Jones’s lost ark: buried in an infinite warehouse of infinite treasures, never to be seen or heard from again.
And concludes with a touching realization:
I’ve determined that the way I can best incorporate a digital artifact into my continued existence, for lack of a physical analog, is to share it. (which is what I’m doing now). This is how I will hoard it: I will give it out, then field the reactions. The sharing is the mnemonic- the preserving agent.
It’s harder to incorporate a digital artifact into our lives. We don’t mark up the pages, dog-ear the corners, let the pages get bent and dirtied—we can’t make it our own. But perhaps, the one thing we can do to inject ourselves into this digital artifacts is to share it, to make sure the text lives with us, but also lives on past us.