Links: San Francisco’s last public typewriter; book covers in the digital age

I haven’t been posting anything but links lately, have I? Sorry about that. I’m leaving Japan and returning to San Francisco in 6 weeks (!!!!!), so I’ve been pretty busy cleaning, sorting, doing paperwork, canceling contracts, and just enjoying all the things about Japan that I won’t be able to experience back home. Also, for what it’s worth, the 5k race went better than I could have hoped for—I ran the entire way and finished in 34:24! I’m really proud of myself, especially since I also climbed a mountain yesterday (which was a blast). This has really been an amazing year for me.

Anyway, today I have two links for you. The first one is a New York Times article (a couple weeks old now) about San Francisco’s last public typewriter:

Not so long ago, Ms. Nyhan tells me, as many as 10 people a day used the Typewriter Room, but now it’s down to around two a day. They’re people who need to fill out forms, or people who never took to computers. As long as such users exist, so will the Typewriter Room.

This has been making the rounds on Twitter and other social media sites, and at first glance I wasn’t sure why, although I found it compelling in spite of myself. It’s a rather short piece on a not-so-romantic piece of equipment falling into disuse in a back room of the Main Library; what’s the big deal, right? But it made me think of these wonderful posts I read recently about libraries, their inner workings, and the social services (whether book-related or not) they provide. Fascinating stuff, and a great reminder that libraries are a place where you can not only check out books but also join a writing group, get adult literacy tutoring, learn how to use a computer, find out about community events, get resume feedback… or use a typewriter.

So we’ve covered the past; to give equal weight to the future, I have a fantastic and well-illustrated essay from Craig Mod about book cover design in the digital age:

The cover image may help quickly ground us, but our eyes are drawn by habit to number and quality of reviews. We’re looking for metrics other than images — real metrics — not artificial marketing signifiers. Blurbs from humans. Perhaps even humans we know! And within the jumble of the Amazon.com interface, the cover feels all but an afterthought.

He goes on to say that a cover no longer serves the function it once did (to orient the reader and to provide title/author information), that in the age of Amazon pages and iPad reading apps it functions more like an icon—but far from wringing his hands over this, he instead provides plenty of examples of innovative cover designs that have embraced this role and really work as a miniature element of an Amazon.com page, or as an icon on an iPad, as well as as a traditional cover.

Also great is his three-part essay on pointability in digital texts—basically, is it interactive? Is it linkable? Can you tweet or blog or network not only a text itself but specific passages within the text? Both these questions and the observations in the previous essay are completely game-changing for me. I am definitely still learning about publishing, and design and technology are two huge blind spots of mine, so for all I know publishers are talking about this stuff all the time and I’m just out of the loop. But it is interesting that despite all the publishing and books-related sources I follow on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and newsletters, I ended up hearing about this essay from dooce.com. I always seem to get linked to essays bemoaning the fall of the traditional book without providing a solution, so to me this is really mind-broadening. It’s not strictly San Francisco-related, but I thought it was important enough to share.

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4 thoughts on “Links: San Francisco’s last public typewriter; book covers in the digital age

  1. Thanks for linking me. One of my libraries has an old Remington manual typewriter for kids to play with. Most have never seen one before!

    • Elizabeth says:

      That sounds fun! I used to write stories on my mom’s old typewriter when I was in high school. Don’t know why, since we had a perfectly good computer… it was probably equal parts novelty and the ability to drag it into my room.

  2. Julie says:

    Ooh, interesting. I followed all of your links and went a-reading — Craig Mod’s essay was especially great, though I both agree/disagree with him. He says that covers are declining in exposure — and it’s true, they are! especially when you look at the Amazon pages etc — but I still think they’re vastly important. I am unabashedly guilty of judging books by their covers, and will randomly pick up books in stores that simply look good. Every time I see an especially fantastic cover, it makes me hitch a breath a little. And I’ve overheard some great discussion at the literary agency re: WIP covers, judging whether they were suitable for the book, etc. And when I was browsing Goodreads’ giveaways the other day, and I found myself not even looking at titles/authors/blurbs, simply scrolling down the list and seeing if any cover image jumped out at me.

    But mostly, his essay made me think about e-readers’ formatting and design, since it reminded me of prior discussions over the limitations of my Kindle:
    — No more spying someone else’s cover when they’re reading across from you on the subway! (I do wish there were some way of displaying this. If the e-reader’s exterior could change somehow to reflect the cover of what you’re reading. Maybe in future technology?)

    — All fonts are converted to the Kindle default, so that they can be easily resized for accessibility purposes. Which is useful, but I know that some books have had a very, very conscious design choice in font, complete with informational page at the back re: the name of the font and its origins.

    — And then I think about postmodernist texts like House of Leaves and their use of colour, whilst e-ink (which I prefer, rather than reading on LCD screens) is black and white. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if technology finds a way to preserve the ‘look’ of e-ink but with colour.

    — Related to the above: typography! page layout! deconstructing the page! HoL does some wacky things like this and this. How can this be reproduced in an electronic format? I don’t really think it can.

    Anyway. If I have a conclusion, I don’t know what it is. I think covers will still be important, especially since we are such a visually-stimulated species drawn to shiny things, and tablets are all about display. Google Chrome’s WebGL bookcase (here) also shows how covers & technology can still intersect.

    OKAY THE END. Gosh, I’m wordy.

    (Feel free to delete the previous comment! Coding muckup.)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Wordy comments are the best! 😀 I totally agree with you that a great cover can really affect how we pick up and/or experience a book, but I think he has a point that a cover that looks great on an Amazon page usually also looks great on the shelf–we’re not necessarily losing anything by designing for smaller spaces.

      I hope technology does develop to the point of including more conscious design decisions like font, color, and layouts in e-books. I suppose it can be done right now with PDFs, but it’s such a clunky solution and usually doesn’t look good on e-readers because of the reduced size. I’m glad that the default Kindle font is at least a pretty nice font, but it is a bummer that all that design work comes to nothing on an e-reader.

      As for the cover display, this wouldn’t help for subway spying, but I was just thinking it would be a cool idea to replace the dead-authors screensaver with a slideshow of cover images from your Kindle library. It would be more personalized (I don’t even like a lot of the authors who pop up on the default screensaver, and I imagine that’s even more true for people who read mostly popular or genre fiction), and I think a lot of covers look really nice on the Kindle. Much more fun to show off!

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