Falling out of love with ebooks

October 4th, 2015

When Amazon released the first Kindle, Craig Mod had high hopes for the future of ebooks:

[You…] could trace elements of that first Kindle – its shape, design, philosophy – back 70 years. It evoked the Memex machine that the American inventor Vannevar Bush wrote about in 'As We May Think' (1945), a path-breaking essay for The Atlantic. It went some way toward vindicating Marshall McLuhan's prediction that 'all the books in the world can be put on a single desktop.' It was a near?direct copy of a device called the Dynabook that the early computer pioneer Alan Kay sketched and cardboard?prototyped in 1968. It was a cultural descendant of the infinitely paged Book of Sand from a short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges published in 1975. And it was something of a free-standing version of the ideas of intertwingularity and hypertext that Ted Nelson first posited in 1974 and Tim Berners-Lee championed in the 1990s.

The Kindle was all of that and more. Neatly bundled up. I was in love. […]

(Mod has written a post that amounts to a supplement to his Aeon piece here.)

Some of the strands of Mod's argument leave me cold. His perfectly understandable enthusiasm for the tactile and aesthetic pleasures of opening up a beautifully designed book printed on high quality paper isn't something I feel all that strongly about,1 but beyond that it seems to me that sensual qualities of that sort are pretty much never going to be replicated by a slab of glass, plastic and metal no matter how clever the software it runs. Even so, Mod is absolutely right to criticise Amazon for not having advanced the state of the ebook reading experience much since they launched the Kindle. Ultimately, the name of the game isn't to imitate what paper books can do, it's to do things that they can't. Amazon have unquestionably done good things with their Kindle software recently – the X-Ray feature is marvellous if the book you've bought supports it2 – but the long wait for left-justified text on Kindles rather suggests that Amazon are fundamentally more interested in selling ebooks than reading them.

  1. I'm ultimately more interested in the text of the book than the paper quality. Yes, I'm a philistine.
  2. It was a huge help recently when I read Neal Stephenson's Seveneves and needed to remind myself who some minor character who'd just shown up for the first time in 300 or so pages was.

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Jaws, covered

May 22nd, 2014

It's not entirely clear whether it was a design exercise or a cover that was actually published, but either way I have to admire the simplicity and elegance of Tom Lenartowicz's cover for Peter Benchley's Jaws:

Jaws cover illustration

[Via kottke.org]

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A classic fairy tale

March 15th, 2014

I'll confess to never having read The Princess Bride, but from what I understand the film is a generally regarded as a reasonably faithful adaptation. Which makes me wonder who thought that this was a suitable cover for the first paperback release of S Morgenstern's William Goldman's book:

The Princess Bride paperback cover

[Via this comment thread at More Words, Deeper Hole]


Pong on Paper

January 4th, 2014

Paper Pong is a very strange, yet oddly appealing idea – a Choose Your Own Adventure-style implementation, on paper, of a very old video game. It almost seems like cheating to play a version of the book online…

As Sarah Werner observes in her musings on the alleged "death" of the "book":

I spent a lot of time as a kid playing Pong at home, so perhaps that's why I enjoy this book so much. But I love it, too, for its ridiculousness. It's a paper replication of a video game! Why would you do that? Why write lines of code to create a game of Pong that you then remediate in paper form? I don't know that there's a good reason to do that, other than you can. And, actually, that's a decent reason, one that drives more than a few novels.

[Via Snarkmarket]

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December 24th, 2013

A Very Bookish Xmas

(Part of me can't stop thinking "But you could fit so many more books on there if you'd just straighten those shelves up a bit!" Which isn't the point, I know, but I can't help myself.)

[Via Bookshelf Porn, via Bookoisseur, via POLISH GIRL ®]

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Introducing O.W.L.S.

December 2nd, 2013

Introducing O.W.L.S.:

Putting O.W.L.S. into commercial use will take a number of years as it takes ages to train owls to do anything and we only just thought of it this morning.

I can but echo the first comment on that post: Well played, Waterstones. Well played…

[Via Sidelights]

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His Books versus his red-braised pork

October 26th, 2013

Jenny Diski has a problem:

The Poet, who made Chairman Mao's red-braised pork for supper last night, so I am not entitled to complain about anything, has a dark side. Before he was an academic he was a book dealer. He gave up book dealing but not the books. We live in a terraced house which backs on to the railway line. These houses were all railway worker's cottages. They have tiny rooms and steep staircases. They are lovely, well-built but must have been cramped even with a smallish family living in them. […]

What isn't good about them is that there are only four walls per room, and the problem of housing The Poet's 5000 books grows daily as he scours the second-hand Internet sites for volumes he's been searching out for years or a surprise first edition of a 1930's novelist that no one alive (apart from The Poet) has ever heard of. Every wall is covered. We built a shed in the garden for the overflow. There are still piles of books on the floor of his study. And the bottom of the staircase to my attic study is a dangerously tottering pile of books I've reviewed and have not got round to taking to the Amnesty Bookshop. […]

I love The Poet's explanation, later on in the piece, about why he doesn't shelve his books in order.

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'I hate books. Can't read them. They send me to sleep'

October 9th, 2013

At the Shredding Plant:

B. doesn't like books, but he talks knowledgeably, animatedly, even lyrically about their raw material. He knows paper inside out. He understands complex variations of weight, grade and texture. He knows how it's made and unmade; holding it up to the light he can show you how the fibres in a sheet of notepaper bind it together; he can tell by its taste if a banknote is made of genuine Cypriot white virgin pulp; and he can talk at length about the construction and coatings of a cardboard box. In the shredding plant, what matters is matter.

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May 19th, 2013

Tsundoku, a Japanese word for buying books and letting them pile up rather than reading them.


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Signing Tour

September 9th, 2012

I think Charlie Stross may have been lightly traumatised by his latest book signing tour:

I am going to have this recurring nightmare for the next few years … I'm trapped in a reality TV show after the model of "The Apprentice", in which the marketing folks at a publisher responsible a bunch of aspiring authors are gifted with the marketing and promotion budget of a best-seller to spend on their pool of newbies, in a gruesome elimination match to see who can survive the signing tour. Sort of like "The Hunger Games" for authors.


How can we make a reality TV show out of this?

Here's my idea: first, we need a Publisher. Preferably a charismatic, intense, skinny English guy with a posh accent. (Hello, Tim!) We also need a Production Company, a TV content maker, with a budget. As TV programming costs on the order of a megabuck per hour, and signing tours cost maybe a kilobuck per author per day (including travel, hotels, guides, and so on), they can afford to front the cost of about a dozen signing tours for first-time authors. No publisher in their right mind will turn down that sort of free marketing money (in exchange for allowing a camera crew to shadow the authors), and the hapless midlist grunts are of course not going to turn down a marketing budget a bazillion times bigger than their book advances (plus, the chance to look good on TV). […]

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