Just after my last post, a few more items related to books and technologies came across my radar. (Okay, most of those items were in the Sunday New York Times, but I do spend a lot of my Sundays reading the newspaper.) Some quick mention of them here, then.
First up was an opinion piece by James Gleick about digital books and traditional publishing. There’s been a lot of gloom and doom about the end of the book. Most of it is ridiculous: books are not dying, they are not about to disappear. But there are some things that are definitely shifting: book sales are down (though I’d say that has less to do with competition from digital texts and more from poor publishing and bookselling practices, in which there has become less and less room for individual taste and outliers) and textbook costs are ridiculously high. What I like about Gleick’s piece is his recognition that books are two things: physical objects and texts. § continue reading →
Digesting turkey hasn’t been helping with my processing thoughts for this blog, so I’m going to do the classic blog thing of directing you to some other blog posts:
At Mercurius Politicus, Nick Poyntz has a great post on “Information technology and early modern readers“, thinking about bookshelves and the ways in which the organization of books in physical space shapes their use. He looks at the libraries of Montaigne, Cotton, and Pepys, each of which were organized differently and suggests different ways in which those libraries were processed. Nice quotes from these early modern scholars and great links to more images.
A less scholarly approach but more visually lush take on libraries can be found at the reoccuring “bookporn” series at A Historian’s Craft. Post #19 has some great shots of the library at St John’s College, Cambridge, with its fabulous call number indexes. (Of course, I’m partial to the Folger, both the Old Reading Room and the New Reading Room.)
Two different and opposing examples of print today, both of which respond to some of my earlier thoughts about the material presence of books and their durability or lack thereof.
Now that’s a book! And not one you could take with you on your travels, either. But, of course, that is one of the reasons it has survived: it is heavily armored. (More details in our catalogue.)
I’ve now read Virginia Heffernan’s column in today’s New York Times Magazine multiple times, and I am no less confused by it than when I began. Her focus in “Pump Up the Volume” is the Kindle, Amazon’s e-book reader. And her basic point seems to be that it is almost as good as a book. This is why I’ve had to read the column multiple times. That’s her point? It’s almost as good as a book? That’s really what her description keeps coming back to. One of the great things about the Kindle, Heffernan insists, is that it is so un-electronic, so unlinked to the internet:
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Unlike the other devices that clatter in my shoulder bag, the Kindle isn’t a big greedy magnet for the world’s signals. It doesn’t pulse with clocks, blaze with video or squall with incoming bulletins and demands. It’s almost dead, actually. Lifeless. Just a lump in my hands or my bag, exiled from the crisscrossing of infinite cybernetworks.
A friend shared a recent article with me from Der Spiegel that touches directly on the subject of books and owners and their emotional and historical connections. The piece, “Retracing the Nazi Book Theft,” examines the legacy of the Holocaust for German libraries: thousands of books that were stolen from Jewish owners and that remain in the collections of German libraries.
This photo (from the article) is of Detlaf Bockenkamm, a curator at Berlin’s Central and State Library who been tracing the former owners of books stolen by the Nazis. Here he is standing with some of those books, part of the Accession J section, consisting of more than 1000 books acquired by the Nazis “from the private libraries of evacuated Jews” and then integrated into the Library’s collection.
Just as paintings were systematically taken and claimed by the Nazis, so too were books and other cultural and valuable items. § continue reading →