Thursday, November 10, 2005

Text. Coord. in popular fiction

Just finished reading, and enjoying, Erik Larson's Devil in the White City -- mandatory reading on Chicago's El (I see at least one person a week with it on the train). Besides being interesting historical non-fiction covering the drama of architects preparing for the 1893 World's Fair and a Category 5 mad-doctor/serial killer, there were two fun examples of textual coordination that caught my eye...

1) A wonderful example of textual intervention -- the strategic placement of text for changing action -- by the Fair's chief architect:
As a reminder to himself and anyone who visited his office in the shanty, Burnham posted a sign over his desk bearing a single word: RUSH. (121)
I know just how that feels.

2) In describing his research process in the book's notes, the author writes:
I do not employ researchers, nor did I conduct any primary research using the Internet. I need physical contact with my sources, and there's only one way to get it. To me every trip to a library or archive is like a small detective story. There are always little moments on such trips when the past flares to life, like a match in the darkness. On one visit to the Chicago Historical Society, I found the actual notes that Prendergast sent to Alfred Trude. I saw how deeply the pencil dug into the paper. (396)
Larson includes this finding in the book itself -- a kind of detail made impossible through Internet research. But Larson seems to pooh pooh an increasingly valuable resource (Google Print post coming soon). While I will be the first to agree with the limits of any particular technology, I get a little annoyed when technologies are written off uncritically and wholesale.

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