Conversations in Books

After writing a bit about interactive reading a few days ago, I’ve dug up two more thoughts on the topic:

1) I’ve been reading Stephen North’s 1987 book The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field as part of my qualifying exam reading. (I should read approximately half a book a day for the next 8 weeks.) I bought it used online, and apparently it used to be owned by a Mr. Michael J. Ma____e (can’t read his signature), who bought it in May 1989.

I’ve appreciated Ma____e’s pleasant, restrained style of annotating the book: mostly small checks in the margin, rare penciled underlines, and even more rarely, with words jotted down. Even though my style is wildly messier, it’s okay because he went first, which allows me to nod in appreciation of the things he appreciated but not feel annoyed that my book came pre-scribbled.

(Which is more than I can say about my much-reread copy of Frederick Douglass’s first Narrative, which came with 1/4 of each page underlined in fat red marker. I keep almost buying another, but I can’t quite make myself take the plunge to replace something I already own. That would be like replacing my cassettes of U2’s War or Boyz II Men’s Cooleyhighharmony with CDs, or replacing our Mickey Mouse waffle iron with one that doesn’t produce waffles that smile at you as you rip off its ears. Waste drives me crazy!)

Here’s an example of my favorite exchange in North’s book:

Scan of Stephen North's book with caption

Scan of Stephen North's book with caption

Captain Ma____e thoughtfully responded to North’s phrase methodological integrity by asking, “Is this North’s God-term?” I responded with an emphatic, underlined, “Yes.”

How pleasant! It was like a face-to-face encounter, all three of us chatting (or really, me and Ma___e gossiping about North pouting in the corner) about an idea.  This is my ideal for public commenting in books: real, friendly exchange that takes place easily and unobstrusively in the same medium where I’m already reading.  One day. . . .

2) On a music journalist pal’s Twitter page, I learned about FLYP (all caps necessary?), an online magazine that a recent Atlantic piece describes thusly: “Imagine a full-screen PDF of a magazine page with embedded features, like flyout charts and music and clickable images.” (They also link to my buddy’s article! Sweet!)

It’s a dreamily pleasant layout experience–one of few web pages that I would really care about reading on a large, crisp monitor. But for my context here, I’m especially pleased by the handy “comment” button in the lower-right of each spread. Commenting online is nothing new, but there’s something pleasant about being allowed to comment on magazine content that’s laid out like a magazine–something even Wired doesn’t do online. I’m not sure if that’s an old fashioned impulse or not–a leftover memory of reading National Geographics in my grandpa’s adventure-stocked Ohio attic. But layout and design increasingly matters to me, more than it ever has before, and Flyp delivers–and it delivers in a way that keeps the conversation alive in a layout-happy space.

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