August 16, 2011

As BULLETT readers may already know, we’re obsessed with Melville House and all that comes out of it as the most innovative press standing. Incidentally, they’re also the one with the youngest mentality–in that, unlike most booksellers they don’t run scared from new technology but face it with curiosity and [shock!] attempt to understand it. Which is why they end up conquering it, time and again–

Melville found a way to make a bestseller out of a 60-year-old book. They found a way to make Irmgard Keun sexy (though maybe she’s responsible for that). And now they’ve done it again with HybridBooks. The concept is advanced, but years in the making: you’re reading a text from another time or place and you’re completely disoriented (what the hell is a brougham? Madeira?) you scan in the barcode of the book on your phone, which directs you to random pages of online period-specific extras, termed ‘illuminations’, related to the book you’re reading (a ginger-nuts recipe for Bartleby as well as a map of old Wall Street). The realization: that all the weird, anachronistic details of a novel are as much of interest as anything that’s going on in the plot. It’s something of the encyclopedic principle of Melville House’s namesake, and patron of the ramble, Herman Melville himself.

We respect Melville House for celebrating new technology and letting it be what it (beautifully) is: a bottomless hole of information swallowing itself which you throw yourself into in the hope of getting swallowed. The thought of an immersive, matrix-like reading experience in order to bring older texts closer to home is the most brilliant innovation since the footnote (because let’s be real, what’s better than a footnote? Very little.)

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