Bookmarking Book Art — in medias res … Math Monahan

Math Monahan’s installation Specimen is book art that cannot be ignored.

SONY DSC
Specimen , 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan
Specimen, 2012Inkjet PrintPhoto credit: Math Monahan
Specimen, 2012
Inkjet Print
Photo credit: Math Monahan
Specimen 5
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Specimen 2
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Specimen 3
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Specimen 4
Specimen, 2013
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

[ The book is an organism.  It lived, spread all over the world and, some would consider, is endangered today.  These creatures have a life of their own.  They manifest themselves in many forms but where did they come from?  If they are animals of paper and text, from what kind of beast did they evolve?  This series studies those primordial creatures that became the developed beings colonizing our homes and libraries.  By looking at growth patterns, mutations, and morphological similarities we can better understand this animal’s rise in population for so many years, as well as its current decline toward extinction. ]

The images above constitute a mesmerizing series on Monahan’s site.  It is as if we are looking at photographs of deep-sea creatures or impressions of fossils or slides of microscopic organisms. The latter impression is reinforced by the petri dishes in which the circular images are framed, but of late, the organisms, shown in the rectangular photos, have escaped the petri dish to occupy an undefined abyss. Like snorkeling or diving for the first time in strange waters, the experience of viewing Specimen is beautiful, exhilarating and a bit scary. The words quoted above and fixed alongside the images are humorous, wistful but still, in the end, a bit scary.  The book: evolution or extinction?

Monahan hails from the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, whose library by chance was one of the original five library partners in the Google Library Print Project that began in 2004.  In March 2012, Jennifer Howard reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Google’s book-scanning project had reached its 20 millionth volume but was slowing down.  Even so, at its average rate, Google should have about 25 million books scanned now.   As if foreshadowing Monahan’s metaphor literally and using the Google collection like a literary genome project, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Jean-Baptiste Michel and the Google Books Team “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed [enabling them] … to investigate cultural trends quantitatively”. From this reservoir of digital strands, they plucked out the references to each year between 1875 and 1975 in the books, plotted them and found

The plots had a characteristic shape. For example, “1951” was rarely discussed until the years immediately preceding 1951. Its frequency soared in 1951, remained high for 3 years, and then underwent a rapid decay, dropping by half over the next 15 years. Finally, the plots enter a regime marked by slower forgetting: Collective memory has both a short-term and a long-term component.

But there have been changes. The amplitude of the plots is rising every year: Precise dates are increasingly common. There is also a greater focus on the present. For instance, “1880” declined to half its peak value in 1912, a lag of 32 years. In contrast, “1973” declined to half its peak by 1983, a lag of only 10 years. We are forgetting our past faster with each passing year.

Ironic that.  Analysis of the “DNA” extracted from over 5 million specimens of the organism designed to preserve our past tells us that we are forgetting it more quickly year by year.

Curious about his interactions with the book species, I wrote to Math Monahan to ask if we could conduct the “in medias res” experiment: to go to his bookshelf, select a volume from the middle of any shelf, open the volume to its center pages, tell me what is there and answer a set of questions.

  • What are the objects immediately on either side of the selected book? As you take the book from its place, what are your physical sensations?  How does the book feel to you? As you open to its middle page, what do you hear, smell or see about it or around it?
  • Do you recall the circumstances of acquiring the book?  What were you doing when you acquired it?  Why this book?
  • As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to “the book,” could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general?
  • Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?

MM: I decided to choose from my “to read” shelf. The book I found in the center felt “right” as soon as I saw it there. Although it was on my “to read” shelf, I decided to read it before replying. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not, I think it was the right choice. Anyway, here is my choice. As you can see, the book I’m using has a slightly different layout.

Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer Visual Editions, 2010
Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer
Visual Editions, 2010
 
Image from Visual Editions.
Image from Visual Editions.
Author of Everything is Illuminated, Foer took one of his favorite books, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and used it as a canvas, cutting into and out of the pages, to arrive at Tree of Codes.

BoB: And what about the books and things around it, and what you felt as took Tree of Codes from the shelf?

MM: To the left stands the book, Folklore and Book Culture by Kevin Hayes. To the right, two wooden boxes stacked, act as a book end/space filler, followed by more books.  The larger box on the bottom contains various samples of handmade papers. The smaller box on top contains blank note cards.  As I removed the book I felt the unfamiliar squeezing of pages that I was surprised by when I first bought the book. It was caused by the cutouts on each page. They create the different densities that differ from the standard solid-block feel of a book.  When I opened the book to its estimated middle page, I remember being very gentle.  The layout of the book made the pages delicate lattices that I am very careful to keep intact. The carefulness must have overridden my other senses, because I don’t remember anything else.  I thought the book felt “right” when I found it because, as a book artist, I work with the form of the book and the book as an object.  That is my main interest.  This book is published by Visual Editions, a publishing company that believes “books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell” (www.visual-editions.com).  This idea meshes well with ideas in my own work.

BoB: Now that you’ve read Tree of Codes, you will have noticed how The Street of Crocodiles has pretty much disappeared. Almost but not completely. Are there echoes of that phenomena in your own work?

MM: Yes. Often the content of the books I’m using in my work is irrelevant. I am exploring the book as a physical form.  Through folding, braiding, warping or any other alteration, I am revealing the transformative nature of the book. Each one holds different possibilities. My struggle is in convincing the viewer of this.  We have a tendency to immediately read text, almost instinctual.  Can text be texture? Is there more information contained in a book than words and images?

While a part of my process is (what I have been calling) relieving the book of text, I don’t feel this is an act of violence against any author(s).  It is clear in Tree of Codes that the removal of text is an act of love or admiration for the primary story. My admiration is for the object itself. The text will live on in many forms. I am not using rare or one-of-a-kind books here.

BoB: Do you recall the circumstances of buying Tree of Codes?  What were you doing when you decided to buy it?  What prompted the purchase?

MM: I found it in a Barnes and Noble. I remember being surprised to see it there because it is a sort of unconventional book.  I quickly put together that the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, recently had one of his books made into a movie and that could prompt the store to have all his works in stock.  Still, I was very pleased to find it.  I was introduced to the book about a year earlier by a friend.  It was coming home with me that day, no question.

BoB: As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to “the book,” could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general?  The question may have different answers depending on the type of book or your intention on opening the book, so feel free to qualify your answer as you like.

MM: I think my relationship to “the book” changed how I approach books in any context. For better or for worse, I have noticed this change.  The phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” comes to mind here.  I find myself judging a book not only by its cover but also by its weight, size and shape, the textures of its cover and pages. Even by the fonts used in the body of the text are included in this analysis. Of course I read the summary and printed comments on the back, but these often fall after the book passes the physical tests.

BoB: Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?

MM: This is where all the information gathered through the process described above come into use.  Understanding how paper textures interact with colors and fonts, how negative space in a text block affects how quickly you move through the book, how the lines of text change as you curl and warp the pages; all are now the backdrop to the creation of my own work.  Sometimes this raw data is in the forefront of my thoughts while I’m working, while other times it is synthesized into a cloud of intuitive responses. The latter is often what I’m referring to when I say something “feels right”.

BoB: Decades ago, Peter Frank commented that exhibiting artists books behind glass was to confine them ” in some anaerobic chamber”. Unless your “organisms” in Specimen present themselves in the equivalent of a petting zoo, their exhibition requires us to stand at a distance and prompts us to view the book as an object to be regarded rather than “read” in the usual sense.

Your installation Between is another case in point but intriguingly different. There, you have taken two sets of books, opened each book, braided its pages so that it stands open and arranged each set of braided books in a circle spine to spine.

Between, 2012
Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan
Between, 2012
Between, 2012
Photo credit: Math Monahan
© Math Monahan

The circle arrangement holds the set together, without adhesives or mechanical apparatus, and the pages slowly unbraid themselves, each book returning to its original form. Although the installations, one in the Penny Stamps Graduate Studio and the other in the Hatcher Graduate library of the University of Michigan, are not under glass or otherwise fenced away from the “reader”, the “reading” or art experience can only occur as the unfolding occurs.  And, of course, being in two separate locations, the installations do not allow us to experience them simultaneously. Yet, you intend “the installations [to] form a whole existing between the two spaces”. 

So while Specimen is “at a distance” from us in one way, Between is so in another. With Specimen, we are relatively passive viewers. With Between, although we are not reading the unbraiding volumes, we are more active, almost participating. Our “witness” to the unbraiding is a necessary element of the artwork, but is that unbraiding toward forgetfulness and extinction or memory and renewal?

MM: Participation is the point of books.  They are meant to be interacted with.  That interaction has become a recent focus, especially thinking of library books and other books as they pass through several hands.  I can admit, reading a good book leaves its mark on me. But what marks do we leave of books? What are the traces of these intimate interactions? Through time, whole communities are embedded in these artifacts. Find a book from a library or thrift store and try to imagine everyone that has ever handled that specific edition. Can you feel them around you? I aim to reveal that community. 

BoB: One last question. Between forgetfulness and extinction, on the one hand, and memory and renewal, on the other, where would you bookmark us and the book?

MM: Whether book sales are up or down, it’s irrelevant.  Even if the extinction of books never happens, the fact that text CAN be read digitally opens the book to possibilities beyond text, similar to (in my opinion) what happened to painting with the invention of photography.  Artists are still working in representation, even hyperrealism, but the rapid expanse of painting and thought behind what a painting is – that is the direction that I’d like to see our interaction with books move in.

Related

Bookmark – Ringing the Changes on “The End of Books” (2014)

Are we there yet?

I mean the sesquicentenary of the premature announcement of the death of the book and such of its hangers-on as authors, readers and libraries.  I suppose I should be satisfied to have seen its centenary.  Robert Coover’s essay in the New York Times (June 1992) marked it a bit early, echoing Louis Octave Uzanne‘s tongue-in-cheek knelling in Scribner’s Magazine (August 1894), right down to the same title – “The End of Books”:

I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism [the phonograph] forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products.

Uzanne - Reading on the Limited
Reading on the Limited, Pullman Circulating Library.
Illustration by Albert Robida from Uzanne’s “The End of Books”, Scribner’s Magazine, August 1894.

For Coover, not so tongue in cheek, it was hypertext’s divergent, interactive and polyvocal routes as opposed to the book’s unidirectional page-turning that heralded the death of the book (and the author).  D. T. Max rang out against CD-ROMs and the Internet bang on time in 1994 with “The End of the Book?” in The Atlantic when it was still called The Atlantic Monthly: 

… the question may not be whether, given enough time, CD-ROMS and the Internet can replace books, but whether they should. Ours is a culture that has made a fetish of impermanence. Paperbacks disintegrate, Polaroids fade, video images wear out. Perhaps the first novel ever written specifically to be read on a computer and to take advantage of the concept of hypertext … was Rob Swigart’s Portal, published in 1986 and designed for the Apple Macintosh, among other computers of its day. … Over time people threw out their old computers (fewer and fewer new programs could be run on them), and so Portal became for the most part unreadable. A similar fate will befall literary works of the future if they are committed not to paper but to transitional technology like diskettes, CD-ROMS, and Unix tapes–candidates, with eight-track tapes, Betamax, and the Apple Macintosh, for rapid obscurity. “It’s not clear, with fifty incompatible standards around, what will survive,” says Ted Nelson, the computer pioneer, who has grown disenchanted with the forces commercializing the Internet. “The so-called information age is really the age of information lost.” …  In a graphic dramatization of this mad dash to obsolescence, in 1992 the author William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace,” created an autobiographical story on computer disc called “Agrippa.” “Agrippa” is encoded to erase itself entirely as the purchaser plays the story. Only thirty-five copies were printed, and those who bought it left it intact. One copy was somehow pirated and sent out onto the Internet, where anyone could copy it. Many users did, but who and where is not consistently indexed, nor are the copies permanent–the Internet is anarchic. “The original disc is already almost obsolete on Macintoshes,” says Kevin Begos, the publisher of “Agrippa.” “Within four or five years it will get very hard to find a machine that will run it.” Collectors will soon find Gibson’s story gone before they can destroy it themselves.

Best not to wait for that sequicentenary then.  Accommodatingly in 2012, David A. Bell and Leah Price rolled out the canon more with Google, ebooks and the Kindle tolling not merely for the print book but rather for the New York Public Library and all libraries. We even had screenings throughout 2013 and scheduled for January 2014 of the documentary Out of Print, which asks, “Is the book as we know it really dead? Is the question even important in an always-on, digital world?”

The nearer one stands, of course, the louder it is.

Sounded in the nineties but not obviously well heard, Paul Duguid, he of The Social Life of Information co-fame with John Seely Brown, advised “taking a breath”:

… it’s important to resist announcements of the death of the book or the more general insistence that the present has swept away the past or that new technologies have superseded the old. To refuse to accept such claims is not, however, to deny that we are living through important cultural or technological changes. Rather, it’s to insist that to assess the significance of these changes and to build the resources to negotiate them, we need specific analysis not sweeping dismissals.

… to offer serious alternatives to the book, we need first to understand and even to replicate aspects of its social and material complexity. Indeed, for a while yet, it will probably be much more productive to go by the book than to go on insistently but ineffectually repeating “good bye”.

So it is heartening (or depressing if you are a Jeremiah) to see 2013 rung out with an essay by Roger Schonfeld (ITHAKA S+R) that celebrates and encourages the specific analysis Duguid urged.  In “Stop the Presses: Is the monograph headed for an e-only future?”, Schonfeld suggests several directions for further research and design:

  • What are the perceived constraints of existing digital interfaces with respect to long-form reading of scholarly monographs? What functional requirements does print currently serve better than digital with respect to monographs, even recognizing that many of the same individuals are acquiring and using tablets and reader devices for other purposes? How can content platforms and publishers better address the needs of academic readers and other users?
  • In an environment that has in many ways grown more fragmented over time, how can libraries and content platforms ensure the most efficient discovery and access experience possible for users of scholarly monographs? Is there a place for serendipity?
  • How can stewards of primary source materials in tangible and digital form, such as archives, museums, and digital libraries, most effectively support the digitization of their own materials for discovery and access purposes and provide for rich linkages with the analysis of their holdings found in the scholarly monograph?
  • If greater opportunities are provided over time for readers to engage with the primary sources, how might authors respond to reshape the nature of the monograph?
  • Will the digital version of the scholarly monograph diverge from the print version as additional features can be added?

At the heart of what changes but remains in the shift from print to digital are Search and Usability or “ambient findability” as Peter Morville terms them. Morville’s seminal work on information architecture, search and user experience focuses on the Web but is equally applicable to the book and ebook. A superior e-monograph will enlighten its readers by the author’s choice of information architecture and its enabling them to learn and evaluate the search paths that lead to the presentation, the arguments and the primary sources. Likewise the superior print monograph achieves its goals by the judicious combination of preliminaries, Part, Chapter, endmatter and thousands of years’ development of paratextual apparatus.

Of the print apparatus for search and usability, the table of contents and other parts of the printed book’s preliminaries may not remain a useful point of entry to a scholarly ebook. In 2002, when a small team at McGraw-Hill working with Unbound Medicine decided that putting the index at the front of HarrisonsOnHand in place of the table of contents made more sense for the user of an HP iPAQ, they thought they had made a major breakthrough for mobile ebooks. Almost. What they were realizing is the centrality of those twin navigational stars, Search and Usability.

Only a little over a decade later, the insight continues to dawn, and with the intervening improvements in interfaces and devices, it may be much brighter this time.

The process of digitizing a printed book involves much more than the conversion of ink on paper to bits in a file. Functional aspects of the book must be mapped to digital equivalents. Thus we have tables of contents and indices turning into hyperlinks and spine files, page numbers that beget location anchors and progress indicators.

So wrote Eric Hellman earlier this year in “Anachronisms and Dysfunctions of eBook Front and Back Matter” and concluded that the title page in an ebook ought to be a “Start” page like the start screens in the old interactive CD ROMs or today’s DVDs of television series. Publishers such as Faber with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land or Moonbot Studios with The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore have done just that.

Although the EPUB doyen and doyenne, Richard Pipe and Liz Castro, advised usability-driven rethinking of frontmatter, the practice is not widespread among purveyors of the less-than-enhanced ebook. Most editorial and design advisors such as Joel Friedlander only go so far. Their advice generally assumes the direct transfer of print frontmatter to the ebook. While allowing for the omission of spatial anachronisms like the bastard or half title, they only caution against overburdening the ebook’s frontmatter. As for the traditional index at the other end of the ebook, many publishers omit them or simply replicate the print version without links. Ebook indexes that link terms to their multiple locations in the text regardless of the flow of the text in the ereader or device are rare for obvious technical and financial reasons, and only this year was an EPUB specification for the index approved.

The two great affordances of the printed book that most challenge today’s ebooks and ereaders, however, are legibility and the page.  While screen legibility may be improving at a “blinding rate”, we have today little more specific, scientific analysis of screen vs print legibility than Ellen Lupton found in 2003, although Jakob Nielsen remains indefatigable on the subject. Mechanics aside, the debate over the efficacy of reading from the page vs that from the screen should always be kept in mind. Ferris Jabr‘s April 2013 article in Scientific American and the six months of responses to it helped the topic considerably.  Jabr concluded, “When it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage. But text is not the only way to read.” Which harks back to the conclusion of a previous post in Books on Books and Jerome Bruner’s  apt observation of Lev Vygotsky’s fondness for Sir Francis Bacon’s epigram, “Nec manus, nisi intellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent” (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)” (247).   Perhaps for now neither print nor digital left each to itself is sufficient.

How the page matters.  Enough so for Bonnie Mak to make it the subject and title of her book and to join Johanna Drucker, Peter Stoicheff, Jerome McGann and a long list of scholars conducting the analysis Duguid urged.  As the August 2013 Ploughshares interview with her illustrates, Mak’s focus and interest on the material aspects of the page and book extends also to the library and performance art. Which brings us back to Drucker the book artist, who argues that instead of considering the page, table of contents, etc., as static, iconographic features of format, we should think of them as cognitive cues in an instruction set in the “program” of the codex.  With reflowable text and responsive design, though, the cues can become slippery, so much so that the EPUB standard makers introduced Fixed Layout Properties with EPUB3.

This line of thinking about print space vs e-space comes sharply into focus if we consider annotatability, another of the printed book’s apparently superior affordances. While various devices and ereaders offer the ability to highlight and annotate, not all do, and the annotations are rarely accessible to others or across devices and platforms.  The Web and ebook standards communities are hard at work on a specification for open annotation, which will enable the reader to share annotations of a work with other readers and enable annotations upon annotations. While we wait for the standards, though, the market spawns numerous solutions such as Readmill and SocialBook that functionally reflect “the conceptual and intellectual motivations” behind the affordance.

These experiments and successes exemplify the specifics Duguid urged. The big print-to-digital experiment of the last decade, however, that would by any measure be deemed to have exceeded expectations is the Google Book Project.   Whether it was conducted in any sense “by the book” has been extensively argued in the courts and wherever else publishers, authors, technophobes and technophiles tend to gather.  The year saw the dismissal of the Authors’ Guild case against Google, which left everyone just to carry on behind the scenes as they had been. So we are left with both the occasion for further bell-tolling for the book and further Duguidian exploration and experimentation as well as the avenues of research suggested by Schonfeld.

There is, however, one more change to ring at the close of 2013. The metaLABproject pulls a bit on that rope, but Kenneth Goldsmith grasps it firmly and echoes Michael Agresta‘s earlier insights into the many web-to-print phenomena that demonstrate that these two technologies may be forever intertwined.   Goldsmith’s “The Artful Accidents of Google Books” highlights several individuals’ obsession with scanning errors from the Google Book Project.  One of them is Paul Soulellis, the proprietor of the Library of the Printed Web, which “consists entirely of stuff pulled off the Web and bound into paper books”.  

Soulellis calls the Library of the Printed Web “an accumulation of accumulations,” much of it printed on demand. In fact, he says that “I could sell the Library of the Printed Web and then order it again and have it delivered to me in a matter of days.” A few years ago, such books would never have been possible. The book is far from dead: it’s returning in forms that few could ever have imagined.

Or imagined digesting, like the series of book art by the late Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (1969), to which Agresta gloomily alludes as “a final possible future for the paper book in the age of digital proliferation”.

I can hardly wait another thirty years!

Publications mentioned

Michael Agresta, “What Will Become of the Paper Book? How their design will evolve in the age of the Kindle,” Slate, 8 May 2012, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/design/2012/05/will_paper_books_exist_in_the_future_yes_but_they_ll_look_different_.html

Rick Anderson, “The Future(?) of the Scholarly(?) Monograph(?)”, The Scholarly Kitchen, 23 December 2013, accessed 23 December: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/12/23/the-future-of-the-scholarly-monograph/

David A. Bell, “The Bookless Library”, The New Republic, 12 July 2012, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.newrepublic.com/node/104873/print   

Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Faber and Faber, 1994)

Liz Castro, Comments on Richard Pipe, “ePub and Spine Order”, 31 May 2010, accessed 2 June 2013: http://infogridpacific.typepad.com/using_epub/2010/05/ebooks-and-spine-order.html

Robert Coover, “The End of Books,” New York Times on the Web, 21 June 1992, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/27/specials/coover-end.html

Johanna Drucker, “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space”, Book Arts Web, 25 April 2003, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.philobiblon.com/drucker/#johanna

Paul Duguid, “Material Matters: Aspects of the Past and the Futurology of the Book”, 1996, accessed 24 December 2013: http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~duguid/SLOFI/Material_Matters.htm

Joel Friedlander, “Self-Publishing Basics: How to Organize Your Book’s Frontmatter,” The Book Designer, 8 February 2012, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/02/self-publishing-basics-how-to-organize-your-books-front-matter/

Kenneth Goldsmith, “The Artful Accidents of Google Books, The New Yorker, 5 December 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/12/the-art-of-google-book-scan.html

Eric Hellman,  “Anachronisms and Dysfunctions of eBook Front and Back Matter”, Go to Hellman, 8 February 2013, accessed 2 June 2013: http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.ca/2013/02/anachronisms-and-dysfunctions-of-ebook.html

Gretchen E. Henderson, “People of the Book: Bonnie Mak”, Ploughshares, 20 August 2013, accessed 28 December 2013: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/people-of-the-book-bonnie-mak/

International Digital Publishing Forum, EPUB Indexes 1.0, 4 November 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.idpf.org/epub/idx/

Ferris Jabr, “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens”, Scientific American, 11 April 2013, accessed 14 April 2013: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=reading-paper-screens

Anne Kostick, “Digital Reading: UX Publishing Outsider May Lead the Way for Publishing Insiders”, Digital Book World, 14 March 2011, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/digital-reading-ux-publishing-outsider-may-lead-the-way-for-publishing-insiders/

Ellen Lupton, ““Cold Eye: Big Science”, Print magazine, Summer 2003, accessed 28 December 2013: http://elupton.com/2009/10/science-of-typography/#more-113

Bonnie Mak, How the Page Matters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012)

J. W. Manus, “Fun With Ebook Formatting: The Title Page and Front Matter,” Ebooks = Real Books, 23 April 2013, accessed 2 June 2013: http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/fun-with-ebook-formatting-the-title-page-and-front-matter/

J. A. Marlow, “Effective Ebook Front and Back Matter,” The Worlds of J. A. Marlow, 19 April 2012, accessed 2 June 2013: http://jamarlow.com/2012/04/effective-ebook-front-and-back-matter/

D. T. Max, “The End of the Book?” Atlantic Monthly 274 (Sept. 1994): 61-71.

Jerome McGann, “Visible and Invisible Books: Hermetic Images in N-Dimensional Space”, nd, accessed 28 December 2013: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/jjm2f/old/nlh2000web.html

Peter Morville, Semantic Studios, accessed 2 June 2013: http://semanticstudios.com/

Priscilla Coit Murphy, “Books Are Dead, Long Live Books”, Media in Transition, 19 December 1999, accessed 28 December 2013:  http://web.mit.edu/m-i-t/articles/index_murphy.html

Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 29 December 2013: http://www.nngroup.com/

Richard Pipe, “ePub and Spine Order”, Using ePub, 30 May 2010, accessed 2 June 2013: http://infogridpacific.typepad.com/using_epub/2010/05/ebooks-and-spine-order.html

Leah Price, “Dead Again”, New York Times, 10 August 2012, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/books/review/the-death-of-the-book-through-the-ages.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&

Deena Rae, “Parts of an Ebook,” e-bookbuilders, 25 December 2012, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.e-bookbuilders.com/2012/12/parts-of-an-ebook/

Robert Sanderson and Paolo Ciccarese, “Open Annotation: Bridging the Divide?”, Slideshare,  11 February 2013, accessed 2 June 2013: http://www.slideshare.net/azaroth42/open-annotation-bridging-the-divide

Roger Schonfeld’s “Stop the Presses: Is the monograph headed toward an e-only future?” (ITHAKA S+R, 10 December 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.sr.ithaka.org/blog-individual/stop-presses-monograph-headed-toward-e-only-future)

Peter Stoicheff (editor) and Andrew Taylor (editor), The Future of the Page (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).  See also the YouTube interview of Stoicheff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XKHa7PH61c

Brad Stone, “Documentary Film Investigates the (Alleged) Death of Books”, BloombergBusinessweek, 10 May 2013, accessed 23 December 2013: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-10/documentary-film-investigates-the-alleged-death-of-books

Louis Octave Uzanne, “The End of Books”, Scribner’s Magazine, August 1894, accessed 23 December: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=scri;cc=scri;rgn=full%20text;idno=scri0016-2;didno=scri0016-2;view=image;seq=0229;node=scri0016-2%3A9

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 Book Art – Franziska, a typeface

The Fine Press Book Association’s inaugural Student Type Design Competition sprang from the hope that by building bridges between printers and young type designers we might end up creating new material resources for the fine press community.

A PDF document called the Making of Franziska – a hybrid text-face between slab and serif is available for downloading.  This document is quite well put together and provides a kind of tutorial on type design.

franziska-font_runge_03_text_04_freundliche-versalien

Bookmark – The Implacability of Books

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The Merchant Georg Gisze (1532) by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Author of The Things Things Say, Jonathan Lamb has trawled the Internet Archive to link us to 18th and early 19th century examples of the “it-narrative,” stories told from the perspective of a thing such as a watch, a coin or a mouse and generally comic and all-too human in the telling.  And yet, Lamb observes,

…  for a number of reasons this is seldom how [the it-narrative] deserves to be read. Whether it is owing to its origin and terminus in the narratives of slaves, or to its coincidence with the financial revolution and the growing unaccountability of mass human behaviour, or to the growing appetite for print ephemera, or to the end of feudal tenures and the resulting anomalies of personal portable property, or to the irreversible metamorphoses precipitated by the holocaust, ordinary things situated in banal circumstances develop a salience that has nothing to do with symbolism or hidden meaning. They are just there, eying their human adversaries, implacable and meditating affronts.

Lamb might have added another reason: the growth of the Internet, book art or bookwork and prediction of the printed book’s demise.  Until that demise, will our books, just there on their shelves above the lampshade late at night, sit “implacable and meditating affronts”?

Jonathan Lamb, The Implacability of Things at The Public Domain Review | Material World on 9th November 2012 at 11:01 am.

Bookmarking Book Art — Math Monahan

Math Monahan’s installation Specimen could hardly be more appropriate for the attention of Books on Books.

Specimen
Specimen

[ The book is an organism.  It lived, spread all over the world and, some would consider, is endangered today.  These creatures have a life of their own.  They manifest themselves in many forms but where did they come from?  If they are animals of paper and text, from what kind of beast did they evolve?  This series studies those primordial creatures that became the developed beings colonizing our homes and libraries.  By looking at growth patterns, mutations, and morphological similarities we can better understand this animal’s rise in population for so many years, as well as its current decline toward extinction. ]

The image above is one of a mesmerizing series on Monahan’s site.  It is like looking at photographs of deep-sea creatures or slides of microscopic organisms or impressions of fossils.  Like snorkeling or diving for the first time in strange waters, it is beautiful, exhilarating and a bit scary.  Reflecting on the images, however, the words fixed alongside them (quoted above) are humorous, wistful and, in the end, a bit scary.  The book, evolution, extinction?

Monahan is enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, whose library was one of the original five library partners in the Google Library Print Project that began in 2004.  Last March 2012, Jennifer Howard reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Google’s book-scanning project had reached its 20 millionth volume but was slowing down.  Even so, at its average rate, Google should have about 25 million books scanned now.   As if foreshadowing Monahan’s metaphor literally, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Jean-Baptiste Michel and the Google Books Team, “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed [enabling the scholars] … to investigate cultural trends quantitatively” (Science, 14 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 176-182, DOI: 10.1126/science.1199644).   By tracking the references in the books to years, they created plots for each year between 1875 and 1975:

The plots had a characteristic shape. For example, “1951” was rarely discussed until the years immediately preceding 1951. Its frequency soared in 1951, remained high for 3 years, and then underwent a rapid decay, dropping by half over the next 15 years. Finally, the plots enter a regime marked by slower forgetting: Collective memory has both a short-term and a long-term component.

But there have been changes. The amplitude of the plots is rising every year: Precise dates are increasingly common. There is also a greater focus on the present. For instance, “1880” declined to half its peak value in 1912, a lag of 32 years. In contrast, “1973” declined to half its peak by 1983, a lag of only 10 years. We are forgetting our past faster with each passing year.

Ironic that.  Analysis of the “DNA” extracted from over 5 million specimens of the organism designed to preserve our past tells us that we are forgetting it more quickly year by year.  Cue, Socrates and Phaedrus:

Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

And yet, we have Socrates’ words and thoughts because Plato chose to write them down, Benjamin Jowett to translate them, countless others to cite them, now one to cut and paste them and others to read them.  Like Monahan’s other series, Braided Books, this exploration seems to be unbraiding itself, but is that braiding and unbraiding toward forgetfulness and extinction or memory and renewal?

The ALA’s Proposals on Ebooks in Libraries

The American Libraries Magazine, the magazine of the American Library Association, delivers news and information about the library community.   In it, Beverly Goldberg writes, “the ALA today released “Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries” (PDF file) a report that describes general features and attributes of the current ebook environment and outlines constraints and restrictions of current business models.”

It would be worthwhile to compare the ALA report’s proposals with the subject of the previous posting.

Bookmark – The “LookStore” and, Now, “Wall to Wall-papered Books”

These are Tony Sanfilippo’s slides used for his Ignite presentation at the 2012 meeting of the Association of American University Presses.    The slides have been transferred to YouTube with a voiceover.

As the book evolves, so too the ways in which it reaches us, or we reach it.  We have lived through one stage of that evolution with online bookstores.  We are living through another with ebooks.

It’s not over yet.

Two years on, a Romanian company offers customized wallpaper showing shelves of book spines with your choice of free ebook titles and their QR codes printed on the spine. To “pull a book from the shelf”, scan the code with your favorite ebook reader and settle in for a good read. See the video: http://www.bibliotecapemobil.ro/

http://www.psfk.com/2014/06/digital-library-wallpaper-qr-code-scan-books.html#!0GAL3

An E-Reader Annotation Mini-Manifesto

Teleread and an employee of Readmill have begun a bookmarkable conversation about an important feature of books that must translate into the digital world:  shareable annotations.

To share annotations in a print book, you have to lend the book or photocopy the relevant pages.  Currently, our e-incunabula thrash about in the barbwire of a three-way no-man’s land: between publishers and librarians, between anti-DRMists and pro-DRMists and between the ebook as a licensed good and the ebook as a sold good to which the “first sale” doctrine applies. We haven’t brought sustainable peace to any one of those fronts yet, although there are fleeting signs of olive branches on the battlefield.

Penguin experiments with the New York Public Libraries, Bilbary has pulled together a collection of over 400,000 works (including Random House ebooks) to make available to US and UK public libraries, the Douglas County Library in Colorado continues its purchase-only effort.

Small and large publishers have been and are going DRM-free or nearly so.  In 2009, Liza Daly of Threepress Consulting started a list of DRM-free publishers and stores. Today, she can add among others Springer, Tor/Forge and Pottermore (with effects addressed in interesting detail by Mike Shatzkin).

As Matthew Bostock argues,

“Translating the act of annotating physical books to the digital experience is all good and well, but isn’t there more we could do? Isn’t there more we could dream about? We’re talking about e-readers here—small devices that are connected to something that has the potential to truly evolve the entire concept of digital reading. I’m referring, of course, to the web. … If we share what we highlight with other people, and bring a discussion right into the margin of a book, what do we have, and what have we done? We have added value to the digital reading experience. And looking at annotation in this way, there’s a clear reason why we should give it a little more thought.”

See Matthew’s mini-manifesto on annotations on Teleread:

No doubt known to Matthew, but there are forces at work to nudge us toward his vision.  The standards world has not been sitting on its hands: the W3C and NISO both have initiatives underway to address the minimum required technical specifications for a standard on shareable annotations.

The book evolves.

Let us not to the marriage of print and digital admit impediments

See on Scoop.itBooks On Books

The Bodleian is offering a prize draw to attract participation in its crowdfunding for the digitization of its First Folio.

“Dr Paul Nash, an award-winning printer, will reprint Leonard Digges’s poem in praise of Shakespeare from the front matter of the First Folio. It will be printed on a folio bifolium of English, hand-made paper and printed in the Bodleian Hand-Printing Workshop at the Story Museum.  The text will be composed by hand, using types first cast in the 17th century, with ornaments.  Each sheet will be printed with a title and colophon, sewn into a paper cover.”

They call this “kickstart” the “Sprint for Shakespeare” in conjunction with the cultural and sports Olympics events going on this year.

Where there’s a Will, there should be a way.

See on shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk