First things first.
As much as it may surprise you, we’re not in the business of replacing physical books. We love them too much.
Let’s face it. None of us can escape the digitized world and the many ways in which it makes our lives easier. At Diesel, we’re knee deep in it obviously. Yet, we still see our mission more as a way to supplement actual books. Truth be told, what we’re hoping to do is to fill a convenience niche. Isn’t that what eBooks and eReaders really do?
Basically, that’s how we look at our business model. We know it seems counterintuitive, but it’s just one of those little ironies we’ll have to live with.
That said, as eBooks become more ubiquitous (and we become more successful), the culture at large will inevitably lose some of the things that make owning actual books kinda special. As expected, we’ve touched on this before.
One of the things we’ll particularly mourn is marginalia – the ability to write and annotate on a book’s margins. Yeah, yeah, we know…some eReaders and associated programs provide some type of annotation capabilities. But sorry, no dice. These don’t approach the real thing.
Not everyone is a fan, of course, of someone else’s hand scribbling. Especially if you like your books brand-spanking new (or as close to it), w/that brand-spanking new book smell.
A well-worn book, however, with some interesting comments by its previous owner written on the margins, brings forth that whiff of the past that gives a static object provenance. It makes the book come alive beyond the story it recounts or the subject it covers.
Physical books are incredibly malleable objects. More than we know. Yes, the words written on a page have the ability to transform our consciousness on the fly. But the object itself can take on an entire different persona once a talented “marginalist” – a word we’ve just invented, this very second – has had a go at it. All of a sudden, there’s an added dimension. There’s someone else’s perspective intruding into what is normally a pretty insular activity.
And, beyond marginalia, just look at what some talented artists, like Brian Dettmer, are able to do with books…and their margins.
There’s a big market for books that have been “marginalized” (a new iteration of the word based on the definition we invented above) by famous authors. Mark Twain was known to be a big “marginalist.” So was, Thomas Jefferson. The great French writer/philosopher, Voltaire, reportedly composed entire works on the margins of other books, while imprisoned. And the obscure English poet John Bethune’s works exist exclusively on the margins. That may explain why he was, well, an obscure English poet.
We’ll end this post with the end of a recent article on marginalia by the NY Times. It’s so good, we couldn’t possibly say it any better…
In his poem “Marginalia,” Billy Collins, the former American poet laureate, wrote about how a previous reader had stirred the passions of a boy just beginning high school and reading “The Catcher in the Rye.” As the poem describes it, he noticed “a few greasy smears in the margin” and a message that was written “in soft pencil — by a beautiful girl, I could tell.” It read, “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
Disclosure: As if you hadn’t noticed, yes, we’ve used the term “on the margins” as a double-entendre throughout this post.