Saturday, December 12, 2009

There's a Monster At the End of This Post

A mixed bag post, because I haven't done one in awhile... 

 Lost & Found I don't usually report on the whereabouts of missing library books or the people reluctant to return them and pony up the fine. Neither does the Times of London. Nevertheless, the Times reports that Harold Pinter's overdue library book was finally returned after 59 years. It wouldn't be that big a story, even considering the Nobel laureate status of the borrower, except that it happened to be a rare first edition of Samuel Beckett's Murphy and apparently Pinter had no intention of ever returning it. At that point, I think a man of lesser celebrity would be accused of stealing it rather than borrowing it. 

The bookseller handling the sale of the playwright's library returned it in order to buy it back so that Pinter's library would be complete and without the sort of provenance problems that crop up when one of the books in the collection didn't really belong to the man in whose home it resided. Read the whole tale, including the sort of oddly happy ending that could only occur in the bookworld at the Times website.

  Can I Make you a literary mix-tape? WIRED continued its coverage of the transition from ink to electrons with a profile of a grad student who MacGyvered his own book scanning equipment to digitize his textbooks and is now teaching others how to do the same. Now Daniel Reetz is at the eye of a copyright kerfuffle (which was inevitable) about whether or not what he's doing is a high crime or a misdemeanor. So the question is begged... since the inception of the computer, it's been possible to digitize your library either by laying the books on a scanner, photographing them or just typing them into a document file. There's even court precedent from the days of audio tapes that says you can copy your collection for personal use as long as you're not trying to profit. But those arguments got gutted in the Napster fight and are further eroded by decision after decision that creates a legal difference between the laws governing tangible copies and digital copies.

Right now, the world over, libraries are digitizing their collections, effectively turning them into e-Books. From national institutions like the Library of Congress and the British Library to the libraries of Harvard and Yale to the commercial ventures like Googlebooks and the Intenet Archive, the physical is being tranferred into a digital format. . . but who owns the bytes? Is it legal for me to copy my extensive library if I'm not doing so to turn a profit? I think it meet that we reflect on the outcome of the Pinter-Beckett affair and remember that the bookworld is a universe of its own creation where the outcomes that might be expected as we recall the chaos that surrounded the digital translation of music are not fait accompli.

  Digital Monsters There's no end of monsters on the internet. From the trolls that lurk beneath blogs and comment threads, spewing vitriol to the sort that players fight in online roleplaying games, and many others, the internet seems overrun by monsters of all sorts. So when I tell you that I am ecstatic to report one more monster on the internet, it may sound strange. That is, until I tell you that it's none other than the legendary blue monster that watched over my childhood... Grover. The Children's Television Workshop has put one of my favorite books of all time online as a free e-Book for new generations of parents and children to enjoy. There's a Monster at the End of This Book was more than a children's book, it was a watershed moment in my literary life. It's the first children's book I read (besides perhaps Where the Wild Things Are) that delivered something wholly different than everything else put in front of me. It's entry-level suspense fiction of the highest order with a twist ending sure to delight everyone. Re-reading it as an adult (or rather having Grover read it to me) was an eye-opener, and no lie.

 Now, I'm off to do some Christmas shopping. Good reading, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. I have a five year old here that is going to lose his mind when I show him the Grover e-book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention! I loved it when I was a kid too and made sure to have it in Z's library.


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).