The artifact

A couple of years ago, a post by Frank Chimero led me to write "A privilege to be objects", in which I suggested that the book as object is not always something to be desired. I wrote at the time:

"Chimero introduces a number of important notions, including the idea that “really good literature requires an artifact”.  In making the claim, though, he also lays out an argument that much of what we design in print doesn’t “deserve an artifact”.  By extension, those artifacts are over-designed or over-engineered, with status that exceeds their value."

Hugh McGuire had pointed me to Chimero's work, but not by coincidence. Between October 2009 and March 2010, I'd returned several times to the damage done by an adherence to what I came to call "the container model of publishing". Hugh was interested in helping me refine that idea.

Though much of this has faded into a professional past, it came back in spades when I read Zoe Triska's Huffington Post op-ed, "What NOT to do with books". In it, Triska slams television personality Lauren Conrad for taking apart books to use their spines to decorate a storage bin.

Conrad calls it "a great way to display vintage books or slightly used books." Triska sees it as something else: "destroying literature for the camera." She goes on:

"The situation is made even more barbaric by Conrad's choice of books, which include the beloved A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (i.e. Daniel Handler). Is nothing sacred?! When approached for comment on how he felt about his books being murdered, Mr. Snicket told The Huffington Post this morning, 'It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence. What a relief it is to see this documented.'"

History can decide if A Series of Unfortunate Events qualifies as literature. Taking apart its container is in no way, shape or form "destroying literature." What is destroyed is an object, not the work, which remains, in print and other forms, with the copyright retained by the publisher.

Triska makes it clear that she cares little for Conrad's professional history. It's useful that Triska acknowledges her bias, but it would have been better to step back and recognize when bias clouds both judgement and reason.


About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.