“Many readers, and perhaps some publishers, seem to view endnotes, indexes, and the like as gratuitous dressing—the literary equivalent of purple kale leaves at the edges of the crudités platter. You put them there to round out and dignify the main text, but they’re too raw to digest, and often stiff. That’s partly true. (Reviewing the fifteenth edition of “The Chicago Manual of Style” for the magazine, in 2003, Louis Menand noted that “the decorums of citation are the arbitrary residue of ancient pedantries whose raisons d’être are long past reconstructing.”) Still, the back matter is not simply a garnish. Indexes open a text up. Notes are often integral to meaning, and, occasionally, they’re beautiful, too.”

Nathan Heller looks at the the importance of footnotes.

This is especially interesting to me as I’m deep into Infinite Jest and continually amazed at David Foster Wallace’s various uses of footnotes.

The NYPL Labs (yes! the New York Public Library has a R&D lab!) has a great article on how they created scripts to make unique generated book covers for books in the public domain that don’t have real covers for an app they are working on:


  My cover generator calls drawShape repeatedly for each character in a book’s title. The size of the shape is controlled by the length of the title: the longer the title, the smaller the shape.
  
  Each letter in the title is replaced by a graphic and repeated as many times as it can fit in the space allotted. The resulting grid is a sort of visualization of the title; an alternate alphabet. In the example below, the M in “Macbeth” is replaced by a diagonal downwards stroke (the same character used to great effect in 10 PRINT). The A is replaced by a triangle (rather than the club found on the PETSCII keyboard). The C becomes a horizontal line offset from the top, the B a vertical line offset from the left, and so on. Since the title is short, the grid is large, and the full title is not visible.


Now when can we get generative covers for new books?

The NYPL Labs (yes! the New York Public Library has a R&D lab!) has a great article on how they created scripts to make unique generated book covers for books in the public domain that don’t have real covers for an app they are working on:

My cover generator calls drawShape repeatedly for each character in a book’s title. The size of the shape is controlled by the length of the title: the longer the title, the smaller the shape.

Each letter in the title is replaced by a graphic and repeated as many times as it can fit in the space allotted. The resulting grid is a sort of visualization of the title; an alternate alphabet. In the example below, the M in “Macbeth” is replaced by a diagonal downwards stroke (the same character used to great effect in 10 PRINT). The A is replaced by a triangle (rather than the club found on the PETSCII keyboard). The C becomes a horizontal line offset from the top, the B a vertical line offset from the left, and so on. Since the title is short, the grid is large, and the full title is not visible.

Now when can we get generative covers for new books?

“It’s very rare that I’ll dislike a book, in its entirety, purely on aesthetic grounds. I always find something to like in any given book. I read all kinds of books in every possible genre, and derive all kinds of pleasures from the disparate flavors of these various reading experiences.”
“[O]ne of the human brain’s many tricks is that it automatically finishes unfinished things… If we see part of a circle, our mind closes it. If we see part of a word, our mind fills in the mssng lttrs.”
“I do not want to see a book business dominated by data because I prefer the old way, a book business run on the only metric that matters: love.”

Favorite Essays of 2013

If you’re like me, you probably have some time off over the next two weeks. Maybe you’re looking for something to read on a flight home for the holidays. Or maybe you just want to look at another end of the year list. In the spirit of all the above, I’ve put together a reading list of some of my favorite essays from 2013. These range from profiles on professors and musicians, essays on gentrification and urban development, to pieces on artificial intelligence and driverless cars. Think of it as a top ten list for essays. The list is fairly diverse so I’m sure you’ll find something of interest that you can spend reading over the holidays. Enjoy!

Read More

I recently finished reading Jennifer Egan’s brilliant novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad after Michael Rock included it on his Designers & Books list. Of the book, Rock says:


  The most contemporary book on my list included primarily because I admire the complex structure of the narrative. Egan moves so deftly between time periods and genres that the intricacy of the interrelationships is almost not apparent at first. An extremely designed novel.
  
  A Visit from the Goon Squad is almost diagrammatic in the way it reshuffles the chronological narrative and interlocks the plot elements. It’s both intricate and finely wrought. Egan also adopts a collage method where in she moves between various genres and tenses (and even includes a chapter written in PowerPoint).


Rock even had his students at Yale attempt to diagram it for one their projects, as shown above. When looking at that diagram, you can see how complex her structure is.



In an interview for Bomb Magazine, Egan uses Chuck Close as a metaphor for how he structured the novel—when viewed closely, it’s a series of short stories, but it is only when you pull away that you can fully understand the bigger picture:


  I imagined the book was sort of like those art projects you do as kids when the teacher makes you put a grid over a drawing and every person in the class is responsible for a little square, you match them all together and then, Oh my God! It’s the same drawing. But in my mind, the way to do it was more of a Chuck Close painting, in that every small square was its own individual work, and yet they all added up to something bigger. I often actually have a visual idea of what I’m trying to do, which is odd because I’m not visual. I’m really a horrific draftswoman.


Highly recommended.

I recently finished reading Jennifer Egan’s brilliant novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad after Michael Rock included it on his Designers & Books list. Of the book, Rock says:

The most contemporary book on my list included primarily because I admire the complex structure of the narrative. Egan moves so deftly between time periods and genres that the intricacy of the interrelationships is almost not apparent at first. An extremely designed novel.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is almost diagrammatic in the way it reshuffles the chronological narrative and interlocks the plot elements. It’s both intricate and finely wrought. Egan also adopts a collage method where in she moves between various genres and tenses (and even includes a chapter written in PowerPoint).

Rock even had his students at Yale attempt to diagram it for one their projects, as shown above. When looking at that diagram, you can see how complex her structure is.

In an interview for Bomb Magazine, Egan uses Chuck Close as a metaphor for how he structured the novel—when viewed closely, it’s a series of short stories, but it is only when you pull away that you can fully understand the bigger picture:

I imagined the book was sort of like those art projects you do as kids when the teacher makes you put a grid over a drawing and every person in the class is responsible for a little square, you match them all together and then, Oh my God! It’s the same drawing. But in my mind, the way to do it was more of a Chuck Close painting, in that every small square was its own individual work, and yet they all added up to something bigger. I often actually have a visual idea of what I’m trying to do, which is odd because I’m not visual. I’m really a horrific draftswoman.

Highly recommended.

Four novels I want all my friends to read

2013 has shaped up to be my Year Of The Novel. Historically preferring nonfiction books, I’ve found myself reading more novels this year than previous years and my to-read pile is decidedly fiction lately, meaning the trend doesn’t appear to be ending soon.

Near the end of last year, I read Robin Sloan’s excellent debut novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore which set me on a search for more books like it. Since then, I’ve stumbled upon a few and I’ve loved each one in their own ways. These are decidedly modern stories—they are describing what it is like to live today, in 2013. They reference Google and Facebook and Apple. They are about working in technology but more importantly they are stories about the people behind that technology—they are people I relate to—people I know—working at start ups, living in New York and San Francisco, talking about typefaces, and growing up and falling in love.

These are four novels that have meant a lot to me in the last year. If we’ve talked in the last few months, there’s a good chance I’ve brought one of these up to you. They are stories that are familiar to me, that I can relate to in profound ways. I’m sharing them here because I think you’ll find them as engrossing and entertaining and thoughtful as I did.

Read More

“There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading.”

The New Yorker Profiles

When I lived in New York, I was a regular subscriber and reader of The New Yorker and would get excited every Monday to see it in my mailbox. I’d read it cover-to-cover on the trains to and from work but the Profiles—the weekly feature on a notable individual’s life—were always my favorite.

I tend to get obsessed with certain people—usually creative polymaths, of sorts—and devour everything I can about them. I realized today, while reading this week’s profile on Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey, that when I become interested in someone, the first thing I do is see if The New Yorker has profiled them.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from over the years. I naturally bend towards the creative and business people, but hopefully you’ll see a nice variety here. The best profile, in my opinion, is the one that I can’t stop reading but as soon as I’ve finished, I’m inspired to get up and work on my own craft a little bit harder than I did before.

Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

“The writer comes across as so big-hearted, so in love with the world – the ancient world, the con­tem­po­rary world, the hi-tech world, the world of yel­low­ing scrolls, in love with love, in love with friend­ship, you name it – and the reader is swept along by his pos­i­tive enthu­si­asm”

That’s George Saunders talking about Robin Sloan’s book Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. That, to me, feels like the highest compliment one can receive—big-hearted and in love with the world.

(Also, if you haven’t read Mr. Penumbra yet, you simply must.)

“In other contexts such as film, literature, and theater, often criticism is the equivalent of reviewing recent works. In the context of the internet, what would a comprehensive review of a website or a new app consist of? How has it come to pass that “usability” criteria are framed through the protestant-corporate idiom of Jacob Nielsen—and still remain unchallenged? Can we popularize highly technical software reviews? What would form a good app review, beyond a description of its functionality?”