“I just think that you write something that you would enjoy reading, like you’re writing the book that does not exist that you wish you could read, and then you hope that almost coincidentally other people feel the same way.” – Chuck Klosterman
I woke up at 5am the other day with a near-complete vision for how I could shoehorn the old /tw@se/ archive into some kind of book. Most of that was just pre-dawn delusion — fooled once again by the Fake Awake. But some actually seems not-too-crazy by the light of day.
So I’m picturing something halfway between a cloth cover trade paperback, like those Penguin classics or a tasteful 537th reissue of Catch-22, and a midsize glossy coffee table photo book. Maybe square, just because.
In my semi-dreaming hallucination, that seemed like it would mess with the standard formula — like really stick it to The Man, with his rectangles and “normal” paper sizes! (I probably self-aggrandize more in that half-awake state than any other time, which is saying a lot.) More awake, I realize that Instagram has squarified almost everything to where that’s probably already well past cool and into being the new normal, and I’m probably just reflexively glomming onto that. (Sometimes, I think the hallmark of middle age is getting trapped in thought loops where something that would have actually been cool when you were 25 still seems that way at 45, and being almost completely ignorant of that mistake, while the world is already two decades farther on. That, and the back pain, I guess.) Oh — and that Blurb book demo that The Admiral printed for me, back when I retired the blog, was square — hold on a sec; lemme dig it out and send a photo of it to the global hive mind — and I really liked that, both for the outside format — it’s shape, sitting there on a table — and for the inside layout options that arise from filling in squares instead of rectangles. Size? Who knows? 9” x 9”? 11” x 11”? 13” x 13”?
In terms of style, in my vision it was closer to the 3rd generation template than the earlier ones. (And I am now rethinking my choice to leave the early years in their original style and layout. Ugh.) I guess that style is also pretty derivative — kind of the faux-Apple house style — but no one says I have to reinvent the form. In fact, trying to do so is probably a terrible idea. I think about the dozens of things I learned about printing sale postcards over the years, many of them crucial things, all of them only learned the hard way (aka. by really fucking them up). Bleed and trim, DPI and print resolution, ICC, embedded color profiles, “rich black” hex codes, postal regulations, web previews, and on and on. Surely the learning curve and subsequent disasters would be even steeper and costlier for a book; which is essentially hundreds of postcards all in one print job, plus lots more text. Ugh.
Why repeat every novice mistake in the pursuit of something new or edgy when the content is the reason for doing it in the first place? It’s OK to accept a standard frame as a standard frame. It doesn’t all have to be punk rock, dude. Find a template or something. Ask someone who knows, and trade them some pots for their time. Or… something.
A] Crisp black text on lots of whitespace; brownish headers, greyish hairline borders and dashed lines; extremely spare use of red accents. (aka. “Coward Style”: When in doubt, make it shades of grey with a little brown and tiny bits of one primary color. Foolproof.)
No idea what to do about link colors — that Cadillac blue from the site? Seems kinda nuts. Or, come to think of it, what to do about links themselves. It’s the one thing that really won’t translate well from one medium to the other. I mean, how do you simulate a hyperlink on paper? Dashed lines that go from the link text to a floating callout containing the thing that was linked to? Maybe, but what if the destination was an entire article, or another blog, or a huge photograph? Ugh.
How about numbered references that lead to footnotes on each page (but where, now, a page is actually a page)? The problem there is the damn thing already has footnotes; some posts were more note than body text! (In my wannabe DFW style; cf. what I wrote above about things that were cool in my 20’s.) Or I guess the notes from the links could lead to a big concordance in the back? Or to a second reference book — a tw@se TLDR; — that, instead of having the contents of the links, instead is full of my current explanations of what those links were, why I chose them, how it was supposed to be a callback or some inbred in-joke or other caffeinated mania. Yes. Crazy.
Embedding hyperlinks into ink on trees is like dancing about physics.
B] Vigorously edited. I mean, printed out on plain copier paper, for reference, the seven & 1/2 years of the thing filled two XL binders. And that wasn’t including even a moderate slice through the photos. It has to be cut down; just has to. I mean, shit, so much of it was just top of mind garbage and stalling for time and fulfilling the weekly obligation and offhand musing en route to obfuscating what I really wanted to say but felt I couldn’t. Like Shane Mickey’s classic description:
“All the same ramblings, of what a day had consisted of, and not, these are the 8 pitchers i made today, the one on the right has a bit to much volume in the belly, the one on the far left is out of proportion and does not have a clean line….. you get the point.”
The book version should at least attempt to skirt that kind of low grade repetition.
C] And, looking back, there’s lots of pretty run-of-the-mill, mediocre photos of pretty run-of-the-mill, mediocre pots — a lot of those should not make the cut. Too much of everything and the occasional gems will just get buried. (Or perhaps I should say “re-buried”, since I did a pretty good job burying them the first time.)
D] Also have to account for any new stuff I’d add. Which, given my propensity for just adding and adding and adding, is pretty likely. OK, who am I kidding? Guaranteed.
‘I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.’
E] For example, another idea I saw in that AM vision was some sort of sidebar, once per “chapter” or so, written now, that comments on or clarifies or adds (hopefully) to the old text. (This sounds terrifyingly like footnotes on the footnotes, but in for a penny… FILDI!) I had a great name for these, lying there in the dark, and lost it. Something like “LOOP<BACK”? I dunno. (ps. That means it was probably a terrible name, and I just fantasized how stellar it was. I mean, seriously, “LOOP<BACK”? Ugh! Kill me now.)
F is for] Fotos. Photos would be a quagmire; I mean; jesus. Let’s say the book is 11” square. They’d have to be big and high-res, for the most part, because I’d really love to have full page, full-bleed images scattered through it. For all of that time I was shooting a typical 35mm frame — so, portrait or landscape, but definitely rectangular. (Kids, this was before camera phones, and way before camera phones where the default photo option was Square.) So the originals would also have to be big enough to crop something out.
I’m sure I still have all of the source material, because I’m a pretty obsessive digital packrat, but a lot of it in the early days was probably shot at lower than print-resolutions. Those early digital cameras sucked, and so did all the first gen iPad shots. So all that stuff would need massaging, which is a slog, and still might only work if printed at smaller sizes.
(Which isn’t a dealbreaker or anything; it’s just that tiny photos usually drive me nuts — most of the time in magazines and books I’m trying to zoom in with an index finger and thumb as I would on iOS. I so often want to see more detail, or a different detail than the person was focused on. (The truth usually lingers at the margins, or suggested, just out of frame.)
On the other hand, a mosaic or collage can spruce up a bunch of otherwise-not-great images; like the cover of that Blurb book, which The Admiral lovingly yet hastily threw together, it’s the collective impact that counts, in that format, and you can kind of fake it. And there may even be some interest in remixing things out of chronological order, like a whole run of a year’s leatherhard greenware on one page, or all the baby pictures jammed into a “For Those Of You Who Care About Parenting” appendix.
G] Page layouts are a hard nut, too, because I have almost zero experience with that. A twice-yearly sale postcard and CSS blog templates are small potatoes by comparison. I’ve never learned (and scarcely even used) the proper tools: going all the way back to the mid-90’s: Quark, PageMill, Illustrator, InDesign. Hardly even done vectors, aside from my brief spell as a hobbyist Flash animator. Every card or poster I’ve ever done for ink and paper has been straight up Photoshop, raster images, sewn into permanent place. Like hammering with a screwdriver. Simile? Similar? Simian?
I guess, again, that’s where the pros would have to come in, if I wanted it to be good, and that’s another problem. “Straight cash, homie.”
All that caterwaulling aside, I can imagine full pages of edge-to-edge photo spreads offsetting dense pages of text; dashed lines indicating which small photo linked to which annotated big photo. (Remember, Witt, how long I was doing that before you grokked to it? And then, how I baited you into clicking through to every big image just in the hopes of finding another easter egg? So mean! But you’ve gotta admit: some of those combos and switcheroos were pretty good. Almost worth all the extra clicking.)
I guess now, in 2017, almost three full years after I closed the door on that writing project (or phase or habit or blog — or whatever you want to call it), it is starting to feel apart from me enough that I can see its virtues. Separate enough that I might be able to start sorting its wheat from its chaff; with more of a detached, editorial eye. And hopefully with less swooping and confounding regret. Seems like the couple times I tried to take a pass at it previously, it was just too soon. Wouldn’t really do to get tearstains all over the galleys, now would it?
I can imagine, today, what would be good about it in the different, more substantial, more invested format of a book. It’s okay for it to be good in different ways; a re-purposed or re-considered thing. It’s not like the book would erase the web site. It’s not like the web site is a prerequisite to getting something from the book.
I can imagine, sort of, how a new reader might discover and enjoy the compacted, sifted, annotated paper version better and more easily than the unadulterated, self-indulgent, sprawling digital mass. I can imagine how an old reader might discover and enjoy the same things again in a different light, or new things in the same light, or the nostalgic overlay of contemporary comments and factoid updates. [eg. ‘The barn’s now just a pile hidden under trees and weeds.’ ‘That baby is in 3rd grade, with glasses.’ ‘Still workin’ that same ol’ dayjob.’ ‘I sold the treadle and now throw at a million miles an hour.’ ‘I HAVE NOT YET GIVEN UP!!!’]
I can even imagine — just barely — how, as an object, a book could even be worth its price; at least, to a hilariously small, bespoke audience. What, 22 copies, plus a few for me and a couple more for posterity? You know I’d give away at least 11 of the 22. So that should only leave me a few hundred hours and $1-5000 in the hole for my efforts. Almost as profitable as making pots! Ha.
The Admiral thinks I should do it. The Mom thinks I should. So does Pixel. And ‘Aunt’ Nell, who’s smart, and discerning, and wiser than me, and not even biased in my favor by familial ties, like those other three. When all the layers of matriarchy in my life say I should do something, I should probably just do it.
[Note: Of course, this post in no way guarantees that I will ever actually do it. This is not a commitment. Heck, I’m not even adding it as a To Do item! I am a world-class procrastinator. (Over in the tw@se archive, I spotted a photo of my work table with a freshly purchased copy of the book The Now Habit; that was 10 years ago and I still haven’t read it.) Writing this post, ironically, might have brought me one step closer to doing it, or it might have burnt up the impulsive vision that prompted it, and now I’m sated enough to retreat back to consistently not doing anything about it. We’ll see.]
“I basically write for a different version of myself.”