Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Internet and Everyone

Many years ago I came across a strange book. It was a small, solid object, about 6" x 4" x 3" -- to hold it was to want to keep it. I opened it, and this is what I saw:


italic = rabbit path
bullet = goat path
sheep reads everything

reading appetite

rabbit: eats only the tasty bits
sheep: grazes only on cultivated pasture for which it has developed tastes and habits
goat: can eat anything but refuses what is not sensible or of poor quality

book-reading style

rabbit: selects books and opens pages by chance (sometimes using numerical patterns or random numbers), seeking literary style or beauty more than content, remembers intrinsic features – e.g. that something was one third of the way down a left-hand page near the middle of the book – does not follow continuous text unless the book accords with its deeper intuitions (but ignores what does not fit these)

sheep: reads every page from first to last, reading every footnote, enjoying and believing everything. Does not realize when it is being misled or manipulated, is grateful for everything and won’t venture into unfamiliar pastures unless assured by fashion or recommended by critics or by word of mouth (but it cannot take in what is original or new, nor can it change its reading habits)

goat: studies the contents list carefully, also the index, tables, and typographic indications of the structure, questioning everything – it reads and understands the book thoroughly or else rejects it quickly if initial scrutiny shows it to be worthless (or is foreign to its own ideas)


I began flipping through the book, looking at this page and that; I had to own it, though it cost a heartstopping £20. Years passed. I would quote the animal reading paths to people, urging the book on them, and they would say it sounded great and not buy it. Then I would meet them and bring the book along and they would quietly appropriate it.

2002: Jonathan Safran Foer comes to London, having had an e-mail describing the animal reading paths. I bring the book to our meeting. He holds it.

'Can I keep this?' he says.
'Sure,' I say, and I immediately go to Blackwell's to buy a replacement.

The girl at the till has never heard of it. I go to the back and find it among computer books. I take it back to the till. The girl at the till picks it up; she can hardly bring herself to let it leave the store.

'This is great!' she says.
'I know,' I say. 'Look,' I say, 'it has animal reading paths,' and I open to the page with the animal reading paths and urge her to read. She's laughing, she's saying how great the book is.

The Internet and Everyone is, in fact, the worst possible book to sell over the internet, because the thing that makes people want to own it is holding this 6x4x3 book in their hands. It's a book that belongs in a rack at the front of a store, where people coming in will be unable to resist picking it up and taking it away. Unfortunately it had a very small publisher, ellipsis, with nothing like the clout it takes to get a book in a rack at the front of a store.

I wanted to talk to its author, John Chris Jones, and its designer, Jonathan Moberley. I tracked Jonathan down to the Foundry, a grunge pub in the premises of a former NatWest bank on Old Street. Jonathan was running the pub and also running a radio series on which John Chris appeared. He wasn't talking to people. John Chris was talking to people. John Chris explained that he had taken a few copies into the Art Book Shop across the way and a customer had bought one on the spot. They had stocked a few copies and immediately sold them. We're chitchatting while I hold my own copy of i+e (as it is known to its fans). The girl at the bar asks to see it.

'This is great!' she says. 'It's so compact!'
John Chris has a been-there-bought-the-t-shirt-got-the-buttock-tattoo sort of expression. How can it be that the universal appeal of the book has not translated into universal acclaim?
'Can I keep this?' she says.
'Sure,' I say.

Some time later I got an e-mail from John Chris asking advice. Ellipsis had been acquired by Chrysalis, which had decided to discontinue i+e (presumably no one at Chrysalis had ever got their hands on the undeservedly obscure object of desire). Should he buy up the remainders? I said at once that he must buy them all, or if he did not want to buy them all I would buy 100 or so and he could use my storage unit in London to keep them in. So I picked up 100 of the last 200 copies of i+e, hoping to get the word out -- and instead they sat in my storage unit at Big Yellow while one thing went wrong and another thing went wrong.

I'd like to take i+e out of storage and sell copies to people who would appreciate it. Goats. Rabbits. Non-sheep. But i+e is in London; it seems silly to haul all 100 copies to Berlin.

Sooooooooo, long story short, I wondered if any London-based readers of this blog might be willing to take charge of 10 copies of i+e while we try to find them good homes.


Nathaniel Siqueiros said...

Book sounds pretty interesting. Just bought the last new copy at Amazon. Bought the last new hardcover of Last Samurai while I was at it. Two birds. One stone. Hoozah.

Jenny Davidson said...

I want this book, needless to say I am a goat! But I do not live in London, so I can't help you out there...

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

hey, darnit now I am totally curious about this i+e- oof- my folks live NEAR London- well, not super near, but close enough.
oh, I came across this while looking for one of those great old German "f-s" looking letters whcih was in useable blog format, alas, but the table of records markings are fascinating: huum, won't allow for the link, so here is the address:

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

ok, nevermind, that didn't seem to work (grr, why-?!) I'll just try to post them in my blooooggg,

Ithaca said...

nathaniel - it is GREAT that a copy in the US has gone where it will be understood

jenny - next time i go to London I will send you a copy

tar art rat - next time i go to London I will bring back a copy for a belated wedding present (congratulations, by the way!) and i am now going over to your blog to check out this link