For me this is a toss up between a graphic novel and a children’s book :: Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan versus Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials. I used to sit at the breakfast table before work reading Jimmy Corrigan and when I closed it I had to remind myself that it was only a book; meanwhile I once punched my best friend for making me stop reading The Subtle Knife - this was especially poor form as all he was doing was making sure I didn’t miss my tube stop.
What about book-love? Private displays of affection.
The emotional value we attach to books often appears in our love of display.
There is a writer I know called Geoff Dyer. His library is a small square of floor to ceiling books and a beaten leather armchair and it feels like it should be painted by Francis Bacon - it is an incredibly evocative space.
I have a bad habit of judging people on the contents of their bookshelves. Or just if they have bookshelves. It’s snobbish I know, but it’s fun. I compose dinner party placements based on reading peccadilloes. This element of display is significant.
When you can curate by data, how would you display your books?
At periods in my life I have organised, and reorganised my books, by height, colour, author, title width, genre, to show off my literary credentials and based purely on aesthetics. If we could add all those forms of meta-data that we discussed earlier - everything from popularity to age to emotional response - how would we shape our shelves. Would we be able to click our fingers, Mary Poppins style. If books and their physical forms are mutable? What does that look like?
What would a book with a memory of it's readers look like?
We mark our books. And they mark us invisibly, they write notes in our margins, they fold back corners of our psyche - we will never escape the cumulative effect of our reading. And those who never read will never understand quite how magical that immersive realm of the mind is.
What will a book be?
There is a tension at the heart of all good things. And the digitisation of books changes that tension, it creates new design challenges and new opportunities.
- We have lost the form which bound the content and gave it context and meaning.
- We have discovered the possibility to make all content accessible to everyone.
- We have opened up fantastic opportunities to explore and innovate within writing.
- We have subtly shifted the art of reading into the act of interaction.
- We have made everything possible, but possibly damaged the integrity of the physical engagement.
There is a next generation of readers that must be given a heightened experience of deep, sensory reading, not a diminished one - blending digital and physical properties. One of the most magical experiences in the world is to lose yourself in a book. One of the great dangers is that by focusing on the hyper-linked, searchable, social, distractable benefits of digitisation we forget that one of the simplest pleasures is just not being distracted.
Who is Doug Englebart
So let’s end by talking about Doug Englebart. You can go and look him up later, consider this link an augmentation of this textual experience