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Each of these diaries takes on the job of annotating an older historical document or set of documents for modern readers who aren’t familiar with the cultural context.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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7 Replies to “an idea whose time I don’t have”

  1. Thank you for the thought-provoking exercise. It led me to ask about some family history with a new eye.

  2. I am looking deep into this person’s eyes and think about everything that you said, newborn, a new light and I am searching for a clue as to who I think this person is. Maybe he was a follower, a leader, a victim of cimcustance. I want to do the exercise and try to see what I am capable of creating, story and picture wise as to who he and his family is/was.

  3. Ha! I was hypnotized by those pics on Smoking Gun. People with socially inappropriate suggestions or comments tattooed on their forheads/eyebrows? I can’t look away.

    We were at the mall a few years ago, and a guy wearing what my mother would call “a smutty t-shirt” was asked by security to turn it inside out or leave. What happens to guys with smutty eyebrows? Do they walk around band-aided over, looking like Groucho Marx, every time they want to go shopping?

  4. Very interesting. I read footnotes and hunt down details as well, and this would be good to be part of. Although: time consuming. Need to find that time and make it count, I have way too many good ideas for the distant future retirement plans now.

  5. This sounds fascinating. I find reading the footnotes a lot more interesting sometimes than the “real” book! I’m with you… I don’t know where I would find the time (I already get chastised for not making enough time for my writing!) If we could find that day-stretcher though, I’d be willing to take a whack.

  6. That would be fun indeed, but time consuming. I’d vote for some Latin texts, like Caesar’s Gallic War or Tacitus’ Annals, but I don’t have the time to get something started, alas.

    Yes, I’m an Ancient Rome geek. :)

  7. Whoa Martha’s writing is hard ta read! The 18th century writing link was handy. The “S”,”V”,and “W”look different to me, was stumped till i figured out they write those letters differently. Interesting stuff like the “code cracking” aspect of it. :)

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