Thursday, December 17, 2020

Jessica Pressman's "Bookishness"

Jessica Pressman is an Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. She is the author of Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media (2014), co-author, with Mark C. Marino and Jeremy Douglass, of Reading Project: A Collaborative Analysis of William Poundstone’s Project for Tachistocope {Bottomless Pit} (2015), and co-editor, with N. Katherine Hayles, of Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in a Postprint Era (2013). She is a recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

Pressman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses bookish fakery; in particular, the wonderfully fun simulation of an old, well-worn book in the novel S. (2013) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (yes, that J.J. Abrams—the famous Hollywood director).

S. weaves—or, rather, spirals— a narrative around a fake book whose mysterious production history and enigmatic author compels two university students to go on a treasure hunt investigating its origins. Page 99 discusses the importance of the simulated handwriting in the novel’s margins, printed in color and in different styles to look real (and it does!). The handwriting is part of the narrative; it contains the stories of the characters’ investigations and also documents them falling in love during the process.

I actually think that this page gives a rather good sense of my book’s purpose and practice. The page delves deeply into exploring how contemporary bookbound novels use their formal aesthetics, page design, and

Page 99; click to enlarge

digital production technologies to create beautifully bookish literature that fetishizes the role of the book in a digital age.

Also of note is that page 99 contains a photograph of the book discussed, S. Bookishness is, in part, a curated collection of diverse objects that collectively represent the contemporary phenomenon I describe as “bookishness.” The images matter to my book because they show how bookishness is not just about words and stories but also about things and the thingly.

Finally, I want to say that I love this page 99 test. I love most quirky ways of interacting with books. The idea of this test suggests that books are objects to play with, not just read through. The great scholar of book history, Peter Stallybrass, reminds us that the book (the technology of the codex) was the first random access machine; unlike the scroll, the codex as inscription technology allows one to open it to any place and start reading. The page 99 test uses that innovation of the book medium and reminds us of one of the reasons that books will always matter.
Visit Jessica Pressman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue