Week 2: Form & Function – Pocket Books

In my stocking this year I got a copy of The Pocket Pema Chodron, which is approximately 3 x 4 inches in size. Published by Shambhala, it is part of their Pocket Classics series and contains “108 short selections from the best-selling books of Pema Chodron, the beloved Buddhist nun.” The compact size of the book is its distinguishing feature, and affects the book’s meaning principally by limiting its content.

As spiritual readings can tend to be quite dense, and consequently inaccessible, the layout of the book is geared towards providing quick snapshots of Pema’s teachings to facilitate consumption. In thinking about the book as an object, we can see how readers would use this differently than they might use, say, a coffee table book or a hardcover volume in a comfy reading chair. While these larger books are used in a more stationary setting and when the reader has a good chunk of time, pocket books are much more portable and can be read during the in-between moments of their day.

In Darnton’s article, he poses three questions for book historians:

  • How do books come into being?
  • How do they reach readers?
  • What do readers make of them? (Darnton 2007, p. 495)

He also briefly touches on the history of distribution and sales (Darnton 2007, p. 499), which got me thinking about how this book came into being. While I believe that this book format has the potential to be useful to readers, I wonder to what extent it is a marketing tool for publishers to make a quick buck. Just as manufacturers change their packaging to sell more units, the new condensed format of the pocket book may be a mere gimmick to appeal to readers who are too busy to sit down and read a full format book. By simplifying content and reducing volume, how much meaning is lost? In an age where Buzzfeed and other click-bait articles which barely skim the surface are becoming more and more standard, what values are being fostered? Is it worth sacrificing depth of meaning for breadth of use? Perhaps… Perhaps not.


Chodron, Pema. The Pocket Pema Chodron, Edited by Eden Steinberg. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2008.

Darnton, Robert. “”What is the History of Books?” Revisited.” Modern Intellectual History 4, no. 3 (2007): 495-508.

Griffin & Sabine

Griffin & SabineI recently came across Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock. The book is the first part of an epistolary trilogy, which was later followed by a second trilogy, Morning Star. All of the books follow the correspondence of two artists, Griffin and Sabine, as they discover their peculiar connection. The books are filled with Bantock’s art, both on the postcards and the envelopes.



The series is impressive in the artwork and storytelling, but the interactive form is largely what allows for the art and story to come together. The two images below show a letter from Sabine to Griffin and a letter from Griffin to Sabine, respectively. Bantock uses the style of the paper and the implied production of the text (handwriting versus typewriting) to not only differentiate between the characters, but to show the differences in their characters. Sabine is a whimsical stamp artist living on the Simcon Islands, a fictional group of islands in the South Pacific. Griffin is a jaded graphic artists stuck in his uninspired London studio. There is a larger issue of the representation of the “exotic East” in this series but that might be for another time.

DSC02394 DSC02397 The benefit of the form is that Bantock can keep the correspondence free from obvious authorial intervention and really allow for the two characters to speak with their own voice. Unlike a typical epistolary novel, which is usually structured like a regular novel (maybe with various fonts to represent characters), this form allowed Bantock to show much of the characterization through the way the characters styled their letters.

Although the format allows for a more complex narrative than a traditional epistolary novel (no spoilers), it is still a relatively familiar form. What is fascinating about this series is that it will once gain be renewed, but this time digitally by the Bound Press (a wonderfully named digital content and VR developer, but that name is a whole other analysis).

Last year, Bound Press launched a Kickstarter campaign for Griffin & Sabine: The Interactive Trilogy, which was unfortunately unsuccessful. I would encourage you to take a look at the video on this page to get a sense of their proposed adaptation. Bound is still looking to do this adaptation as an app for iOS and Android: Griffin & Sabine App

Taking it a step further, they developed an Oculus-optimized Virtual Reality version of Griffin’s Studio. In some ways, these moves are logical since they are really just taking the immersive quality of Bantack’s books a step further. I’m interested to see how the App will be developed and how (or if) it will change the experience of this story. Will it lose its unique epistolary feel once you have to merely click on the letters to open them? Will that even matter if the digital form can add further insight into the characters?

Bantock, Nick. Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1991.

Find it at: UTL or TPL

This book also inspired a parody, Sheldon and Mrs. Levine: An Excruciating Correspondence, which is sadly not available at the libraries.

Form, Function, and Digitization of Books

I am an avid lover of ancient history. My weekends as a child were spent cloistered in my aunt’s library reading mythology. I enjoyed books like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and comic book short stories from the Bhagavad Gita. As cheesy as it sounds, my love of history turned into a passion when I saw the movie Stargate. I was hooked on history like never before; I read encyclopedias to learn more about Ancient Egypt and went so far as to attempt to learn hieroglyphics. A few years ago, while working at Indigo Books, I came across a coffee table book on King Tut, The Treasures of Tutankhamun.

Cover of Treasures of Tutankhamun
The Treasures of Tutankhamun – © Jaromir Malek

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