With her permission, I am copying Erica Yee’s first reflective fieldbook entry, which is a model of the genre. Hopefully it will be helpful to others to see her work! In particular, note the way Erica blends specific observations from our readings with elements of our work in class, as well as ideas drawn from outside of the course.

Reflective: What Is a Book?

Erica Yee

Instagram feed as book, are old books worth keeping, and packaging as content

A comment during class discussion about how the classmate had difficulty reconciling some of the digital media forms Borsuk described in the final chapter with their own definition of a book made me think about my own expectations of what can be called a book outside of the codex form. I read a lot of books, almost exclusively on my Kindle and phone, the latter through various apps that don’t all try to emulate the traditional book experience (i.e. flipping pages vs. scrolling). I play a lot of video games, including narrative-based ones. I’m also really interested in new ways of digital storytelling as a journalism major. So I feel like my background induces me to subconsciously be quite open to expanding my definition of a “book” to more non-traditional digital forms. When Borsuk described some experimental digital forms in Ch. 4 The Book as Interface afforded by multimedia and touch-screen devices, I had no problem seeing those as books. By contrast, I thought many of the outside-the-box examples in Ch. 3 The Book as Idea were much “weirder”. It was hard for me to see Alison Knowles’ work, in particular, as books. In her exhibits The Big Book and The Book of Bean, visitors experience the books by physically traversing spaces. If they’re so-called “visitors,” it’s hard for me to assign the word “reading” — the verb usually associated with idea of a book — to the digestion of her exhibits. Even picture books (in codex form) are referred to as “read.” On the topic of picture books, I was intrigued by Ed Ruscha’s art book Twentysix Gasoline Statins, mentioned earlier in the chapter. Borsuk writes:

The individual photographs are not presented as fine artworks. They must be read together to achieve the artist’s intentionally cheeky effect.

This is why it’s not just a book of art; instead, she calls it an art book. The effect reminds me of some Instagram feeds. Each post can stand alone (like a photo of a gas station), but some users go further in how they present the posts together on their profile. Here’s an example of a feed in which all the posts are the same color scheme. Each post could be interesting on its own, but seeing them all together in the grid has a larger effect.

an instagram feed with a singular color scheme

Another point of the reading and class discussion I’d like to highlight is based on Borsuk’s section on “The Book as Ephemeral.”

Much as we love books, archiving them in libraries for future generations and exhibiting them behind glass as art objects, they are a vulnerable medium.

I thought about this quotes during the class activity interacting with the early 19th century geography books. In a way, the abundance of different editions signified that these books needed to be replaced by their descendants. Every copy we handled could’ve easily been lost or destroyed in the 200 years between its publication and when we interacted with them. Yet at least a few people in each book’s lifetime sought to preserve it for various reasons. Physically, the books are clearly vulnerable to time, the elements, and human interaction — though they were all still in legible condition. Content-wise, most of the “facts” are likely out of date now, even some of the geography. Still, people saved them and they survive to this day. Borsuk’s quote and the exercise reminded me of The Hipster Summer Reading List 2019, a fascinating project from The Pudding. Using a public dataset of checkout records from the Seattle Public Library, the Pudding found fiction books that hadn’t been checked out in over a decade. This led me to wonder: What we read tells a lot about us, but does what we don’t read but choose to save? Libraries have limited shelf space, and I assume public interest informs what books they choose to keep. What happens when that interest in certain books just…stops? I don’t think anyone is still using geography books from the early 1800s for reference. An argument could be make for the educational value of saving those books because of their age and topic. But I don’t know if that argument can be made for all the fiction books in the Pudding project, some of which are probably relatively very young.

The Hipster Summer Reading List 2019 from The Pudding

Finally, I’m intrigued by the question of how much control authors should have over the publication presentation of their works. Ulises Carrión championed “bookworks,” or artists’ publication, according to Borsuk’s section “The New Art of Making Books” in the third chapter. The Mexican author and artist wanted to see more of “books conceived of as a whole,” with the content inseparable from the presentation. I’m guessing most published authors today don’t have much control over the presentation of their work (though with the rise of self-publishing platforms, maybe there is a new trend). I’ve seen many different versions of the same book, depending on whether it’s hardback, paperback, e-book, republished with a movie adaptation, published in different countries, etc. Though I’m thinking of books in which the content are the main attraction (as opposed to Borsuk’s definition of art books), the visual packaging can induce very real connotations of the book, even to people who read through all the content. I wonder what Borsuk thinks of the physical vs. digital editions of her book. In class, we briefly discussed the differences between how the quotes are presented in each version. I read The Book on Kindle, so I asked my neighbor if I could take a look at her physical copy. It’s hard to determine if I would’ve digested the content differently reading the book that way based on a few minutes of skimming. Nevertheless, the differences in experiences is definitely something I want to keep in mind going forward.