My review of Pallas Athene’s 2013 publication of Ford Madox Ford’s impressionistic memoirs, Memories of a Pre-Raphaelite Youth, has been published in the 01 October 2013 issue of Library Journal.
The memoirs in this volume have been selected from an earlier, now out-of-print, edition of Ford’s memoirs, edited by Michael Killigrew in 1971, titled Your mirror to My times: The Selected Autobiographies and Impressions of Ford Madox Ford.
Depths of the Phantom Library:
Jacques Bonnet Reaches for the Unreachable.
Jacques Bonnet writes in, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, of a vast library. No, not the Borgesian library of “The Library of Babel” or “The Book of Sand,” but a personal library he has collected for his own use – some 40,000 + volumes. Massive. I am a fan generally of books describing avid readers and collectors (though I am mostly of the first type) – books such as that fabulous pair of titles by Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude.
I have been recently rereading Jacques Bonnet’s book. In my progress through that book, I also found this essay/review piece of writing by Alonzo McBride called, “Phantoms and Personal Libraries,” which made stylistic sense to me and by acknowledging the metaphor of books and libraries as phantoms, I thought it perfectly appropriate to bring to light the essay and the book again. In a previous post of mine, I mentioned a quote setting up Bonnet’s premise of the blurred line between what makes a personal library and an institutional library.
The quote is, ““…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).
The library is a cultural heritage space as much as it is a personal heritage space. Sometimes these spaces are the same in space and sometimes they are not. The focus for Jacques Bonnet’s book is the personal library as memory collector for his own life. Even with that “narrow” focus, the book tackles nearly every issue institutional libraries must tackle except maybe ones related to archival technology such as finding aids or physical handling best practices, code such as XML and its publication on the web with CSS or anything having to do with web archiving. Bonnet certainly brings up the internet as it relates to text encoding, information searching, book buying experiences and the like. And in this humble blogger’s opinion, all the above technical services could be extrapolated to take account of Bonnet’s collection. Or…he could reissue the book with all the ways be built a homegrown OPAC for his personal use. 😉
Specifically, Bonnet discusses issues of categorization (the eternal question). He mentions the French OULIPO writer, Georges Perec, when he makes his “brave attempt at listing the possible methods of classifying one’s books: “alphabetically; by continent or country; by colour; by date of acquisition; by date of publication; by size; by genre; by literary period; by language; by frequency of consultation; by binding; by series” (37). One sees from this list how several of the categorization headings would be preferred by a person over an institution – “by date of acquisition” as the best example. Yet, even this category system applies to libraries that have a “recently arrived” or “new” section to encourage library users to catch up on what’s current. Except, even this classification does take into account the difference between newly acquired due to recent publication or newly acquired due to replacement for damage etc. Some of the other categories (which obviously fails to take into account anything like LC Classification or Universal Dewey) are well suited for research libraries – such as “by literary period” or even “binding” in a rare books special collection. The largest flaw, however, in Perec’s classification is the total lack of subject access (which has to be the single most challenging classification of them all) – though some of the other categories work with subject access.
Bonnet does bring to light one aspect of his own classification I will write as ABSTRACT vs. CONCRETE (102-103). In the first he puts subjects such as theology, religion, philosophy, literary topics and science. It is interesting he defines “science” as abstract instead of concrete. In the second category he drops in history, anthropology, biography and documents (though it is not clear to what this term applies). One can appreciate the presuppositions necessary to refer to one subject as abstract and another as concrete even though both may be examples of humans thinking and writing their words. I recommend everyone reading this also go out and take a look at the subdivisions within Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Dewey, and thesauri such as the one for art and architecture published by Getty by first examining the depth and granularity of each system within its own rules and then by looking through World Cat and Library of Congress catalog records.
I fully understand Bonnet’s book is personal – not designed to be an institutional best standard for understanding large collections. But even from this personal point of view, it is not without meaning (I recommend this book be on the curriculum for all ischools). Other examples of meaning come through his acknowledgment of the internet’s impact on not just information as a whole as it relates to libraries, but also the procedures by which a person or institution acquires new materials – scaled digital content in the form of periodicals searchable through aggregation technologies or the purchasing of new print items such as monographs from academic presses (though he talks about how collectors use the internet to search for titles unavailable locally).
The truth is the book is simply pleasurable to read. And it asks the same questions all libraries ask themselves: how long should a title be kept in a research collection (or a public library) if it circulates infrequently?; how does one best use space limitations (of which every library has a few struggles as such)?; and what happens in the event of the death of the collector or a fire in the library?
Bonnet includes a quote by Petite Larousse (a lexicon) of the term, “fantôme [phantom]” – a sheet or card inserted to mark the place of a book removed from a library shelf, or a document which has been removed” (110).
The remainder of what was there before… What was there before? Was it a resource that got weeded from the collection? Was it a library that became underfunded over time? Was it a trace of an object that was reformatted as a digital object available on the open web or behind a subscription pay-wall? Something is missing. For Bonnet, even if he chooses, as do so many other librarians (personal and institutional), not to lend any out any items from his collection, the fundamental missing feature among such ideas as not having time to read every book in the library, not having enough shelf space to best hold each item and not having a perfect classification system of either knowledge or objects is lack of total control of the library. The library, as the first quite implies, is made of a river of occurrences that enter and exit the way time and life itself enters and exits at varied and uncertain rates. I would say Jacques Bonnet’s fun little book for book geeks revels in, and still tries to make sense from, the powerful uncertainty in this world.
One must be willing to change as the collection itself changes.
The question arises then if anyone will be able to insert a fantôme in every changing moment life as it changes into something else so we’ll be reminded of what used to be.
Thank you for reading.
Reference: Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.
I have been reading this blog post by Alonzo McBride and rereading PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES by Jacques Bonnet. Great book.
There are plenty of relevant points in the small text to library collections and knowledge/resource organization.
I do, however, want to highlight a few lines right now.
“…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).
Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from the French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.
Thank you for reading.
E-readers have become standard objects used by patrons of libraries – academic and public alike. There are a slew of devices with which one can read and listen to their electronic audio and text-based books. Interfaces vary, variations in digitizing touch-to-action exist and screens are different. Some, such as the Nook by Barnes and Noble Booksellers and the Kindle by Amazon, are marketed specifically as internet friendly readers. Then there is the mini-Ipad, the Kobo reader and different builds of hardware on the Android platform such as the Nexus. The Nook even has ‘apps’ designed to work on its platform – a hybrid of Android and proprietary software. Each of these readers and/or features is not unimportant. I could even bring up differences in tablet readers and e-ink devices. I won’t. I want to talk about differences in implementation of reader software. I want to look specifically at real differences in e-publication formats, how they change what reading is as an activity on an electronic device and how formats are tied to reader software. No, I’m not here to break down code or look at processing algorithms. Fascinating stuff of course. But that analysis goes elsewhere.
There are many formats in which to read publications electronically. There is HTML, EPUB, Kindle and PDF (and a few others for readers popular around the globe). PDF works with lots of reader software, though not all. Kindle, of course, works only within the Kindle device or reader app because it’s a proprietary code. EPUB is not. It will work with readers as far afield as the NOOK, any Android Device and readers such as Kobo or the one sold by Sony. There are lots of publishers who, in an effort to expand the range of creativity in reader choices, publish only in EPUB. It’s generally considered an “open-source” coding for text. There are differences, however, in implementation of use of EPUB or PDF – wherein we note the crux of this piece of writing.
EPUB is designed to work with many readers. But the way it works with different readers changes depending on the vender of the electronic item. For example, two popular reader software applications that are compatible with EPUB and PDF and have been used by public libraries in my area: the first is the most popular eBook vender, Overdrive (which is a vender and a reader application); the second is Bluefire (which is a reader only with built in links to online spots to buy books or to download public domain titles).
I currently read on a Google Nexus 7, touchscreen obviously (though I use my stylus to turn “pages” a lot) and I use both the OverDrive and BlueFire applications for EPUB and PDF texts. OverDrive is not as convenient a reader to use as Bluefire because it is tied to its connection firstly as a reader of books borrowed from the library. The application itself has a GET BOOKS tab through which books can be searched in libraries’ eBook collections. OverDrive works as a portal to the library’s catalog of eBooks. BlueFire is not as tethered. It operates as a third party option available to the reader to choose which reader to use if the option is allowed by the objects being considered or publisher controls etc. OverDrive does not list the actual format of the books in its library while Bluefire does – to the right of the title OverDrive just says eBook while Bluefire lists EPUB or PDF. The difference is no inherently wrong. Bluefire simply has slightly fuller metadata while OverDrive probably sees itself (just a guess here) as a reader use by the populace who (they think) don’t care about “technical” aspects of the text in front of their eyes.
The issue of metadata certainly marks a difference between these two readers. But it does not mark the most important distinction in my fBook (f for figurative 😉 ). The most important implementation variant between these two readers is the difference between content/quantity representation models in use – specifically the way in which each reader represents pagination in eBooks. OverDrive DOES NOT use page numbers – a fact which I believe to be problematic for reasons of making reference to books read, annotations made for future reference and ability to cite. In fact, this is an even more problematic feature of OverDrive because as more and more texts are being consumed in eFormat, if one’s ability to cite books for reference and scholarly purposes (professional or amateur researchers) is restricted, the reference to other books and facts built for new writing will be challenging. Bluefire does not have this issue. It lists the eBook as containing pages 1-whatever). OverDrive chooses instead to subdivide every section of the eBook into page sections that are counted as percentages.
For instance, instead of showing the first page of Chapter 3 of a book I am reading on Physics starting on page 40 as it does in the paper text, it represents this “page” as “Page 1 of 19” with Chapter Progress of 5.3% and whole book progress as 13%. The page number itself really means nothing in relation to the whole eBook and percentages have nothing to do with reading page-to-page. The lack of ability to cite this text – again, a feature tied to its use by the populace who OverDrive believes does not care to do reference work – is a major problem. But it’s also a contradictory stance because I bet the same popular reader is just as happy to be able to know what “page” they’re reading. I can’t imagine anyone really cares about what percentage of each chapter is finished within the overall book except as an arbitrary number to call out. These percentages smack of computer modeling and lack the granularity of real page counts. Bluefire does not have this problem. It has some of the same ability to jump from section to section by using a dropdown contents tab. But it makes reference to pagination within the overall structure of the content being read. This feature increases the granularity of the reading experience and makes citation possible with the use of as few marks as possible in the citation.
Thank you for your time. Take a look at different eReaders and don’t hesitate to reply here or at Twitter. I am always open for discussion and learning.
Dr. Black’s Creative Empiricism – A Book Review
E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. Quirk Books. 2013. ISBN: 978159476161
E.B. Hudspeth has added something new to the world of mid-Atlantic & New England horror/dark fantasy with The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. He does this by taking the world of art, the world of Edgar Allen Poe and creates an amalgamation with some of the darkest stuff from H.P. Lovecraft. This is not to say The Resurrectionist is derivative of either Poe or Lovecraft. But where some advertising for the book talks about Poe, the book actually exhibits a more subtle reference to ole’ Edgar combined with a heavier reliance upon Lovecraft.
My review copy is incomplete unfortunately. It is an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) – a galley copy in paperback missing art from some sections. The text is present as well as all organization segments making the book what it will be in the final hardcover publication format. The importance of the missing pages relates to the suggestion in the narration of the importance of the creature, Harpy Erinyes – a female human-like being with bird like legs and large wings – to Dr. Spencer Black, the genius doctor with skills in studying mysterious beings and elaborate surgical procedures. Without these images, one loses a sense of the attention paid this particular creature. Hey, but maybe these missing pages become part of the real “lost work.”
The Resurrectionist is, in part, a biography of Dr. Spencer Black, born in Boston, Mass in 1851 as well as a “lost” work containing detailed genus/species style drawings in which are exhibited deconstructed views of vanished beings no longer commonly seen in the world. This collision of art and storytelling is not new to dark fantasy. I think about Lovecraft’s innovative story, “Pickman’s Model,” a yarn of some darkness about a man who found in the bowels of an old city unseen mysterious inspiration for macabre paintings. There are no images in Lovecraft’s story. But one yearns to see them. In this work, Hudspeth (himself an artist) includes lots of drawings of creatures such as Minotaurus Asterion, Satyrus Hircinus, Siren Oceanus and afore mentioned Harpy Erinyes. The allusion here is not to inspiration. Inspiration comes through in other creative ways in the novel. Rather, the drawings allude to another even older form of scientific art – Dr. Henry Gray’s drawings in his famous anatomy book from 1918 – and also coincidentally published in Pennsylvania. The images are integral to the work. Each one will be present in the final edition.
On the subject of scientific art, it is here where Lovecraft’s influence is most felt through the work. Not art as in images, but the art of dedicating oneself to finding out the “truth.” A large current running through Lovecraft’s work is the type of story in which a main character becomes intrigued to find out something seen or heard and then follows each possible clue until that thing is found. The problem with this choice for nearly every character whose narrative conforms to this story structure is the characters end up locked away or doing their very best to dissuade anyone else from following in their footsteps. They become traumatized. Nearly 100 years earlier (1818), Mary Shelley structured Frankenstein similarly. Dr. Spencer Black is a young doctor with tons of adoration and respect when he begins his tenure at the Academy of Medicine. He performs surgeries and wrote well-received papers on the medical questions of his day – 1870s Philadelphia. Dr. Black is well respected and well paid.
All this changes as he turns more of his energy to figuring out the anatomy of all these mythical beings he is sure exist. And of course, as a scientist, empiricism must reign in his methods. The core of the book and the real Lovecraftian influence is felt through as Dr. Spencer Black’s “methods” are explored by E.B. Hudspeth.
The book is dominated by a detached tone. As if he is writing a history. The sections are even segmented by years, e.g., 1869: The Academy of Medicine or 1878: The Fawn-Child. This reserved style adds a lot to the text. Especially in contrast to the fantastical art and the nearly unbelievable way in which Dr. Black swerves his life away from love and peace. The art, as stated above, is stylized after Dr. Henry Gray. But the subject matter…well…therein is the book’s core and play. I have looked through Gray’s Anatomy and have seen none of Dr. Black’s images in those pages.
I recommend it.
PS: A copy of this review has also been published at LibraryThing.