Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Something old, something new

Books are obviously proprietary (probably using this word wrong); authors have rights over their text, and publishers have rights over their editions. We all know about copyright and royalties and so forth, and yet it's pretty easy, for me anyway, to slip out of thinking of a book as the property of a corporation. Most formally, at some point the book will almost certainly go into the public domain, but once a book starts to become "a classic" I expect to see it published by different houses and made available in different forms. I guess at the most basic level the activity of reading and the form of a book seem so obviously part of our common property that a particular individual or company having ownership of some sliver of the enterprise seems inherently short-lived.

I am subjecting you to that paragraph because this post is not so much about a book as it is about the format of the book, which is apparently a copyrighted format. What am I talking about? Mansfield Park in "Flipback" format. Here is a picture of it in my hand in my bedroom, because I forgot to take a picture of it on the train platform:

Just imagine I'm waiting for a train. Next to the bed.

The main features of the Flipback are:
  • The text is rotated 90ยบ to the ... right? ... so that the spine runs parallel, between lines of text
  • The text is printed in a modern, sans-serif, easy-to-read typeface
  • The paper is thin
  • The bound part of the book is only glued to the back cover, and the spine and front covers are hinged on
Generally, the idea is that the entire content of a book has been compressed into a pocket-sized thing without losing any readability. Except for interference from wind, this compact layout does, actually, make it pretty easy to hold the book and read with one hand. Like the Kindle, it's sort of stripped out some of the distractions of white space and so on, so that the actual words on the page are the main focus. And after all the space-saving, it actually is pocket sized. It's adorable and tactile and functional, and I liked it. I've seen these in several stores over here (Waterstones, the British Library shop, and the indie store at Kew) so it seems like maybe they'll catch on. The thin paper is the only slightly worrisome feature, but in practice I didn't tear any pages or even cause any egregious creasing, so I guess I can't whine too much about it. After a week or so of being carried around in my coat pocket and read on windy train platforms, my copy is in darn good shape.

Tangent: You know that 1950s Leave it to Beaver-type trope about little boys always having their pockets full of all kinds of random things? That's so me. Give me a pocket and I will have it crammed full of keys, transit pass, tissues/handkerchief, lipbalm, coin purse, gloves and/or hat, and tiny book before I'm halfway down the street.

Unfortunately for Flipback, their list of published books doesn't currently include anything I'm really all that interested to read, and their "classics" series only includes Austen. While I have enjoyed all my Austen multilection, I don't know that I'm willing to spend £10 for the privilege of reading another. (No, I'm not willing to spend that much on more Jane. Sorry, Miss Austen, but I already own all your books multiple times over, and you're dead so it's not like it helps you any.) The format seems like a worthy thing, though, and I hope it does well enough to have more titles added to the list.

Oh, and what is there to say about Mansfield Park? This is a long overdue multilection on my part; I remember as I finished it the last/first time having a feeling like I was passing over something interesting. Certainly the book is less "fun" than the others. Fanny isn't the most engaging heroine, and the plotting is less than thrilling -- for example most of the dramatic events of the ending take place "off stage". (Plotting? More like plodding, amirite? Sorry.) But I still found it interesting and rewarding. First of all, because the book has a great deal to say, quite explicitly, about Austen's views on religion, and secondly (and relatedly) because the book is so much focused on good conduct and propriety. Even if you don't agree with Austen that this action or that attitude is the best, it's still a pleasure to enter into and consider what a thoughtful woman of her time thought these things looked like. Overall, on this read, I thought the book was much more about a family and family dynamics than about the romantic couples; the marriages and pairings are the tests that the children undergo in becoming adults. Anyhow, multilection continues to be one of my more brilliant discoveries, the end.

PS, just in case: this post was not sponsored or solicited in any way. Are you kidding me? No.



    I remember finishing it and just saying "Omg FINALLY." It is terrible and I do not wish it well in its future endeavors.

    It's the ONLY Austen where instead of just threatening the marriage of first cousins, it HAPPENS. Booooo! DISapproval. Plus I loved Henry Crawford's proposal and then she RUINED IT because she can't stand for reprobate men to actually reform and get the girl. Which I am ok with, but COME ON, AUSTEN.

    That being said, I am intrigued by your flippy book.

  2. Hey now, first cousin marriage has never been illegal in England. And it was actually pretty common in the US before genetic/eugenic ideas took hold.

    But Crawford doesn't reform! He doesn't repent! Sure, he tries to become the person Fanny would want to marry, but he doesn't actually repudiate his old ways and attitudes. And when his reform is put to the test he instantly caves. So he clearly still just sees it as an act, even if his motives are pure(r).

    But your reaction is valid.

    1. That's what I meant by 'she can't stand for reprobate men to actually reform'! Because she could've written that, but instead she made it all an act and he just runs off with what's her face? Maria? Whoever. Stupid book.

    2. RIGHT before I read this comment, I was trying to explain to my husband that Downton Abbey is full of marriages between first cousins and he was pointing at me and going "Ewwwwww" (yes, he is in fact 12 years old).

      But the point is that REAL LIFE AND INTERNET LIFE HAVE INTERSECTED ONCE AGAIN. I love when that happens.

  3. I'd heard about this books when they first debuted and promptly forgot -- and you're the first real life person I read who's gotten their hands on one! I'm kind of intrigued...