Melville House, and “The Book Beyond the Book”

We took a look at Melville House’s HybridBooks earlier (“What are ‘Hybrid Books’?”), and the New York Times provided a closer look at the reading experience: “The Book Beyond the Book”.

The HybridBook exists first and foremost as a paperback book, but the Melville House approach is the addition of curated content which adds a layer of background information to the story text itself intended to fill in those gaps while reading, say, Bartleby, The Scrivener —

“The electronic element comes in with the ancillary material. The last page of the Melville edition directs readers to a Web site, where they will find an 1852 map of lower Manhattan: a recipe for Ginger Nuts, a biscuit that plays a role in the narrative; lengthy excepts from Emerson and Thoreau; a contemporaneous classified ad for a scrivener; and similar material.

“Basically, we decided to mimic our own reading process,” Mr. Johnson said “When I read a great classic, if I like it, I want the experience to somehow continue, so I will pursue more information about the writer, or the setting, or some aspect of the plot’s background. (Dueling? What’s up with that?) My mind wanders, imagining what the world of the book looked like. And so on. Now we have curated exactly that kind of material, and it allows you to linger in the world of the book, to understand more about it — to simply luxuriate in the world of the book longer. It’s something more than just the book, but something very much ‘of’ the book. This seems very innovative to me at the same time that it seems kind of an obvious innovation.”

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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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