30 September 2009

Toys for the bibliophile

Alright, I really want a DC-area bookstore to get one of these, like, yesterday. It's a new machine that can produce a library-quality paperback book in about four minutes. Currently, the soon-to-be-renamed Espresso has a fairly limited catalog (but it does have the Google books collection), but could lead to cheaper and more readily accessible books. The prices that the Harvard Bookstore are offering seem a tad bit high, especially when the On Demand Books website mentions that "Production cost is a penny a page and minimal human intervention is required for operation."

Nevertheless, this machine could have a huge impact on making out-of-print books available again. If you can have the choice between printing a new copy of an out-of-print book, or searching for a used copy for what may be a higher price, the decision seems easy. But more importantly, I think, is what we are starting to see in the world of books. With E-Readers soaring in popularity, and the means to read Public Domain books online, we are beginning to see the decommodification of the book as an object.

It's not going to be very long before we no longer prize having the actual object and merely want the content instead. And before the traditionalists have the chance to howl at me for blasphemy, look at what has happened in the world of music. As mp3s were introduced, people clamored that sound quality was poor and you lost the connection with actual albums. Well, it appears that iTunes and the like are the way of the future, and most of the complaints about missing the tangible are gone. It makes sense that sound was so easily adapted, because the process of consumption remains the same, regardless of the media on which the product is distributed. However, with books, we have to find a way to serve the product that is amenable to everyone.

The Espresso keeps with the standard format of giving us bound paper, but I think it will help to devalue the idea of having your own copy. Lose a copy of Three Musketeers? Who cares?! You can print a new one down the street! Additionally, if the publishing world embraces the idea, it will mean bookstores no longer have to keep massive stock on hand to satisfy all possible needs. Instead, we could see bookstores reduced to ATM-esque kiosks.

With all of this said, I'm not sure how I feel about the possibilities of the Espresso. Sure, it's a GREAT toy, and a really awesome concept. But there is no feeling quite like browsing around a book store. I know I can get anything I want on Amazon, but I still go to brick-and-mortar stores so I get the opportunity to browse and perhaps be taken by a whim. It's one of the joys of being a reader. I'm afraid to lose that, because it means taking fewer chances, and finding fewer surprises. So while I encourage the idea behind the Espresso, I am leery of implications it could have. What are your thoughts?

29 September 2009

Dracula: Infinite Summer Style

http://infinitesummer.org/dracula/You may have heard of the reading craze that swept the nation this summer: Infinite Summer, an online community reading David Foster Wallace's doorstop Infinite Jest. Victoria, over at Views from the Page and the Oven, partook and was almost inspiration enough for me to do the same. But, in the end, I couldn't bring myself to tackle the work when I had so many other things I wanted to read.

Infinite Summer: Dracula

Well, luckily for me, the gang at Infinite Summer had such a good time that they decided to pick another book to read after Summer was over (or was it ever really over, being infinite and all). They've chosen the considerably less hefty, and significantly less post-modern Dracula by Bram Stoker. It's a fairly manageable reading schedule spread out over the month of October, and fear not, you don't even have to buy a copy! As announced today, they will be having Jonathan McNicol provide a newly typeset version of the Public Domain work in PDF installments over the course of the project. Otherwise, you can pick up a copy on the cheap from pretty much anywhere. So come and join. You should be able to read without putting down your other books. I know I will be multitasking American Prometheus, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (more on that later), and Dracula.

22 September 2009

Irony is good for the diet

After my little rant about Satchel (brief review: a horrible book by a man who at times seems to know nothing about baseball, especially advanced statistical metrics), I've dived into another biography. In a wonderful turn of events, however, this one is magnificent already. The book is American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. I'm sure I'll write more about it later, but I had to post one little delicious bit of irony I came across.

A little back story. As I may have mentioned before, I'm a graduate student in music history at UMD. This being my second year of the MA program, I have to write a thesis, and I've chosen to study John Adams' opera Doctor Atomic. It's the story of Oppenheimer in the days leading up to the first test of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM. If you have a chance to see or hear it, do so, as it is a really stunning work and one that I think is going to carve itself a place in the permanent repertoire of opera companies around the world.

With that said, I came across this little bit (page 31 of the paperback edition) that makes me smile at the fantastic irony of Adams' work.
The one thing Boyd and Oppenheimer did not have in common was music. "I was very fond of music," Boyd recalled, "but once a year he would go to an opera, with me and Bernheim usually, and he'd leave after the first act. He just couldn't take any more." Herbert Smith had also noticed this peculiarity, and once said to Robert, "You're the only physicist I've ever known who wasn't also musical."
I wonder what Oppie would think of the opera about him?