Saturday, November 05, 2005

You kiss by the book

The thought provoking news is yesterday's launch of Google Print. You need an 'account' to use it properly, which means giving the Googlopoly an email address so they can track your usage habits and breakfast cereal preferences. With this sorted out, you are offered the familiar search screen. But this time round, entering a phrase searches a whole great slew of the world’s books instead of the Internet.

Example: key in the phrase The Gentle Sin is This (great title for a novel, by the way, if you happen to be Louisa M Alcott). In 0.43 seconds you get ‘42 pages’ - but from a list of just 20 books. First up are editions of Romeo and Juliet from Signet (now published by Penguin) and from the Cambridge University Press. Then a dozen or so literary and scholarly works, of which the clear favorite is Fantasies of Female Evil by Cristina Leon Alfar (great title for a movie, by the way, if you happen to be Dario Argento)

A propos of Juliet’s passage Cristina, who teaches EngLit at CUNY, advises that ‘...patriarchal authority, orginating in a patrilineal God and represented by the sexual conservatism of early modern religious beliefs, cannot accommodate a faith based on sexual desire’ Quite disappointing news really for many of us.

Today at Google Print you can’t read all 256 pages of Dr Alfar’s opus, published originally by the University of Delaware in 2003. Just pages 64-68. Put aside firmly the unworthy thought that you can make a pretty fair guess as to what the rest says anyway. That’s not the point. There’s plenty enough here to lift into an overdue assignment. Or you can click to buy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. US$46.50. Bargain.

What pays for all this free access is, natch, a sponsored link, in this case to the Chicago-based House of Jacob Bible Study Class, a website which has enjoyed just 11,503 hits in its brief existence -an amazing twenty two times more popular than Quo Vadis. Seems their ears pricked up on the sin thing. Whether they share Cristina Leon Alfar's striking views on the patrilinear deity and desire is a matter well worth further contemplation.

So anyway, big change in the way we think about and use books coming, it seems. More granular, less bound. Meanwhile over at Amazon soon, you can buy by the page rather than having to fork out for the whole kit and caboodle.

When you’re digitizing a book, the first step you take is to remove the binding to make a loose stack of pages, ready to feed into the autoscanner. While it is a bit too soon to kiss the book as we know it goodbye, that simple deconstructive act may be assuming some metaphoric power.

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