What’s been gnawing at me lately

cat chewing on an e-reader

One of the things that I find gets more difficult year after year—and I can’t tell if this is more because I’m getting older, or because I’m letting myself be pelted with information faster and harder than ever before, or because I don’t write as regularly as I used to—is synthesizing ideas. I spend hours each day gathering information, and some days it seems like for every page I read on the Web, I open or bookmark two more to read later. Yet when an occasion arises for me to state what I think about what I’ve read, I most often end up blurting out whatever my gut tells me, rather than what’s the result of deliberate analysis and consideration—because who has time to ruminate? I’ve heard the rumor, of course, that our guts know more than we think they do, but as I haven’t yet had time to read up on the subject, I can’t say to what extent or in what circumstances that’s true. My gut is whispering to me, however, that my gut is often misguided or misinformed.

For at least the last few months, as I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do (a) for my master’s thesis and (b) to pay back my student loans after I finish the damn thing, I’ve been trying to absorb as much information as possible about e-books, e-readers, and the future of the book in general. I’ve read articles, essays, and tweets; listened to podcasts, panels, and lectures; watched videos and (sorry to have to use this word:) webinars; and talked with a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of talking at people, too, pushing and no doubt breaking the limits of courtesy with dozens of unfortunate friends, acquaintances, and strangers as I try to articulate what my gut tells me about all this partially digested input. And I’ve written about a few small things, trying to finely chew at least some corners of the subject.

Just in the last week, thanks to the Digital Book World conference and Apple’s iPad announcement, I’ve skimmed, read, watched, heard, or bookmarked thousands of chunks of content—most of them tweets, since I wasn’t present at either event but followed along through hashtags and Twitter lists—having to do with books in the digital era.

And what do I think about all of it?

I don’t know.
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“books do certain things well and digital technologies do other things well”

There’s a fab article hidden behind the Chronicle of Higher Education paywall:

Some years ago, Terry Belanger found a striking way to reveal the reverence that many citizens of the digital age continue to feel for old books. It is a sentiment he finds fascinating but only rarely appropriate or useful. Belanger, who retired in September as director of an educational institute called Rare Book School but who continues to teach there, brings an old volume to class, speaks about its binding and typography, and then, still discussing the book, rips it in half and tears it into pieces. As his horrified students watch in disbelief, Belanger tosses the shards into a nearby trash can and murmurs, “Bibliography isn’t for sissies.”

The Book Mechanic: A modern sensibility binds Terry Belanger to old, rare volumes, by Andrew Witmer (Chronicle Review 41, December 6, 2009).

(Via Guy, who got it from @roncharles)
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Waveitations

Update: Okay, okay, David Lawson had the patience to build a proper website to do this, so I hereby recommend that you swap Wave invitations over there instead of through my improvised gig: WaveShare.org.

If anybody here is pining for a Google Wave invitation, some friends and I have pooled our resources and are filling requests as they come in. Post a comment here or at Clusterflock, and I’ll add you to the nomination list. Many of our nominees have been able to sign onto Wave within a few hours; you could be Waving by dinnertime!

Don’t know what in tarnation Wave is? This Mashable guide is pretty informative. So far, all I’ve used Wave for is to distribute invitations to Google Wave . . . but it works well for that!

Photo: free by tonx; some rights reserved.

That part of the future which is here today

page heart

As you may have gathered, if you’ve been following along, the reason I no longer post much around here is that I’m in grad school, in a program that doesn’t have anything to do with books. Not usually, anyway. It’s a two-year master’s deal, and I have to come up with a thesis sometime in the next couple of months, so I’m hoping to find some way to work books back into it. In the meantime, however, most of the connection between school and books is in the readings I do for my classes.

A few of these readings are in the form of actual bound books, most of which I’ve bought because I don’t have time to wait for them to be available at the library. Many more of the texts I have to read are stapled photocopies, just as Gutenberg printed them when I was in college six hundred years ago. But the majority of my readings this semester are online, either on good, old-fashioned Web pages or in dedicated e-book sites such as Safari or Books24x7, to which my university subscribes.

So, uh, I know it’s old news, but reading books onscreen sucks.
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California, here I come!

book bindings

Now I know what I’ll be doing next time I’m in SF: Tim James of Taurus Bookbindery has opened the American Bookbinders Museum. The Chronicle reports.

In the museum sits an 800-pound Imperial arming press from 1832 that James bought and had shipped from France three years ago. Asked how expensive that was, he answers “frightfully,” declining to elaborate. James has been working on the museum for 15 years, accumulating paper cutters, paper samples, lettering tools, contraptions for lining blank paper, photos, manuals, and union pins from the International Brotherhood of Bookbinders.

Earlier this year he attained nonprofit status and started giving tours by appointment. In August he opened to the public. Admission is free and on Saturdays binder Tom Conroy is there working in the traditional fashion.

Even if you’re not going to San Francisco in the foreseeable future, do look at their website, which includes, among other things, a database of books annotated with salty comments such as,

Edition:
First, one hopes
Annotations:
This may not be the most utterly useless self-published book ever written on binding your own books; and it may not be the very worst bound. It must, however, be in the final running for both prizes.
Condition:
Covers heavily cockled, pages cockled at gutter, from poor binding technique

(On A How-To Guide: Bookbinding from Home)

Have any of you dear readers yet been there? If so, please report.

(Thanks, Jack!)

My Kind of Town

CCBP nameplate

Last week I went to Chicago for two days, to see what there was to see. I had lunch with Maia Wright, a now-even-more-cherished visitor to this blog, and spent an afternoon tooling around with Sheila Ryan, whom I also originally met in the comments here and who led me over to my blog-away-from-home, Clusterflock. In between these two planned and much anticipated treats, a friend hooked me up with an impromptu personal tour of the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, led by Clifton Meador, who—in addition to making his own gorgeous books—directs the MFA program there.
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When, not if

Backup Tapes

Today over tea I was holding forth about backup methods, which reminded me that I’ve long meant to post something about how I’ve been handling it. To wit: right now, I’ve got a two-part system—constant partial backup online via SugarSync and less frequent but complete offline backup using Time Machine and an external hard drive.

Yes, I got backup religion the hard way, by having my laptop drive fail in 2006 when it was six months out of standard warranty. I was able to salvage most of my data using Prosoft Data Rescue, but only because I happened to notice before it went into a complete dive that the drive had failed its S.M.A.R.T. status test. Now I keep Smart Reporter in my menu bar, and I back up constantly and redundantly, over and over again, a lot. And I always fork up the money for AppleCare, which replaced that dead drive in a weekend.
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