As a little boy, I loved to dig through the books that my great-grandmother kept beside her bed. Most of them were of the romance novel variety, but she occasionally mixed in a pulp one with a rather provocative cover that would make any nine-year-old kid want more pictures on the inside. But it was always words, usually big print words, and no pictures.
This site brings back some memories. And the virtual paperback rack (go to the Gallery) makes for some quality time-killing.
About the Rack From the beginnings of the Paperback Revolution, the paperback rack has been as ubiquitous a fixture as the books themselves. These racks, placed in everyday locations such as drugstores, department stores, and train stations, were instrumental in bringing literature to the people. In 1935 there were fewer than 500 bookstores in the United States, and far fewer yet in Canada; the racks introduced a whole new generation to the world of reading.
Assembling an online gallery of paperbacks from the Edmonton Collection was a complicated endeavour. Copyright laws prevent the complete digital reproduction of books online, but simple thumbnail galleries of paperback covers hold relatively little value as a research resource. What of value, then, can be displayed and preserved online? It was the metaphor of the paperback rack, along with a healthy dose of materialist hermeneutics, which came to the project's rescue.
According to textual theorist Jerome McGann, literary texts cannot be known "apart from their specific material modes of existence/resistence...they are not channels of transmission, they are particular forms of transmissive interaction" (The Textual Condition, 11). When browsing through paperbacks at a drugstore, you might glance at the back cover, or open the book and read its first page. A book's specific, material details — including elements of a book's "bibliographic encoding," advertisements, marginal notes, typeface, layout, and more — speak volumes about a book's intended audience, method of distribution, and circulation.
Take a few minutes, then, to thumb through some of the titles in our virtual paperback rack. Every time you visit, a random assortment of books is drawn from a growing database based upon the Edmonton Collection. (Much like some paperback racks of the 1950s and 1960s, our rack is a true assemblage, freely mixing genres and publishing houses.) Clicking a book will let you examine its covers and several interior pages, highlighting each book's physical "feel" and appearance and illustrating several aspects of its bibliographic encoding. Clicking on the hand will spin the rack, displaying another set of texts from the database.