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.

Look here and here for more examples of ABCedarian books. And here for the online exhibition at the University of Delaware.

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.

A bookmark for letters “outside themselves”

Ecstatic Alphabets, Heaps of Language – Art – Domus.

In his review in Domus, Zachary Sachs describes this MoMA exhibition which “courses through the history of twentieth-century art animated by language and language given artistic form.”   The works of art “tease apart the connection between sign and signified through modes of interruption largely inspired by the technology of printing.”    And the catalogue includes “texts that attempt at intervals to rationalize and idealize language, at once to purify it and to demonstrate its essential muddiness.”

Why bookmark this exhibition?

It is apropos to our unease, excitement or dismay about the digital metamorphosis of the book.  As Sachs puts it, “The historical works here swing between anxiety and ambivalence, emotions seemingly inevitable in response to the immense power (and attendent limitations) of written communication.”  The same is true of our reaction to the moiling of books, ebooks and apps.  

And the MoMA exhibition is one of those “full circle” phenomena, a recapitulation, a reminder of how, in trying to ground the history or evolution of the book, in reading its situation, we often go right back to the alphabet, the word, language itself.

Of David Diringer‘s two substantial volumes on the history of the book, the first is entitled The Alphabet (1968).  In Helmut Lehmann-Haupt’s brief but important One Hundred Books about Bookmaking (1949), an entire section is given to writing and lettering, and that is preceded by a bibliographical entry for Edward Chiera‘s They Wrote on Clay (1938), on how the tablets of the Babylonians still speak to us today.  For another instance, see also the posting here on Norma Levarie‘s The Art & History of Books (1968).

Art can be a means to, or cause of, ecstasy — extasis, to stand outside one’s self.   Book art and specifically in this case the “ecstatic alphabets” exhibition can encourage us to stand outside what is happening to the book in order to reflect on it.  If the exhibition were open to further curation, two “bookend” additions the exhibitors might agree would fit are

Heilige Maagschap (c.1470 )
Westphalian School
Panel 69x144cm

the Holy Kinship from the St Servatius Cathedral Treasury in Maastricht, which exults in the letter, scroll and book in the service of sacred art, and

Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) by Dennis Ashbaugh and William Gibson (New York: Kevin Begos, Jr., Publishing, 1992), which “

even compared with other artist books . . .  is an unusual textual artifact.  Beyond the materiality of the book and realia themselves lies the issue of authorship. The text of the poem on the self-erasing diskette is by the novelist William Gibson, and the copperplate aquatint etchings inside the book were created by artist Dennis Ashbaugh.  Gibson and Ashbaugh are most frequently cited as the book’s “co-authors.”   However, the project was conceived by publisher Kevin Begos, Jr., and the code for the software that scrolls Gibson’s poem as well as for the encryption program (sometimes mistakenly called a “virus”) that subsequently erases that poem was written by a programmer signed “Brash” (who desired to remain anonymous) with help from John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore (founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).”  

James J. Hodge, “The Agrippa Files, an online archive of Agrippa (A Book of the Dead).

Ebook Timeline Updated: 20140201

ebook-evolution

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20140201

Here’s a previously missed infographic for the evolution of the book – a bit skeletal but with the elegance of the format. And while we are at it, let’s add some bibliographic and webographic “evolution” entries:

Chris Armstrong’s article “Books in a Virtual World: The evolution of the e-book and its lexicon“, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40/3, September 2008

Andy Greenberg’s 2007 pictorial look at ebook readers, article “In Pictures: The Evolution of E-Books“, Forbes, 12 March 2007

Frederic Kilgour’s solid little hardback entitled The Evolution of the BookNew York, Oxford University Press, 1998

I.T. Strategies’s research commissioned by Ricoh entitled The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers, Hanover, MA, 2013

Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120812

Yesterday, the 11th of August 2012 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hypercard.  Alerted by Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica in May, gurus lined up to comment on Bill Atkinson‘s contribution in the 80s to Apple and the basics of hyperlinking techniques we now take for granted.

David Weinberger and Roy Tennant celebrated the anniversary with engaging and personal posts linked from their names here.

With the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger became one of the Web’s leading light-shedders (gurus) and provocateurs.  Most important in this context, he was in the audience when Bill Atkinson presented Apple’s Hypercard to the MacWorld conference in 1987.  Weinberger writes, “HyperCard was a groundbreaking, beautiful, and even thrilling app.  Ahead of its time for sure. But the time it was ahead of seems to me to be not so much the Age of the Web as the Age of the App.  I don’t know why there isn’t now an app development environment that gives us what HyperCard did. Apparently HyperCard is still ahead of its time.”

Tennant, too, has written several books and a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and currently works at OCLC.  Most important, he “was there” as an early user of the Hypercard system and HyperTalk programming language on which it is based.  As Tennant puts it, “HyperCard was where I learned how to DO the Web.  It was where I learned the importance of screen real estate. It was where I learned the law of 7, plus or minus 2.  It was where I learned how important graphics are in creating an engaging site. It was where I cut my teeth on interactivity.”

Apps, screen real estate, Miller’s law, graphics and “cutting teeth” on interactivity — all are part of the new toolkit for making books.

Timelines are, of course, for looking further back as well as forward.   Earlier this year, April 2012 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of

Liane Lefaivre’s, Leon Battista Alberti’s Hypnerotomachia PoliphiliRe-Configuring the Architectural Body in the Early Italian Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997).

and the online publication of short but extensively hyperlinked extracts from the print book as well as the online publication of The Electronic Hypnerotomachia, which contains the facsimile text and illustrations.   The online publication of extracts from Lefaivre’s book illustrates the linking prefigured by the “card stack” approach of HyperCard.  What MIT Press and TU Delft,  Lefaivre’s affiliation, host on their servers are not ebooks or even e-incunabula of the sort we experience today, but they are clearly forerunners to them.

In twenty-eight more months, December 2014, we will see the 515th anniversary of the original work’s publication by Aldine Press (Venice, December 1499).   The founder Aldus Manutius did not normally publish heavily illustrated books.  The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was the exception and the only commissioned work that Manutius undertook.   The exception reflects favorably on the overall success of his business and supports the view that Venice had become the capital of printing and publishing very shortly after the invention of printing by moveable type.

The book unveils an inscrutable, almost comic-book-illustrated story, glittering with made-up words in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic (including proto-Greek, -Hebrew and -Arabic fonts).  In addition to the page displays sculpted into shapes such as goblets, this one volume displayed the technological mastery of and improvement on the new Roman (as opposed to the heavy Gothic) typeface Bembo.  According to Norma Levarie in The Art & History of Books (New York, 1968), this singular volume revolutionized typography in France in less than twenty-five years.

Somewhat like software releases, though, the 1499 edition came with bugs.  The colophon to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili falls at the end of a full page of errata.

“Venice Month December. 1499. in the house of Aldus Manutius, most accurately done.”

Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!

Added 20120812.

Image

“The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a leading U.S.-based trade association representing the entire book supply chain, announced today the publication of a new Policy Statement endorsing EPUB 3 as the accepted and preferred standard for  representing, packaging, and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.”

For the record and from the Library of Congress:

“The Open eBook Publication Structure or “OEB,” originally produced in 1999, was the precursor to EPUB.  Version 1.0 of the Publication Structure was created in the winter, spring, and summer of 1999 by the Open eBook Authoring Group.  Following the release of OEBPS 1.0, the Open eBook Forum (OeBF) was formally incorporated in January 2000.  OEBPS Version 1.0.1 [OEBPS_1_0], a maintenance release, was brought out in July 2001.  OEBPS Version 1.2 [OEBPS_1_2], incorporating new support for control by content providers over presentation along with other corrections and improvements, was released as a Recommended Specification in August 2002.   EPUB 2 was initially standardized in 2007. EPUB 2.0.1 was approved in 2010.   EPUB, Version 3, was approved as an IDPF Recommendation in October 2011.  It is substantially different from EPUB, Version 2, both in using only a single form for textual content and in having support for audio, video, and scripted interactivity (through Javascript).  No longer supported are the EPUB_2 formats for text content, one based on the Digital Talking Book [DTB_2005] format and a second form based on XHTML 1.1 compatible with OEBPS_1_2.   A single new encoding for textual Content Documents is based on HTML5/XHTML and CSS3, despite the fact that both of these W3C standards are still works in progress. SVG is supported for graphics and it is possible to have an EPUB_3 document whose “pages” consists [sic] only of graphics, for example for a graphic novel.  Several legacy features are deprecated.  Some legacy structures may be included for compatibility of EPUB_3 documents with existing EPUB_2 readers.  EPUB_3 readers are expected to render publications using version 2 and version 3.”

Coincidentally, Amazon UK reported today that it is now selling 114 Kindle ebooks for every 100 print books it sells.

The EPUB format is not natively readable on the Kindle device or in the Kindle application.  Customers can add conversion apps easily to their devices to make EPUB readable on a Kindle, but as consumers seek the advantages of an industry standard, how will Amazon respond?

Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!

Added 20120806.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120725

As we are still in the Age of e-Incunabula, what better than a trip half way around the world to Japan to see one of the world’s largest collections of Western incunabula — and an excellent site to bookmark?

The National Diet Library’s site refers to itself as an exhibition based on the book “Inkyunabura no Sekai” (The World of Incunabula) / written by Hiroharu Orita, compiled by the Library Research Institute of the National Diet Library. Tokyo: Japan Library Association, July 2000 (in Japanese).

The exhibition provides a timeline of incunabula from the second half of the 4th century when the shift to the codex occurred to 1980 when the British Library began entering data on its collection of incunabula into the ISTC. The site provides much more than this chronology.

Images from the collection, statistics on the type fonts used, coverage of design and how the quires (sheets of paper folded, forerunner of book signatures and files in EPUB!) were arranged, and the binding process — all are covered straightforwardly and often in entertaining detail.  Look on this site and consider how far we have to go with our ebooks and apps!

Added 20120725.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120719

Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and it extends to typography online.

Added 20120719.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717

Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?

Added 20120717.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120710

On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic on a critical element of the book and ebook: typography.

Added 20120710.

 Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120706

Yet another ebook timeline, and this one is broken down into interpretive categories, “The Age of Writing” and “The Network Era,” which is thought-provoking.  Are we in “The Age of the Tablet”?

Added 20120706.

Start of the Ebook Timeline

In 1936, “Chronology of Books & Printing” appeared in its revised edition, published by Macmillan in New York. In 1996, Cor Knops picked up the torch and started a Book History Timeline from Sumerian clay tablets (he could have started with the caves at Lascaux!) through to 1997 with the first issue of “Biblio Magazine” but with little acknowledgment of ebooks.

Now in 2012, looking back to 2002, we find this journalistic stab at a timeline for ebooks.

Forged together, the chronologies would have to include “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush in 1945, Ted Nelson’s coining of “hypertext” in 1963-65, the Apple Newton in 1993 (how many publishers and authors have kept track of the free downloads of their Newton ebooks?) and much more.

Another extension of the ebook timeline appears in this book by Marie Lebert, which fills in important gaps, misses others and offers more than a few overemphasized continental developments. Her timeline takes us through 2009, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebook sales’ outstripping those of print in some markets are still to be added.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120806 – The BISG Endorses EPUB 3, Amazon UK Sells More Ebooks than Print

Image

“The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a leading U.S.-based trade association representing the entire book supply chain, announced today the publication of a new Policy Statement endorsing EPUB 3 as the accepted and preferred standard for  representing, packaging, and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.”

For the record and from the Library of Congress:

“The Open eBook Publication Structure or “OEB,” originally produced in 1999, was the precursor to EPUB.  Version 1.0 of the Publication Structure was created in the winter, spring, and summer of 1999 by the Open eBook Authoring Group.  Following the release of OEBPS 1.0, the Open eBook Forum (OeBF) was formally incorporated in January 2000.  OEBPS Version 1.0.1 [OEBPS_1_0], a maintenance release, was brought out in July 2001.  OEBPS Version 1.2 [OEBPS_1_2], incorporating new support for control by content providers over presentation along with other corrections and improvements, was released as a Recommended Specification in August 2002.   EPUB 2 was initially standardized in 2007. EPUB 2.0.1 was approved in 2010.   EPUB, Version 3, was approved as an IDPF Recommendation in October 2011.  It is substantially different from EPUB, Version 2, both in using only a single form for textual content and in having support for audio, video, and scripted interactivity (through Javascript).  No longer supported are the EPUB_2 formats for text content, one based on the Digital Talking Book [DTB_2005] format and a second form based on XHTML 1.1 compatible with OEBPS_1_2.   A single new encoding for textual Content Documents is based on HTML5/XHTML and CSS3, despite the fact that both of these W3C standards are still works in progress. SVG is supported for graphics and it is possible to have an EPUB_3 document whose “pages” consists [sic] only of graphics, for example for a graphic novel.  Several legacy features are deprecated.  Some legacy structures may be included for compatibility of EPUB_3 documents with existing EPUB_2 readers.  EPUB_3 readers are expected to render publications using version 2 and version 3.”

Coincidentally, Amazon UK reported today that it is now selling 114 Kindle ebooks for every 100 print books it sells.

The EPUB format is not natively readable on the Kindle device or in the Kindle application.  Customers can add conversion apps easily to their devices to make EPUB readable on a Kindle, but as consumers seek the advantages of an industry standard, how will Amazon respond?

Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!

Added 20120806.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120725

As we are still in the Age of e-Incunabula, what better than a trip half way around the world to Japan to see one of the world’s largest collections of Western incunabula — and an excellent site to bookmark?

The National Diet Library’s site refers to itself as an exhibition based on the book “Inkyunabura no Sekai” (The World of Incunabula) / written by Hiroharu Orita, compiled by the Library Research Institute of the National Diet Library. Tokyo: Japan Library Association, July 2000 (in Japanese).

The exhibition provides a timeline of incunabula from the second half of the 4th century when the shift to the codex occurred to 1980 when the British Library began entering data on its collection of incunabula into the ISTC. The site provides much more than this chronology.

Images from the collection, statistics on the type fonts used, coverage of design and how the quires (sheets of paper folded, forerunner of book signatures and files in EPUB!) were arranged, and the binding process — all are covered straightforwardly and often in entertaining detail.  Look on this site and consider how far we have to go with our ebooks and apps!

Added 20120725.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120719

Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and it extends to typography online.

Added 20120719.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717

Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?

Added 20120717.

Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120710

On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic on a critical element of the book and ebook: typography.

Added 20120710.

 Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120706

Yet another ebook timeline, and this one is broken down into interpretive categories, “The Age of Writing” and “The Network Era,” which is thought-provoking.  Are we in “The Age of the Tablet”?

Added 20120706.

Start of the Ebook Timeline

In 1936, “Chronology of Books & Printing” appeared in its revised edition, published by Macmillan in New York. In 1996, Cor Knops picked up the torch and started a Book History Timeline from Sumerian clay tablets (he could have started with the caves at Lascaux!) through to 1997 with the first issue of “Biblio Magazine” but with little acknowledgment of ebooks.

Now in 2012, looking back to 2002, we find this journalistic stab at a timeline for ebooks.

Forged together, the chronologies would have to include “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush in 1945, Ted Nelson’s coining of “hypertext” in 1963-65, the Apple Newton in 1993 (how many publishers and authors have kept track of the free downloads of their Newton ebooks?) and much more.

Another extension of the ebook timeline appears in this book by Marie Lebert, which fills in important gaps, misses others and offers more than a few overemphasized continental developments. Her timeline takes us through 2009, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebook sales’ outstripping those of print in some markets are still to be added.