Norma Levarie (1920-1999) was a graphic designer and author of children’s books, one a winner of a New York Herald Tribune award — Little People in a Big Country. But, in addition to her design work for the National Audubon Society, The Jewish Museum, The University of Chicago Press, Oxford University Press, Random House and Harry N. Abrams, this Virginian’s most important gift to those interested in the evolution of the book and book arts is her volume The Art & History of the Book (New York: James H. Heineman, 1968).
The quality of her research and writing measures up to the best. If only Heineman had been able to afford color reproductions, her ability to handle illustrations and her keen eye for selection of examples would have placed this book in good company with works such as Michael Olmert’s The Smithsonian Book of Books (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1992). Still, Levarie’s book merits a bookmark for its overarching message, which is cleverly embodied in the book’s organization.
Facing the stark image of the Prism of Sennacherib on the opposite page, these words of Ashburnipal launch the book on the recto page:
“. . . I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the obscure Akkadian writing which is hard to master.
I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions in stone from the time before the flood. . . .”
Continuing chronologically up to the fifteenth century and “block book,” Levarie switches to a geographical approach, starting of course with Germany, ending with England and returning to a timeline overview from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, the last illustrated with pages from Spiral Press’s Ecclesiastes (New York, 1965), drawings by Ben Shahn, engraving by Stefan Martin and calligraphy by David Shoshensky, and Apollonaire’s Le Bestiare (Paris, 1911).
This structure neatly builds to these concluding words:
“The homogenizing forces of our time have broken many barriers of national style, and sometimes it is difficult to tell at a glance the origin of a book. But local differences in production or taste still exist, and where they are manifest they bring the pleasure of variety. . . .
For the lover of fine books, nothing can replace the bite of type or plate into good paper, the play of well-cut, well-set text against illustration or decoration of deep artistic value. But an inexpensive edition can carry its own aesthetic validity through imaginative or appropriate design. These are not matters of concern only for aesthetes; if, in an era of uncertain values, we want to keep alive respect for ideas and knowledge, it is important to give books a form that encourages respect. The style and production of books, for all the centuries they have been made, still have much to offer the designer and publisher in challenge, the reader in pleasure.” (303-06)
Leaping ahead more than fifty years to the shift from print to digital, we find that many of the observations and message legitimately reassert themselves. Websites and ebooks do vary in design from region to region, but standardization and, more so, the global character of the Web and the products of the technology industries counter-assert a homogeneity in design. Sven Birkerts‘ elegies for Gutenberg are echoed across blogs devoted to the continuing pleasures of the printed book. But likewise Levarie’s stand that these are not merely matters for the elite is echoed across the debate of print vs digital in the popular press and the democratizing blogosphere.
What still must be translated from her message is how to make the leap that, if we respect ideas and knowledge, we must give online books as well as print books a form that encourages respect.
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:
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.
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
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.
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
“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:
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!
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!
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.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717
Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?
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.
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”?
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.
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.