* There've been several abortive analog revivals --which amounted to barely noticeable resurgences of film cameras, vinyl phonograph records, vacuum tube amplifiers, "paper people" and their fountain pens.
* Also, and it's much more than an ephemeral trend: this is most certainly the "age of self" and self expression --however exploited and shallow, via "social media", web pages, products, services and brand reviews/feed-back, reader comments, and (arghhhh) "tweeting".
** It got by me (until yesterday) when (in 2015) the historical and literary importance of annotations was formally trotted out. See an account of an exhibition ("among the first of its kind to focus explicitly on annotated books") titled: Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library.
So now, this modest proposal:
Let's institutionalize annotations by simply adding a bit of space to the top^ or lower right "recto" pages of books --space which would accommodate and invite thoughts/insights of the moment (before they evaporate), --
--as well as more considered contributions --perhaps to begin a serial discussion across time with the book's author and whoever the next reader might be: an older self, a grandchild, or some future, unknown, reading companion. Annotated reader comments make a book unique, possibly to become a family heirloom or even a literary contribution in its own right. Eloquently executed or not, such a book also becomes a "time capsule" for others to discover.
^ Upper right would be easier for right handed entries. Longer contributions could either carry over to the next page or to the book's provided "end papers".
* I love the idea of annotated books --for their timeless, simple technology of ink-on-paper, for their "long now" (world without end) cultural horizon, for the potential of community that they hold --and across generations.
* Memos and helpful annotations added to an e-book via (say) a "Post-a-Note" utility in an e-reader type application --are unlikely to survive. Whereas a book's contents might patiently wait decades or even a century to be picked up, appreciated, and to once again find living expression --our digital devices (along with any contributions there-in) are likely to end their short lives in some God-forsaken, 3rd world, toxic electronics dump.
* I expect this renewed literary tradition (thanks to readers responding to the encouragement of provided comment space) would sell quite a few extra gift copies of popular books. Reader-responders would want their circle of friends to see their (nicely copied over, polished/reconsidered) commentaries.
** I'm talking affordable paperbacks and I'm talking volume sales: four packs, ten packs --as with-it publishing houses race to grab market share with "spaced" versions of familiar and new titles. They'd become the perfect, personalized (with your own annotations), ever-so-mailable, spontaneous "in" gift --at least among the educated, the literate, plus those who emulate and aspire to same.
** But let's also talk of a publishing
renaissance and an (as yet) untapped market for higher priced, upscale,
multi-copy book sets --complete with calligraphic nibs, pens and several
included inks. (Publishers: hello!)
** People increasingly multi-task --texting and walking, reading and eating, web browsing the book's references, petting a cat --and/or writing those annotations. Therefore I'm not talking about having to hold a "self-shutting" paperback open with two hands (and then keep repositioning it to follow text down into a skimpy binding margin).
* That means (and per my entry at the top of this web page): going to lay-flat, comb, spiral or some other kind of a user-friendly binding innovation.
Hey: we're all spoiled now by
our flat mobile and laptop screens^^ --which don't have to be "held open"
to read (or to write upon) --right?
* Isn't it interesting how adverse we (currently) feel about "scribbling" more than a gift inscription into a book? Why? Our personal and sincere contributions could end up being more appreciated and memorable than fancy hardback binding, gift wrapping, or maybe the book's content itself.
This 2-way-book proposal seems to dovetail nicely with a coherent and well established approach to "releasing books into the wild":
* BookCrossing management, per their FAQs #91 and #86, is almost of two minds about placing their tagged books in for-sale venues. This is understandable in that (and it's just myself talking here), being centrally data accessible, BXers would be put in a situation of having professional book sharks glomming onto placed books before anyone else could get to them. (Happens anyway?)
Of course, one might see resale as part of the "natural life cycle" of books (owner - buyer-reseller, or owner-Amazon.com-owner), and it doesn't seem fair that BXers have to buy their books at the regular new or used price, but feel hesitant to recover part of that price, or to pass any gain on to a charitable book sale. (The argument that BXers can find their books at other placement sites doesn't hold. I understand that most BX released books simply vanish.)
* BookCrossing only allows ink-on-paper books into
its system. This is also understandable in that BookCrossing is about books.
(Presumably, they'd also prefer not to get into the middle of copyright
enforcement actions against easily duplicated/forged media.)
* The "World Lending Library" concept (per that other sticker in the open book photo) (which has no other Web presence that I'm aware of) --also encourages the free placement and circulation of books, but has no problem with placements of other media or with the resale of tagged items through any type of commerce or charity. Books tagged with the WLL sticker can be sold to a book store, left in co-operating restaurants, coffee houses, service clubs, donated to charitable or public library book sales for "the next person". WLL tagged books that you value can also be kept in your personal library indefinitely --but please consider buying a replacement copy or two for "the next person/s"^. Annotations are also encouraged (minimally signed or anonymously is okay).
* Participants should, of course, expect and respect the right of their book exchange host to review titles before placing them on the shelf for her/his customers/patrons to see. (Please: nothing overtly "lewd".) So simply use their donation box. Staff will then place your book or other item onto their book shelves.
^ Again: the first copy of a book you care enough about to annotate is likely to be a keeper, so we're probably talking a bit of "book evangelism" here --through purchasing additional copies and doing re-drafts of your original comments.
* With the invention and the acceptance of e-inkTM, Paper-likeTM and the reMarkableTM tablet screens (per: https://getremarkable.com/ ), the future of ink-on-paper publishing is looking dicey --but: let's take another look. A renaissance of paper (real paper) might come upon us as rapidly as have our many digital revolutions --providing that publishers keep up with our --expressive-- cultural times.
This be the "paperless" era?
You might recall that we're now supposed to be living well into a "paperless" future. Instead, we've been buying stationery by the case instead of the ream. A big break for paper came when the desktop printer industry finally broke ranks on the per-page cost of ink. (I suppose that 24/7 Postal service is too much to wish for.)
However, and being more realistic: the transition from our popular preoccupation with PC/desk top home and office systems (all those cables!) --to do-all, hand-held/back pocket "smart phones" --does indeed suggest that a wide spread alienation from ink and paper is well under way. "Re-tweeting" (and such) is a far cry from editing literary efforts (however humble), images, web pages and proper (USPS transmitted) correspondence, so let's try to swim against the current cultural tide.
* There've been a number of works like the seminal "The Annotated Alice^" (by Martin Gardner), for classic titles which could benefit from informed, entertaining commentary and guidance. Before Gardner's book they may have amounted to "The Annotated ____", but without so declaring. We own an 1845 edition of Rev. Milman's "Gibbon's Rome" --a reboot of Edward Gibbon's 1776-1788 "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", but with ample footnoting. Such clarification and backgrounding for old terms, implicit assumptions, concepts and turns of phrase are most welcome.
Our own, perhaps more ordinary comments, dissents, criticisms, supplementary information and corrections might also make welcome reading companionship --cramped though they be into the thin margins of standard books.
^The Annotated Alice places Gardner's comments at the end of each chapter, whereas Milman's footnotes are on the same page (as are Witold Rybczynski's) --which is far more user friendly. Consequently, and except for reading through the original text, the PDF copy of The Annotated Alice that I have is not very usable. Gardner's comments were probably meant to hotlink back and forth, but that utility doesn't work. (I'm using a year 2014 version 6.2+ of "Foxit" reader and my PDF copy of Alice is dated 2006.)
My on-going, real world, anchoring experience --in appending comments to another person's work --is via traveling folios of 3-D print pairs, which the Stereoscopic Society of America has been sending around the United States by Post for almost 100 years (35 of them on my watch). These traditionally formatted, often artistically executed "view cards" --the kind which fit into a classic "parlor stereoscope", have a subject or scene on the front and a description/legend on the back. At each stop our members contribute comments, much in the vein I'm suggesting here for books --onto each view's protective sleeve, provided flap and/or into the folio's notebook (which is for our more extended comments). I'm so steeped in this practice that it's only with effort --that I resist lifting and looking behind framed paintings to see if there might be some kind of a legend on their versos as well. :-)
--Anthony Grafton (of Princeton) discussed how assiduously books use to be read --"pen in hand" for annotations and/or entries in a "copy book". This be serious reading. I agree with Grafton that today's computers and e-book readers (like the Kindle system) can amount to the same intensity --as we juggle and struggle between open windows, other sources, keyword searches, "saves"/organizing download folders, and even digital "Post-a-Notes" (which stay on a reader's screen/page). But I also agree that today's readers skim/p.
The first segment in that TBOOK PODcast (with Mary Ann Wolf) suggested that the displacement of printed books by e-book and Internet web pages depletes the focus, good reading habits and expectations we use to cultivate by reading printed pages --that the typical digital reading grist, the HTML links and the styles we encounter, cultivates a "grasshopper mind". (Nice term :-)
* Again: ephemeral digital entries into some proprietary device seem a poor follow-on to such past practices of "serious reading". Instead of digital entries, instead of scrawling comments into the marginal margins of real books, I propose that space be provided to facilitate both casual and serious annotation --including the tradition of blank end pages for the reader's indexing, extended footers, references and remarks. (Having a digital copy of a title as well can --of course-- be a great convenience in recovering things only half remembered, but an added personal index plus "tabbing out" salient pages of real books also helps immensely.)
Grafton and interviewer Ann Strangechamps (spell?) sounded apologetic about their own dog-earing of pages, underlining and such. Well tch-tch --especially if that extends to annotations. There's potential treasure to be found in the margins of annotated books.
Partly because of such book idolizing perceptions, marked up books are usually sold at steep discount. (And also: because many folks make such a cryptic mess of their contributions.)
There's also that "déclassé" thing: not wanting to share a public transportation seat (or a public book) with the "unwashed". But a book doesn't have to be annotated by some notable eminence (say: you have a reproduction of a marked up book from Sir Isaac Newton's private library). Any sincere notation provides us with the insights of and insights into a fellow reading companion --along with the times s/he lives/d in: the very basis of would-be cultures of record, which authors of fiction and non-fiction attempt to capture.
In the democratic spirit of Wikipedia's open editing and "Talk" sections; in blogs and in the comments sections of web page presentations, ever more people want to engage with topics, authors and even material products. We are, by and large, no longer content to simply take what's given to us^^. We have our own (however cock-eyed) opinions to lodge. Newspapers, magazines, TV and radio shows need Web sites and "Letters sections" for these outpourings --and just look at those Amazon.com reviews: they're gushing away about products, book, CD and DVD titles.
(^^The establishment tried to foist Hillary on us --didn't work. We got --arghhh-- Trump.)
* So: I suggest that books have not only fallen behind the times, but that they could have long since been leading --and to better places. I also suggest that there's a reseller's future in "scribbled-up" books, especially if provision is normally made for that very purpose, and as the idea and acceptance of informally annotated books matures. Given published comment space and the expectation of finding reader contributions in a used book, such added remarks would cease to look like graffiti --and readers would take more care with their entries. After all: books are forever--
* I tried this approach but it seems a poor solution, plus they're likely to be thoughtlessly removed.
* At this writing, nothing seems totally satisfactory. Even a half page of blank space (every other page) would soon be chockablock full after the book has passed through a few hands --but then again: life is like that. We always have to work within limitations --and are often the better for it.
Yes: the scholarly thing would be to write a proper, published review or another book, but that doesn't get at the goal of a more democratic and conversational state of engagement.
Another consideration is that digitally annotating
(onto/into an e-book) and then passing it around presents copyright and
"creative control" problems (assuming it's even "DRM" possible to forward
a copy + notes that way). Of course, were an author to e-publish under
a liberal Creative Commons license or (preferably) straight into public
domain, then some sort of a modifiable digital format would seem to be
feasible --but that's another and a rather remote (to this page) issue.
* So okay, I bit the bullet and just started scritching in my marginal comments with a sharp pencil, hoping some other solution "would find me" via the actual doing of it. I wrote what I could squeeze in, going to the next page when needed, gently using an eraser for any changes. The result is rather messy --but it's (what?) honest/real.
* Hmmnnn some more: just found out this is a somewhat
coveted, out of print, first edition. (Oh well.)
That does raise the issue of costs, however.
Rare and new books --especially about specialized subjects like astronomy and technical matters, can be costly. For some of us, it will take the courage of our convictions to crowd in our marginal comments. For myself and my wife, however --we just can't help ourselves: scritch scritch, underline underline, tab tab, dog ear dog ear. (She even highlights --and does so at length.)
* Never-the-less, I'm imagining books with contributions
(of modest length) by more than one reader --and that they'd actually increase
the 2nd hand value of a book (some day). Were notables and/or the
original author to participate, such a book might rise to auction and reprint
status (with its annotations and discussions, of course).
* Right: as a percentage, relatively few people read books at all, let alone actively engage them. However, the actual number of people this small percentage represents is not only marketably large, these reading, thinking, writing people are the basis of our (written-down) culture of record (and I can imagine more/other folks catching a new wave of book annotation).
* Physically: the two-way-book should be published on a reasonable facsimile of decent weight writing stationery with any gloss finish limited to images.
Such "text", "lab" and "work books" are well enough in their place, but instead of interest and hobby-killing assigned exercises, the self-motivated general public would surely prefer convenient opportunities to log a reader's spontaneous responses/thoughts, project ideas, sketches and sightings/observations. Such accommodation could not only provide a two-way digestive outlet, but lead serious readers on to more scholarly practices, additional self-made journals and log books.
Again: the upper (say) quarter of each right-hand^ page would be left blank or printed with faintly ruled lines for the reader's entries. Even novels could benefit from the courtesy of a bit of provided space.
(^ Does an upper right space work well enough for left-handed
"Reading fuels the brain". "True communication is a two-way process". To best fix/anchor what's been gained, we need some kind of an outlet --at least a handy place to log our comments, insights and "take-homes". As added thoughts to the very sources from which they sprang, they'd be easier to recover and assess (by ourselves and others), even at a much later date.
* With such entry spaces and adequate text line spacing ("leading"), otherwise normal margins and (comb) binding allowance should serve --at least for the initial owner-reader-responder. (End papers for the rest.)
* With development, spreading acceptance, and in qualified hands, the "two way book" could also result in many new "The Annotated _____" titles. Re-issues of annotated public domain classics are of course a natural, but I'd expect follow-on titles in co-operation and contract with modern authors as well.
Republishing every worthwhile title in 2WB format,
then over and again with a multitude of good commentaries. (Hey: that could
become brisk business!)
^^^ Regarding Kindle readers and Kindle-like programs for various computers/devices: they allow one to annotate the pages of "your" copy of an e-book. However, you don't actually own your copy. The fine print makes it clear that you own nothing --and that your book might even be made to evaporate. I doubt that one would be allowed to transmit an annotated page to someone else for discussion. For a short presentation on such matters, see Charlie Rogers' authoritative comments at: