The Chimerist

Posts tagged Biblion

Villa Diodati and the moon, reflected in Lake Geneva. Finden, 1833. Moyra Davey, Six Weeks Tour. Frankenstein, draft chapter 6

Anyone who loves Frankenstein like I love Frankenstein and hasn’t downloaded the NYPL’s second Biblion app will want to do so pronto, if for no other reason than to scroll through Mary Shelley’s handwritten draft. The programmers paired the manuscript, begun in 1816, “with a transcript of the novel’s 1831 edition so you can toggle… to see how Shelley changed and developed” the story over time.

Navigating these documents — and the app more generally — is not without its frustrations. The pages are crash-prone; the layout is sometimes confusing. And as Adi Robertson said at The Verge this summer, it can be difficult to decipher “the nearly 200-year-old script on the iPad’s display. Even scanned in decent resolution with a zoom tool, there’s just no way around the lack of contrast and tiny lettering.” But the handwritten text does provide “a great sense of Shelley’s flow while writing, something that the advent of the word processor made nearly invisible.”

Laura, my Chimerist co-conspirator, has read extensively on the Shelleys’ circle and that fateful summer on Lake Geneva, and pointed out at dinner last week that the essays don’t add much to the existing scholarship and commentary. My knowledge on the subject is a little more scattershot than hers is, so some of the ideas and images here were new to me. I learned a few things about the ways the novel and its author inspired later artists, including Boris Karloff and the photographer Moyra Davey, and I especially enjoyed Moeck’s “The Monster Reads Milton,” which was an excellent supplement to some of the reading I’ve been doing on modern philosophy and religion lately.

Luckily, Biblion is free. Or at least the only cost for trying it out is the space it takes up on your iPad.

— Maud Newton


Filed under: can’t wait. The NYPL previews part of the second Biblion installment: Outsiders: The Afterlife of Shelley and Frankenstein. This gorgeous and eerie portrait of Mary Shelley evidently was based on a death mask. I do wish the text that accompanies it here didn’t seem quite so incredulous that she, at 18, rather than her husband, or Byron, Keats, Coleridge, or Wordsworth, wrote the Romantic period work still most often read today. 
—Maud Newton

Filed under: can’t wait. The NYPL previews part of the second Biblion installment: Outsiders: The Afterlife of Shelley and Frankenstein. This gorgeous and eerie portrait of Mary Shelley evidently was based on a death mask. I do wish the text that accompanies it here didn’t seem quite so incredulous that she, at 18, rather than her husband, or Byron, Keats, Coleridge, or Wordsworth, wrote the Romantic period work still most often read today. 

Maud Newton


When the New York Public Library released Biblion last year, it properly wowed iPad users interested in inventive ways of presenting information. Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic proclaimed it a model for the magazine apps of the future. So far, though — nearly a year later — there hasn’t been another issue.

The theme of the premier issue is the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The library signed on to get all materials pertaining to the event right from the very beginning, so it’s a fabulous trove of documents, correspondence, blueprints, sketches, photographs, short films, even a menu or two.

The only way to read Biblion is to wander through it, an experience that more than one observer likened to meandering around the fair itself. It’s an impressive emulation, as well, of rummaging through a good archive or taking in a museum exhibit. If you care about women at the fair (scantily-clad ones were a major attraction), or the Czech Pavilion as a commemoration of a republic that fell to the Nazis while the exhibition being built, or what the staff uniforms looked like, or the story of the African-American composer who wrote the music for the Democracity exhibit inside the fair’s giant dome, you can head straight for that and then fork off in other directions later. Navigation is complex, but after a while you get the hang of it.

The material is clustered around short, well-written essays, and this, as well, seems ideally suited to the material. I wouldn’t call Biblion a model for the tablet magazines of the future, however, because it doesn’t offer one of the primary things magazine features and books provide, which is the order of linearity. Making sense of raw facts, pointing out strands of cause and effect, conveying which bits of information mean more than others: These are some of the meaning-making services that writers and editors perform. It’s a mistake — one often made by unreflective technoevangelists — to assume that linearity’s role in that service is no more than a vexing constraint imposed by the print medium.

For a subject like the 1939 World’s Fair, however, the reader’s freedom to browse through the app’s content at will is exactly the right format. Biblion is spectacularly produced with clever little animations and nice touches like a rotating set of opening images and suggestions for which topic to visit next.

It must have cost a fortune to produce, which makes me fear the library will never get around to assembling another issue. (The web version of Biblion has a collection of stuff on Percy and Mary Shelley up at the moment, but no iPad version seems pending.) I hope that’s not the case, because the access Biblion provides to the world’s great library collections is one of the most exciting possibilities of tablet computers.

Laura Miller