(Roughly) Daily

Artful Accidents…


Crayon-colored illustration from The Mexican Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins (1915). Original from the University of Virginia. Digitized August 5, 2008.

The Art of Google Books collects two types of images: analog stains that are emblems of a paper book’s history and digital glitches that result from the scanning. On the site, the analog images show scads of marginalia written in antique script, library “date due” stamps from the mid-century, tobacco stains, wormholes, dust motes, and ghosts of flowers pressed between pages. On the digital side are pages photographed while being turned, resulting in radical warping and distortion; the solarizing of woodcuts owing to low-resolution imaging; sonnets transformed by software bugs into pixelated psychedelic patterns; and the ubiquitous images of workers’ hands…

Neon moiré fromThe First Ten Years of a Sailor’s Life at Sea by Charles Chapman (1876). Original from Harvard University. Digitized January 5, 2009.

Krissy Wilson, the keeper of The Art of Google Books, explains:

The diverse, startling adversaria of Google Books merits examination and exhibition. The aim of this project is twofold; to recognize book digitization as rephotography, and to value the signs of use that accompany digitized texts as worthy of documentation and study.

The halo of a removed flower. From p. 79 of The Ladies’ Work-table Book: Containing Clear and Practical Instructions in Plain and Fancy Needlework, Embroidery, Knitting, Netting, and Crochet (1845). Original from Harvard University. Digitized March 17, 2008.

Read more– and find links to others mining Google Books– at “The Artful Accidents of Google Books.”


As we put away our cotton gloves, we might send well-turned birthday greetings to Gustave Flaubert; he was born on this date in 1821.  Widely considered one of the greatest novelists in the Western canon, he is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), for his Correspondence– and for the scrupulous devotion to style and aesthetics they demonstrate.   Flaubert’s almost obsessive commitment to lean and precise prose was a major influence on his protege Maupassant, and later on such authors as Zola, Kafka and Coetzee, and has been the subject of admiration from thinkers and writers across a spectrum that runs from Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes to Mario Vargas Llosa and Marshall McLuhan.

Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring; it all begins again with him. There really is a time before Flaubert and a time after him. Flaubert decisively established what most readers and writers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible. We hardly remark of good prose that it favors the telling of brilliant detail; that it privileges a high degree of visual noticing; that it maintains an unsentimental composure and knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary; that it judges good and bad neutrally; that it seeks out the truth, even at the cost of repelling us; and that the author’s fingerprints on all this are paradoxically, traceable but not visible. You can find some of this in Defoe or Austen or Balzac, but not all of it until Flaubert.

–  James Wood, How Fiction Works (2008)



Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 12, 2013 at 1:01 am

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