Thursday, 24 March 2016

follow-up and final blogging question: books of futures past

Thanks, everyone, for a great discussion this week with our guest lecturer, U of T's Copyright and Scholarly Communications Librarian, Bobby Glushko. Sorry that the sound wasn't working on Monday, but Bobby has sent us links for the videos he would have shown:

There's a fair bit of extra reading/playing for next week's class, and be warned that I'll be spoiling the endings of Portal, Portal 2, and possibly The Stanley Parable (Actually I'm not sure how to spoil The Stanley Parable  -- if you've played it, you know what I mean.) However, with all this tempting video game arcana to distract us, let's not neglect our main readings, especially as they're two of the most important readings of the course, Matthew Kirschenbuam's article "Editing the Interface" and Zachary Wendler's article "'Who Am I?': Rhetoric and Narrative Identity in the Portal Series."

Also, we've reached our final blogging question for the course! It's deceptively simple: if you could go back in time to whatever year you choose (by whatever means you choose, which doesn't really enter into the question, so don't get distracted by that aspect...), and if you could tell people in that era one really important thing to understand about the future of books and reading (without, let's assume, needing to worry about polluting the timeline), what would you tell them -- and why?

Although this will be our final assigned blog question for the course, though you're welcome to keep on using your group blogs however you like -- they are, after all, your blogs. My hope is that this final question will also help set up our final time-travel-themed class on Books of Futures Past (the title of which shouldn't be mistaken as trademark infringement on any Marvel/Fox films...)


At the suggestion of a student, I'm adding an optional twist on the question: what would you tell someone not in the past but in the future? (Technically, you can tell people in the future what you think; you'll just have to take it on faith that you got their attention...)

Saturday, 19 March 2016

follow up to our class on sound and image

A few threads to collect from our class in this follow-up post, in addition to the lecture slides posted on BB. We began by considering audiobooks in relation to a recording of a Martin Luther King sermon as an aural text, and one related in turn to a controversy over inscription and erasure on the MLK memorial in Washington, DC. If you're interested in the example, it's worth checking out what the National Park Service's official website for the memorial says -- and doesn't say -- about the controversial inscription "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." For more on King's sermon "The Drum Major Instinct," including a downloadable mp3 recording and historical background, see Stanford's King Institute's page for the sermon:

Our lecture on the prehistories of digitization, as read through photography and sound transmission in the nineteenth century, actually originated as lectures in previous Future of the Book courses but then became two chapters (4 & 5) in a book I published last year, which you can access online through the library catalogue. Several of the images in the lectures slides receive a more detailed discussion in those chapters. What's probably more interesting, however, is the website for the Smithsonian Museum of American History's website for their exhibition "Hear My Voice: Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound." Its curator, Carlene Stephens, was a great help when I was working on the book, and the exhibition brings to life some of the recordings discussed in the book (especially ones that include bits of literary texts). Although we're used to hearing audio recordings from the past, such as King's sermon, I still get goosebumps from hearing a human voice recorded within a couple of decades of the American Civil War. It makes one think of the future histories of digital artifacts being made today, especially experiments whose importance may become clear only later, to future historians who haven't even been born yet.

On Alice in Wonderland and the history of its publication and illustration, see the Harry Ransom's Center's description of John Tenniel's work. Also, the British Library has made available a digitization of Lewis Carroll's illustrated manuscript, which he gave to the original Alice in 1864. Finally, if you'd like to explore the Brabant Collection of Lewis Carroll material at the U of T's Fisher Rare Book Library, you can read about it here:


I knew I was forgetting something...

Two of the researchers I mentioned in relation to the study of sound reproduction, Jonathan Sterne and Philip Auslander, have their relevant books now linked from the recommended readings for last week. They don't deal with the history and future of the book directly, but their work on media history does intersect with our course themes, especially if we take a broad view of what we mean by text.

Also, some of you have communicated with me about working on the topic of artists' books for your final project. Hopefully you've been reading lots of Johanna Drucker, but let me also recommend this recent article:

Athanasiu, Eva. "Belonging: Artists' Books and Readers in the Library." Art Documentation 34, no. 2 (2015): 330-338.

If this article seems to approach its topic in ways especially relevant to our course, there's a good reason: Eva was a student in this course in 2014, and she developed this article out of her final paper! Hope this provides a bit of inspiration at a point in the term when it can do the most good. And the article itself is a wonderful reflection on the future of a particularly interesting kind of book.

Finally, in the spirit of pushing the boundaries of the book, you might find this CBC Spark story on virtual reality and literature worthwhile, especially if you're interested in James Joyce's Ulysses. (It makes me think of the novel's famous phrase "ineluctable modality of the visible," which opens one of the book's most challenging parts for readers...) 

Friday, 18 March 2016

week 9 blogging question: the future of the (owned) book

(Sorry this week's blogging question is being posted a bit late -- I've been enjoyed the beginning of the iSchool graduate student conference!) This week's blogging question is another chance for us to share and reflect on our experiences with digital books, texts, and other bookish resources and objects. This question should also tie into our reading for the coming week, and to our upcoming guest lecture from Bobby Glushko, the U of T Libraries' Head of Scholarly Communications and Copyright.

Our discussions and readings have touched upon the changing meanings of traditional roles such as authorship and readership, but we haven't yet touched upon ownership. This role is easy to take for granted in a world of print: I can walk into a bookstore, buy a printed book, and walk out again with a clear sense that the object is mine to do with as I wish (mostly). I can read it, give it away, forget it on the subway, sell it to a used bookstore, leave it in a random location in the hope that someone reads it, or hurl it into Lake Ontario (actually, don't do that; it's littering, and that lake is pretty full of books already). In other words, the legal affordances of the owned print book as an object align fairly closely with its physical affordances (mostly). One thing I could do physically but probably not legally is scan several chapters of the book and post them on the web. So although it's not entirely true that there are no legal limits to ownership of a printed book, it's fair to say that digital books and related texts and artifacts are changing notions of ownership that have evolved over centuries. As it's often described, publishers and online retailers are increasingly thinking of digital books not as objects but services.

Have you had any experiences with digital books, texts, games, software, or other textual artifacts that have made you question your own assumptions about what it means to own something? For example, a few years ago I wanted to download a particular novel in EPUB format in order to do some bibliographical analysis of the file itself. Not coincidentally, I was sitting in the reading room of the Fisher Library, looking at printed editions of the book, when I decided to do some online shopping for an ebook version. Oddly enough, I had a difficult time finding an online retailer that would allow me to download the book as a stand-alone file; most wanted me to access the ebook through their specific software, such as iBooks or the Kobo desktop app, both of which use EPUB files but within the software's own local database. I finally found a way to pay for and download an EPUB file that I could save directly in my computer's file system, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to find one. Not only had print conditioned me to think of a book as a discrete, locatable thing, but so had other software such as iTunes made me used to purchased digital things as files.

What are your experiences with the changing nature of ownership in a digital world? Bookish examples are welcome, of course, but keep in mind that other things like video games, audio files, and video files are also texts in the broader sense of the term that McKenzie advocates. You could also extend the idea of ownership into the idea of access, such as the forms of digital access that come with being a student at the University of Toronto. However you approach the question, please give us an example, but also take the opportunity to reflect on what we can learn from it.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

week 8 blogging question: workshopping essay topics (or rough ideas, or just vague inklings)

With the deadline for the final project/paper on the horizon, I thought we could use this week's blogging question to share the ideas that you've all been working on. I've been talking with some students already and have heard some really promising ideas, both for traditional papers with interesting topics, and for more experimental approaches to the assignment.

It seems a bit of a waste if it's only the professor who gets to hear about the various ideas that students have been cooking up, so let's use this week's blog posts to share final paper/project ideas -- and especially to get some feedback from each other, which is essential for a course like ours. If you don't have a well-developed idea yet, that's ok -- you can post something speculative and use the exercise to work through some ideas. Even if you have no idea of your topic as you read this, you'll be further ahead by next Friday! If your idea is well-developed, that great; you can use the post to solicit some feedback, and to inspire your classmates. As I've been suggesting all term, there are many ways into a course topic like ours, and a diversity of perspectives is not only a strength, but a necessity.

A few caveats. I won't be treating these blog posts as contractual or as research proposals, so don't worry if your final product changes from what you write about in your post. Also, when I grade these posts I'll use a fair bit of latitude, and I won't be grading the viability of your proposed topic so much as the thought you've put into the post. (In other words, feel free to post about problems you haven't solved yet!) Finally, if you've already decided to do a collaborative final project, all group members should still post individually for this week.

I've been seeing some great commentary happening in the blogs, and this post is a chance to keep up the good work.

Finally, if you're in need of inspiration, I never fail to find some in the videos put out by the New Zealand Book Council, especially this first one (based on Maurice Gee's Going West, animated by Andersen M Studio):

And if you liked that one, here's another...

Closer to home, Toronto's own independent bookstore Type Books has done some fine bibliographic animating of their own:

And if you've come this far, why not watch this video of a husky playing in a pile of leaves? It'll ease some of that mid-March stress:

Ok, enough with the videos -- back to work!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

follow-up to e-books, part 2

No lecture slides to post this week -- the images related to The Sentimentalists and Eric Gill are all in the article -- but there's lots of other material.

First, as I mentioned in class the Inforum has a remarkably comprehensive collection of e-reading devices, going back to the earliest Kindle and Kobo readers. I believe most of these are in their original packaging, too, which is worth considering in relation to the marketing of these devices when they were new. (The first Kindle's packaging, as I recall, makes some interesting gestures toward the printed book.) The Inforum also makes it possible to take out iPads, and you can ask them how to install some of the ebook-apps we discussed yesterday (Alice for the iPad, Our Choice, and The Waste Land). Here's the Inforum's page for equipment loans:

The question of whether typography can have politics came up in discussion yesterday, and on that topic I've added a recommended reading by Megan Benton on typography and gender in nineteenth-century bookmaking. On the question of the readerly practices of annotation and commonplacing in relation to ebook design, you might enjoy this blog post by Stephen Berlin Johnson, titled "The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book." His notion of "the glass box" is a useful one for this week's class topic.

Here are the two ebook-app demo videos we watched in class, followed by a third clip about books that's worth watching, too... ;-)

Friday, 4 March 2016

week 8 blogging question: content and containers

In last week's class and readings we considered how the relationship between e-books as content and their containers, in the form of various ebook file formats such as EPUB, the Kindle formats, and PDF. This week's blogging question asks you to share a specifically digital example of a case where the line between content and container has become blurred. It could be from an ebook of some sort, but there are lots of other ways to play with the content/container distinction in digital form.

Here's one exercise to test the supposed fluidity of digital content that you can try at home -- though be warned: if you appreciate elegant XML code, this experiment isn't pretty. Start with a short paragraph written in an MS Word document, ideally with a few formatting elements like italics, bold, coloured text, and accented characters. Then  copy and paste your paragraph into the text field of, say, the wysiwyg editor that your group's blogging platform uses (Blogspot works nicely) -- or, for that matter, one of the similar text-entry boxes on Blackboard. You may want to create a temporary draft of a post to your blog or the BB discussion list, which you then delete -- the point is to be able to past your copied Word text into a wysiwyg editor that also lets you view the HTML.

On the surface, your copied text probably pastes fairly seamlessly with formatting mostly intact. But under the surface, pure horror awaits. If you view the HTML code after pasting the Word text, you'll see some of the most tortuous and misbegotten XML ever created by human or machine: unnecessary tags, unreadable attribute names, proprietary extentions, bloated code -- it's all there, lurking under the surface of the text like some horrible nightmare on the edge of rationality. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit -- just a bit -- but we can learn something from the tension between the supposedly fluid and transferable content on the surface and the madness-inducing, gibbering tentacled code that serves as its container. [Note: parts of the preceding paragraph were written with the help of the H.P. Lovecraft Description Engine. I also resisted a strong temptation to put scare-quotation marks around content and container, but you get the idea.]

Here's another example of a digital container showing up where it shouldn't in printed content. This comes from the 1990 New Canadian Library edition of Ethel Wilson's novel Swamp Angel, published by McClelland & Stewart. If you look closely, with the help of the person who annotated this page, you'll see the thing I mean. (Click to enlarge.)

Actually there are a couple of interesting annotations on these pages, and the one on the verso hints at the novel's complex textual and publishing history. (Like many Canadian novels, it was printed in rather different British and American editions.) But on the recto, we can see something that brings us back to our theme for this post: what is "<ed space>" doing there? Having recently done some research on this small textual mystery, I can give a fairly thorough explanation of what it is and how it got there. (I may touch upon it in Monday's class if there's interest, but I'm also planning to use it as an extended example in my upcoming Toronto Centre for the Book talk on March 24th at 4:00 in BL 728: "Bibliography for a Used Future: Finding the Human Presence in E-Books and Other Digital Artifacts.") For bibliographers and ordinary readers alike, moments such as this when content and container become blurred are like glitches in the matrix, or glimpses behind the curtain as the stage hands set the next scene, or as D.F. McKenzie put it, instances of the "human presence" discernible in "any recorded text" (p. 29).

What examples can you think of that show the supposedly seamless world of content being disrupted or otherwise affected by that which contains it? What insights into the nature of digital textual production can you draw from it? Remember, your example doesn't have to be from a book or even textual, but it should be somehow digital.

<ed space>

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

follow up to our first e-books class

vesalius frontispiece
Frontispiece to Andreas Vesalius's
De humanis corpora fabrica (1543)
Hope everyone enjoyed our dissection of an EPUB file in our Monday class. Looking at unfamiliar lines of code can be daunting, but your experience with TEI in the encoding challenge should make it easier to make sense of the relatively simple markup that's usually found in ebooks. As Andreas Vesalius knew, sometimes you can only understand how something works by taking it apart, and thankfully e-books are rather easier to anatomize than some other objects of study.

If you'd like to download some public-domain EPUB files that are free of DRM, there are lots of places to find them on the web, but Project Gutenberg is a good place to start. (And that's probably the only time I'll recommend Project Gutenberg for anything in this course.) For example, you can download a DRM-free version of the 1611 King James Bible, which we've examined in class, from this link: .

One you've saved one of the EPUB files to a local folder, you can rename the file suffix from .epub to .zip and decompress it. (In OSX I find StuffIt Expander works better than the other utilities for some reason.) Decompressing the file should create a new folder that will look a lot like the one we examined in class, and you can poke around using a web browser and text editor. (A good reference to the parts of an EPUB file can be found here: As an alternative to looking at the various EPUB sub-files directly, you can also open the .epub file itself (not the .zip file you created) in an EPUB editor such as Sigil or Calibre. Sigil is the one we looked at in class, which is a bit simpler to use.

On other fronts, in our last class we got onto a tangent (unheard of in my classes, I know...) about the genre of the "wordless novel." The work that introduced me to this genre, and which has been one of my favorite books to discover this past year, is Laurence Hyde's 1951 masterpiece, Southern Cross: a Novel of the South Seas, Told in Wood Engravings, which tells the story (wordlessly) of a nuclear test in the South Pacific. If you're looking for an excuse for a quiet hour in the Fisher reading room, you can call up their copy here: . It's one of the most moving books I've read in a long time, and it's inspiring to know that Hyde was from our neighbourhood (literally; he went to Central Technical High School a few blocks down Harbourd Street).

Finally, I also mentioned in class that the Centre for Reformation and Renaissnace Studies here at U of T is looking for an iSchool student to do a summer practicum with them. Details are posted in the discussion section of Blackboard.

Happy dissecting!

Update: I neglected to mention that the lecture slides are now posted to BB. Also, here is the link to the iSchool ebooks symposium even I mentioned:

Post-update update: At the beginning of class I also mentioned a New York Times article from last Fall that reported a recent slowing of e-book sales in relation to print. There were plenty of responses to this article, but one worth reading in particular is a piece in Fortune that disagrees with the NY Times article's interpretation of the sales data taken from the Association of American Publishers. Anyway, interesting times for our course, that's for sure.