January 25th, 2014
bookmobility

Welcome to Bookmobility

If this is your first time at Bookmobility, I recommend that you start by browsing some of the posts linked to below, which will give you a sense of the range of topics and styles on Bookmobility.

In these posts, you’ll find analyses of everything from library furniture to pop culture pedagogy, from political puppetry to the market in bull semen. You’ll find out what happened when Jim Crow went neon and why it isn’t enough to approach the bookmobile as a metaphor. You’ll meet some fantastic students, some creative librarians, and some really angry uteri. Enjoy!

Libraries, Bookmobiles, and Print Culture

Teaching

Technology and Infrastructure

Historical Oddities

January 25th, 2014
bookmobility
funny how characters in books said the things one wanted to say…he would like to know Jurgen…how does one go about getting an introduction to a fiction character…go up to the brown cover of the book and knock gently…and say hello…then timidly…is Duke Jurgen there…or…no because if one entered the book in the beginning Jurgen would only be a pawn broker…and one didn’t enter a book in the center…but what foolishness…
Richard Bruce Nugent, “Smoke, Lilies and Jade" (1926)
December 1st, 2013
bookmobility

The Medium and the Message

This is cellphone keyboard fabric I found at a Nashville textile store. When I first saw it, I made a crack about it being “for all your mobile-technology-upholstery needs.” But joking aside, this fabric raises a deceptively simple question: Why? Or put less succinctly: Oh dear God, why does this exist? 

I think the most basic answer is that there’s fabric for just about anything. Near this bolt, you could also find woven cotton covered in sewing machines, mustaches, cat paws, scissors, serving spoons, and more. These fabrics serve to signal, quickly and without much grace, an interest (cats, hipster facial hair, crafting, cooking, etc., etc.). The shouted message: “I like _________!”

At the same time, there’s something especially peculiar about this print’s fragmented, partial representation. The sewing machine fabric didn’t only show feed dogs, and the mustache print was more than follicles. So why is this one only keyboards? In part, sure, they’re synecdochal.  But I think what this fabric really does is signal, a bit awkwardly, what may really be at stake, or of interest, in a certain kind of mobile technology* for many of its users. For those users, the point isn’t the contraption. The point that the contraption makes possible a sort-of-new version of a really (really!) old task: communicating with other humans. It’s not technologies themselves, in other words. It’s the meaning that technologies help—but only help—to make.

*Note, by the way, that this fabric appears to pre-date in origins, but post-date in production and sale, the widespread adoption of smartphones, most of which don’t have keyboards like either of the ones represented here. Which raises another question: How would you, in this medium, represent a touchscreen?

November 10th, 2013
bookmobility
PS: When I am alone with some fellow I ‘take to,’ I get a real strange feeling, a feeling which haunts me and seems unexplainable, a certain quietness comes over me or both of us, I’m not sure. What is this??
Postscript to a 1957 letter to ONE magazine inquiring how to either lessen “homosexual desires” or find a partner. From Craig Loftin’s Letters to ONE.
November 2nd, 2013
bookmobility
On Book Riot, I have a post up about finding libraries in unexpected places. In it, I look at a series of twists on the bookmobile, which took libraries to surprising places. There are libraries in supermarkets, libraries in vending machines, libraries on donkeys, and more. 
Check it out. 

On Book Riot, I have a post up about finding libraries in unexpected places. In it, I look at a series of twists on the bookmobile, which took libraries to surprising places. There are libraries in supermarkets, libraries in vending machines, libraries on donkeys, and more. 

Check it out

October 7th, 2013
bookmobility
In the Boston area this week? Then you should stop by Harvard on Wednesday afternoon, where I’ll be giving a talk about bookmobiles in the United States.
Also: What an amazing poster, right?

In the Boston area this week? Then you should stop by Harvard on Wednesday afternoon, where I’ll be giving a talk about bookmobiles in the United States.

Also: What an amazing poster, right?

September 29th, 2013
bookmobility
"Over There": Papering Over the Horror of War
This fascinating image is an advertisement from the December 1918 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine, requesting donations of books for soldiers fighting in World War I. I’ll leave aside the problems that always attended these drives (donations tended to be of poor quality, horrendously outdated, and/or of no interest to soldiers) to focus, briefly on the way this particular ad imagined books and war.
The ad is pretty cute, all in all. And that’s precisely what I find so unsettling about it. Its buoyant optimism (we can help so much!) and slapstick dignity (look at him trying to carry all those books while still being strong and brave!) seem strangely at odds with its message and its purpose. In the comforting fantasyland of the poster, a soldier would be weighed down by simply too many books to fill his leisure hours and not, as he would have been, by hundreds of pounds of gear, by his trench’s earthen walls, by the likelihood of his own violent—and perhaps pointless—death. The idea that books could bridge the gap between here at home and “OVER THERE” is lovely, sure. But it is also glaringly, fundamentally incomplete, hiding a brutal distance between the pages of a book.
[Photo source]

"Over There": Papering Over the Horror of War

This fascinating image is an advertisement from the December 1918 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine, requesting donations of books for soldiers fighting in World War I. I’ll leave aside the problems that always attended these drives (donations tended to be of poor quality, horrendously outdated, and/or of no interest to soldiers) to focus, briefly on the way this particular ad imagined books and war.

The ad is pretty cute, all in all. And that’s precisely what I find so unsettling about it. Its buoyant optimism (we can help so much!) and slapstick dignity (look at him trying to carry all those books while still being strong and brave!) seem strangely at odds with its message and its purpose. In the comforting fantasyland of the poster, a soldier would be weighed down by simply too many books to fill his leisure hours and not, as he would have been, by hundreds of pounds of gear, by his trench’s earthen walls, by the likelihood of his own violent—and perhaps pointless—death. The idea that books could bridge the gap between here at home and “OVER THERE” is lovely, sure. But it is also glaringly, fundamentally incomplete, hiding a brutal distance between the pages of a book.

[Photo source]

July 31st, 2013
bookmobility
Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ‘space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. The old civic, state, and national groupings have become unworkable. Nothing can be further from the spirit of the new technology than ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ You can’t go home again.
Marshall McLuhan (with Quentin Fiore), The Medium is the Massage (1967)
July 12th, 2013
bookmobility

The Great Gatsby and Pride & Prejudice are already video games. What other classic novels would make great—if counterintuitive—games?

In my latest post for Book Riot, I propose some ideas. Mrs. Dalloway becomes first-person-shooter Mrs. Dalloway: Party of DOOM. O! Pioneers becomes Wheat! An Agricultural Management Game, a cross between Sim City and Oregon Trail. Read more about these games, and see some other ideas, here: 

Turning Classic Novels into Video Games

July 10th, 2013
bookmobility
I first saw President Reagan as a foot, highly polished brown cordovan wagging merrily on a hassock. I spied it through the door. It was a beautiful foot, sleek. Such casual elegance and clean lines! But not a big foot, not formidable, maybe a little …frail. I imagined cradling it in my arms, protecting it from unsmooth roads.

Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for Reagan

(ht Charles Pierce)

June 25th, 2013
bookmobility

Over on Book Riot, I have a new post up about the artist Ekaterina Panikanova, who creates gorgeous, lush, and disorienting paintings by using old books as her canvas. Check it out:

Meet an Artist Who Paints on Books

June 10th, 2013
bookmobility
If a Victorian gentleman arrived in present-day London, he’d think we’d been invaded by glowing rectangles. The average single Londoner’s day runs as follows: you wake up and watch a screen until it tells you it’s time to leave the house, at which point you step outside (appearing on a CCTV screen the moment you do so), catch a bus (with an LED screen on the outside and an LCD screen on the inside) to the tube station (giant screens outside; screens down the escalator; projected screens on the platform), to sit on a train and fiddle with your iPod (via the screen), arrive at the office (to stare at a screen all day), then head home to split your attention between the internet (the screen on your lap) and the TV (the screen in the corner) and your mobile (a handheld screen you hold conversations with).
Charlie Brooker, I Can Make You Hate (Faber and Faber, 2012)
June 6th, 2013
bookmobility

“Not His Head”: Life, Narrative, and the Lethal Promise of Power

I’m coming very late to this party, as these were posted a few months ago. They’ve been sitting in my drafts folder and, in the wake of President Obama’s deeply unsatisfying national security speech several weeks ago, I wanted to draw attention to them once again.

Obama’s speech promised disclosure, promised a full story, but was cut short by his refusal to refuse the lethal promise of power. In these tweeted, aborted novels, Teju Cole shows another way that the fullness of language, of truth, of representation, is pared to near nothingness by that promise and that power. 

Cole uses ruptured, truncated narratives to illustrate, in slant, the lives cut short by drone strikes around the world. What we immediately recognize as epic beginnings become, quick and unclean, abrupt and violent ends. We are left in a ragged absence, in a hole the shape of what now will not, now cannot, happen. It is sharply bordered like a too-soon ending but, at the same time, marked by the unbounded horror of inescapable impossibility.

Check out Pro Publica’s drone series for more information about the silence and violence of the drone war.

June 4th, 2013
bookmobility
Her name, at this point, is almost onomatopoeic: the elegantly coiled, haute-American Sylvia, poised and serpentine, and then the Germanic exhalation of Plath, its fatal flatness like some ruptured surface resealing itself. Her whole history is in there somehow: the shining prizewinner with a death obsession, the supercharged, comical/terrible talent whose memory is the lid of a sarcophagus.
James Parker, “Why Sylvia Plath Haunts Us,” The Atlantic (June 2013)
June 3rd, 2013
bookmobility
In my latest for Book Riot, I discuss Penguin’s new Book Truck (and pushcart, above), and I try to put them in a bit of historical context. Check it out:
Penguin Launches Book Truck

In my latest for Book Riot, I discuss Penguin’s new Book Truck (and pushcart, above), and I try to put them in a bit of historical context. Check it out:

Penguin Launches Book Truck

This is a site about information in motion.

I'm Derek Attig, a director of communications at a non-profit and scholar of media history and American Studies. I am writing a book about bookmobiles in America.

I was a 2012 Google Policy Fellow. I'm also a contributor to Book Riot.

You can also follow me on Twitter @bookmobility or explore the menu tabs at the top of the site to find syllabi, links, and other information.

Comments? Questions? Ideas? Contact me at derekattig[at]gmail.com or @bookmobility

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