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Director's cut — July 2006

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July 1, 2006 by Tara Brabazon

Greetings to members and lurkers.

In the last month, I have just moved everything — my entire life — from Perth in Western Australia to Eastbourne in the United Kingdom. I am still on the anti-inflammatories for my back. I did not move anything as sensible as furniture, a washing machine or even a microwave oven. Of the 122 boxes that have been packed, 89 are filled with books. A further five boxes were culled from the collection and given to members of the Collective. On behalf of my back, thank you to the recipients of my proto-boxed books.

While filling box 53, containing my weighty books on international immigration policy, I started to become a fan of e-books. No more lifting. No more physical sorting. All that would remain is be the simple pleasure of immersion in content (sorry — words, sentences and ideas). I went to the e-books site to discover what my soon to be fellow e-book community was reading. No obscure scientific treatise. No passionate anarchist reaching out to other cyber fellow travellers. Instead, the top downloads read like an airport bookshop. It was all fiction, just about all of it written by Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. My dream is to make whoever let Leonardo da Vinci and Harry Potter into publishers' fiction lists read these 'books' on a small mobile phone screen with a fading back light. There was no non-fiction, and nothing scholarly, and I am using that term in its most general application. So these consumers of e-books are letting flimsy fictional content dance along their cursor.

Through the ficto-trash, there are some great benefits to scholars of e-books. I have found them useful in speed searching references to check a quotation, or to investigate the citations of others. They are quick and definitive sources for verification. But would I — would you? — read and take notes from a work of literary criticism or history, geography or media studies through this platform? It does encourage rapid reading, a gentle floating through bright text. But does this medium facilitate the level of connection required for more scholarly and intense engagements with the words and worlds of others?

Increasingly troubled, I moved on to box 54. Thankfully, I was interrupted by a gift from Felicity Cull, our Rhythm and Movement hub convener, and her family. It was a lovely thought. But then, gratitude was replaced by horror.

Oh no.

It was another book.

My first thought was — it is a big book — I will have to create another coffee table book box, and it is so hard to slot other books around them. Clearly I needed to finish packing and recommence a normal life. Upon opening the cover — and seeing the number of fac 461 — I discovered that Felicity had given me the extraordinary Matthew Robertson's new book from Thames & Hudson, Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album. It is an object of beauty, buffed by sharp Peter Saville edges and Matt and Pat Carroll's humour and energy. Focusing on the designs, rather than the music of Factory Records, it is a reminder that not only is there more to music than sound, but there is more to books than content.

As I sat with this book — not so much reading but living its pages — I realised that the digital dreams of e-books could never replace a tome such as this. Reading is multi-sensory, not only working the ciliary muscles within our eye sockets, but also our fingertips. These senses trigger emotion and memory, constructing a network of meanings in the moment. Books are inconvenient to pack and store, but there is a micro-history of our lives invested in those pages. When we read, we are changed. Reading is not about content or text. It is not about immersion in a narrative, no matter what the platform. In returning the other senses — beyond the visual — back to the reading experience, Robertson's fac 461 confirms that there will be no seamless or easy migration from analogue to digital. There will be loses. The replacement of fac 461 for e-fac 1.0 may play an MP3. It may provide fast hyper-linking through the document. It may scroll through a mobile phone screen. But we lose the sensuality from the scholarship when tactility is bladed from a text.

See you all in August.