Form follows content

Was updating my booklist, and came across this old letter that I had been given permission to post, […]

Was updating my booklist, and came across this old letter that I had been given permission to post, and yet didn’t. doh!

So, without further ado, Steven Magnuson writes:

Life: A User’s Manual, George Perec
The book is apparently organized according to the architecture of the building in which the entire baseline narrative takes place. The furnishings of the building, its inhabitants, and embedded tales of their existence are exhaustively detailed. Features a convention I think many a novel lamentably lacks, an index (a comprehensive on at that, also includes an index of endo-stories, IIRC). Also wrote _A Void_ (La Disparition), a lipogrammatic detective story containing no instances of the letter “E”.

Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavic
An associative narrative according to the structure of a dictionary, necessarily nonlinear, even if read in consecutive pages.

Christina notes: there seems to have been a male and female edition, the female edition is out of print. hmm

Inner Side of the Wind, Pavic
If I remember correctly, two ostensibly unrelated stories placed opposite from each other in the physical book (read one, turn book over, read other from the other direction). In the center of the book, the stories both physically and literally meet.

Landscape Painted with Tea, Pavic

Structured according to an unfinished crossword at the beginning of the book. To read linearly, or as the crossword is organized, each chapter corresponding to a vertical or horizontal index on the puzzle.

You might look at Henry Petroski’s books, which center on engineering and a little bit of industrial design, but conceptually are incredibly relevant to IA. As for the linguistic and cognitive basis of IA, Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics is essential (I believe Eco, that ridiculously-erudite-and-proud-of-it intellectual, did many of the translations himself!). Really, much of the more practical semiotics texts are untapped in this field. Since IA is inherently interdisciplinary and much of the canon is appropriated, thus also for the canon of semiotics, at least on the more accessible side.”

Whew. I think I have my next amazon order figured out….

Thank you, Steven.


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  1. 1

    Petrosk’s books are surprisingly boring. I kept reading and reading in “Evolution of Useful Things,” waiting for some insight or excitement. The guy’s an engineer-historian, and takes some of the worst from both professions: the literal, quantitative attitude and tedious writing style of the engineer, and the excruciating comprehensiveness of the historian. The result reads like a book with every long footnote put into the text, with every detail cited and every tangent explored.

    I think it’s possible to be passionate about the paper clip, but he isn’t.

  2. 2
    George Girton

    I found Petroski boring too, yet still took away a fact and an insight from an ultimately failed trudge through much of “The Pencil”

    1) Henry David Thoreau’s woodland expeditions were made possible by the Thoreau family pencil company. Yet Thoreau never mentioned pencils in a comprehensive list of essential items for a trip to the forest.

    2) Learning to use a pencil is not easy. After you learn to write, it’s a facile user interface. But how long does it take, in years of classroom time, to get there?

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