Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Para-Text and Tangible Books

This post was designed and dedicated to Linda and her students. Keep up the great work. @LLumiss 

For Teachers:

Did you ever flip through a book and find a surprising artifact inside? I frequent a really good used bookstore and I often find random and often strange things tucked into books. Imagine, someone in another time, reaching for something to tuck into their books to hold a spot, mark an idea, or just keep something hidden from someone else. Some of my favorite finds are a four-leaf clover, a letter from one person to another about the poet of the book, and pictures tossed as a place holder. 

More than just holding a book and leafing through it is this idea of inserted things. When J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorset set out to make the book S. they took this concept to an extreme. The book is merely the vehicle in which the story is given through inserted things, letters, postcards, margin notes, and other things. For a better understanding of the book, The Story of "S": Talking with J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst from the New Yorker will give you an insight into the complexity and the focus of this fascinating book. Showing this book to readers in better than just showing them a book, because it shows the mystery and the complexity of what could also be added and inserted into the mix. This is a great book to show to a group of students and let them see all the elements inside. 

This leads to the idea that books are influenced by what surrounds them. Gerard Genette, literary critic, coined the phrase "paratext", he described these around-the-edge-of-a-book elements to influence not only how a book is read, but what expectations might be found there. Paratext includes blurbs, authorial comments, reviews, illustrations, footnotes, endnotes, and more. To dive into that world, check out his book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, which is worth perusing to understand his vision of thinking. His vision of how text around the main text influence the reader is significant. 

Ideas and Starters for Students 

For some students looking at a book and holding it is not a familiar thing to consider. Book lovers and librarians ruminate about how they adore books, but we are in the minority. 

Part One: Have students look at books and consider all the parts. Books with prefaces, introductions, indexes, endnotes, table of contents, footnotes, and other texts help them see the connectivity. Ask them to identify the different elements of the book and why they think they are important. 

Then ask them what they think of a fiction writer using a footnote in a story that they made up. Why would they do this? Why would this be useful? 

Louis Borges used made up books and connections to make his story seem more applicable and ground some of his more abstract ideas. Other books like the confusing and complex House of Leave by Mark Danielewski also works to confuse matters. 

Part Two: Collect random ephemera, postcards, sticky notes, napkins, little slips of paper, notes to friends, receipts, anything that can be concealed in a book. Have the students flip through the book and consider what the book is about. Then have them take out all the things in that book. Have them write a story of who they think owed the book and what happened according to the found things. 

Part Three: What kind of artifacts would students like to leave in a book? Would this hide a letter, underline the funny words, or make the entire book into a complex cipher. (I don't condone defacing books for the sake of these ideas). Have the students create a statement on an index card that makes a statement or a request from the reader who finds it. What would happen if someone read this card? What would happen if it was found in 100 years?

A cross-over type of social activity would be tapping into BookCrossing where students could read books and then release them in their environments and see where they go. This is a fun way for physical books to be considered in real time as they travel about. 

This would probably entail using donated books and then sharing them back into the community. It is a free resource and it shows that books can have a life of their own and a lot of people who may not have access to books, still love to read. -- # September 2017

by Ron Samul from We Are the Curriculum
Please send fun classroom feedback, pictures, or general connections to this post to / Would love to see what you are doing in the classroom. 
Ron is an expert at the Digital Human Library and connects with teachers all over the world to inspire creativity in writing, books, and critical thinking. 


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