an idea whose time I don’t have

This came to me in the shower. Many ideas come to me in the shower but most of them have to do with grocery shopping and social obligations.

If you aren’t familiar with the online versions of Pepys’ Diary or Martha Ballard’s Diary, you should really have a look. Or let’s say, you should have a look if you’re at all interested in history and historical fiction.

English: Author: Guy de la Bedoyere. Letter by...

Each of these diaries takes on the job of annotating an older historical document or set of documents for modern readers who aren’t familiar with the cultural context. In the case of Pepys’ Diary, there’s a large community of people who participate by annotating entries. If somebody happens to know the background of a particularly obtuse usage, or a place where it was used in another way, or anything relevant to understanding the passage, they can submit an annotation.

Reading the annotations are as much fun as reading the diaries.

Okay, yes. I’m a history geek. But mostly I’m interested in the stories that are buried in the diaries and that come out, bit by bit. Martha Ballard’s diary contains some tremendously surprising stories of things that happened in her small Maine village where she was a midwife in the late 18th century. Pepys had a much wider view of the world, and so his stories are different in tone.

I know, I’m taking a long time to get to the point. Here it is: any book that is out of copyright could get this treatment, and the list of out of copyright books is very, very long. If one person got the ball rolling with a well loved novel, and the process took off, it might be the beginning of a whole new way of reading, and certainly a new way to discuss the books we read.

I nominate Pride & Prejudice as an excellent starting point. There are so many people who love this novel, I think it would have a much better chance of succeeding than say, Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s possible that the Pepys’ people might be open to an adaptation of their software, which would make everything so much easier.

So there. I’ve put down the idea. It will be a huge amount of work, lots of fun, very satisfying. Not a penny’s profit to be made.

Who’s game? That’s what I thought.

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book mania

When I’m having trouble writing (which, yes, I am having today. And yesterday, and for about five days now) my mind skitters around like a rat in a maze.

Usually one little thing will lodge in my head to distract me from working on what’s wrong and fixing it. I am very aware when this happens. It takes huge effort to stop the avoidance cycle and get back to work. Often the thing that I obsess about instead of writing has to do with books.

LibraryThing, which is wonderful in so many ways, enables my book mania. Or maybe I should say it launches my book mania into the stratosphere. There’s something about wandering around a thousand libraries that puts me in a hypnotic state, until I focus on one book.

This weekend that book was War and Peace, which I saw on one list or an other. (Longest novels? Novel with the longest names? Novel everybody owns but nobody reads?)

Well, I read it. A long time ago, but I did read it. And, here’s where the mania comes in: it wasn’t in my LibraryThing library. Which means I had to trot off and try to find it and figure out why it wasn’t in the LibraryThing library. Except I couldn’t find it. Somehow I lost Leo Tolstoy, and I never even noticed. He may have been missing for years, and I went on blithely.

Obviously he must be replaced.

Now the real problem: which edition?

You can’t just order any edition of Tolstoy. Asking Amazon for War and Peace, you never know what piece of poorly translated dreck they’ll send you. What you need is, a recommendation from somebody who knows Tolstoy really well. And I happen to know a scholar of Russian literature who fits that bill… except where is her email address?

You see? The chase is on.

Even after I settle on an edition (in this case the 1942 Simon & Schuster Inner Sanctum edition) I still have to find one. And I have to find one that is in fairly good, but not collectible shape. However, I do want the original bookmark that came with this edition, because it has all the names of the characters on it in order of appearance.

It’s off to abebooks to see if I can track a copy down for a reasonable price.

All of this takes time, you must realize. Lots of time. Time in which I could be delving into the stuckedness of the chapter I’m trying to write.

So I found Leo (with the helpful bookmark) and I paid the ransom so he’ll be delivered here to sit on a shelf in my library. Right there, on that spot, between the Norton Critical edition of Mansfield Park. And now I have to forbid myself any more glances at anybody’s library for fear I’ll notice some other book I’m missing. And back to to work.