Bookmarking Book Art – ABCs

Remember the entry about the alphabet-book film series Mysteries of Vernacular? 

W is for "window". © Myriapod Productions, 2013
W is for “window”.
© Myriapod Productions, 2013

With his “Medieval Letter People“, the marvelously named Eric Kwakkel opens my eyes yet again to the materiality of the letter in books and book art – and prompts this renewed but brief hunt for abecedaries.

The human body is one of the most common objects encountered in art, whether in paintings, sculptures or other objects. Things have not changed much since medieval times, when artists loved to fill their work with human figures – commonly saints or individuals affiliated with biblical stories. Among the great diversity of depictions, there is one type that stands out in that the body is used (or rather, abused) to express something other than itself. These particularly fascinating and often amusing depictions are found on the medieval page. We see people bent and stretched into unnatural shapes in order to change them into something for which the book was created: letters (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) – Source
Fig. 1 – British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) – Source

Kwakkel teaches at the University of Leiden, about ten miles from where I am writing. His online essays wear their learning lightly on the screen and bring the past to life, repeatedly connecting it with our not-so-different present thinking. Seeing the date of the letter G above made me wonder, how did we think about the ABCs during the overlap between illuminated scribal books and the printed book? Kwakkel’s entry on the model or pattern books from which scribes and illuminators would learn to form and decorate those introductory letters adds to my curiosity. Even as late as 1530, eighty years after the invention of movable type, these model books were still being created in parchment. For how long do technologies overlap and co-exist?

In 1529, Geoffroy Tory — “born typographic” —  published Champ fleury, more treatise than abecedary, to explain the design of type according to the Golden Mean. As his subtitle declares, Tory was not bending the human form to the letter but rather explaining The Art and Science of the Proportion of the Attic or Ancient Roman Letters, According to the Human Body and Face – finding the ideal shape of the letters in the human form and face.

Geoffroy Tory, Champ fleury; translated into English and annotated by George B. Ives. New York, Grolier, 1927.
Geoffroy Tory, Champ fleury; translated into English and annotated by George B. Ives. New York, Grolier, 1927.

The 1927 translation into English, magnificently designed by Bruce Rogers, one of the preeminent typographers of the twentieth century, can be found online in the University of Delaware’s ABC: An Alphabet Exhibition and even on CD from Octavo Editions, which also includes the original French and so brings the overlap from the born typographic to the born digital – at least in the medium if not the author.

As more recent evidence supporting Kwakkel’s assertion “things have not changed much since medieval times”, I offer up the New York Museum of Modern Arts’ 2012 exhibition “Artists’ Alphabets”, which celebrated book art abecedaries.

John Rieben. A Is the First Letter of the Alphabet. Printer: Screen Print Diversified. 1965-66. Lithograph, 50 x 35" (127 x 88.9 cm). Gift of the designer (not on view) Literacy begins with the alphabet. From the early twentieth century to today, modern artists have used the familiar ABC book, or abecedary, as a point of departure for diverse themes. In this exhibition, each letter of the alphabet is represented by a publication, revealing the abecedary as a learning device enjoyed well beyond childhood. From the Museum of Modern Art exhibition organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library. August - October 2012.
John Rieben. A Is the First Letter of the Alphabet. Printer: Screen Print Diversified. 1965-66. Lithograph, 50 x 35″ (127 x 88.9 cm). Gift of the designer (not on view). From the Museum of Modern Art exhibition organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library. August – October 2012.

One entry in particular – Stop the Violence: Character Studies by photographer Francois Robert  – contributes to this medieval heritage of the flesh made into word: his letters are formed of human bones.

Tien-Min Liao, a New York-based designer whose work surely deserved a place MoMA’s 2012 exhibition, offers a far gentler and more gestural ABC for my last specimen. Early in 2012 before the MoMA exhibition, she created her alphabet in what she calls a “typographic experiment” to explore the relationships between upper-case letters and lower-case letters and record how they transform into one another.

Inking shapes onto her fingers, hands and arms, she manipulated or “gestured” them into the corresponding shape of an upper-case letter. Then, without removing or redrawing the inked-on shapes, she adjusted her gestures or the perspective on them to change the upper-case letter to a lower-case of the same letter.  As shown in her illustrations below, she even created an italic version of her “Handmade Type”.

Handmade Type: a typography experiment Tian-Min Liao, March 2012
Handmade Type: a typography experiment,Tien-Min Liao, March 2012

The videos she created to show the transformation of each letter are exceptional, delightful. The banner headline on her site runs forward and backward, turning the HANDMADE into handmade and vice versa.

Unlike my other specimens, though, Tien-Min Liao’s abecedary is available only online. Without my imagining it as a book as well – bound in linen, with a metal handclasp closure or in a solander box including ink, brush and a CD with instructions on handmaking my own alphabet and with a Digital Object Identifier to keep up with her work –  the technological overlap has now run backwards or full circle: the flesh become letter, the fleshly letter become digital.

 

Bookmark – Fast.co interview with Henrik Berggren, Readmill

Michael Grothaus interviews Henrik Berggren about the Readmill app and the future of reading.  E-Books Could Be The Future Of Social Media ⚙ Co.Labs ⚙ code + community.

Henrik Berggren, Readmill
Henrik Berggren, Readmill

Berggren says he never believed that single-purpose devices like the original Kindle would become widespread, a prediction that seems to be playing out. But he did believe that multi-purpose tablets like the iPad would become most people’s primary e-reading devices, not phones. According to Readmill’s data, however, phones are not only the most popular e-reading device, they’re the best at keeping readers engaged, too.

“It is not only that they are spending more time reading the books because the screen is smaller. Even taking into account screen size, smartphone users read more often, they finish more books in general, they start more books, they share more quotes, and they write more comments,” says Berggren. “This paints a very clear picture that the people that are most engaged with their books are the people who read on their phones.”

Bookmark for your browser or ereader? | Anniversary Update

Book with florentine paper bookmark.
Book with florentine paper bookmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Publishing and editorial folk who wish to educate themselves in the changing craft of the book should track this ongoing discussion on the merits of browsers versus apps/devices –even if at times it becomes finely technical.

Books On Books logged several articles on this last year when Jason Pontin declared MIT Technology Review’s colors (decidedly HTML5).  Here is another worth a quick read:   5 Myths About Mobile Web Performance | Blog | Sencha.  A quick read?  Yes, publishers and editors need not be HTML jockeys or Java connoisseurs, but they need to have a business-like grasp of what they are choosing to ride or drink.

Understanding why to publish an ebook through an app or in a browser-friendly format — or both — and what the implications are for crafting finds its rough print analogs in selecting the primary channel and form of  publication (trade or academic, hardback or paperback) as well as  the structure of the work (design, layout and organization) and working out the financial case for deciding whether to publish and how.

Bookmark – Education for the Future of Publishing

The Elements, Theodore Gray
The Elements, Theodore Gray

When it comes to acquiring skills and professional training in book publishing, from the early days of the printing press onwards, learning by doing has been book publishing’s order of the day.  Consider the following interview exchange between Mac Slocum (Tools of Change) and Theodore Gray (The Elements):

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MS: What skills — or people with those skills — must be incorporated into the editorial process to produce something like the iPad/iPhone editions?

TG: Specifically in the case of “The Elements,” the skills required were writing, commercial-style stills photography, Objective-C programming, and a whole, whole lot of Mathematica programming to create the design and layout tool and image processing software we used to create all the media assets that went into the ebook.

Other ebooks might well require different skills. My next one, for example, is going to include a lot more video, so we’re gearing up to produce high-grade stereo 3D video. That’s one of the challenges in producing interesting ebooks: You need a wider range of skills than to produce a conventional print book.

Starting out in book publishing late in the last century, a novice would have consulted Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking and the Chicago Manual of Style to learn the basics of design, editorial and production.  If it were Trade publishing that beckoned, a familiarity with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”) would have been likely.

Maxwell Perkins, half-length portrait, seated ...
Maxwell Perkins, half-length portrait, seated at desk, facing slightly right / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If scholarly book publishing, then Harman’s The Thesis and the Book, Turabian’s A Manual for Writers and maybe Bailey’s The Art & Science of Book Publishing.

But as with the acquisition of print publishing skills through learning by commissioning, designing, editing, printing, marketing and selling, the acquisition of the skills required for ebook publishing could use a hand up from appropriate resources.   People like Joshua Tallent, Joel Friedlander, Liz Castro, Craig Mod, Matthew Diener are those resources — either by example or authoring — and novices today would do well to start bookmarking their output.

For notes on the availability of formal training and career conditions in publishing, see Thad McIlroy’s The Future of Publishing.

Related sources:

“Joshua Tallent of Ebook Architects on the State of Digital Publishing,” Bill Crawford, Publishing Perspectives

“Understanding Fonts & Typography,” Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer

html, xhtml, and css: 6th edition, Elizabeth Castro

“Our Future Book,” Craig Mod

“Resources,” Matthew Diener, David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepcion, ePUBSecrets

The Chicago Manual of Style Online

English: Image of the cover of the 1906, 1st E...
English: Image of the cover of the 1906, 1st Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bookmark — The evolution of bookselling

overdrive-retail-ebook-kiosk--134x250
Nate Hofhelder, The Digital Reader

No good history of the book in the late 20th and early 21st century will overlook this part of the book’s value chain.  In covering the earlier eras, the outstanding historians — Chartier, Davenport, Eisenstein, Johns,  Lefèbvre and Martin,  McMurtrie,  Pettegree, Pollard, and Suarez — touch on distribution and retail to varying degrees.  When it comes to our era though, the effect on the book itself of the distribution/retail roles played by Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Apple, Google, OverDrive and a host of other smaller key players such as Project Gutenberg will loom larger.  (So will that of self-publishing if we consider BookStats‘ report that self-published ebooks represented 30% of ebook sales in 2012.  What the effect will be, though, is harder to say.)

Around since 1986, OverDrive has its roots in the production end of the industry, providing publishers with conversion and formatting services from diskettes to CDs to ebooks.  Its owner, Steve Potash, set the foundations of its contribution to distribution and retail in 1999-2000 with his participation in the Open eBook Forum, now the International Digital Publishing Forum, and his creation of Overdrive’s Content Reserve.   As of this writing, Content Reserve contains over a million ebooks; it is the “overdriver” behind the firm’s library distribution service and the OverDrive Retail Kiosk.

If the OverDrive Retail Kiosk becomes a key to unlocking the way back for book retail in the “real world,” it will by its own definition contribute to the evolution from the printed book to the ebook.   Anyplace — in the mall, the main street or high street, the coffee shop, canteen or library — can become an outlet for the purchase of ebooks, which will feed back into the supply and value chains.

No doubt, historians will note that OverDrive required no physical ereader of its own, no Kindle, no iPad, etc., to reach this point in the evolutionary path but rather, it was its dual focus on finding an effective way to rationalize the delivery of multiple formats while pursuing a standard (EPUB) and on meeting the distribution needs of libraries then retail that put OverDrive in its current position. That position is symbiotic with both “closed garden” ereaders and apps as well as books-in-browser solutions.

Just as the Gutenberg press would not have taken off without the regular supply of a more relatively standardized form of paper, the digital book has had to await — is still awaiting — a more standardized format and mechanism of delivery.  In reinventing themselves and these parts of the book industry’s DNA, OverDrive and others contribute to the evolution of the book.

 

Overdrive Digital Bookmobile
Overdrive Digital Bookmobile (Photo credit: Librarian In Black)

 

Bookmarking the Objectification of the Book

The book as object is not new.  Think of Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda
January

What might be remarkable — or book-markable — is whether the surge in objectifying the book through sumptuous illumination, miniaturization or the creation of book art occurs at definitive moments of shifting media.  One-off illuminated manuscripts preceded the invention of moveable type, but was there a definable surge of them in the decades either side of 1450?

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The Audubon double elephant folio books appeared in 1820 about the time of Frederick Koenig‘s invention of the steam-driven letterpress.

Are William Morris’s fine editions from Kelmscott Press in 1890 a datum in a surge of book objectification either side of Mergenthaler‘s invention of linotype in 1884?

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mergenthaler_linotype

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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fedexEither side of September 1999 (the release of the Open eBook Publication Structure 1.0), we have the Miniature Book Society, founded in 1983 and, in 2003,  Michael Hawley’s Bhutan:

A Visual Odyssey across the Last Himalayan Kingdomthe world’s largest book according to Guinness.

Last week, the New York Times ran an article about Neale Albert‘s collection of miniature books.  Is this popular interest in unreadable books and the surge in altered and sculpted books an anxious reflection of another shift in media?

Bookmarking Book Art — Emma Taylor, updated 20140205

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The fate of the book is becoming more and more critical as digital replacements ingrain themselves deeper into our society.  To me the possibility of the end of the book is a tragic one; I appreciate books as an object as much as I enjoy the stories and knowledge which they hold.  I predominantly work with antiquarian books as they often show evidence of their own personal story, perhaps through an inscription on the cover or a drawing on a page which adds a new layer of narrative.  The theme for each sculpture may be inspired by a number of things including the title, size, shape or cover of the book.  I work with wire, wadding and strips of book pages to create the impression of the sculpture emerging from within a book.

Emma Taylor, From Within a Book

Ironic that Emma Taylor’s site has its main life on Facebook, to which one must subscribe to read the great number of comments on her bookworks.  Her Tumblr site (see link above), however, displays many, if not all, of her sculptures, and in her posting of 29 March 2013, you can find an article from the Cambridge News covering her work as displayed in the local shop Plurabelle Books.

Of course, the bookwork above (made from Poor Folk in Spain by Jan and Cora Gordon, published by Bodley Head in 1922) represents what appears to be a store clerk taking down a book but could just as easily be a housekeeper dusting the bookshelves (after all the chapter in which it appears is named “Verdolay — Housekeeping”).  Why “of course”?  Small sculpted books created “from within a book.”  Tending and caring for the physical artifact by altering the physical artifact. (A touch more irony could have been had with the addition of a tiny computer, iPad or Kindle.)

One direction Ms Taylor’s craft may take to evolve further into art would be to recognize and reflect that the fate of the book and ebook are as likely intertwined and separate in many respects as have been those of the many forms the codex has taken — from incunabula to paperback, bookkeeping to fiction or reference to textbook.

Paratextual devices such as the manicule, footnote, running heads, etc., have their “analogues” in ereaders, ebooks and books-in-browsers such as navigational icons, hyperlinks, breadcrumb trails, etc.  Through the W3C’s open annotation specification, even marginalia may be finding a place in the so-called digital replacement to the printed book.  With the insights of Matthew Kirschenbaum and others into digital forensics, the digital replacement and its “perfect” copies may yet yield the “evidence of their own personal story.”  And if “social reading” takes deep root in the individual reading experience, the reader’s relationship to the author (and vice versa) could be enriched by the reader-to-reader relationship in ways hard to articulate.  Ways that will offer the book artist new opportunities to “make it new.”

Photographs and postcards of Emma Taylor’s work can be purchased at Etsy.

View the artist’s hands at work here. 5 February 2014

Bookmark for the “Used e-book, slightly foxed”

In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr ponders Amazon’s widely reported patent on a method allowing the resale or giving of ebooks and other digital objects.

"Tiny Library Filled with Wee Books and a Deep, Dark, Secret,"  Artist, TheMistressT.  Accessed 10 February 2013.
“Tiny Library Filled with Wee Books and a Deep, Dark, Secret,” Artist, TheMistressT. Accessed 10 February 2013.

Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however.  In his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.

And with the recent publication of a W3C specification for Open Annotation of digital text, what might be inside that used ebook?   As Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black and founder of Cultivated Wit, writes:

What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.

Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon.  Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers.  No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters.   How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?

But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook.  Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook?  Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?

The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious.  Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters?  If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?

This year looks set to be one of important bookmarks for the evolution of the book: secondary markets for ebooks, Open Annotation, social reading and still more devices and applications for reading.

Bookmarking the Index

In 2003, at McGraw-Hill, we discovered something about making ebooks while working with Dr. Bill Detmer and Unbound Medicine to create Harrison’s On Hand.  Don’t start or present through the Table of Contents; start with the Index.

Ten years later and the lesson’s being rediscovered.  Read Hugh McGuire’s A Publisher’s Job Is to Provide a Good API for Books – Tools of Change for Publishing.

 

Can Print and E-Books Coexist? Ceci n’est pas un signet!

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“So a video journalist goes into a bookstore …”  and finds little to report.  Beset by the BBC’s wallowing in non-events and the trivial, I am probably flailing out unfairly at the PBS’s “dog bites man” story or perhaps indigesting a bit of humbug this Christmas season.   MediaShift . VIDEO: Can Print and E-Books Coexist? | PBS.*

At least one commentator (gfrost; Gary Frost?), however, points out what video journalist Joshua Davis and his interviewees failed to explore:  “[M]issed is an inherent interdependence between print and screen books. An eerie complementary fit of the different affordances means that neither will flourish without the other.” Now there is a premise worth exploring, which Gary Frost does (see previous posting).

And what would Joshua Davis and his interviewees make of David Streitfield’s story in the NY Times that sales of e-reading devices seem to have reached a plateau?  “Even as prices fall, though, the dedicated e-reader is losing steam. The market peaked last year, with 23.2 million devices sold, IHS iSuppli said in a report this month. This year, sales will be 15 million. By 2016, the forecast is for seven million devices — as opposed to 340 million tablets, which allow for e-reading and so much more.”

Streitfield’s story actually begins with “the dog that didn’t bark”:  the prices for ebooks themselves have not fallen, despite the predicted result of the US Justice Department’s case against and settlements with six of the big publishers (five, now that two are merging).    For Frost’s premise that neither form — ebook or print — will flourish without the other, does that raise the question of whether either will decline without the other’s declining?   The rules of logic alone suggest otherwise, but consider Streitfield’s “more counterintuitive possibility … that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order.”

Perhaps the ebook and print are more intertwined than even Frost’s premise implies. Simba’s Jonathan Norris is quoted in Streitfield’s article:  “The print industry has been aiding and assisting the e-book industry since the beginning.”    Of course, someone needs to point this out with a cattle prod to the publishers withholding their ebooks from public and academic libraries.  The site TeachingDegree offers a succinct collection of data (PBS take notes) on the topic in a sort of dialectical digital poster.

Perhaps the whole story is just “human reads book” and is not worth a bookmark, but then where would have been the fun of finding out in punning

Magritte-pipe

with Magritte’s painting that the French for bookmark is either un signet (digital) or un marque-page (print), and in English we can make no distinction?

*In fairness to PBS, readers should take a look at the series “Beyond the Book 2012.”

Still, Frost’s Future of the Book goes far deeper.