Pet Book 8: The Book Business

This week, I really liked our discussion of blank books and what their purposes are. It made me take a look at the book shelf in my room and really see what was on it. I don’t usually think of the notebooks on my shelf as “books” even though they have pages and bindings and otherwise the general physical aspects of books. This distinction becomes especially strong when they’re the notebooks with hole punches and spiral binding. Yet as we and Gitelman said, the lines are printed inside of them and they are made with a specific purpose in mind. And as Ben Franklin said, books—blank or otherwise—are all printed with a purpose in mind, usually to convince you of something but also just generally to be used in a certain way. Even novels kind of try to make you think in a certain way—this is more obvious in some books compared to others, but generally always there.

I thought this was really interesting in comparison to my pet book, Arctic Explorations. It said in the obituary from Publisher’s Weekly that I used last week that Elisha Kent Kane, the author, originally wanted to make this book very technical and scientific, but the publisher George William Childs realized that that wouldn’t serve the same purpose as a book that was more anecdotal about his time there. The finished product seems to almost serve two purposes in that the first volume is almost entirely the story of the exploration while the second volume goes more into the technology that they used on the journey and then the science that affected their journey such as temperature and ice pack. I imagine that the everyday people of the mid-nineteenth century probably would have been more interested in the anecdote, therefore making it more financially valuable as a sort of “travel writing” but I appreciate that it was still important to Kane to give it that scientific aspect. I think it’s interesting in the case of this book specifically—in relation to the readings for this week—how the purpose of the author and the purpose of the publisher were different, as I’ve stated above. I haven’t read the whole book, of course, but if I had the time, it would be interesting to see how the book expresses its purpose to me as a reader rather than someone studying the book.

Now I’d like to go back to my discussion of manuscript/print for this book. I said way back then that this book was probably written based on journals that Kane kept while on his expedition. If that’s true, I think it’s really fascinating to see how both blank books and printed books work together to have that purpose, in a kind of combination of the ideas of Gitelman and Franklin. I think the train (not exactly the right analogy, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment) going from Kane deciding to keep journals on his journey—not too farfetched—to eventually using those journals to create this book is really interesting and I would be so excited to know more about his process. If only BYU (I think that’s the school that has them…) had a digital archive of his letters that I could access… Anyway, it’s neat to think that he took a blank book with him to write down his thoughts and experiences—thus using it for its purpose—and then used it to make a printed book with a purpose to share. It’s quite a circular process in the end.

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