Brain and Nerve Food

Brain and Nerve Food

What’s interesting about these advertisements from 1884 is that they appear on the back cover of an anthology of English poetry published by Funk & Wagnalls, a volume of something called the Standard Library — evidently an ancestor to Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf, Penguin Classics, and other such series of canonical works. It’s funny that nowadays we aren’t surprised by magazines where advertising takes up half or more of the content, but find the idea of an ad on a book — even a mass-market paperback — a little shocking. But then books are things we plan on keeping around, whereas magazines are inherently disposable.

I think about that distinction a lot, since I’m so involved in publishing a magazine online, where the average shelf-life of blogs and zines is even shorter than the xeroxed little magazines of yore. (Do the 1970s qualify as “yore” yet?) On the one hand, I accept the reality that nothing is forever, and transience is inherent in all things. On the other hand, why should artists and authors entrust their works to qarrtsiluni if it isn’t going to be around in five or ten years? Unlike a print publication, there’s no tangible artifact to sit on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust. Don’t we owe it to our contributors to keep their works online as long as possible? We’re not paying them anything, so it seems like the least we can do.

I spent much of this weekend pulling together qartsiluni‘s first-ever podcast for the Water issue, in case anyone wonders where the hell I’ve been. And my other project involved making a more secure archive for our news microblog, which will still originate on Twitter (for the time being, at any rate), but now has its main presence on the imaginatively named qarrtsiluni news blog.

Now that qarrtsiluni has a blog, perhaps its own ambiguous nature — half-blog, half-magazine — will be a little less obvious. Or maybe adding a podcast dimension simply makes our precise identity even more difficult to pin down. The Standard Library was clearly a bit of a hybrid, too, appearing bi-monthly “bound in postal card manilla,” available by annual subscription, but offered also in cloth editions and clearly meant to be permanent. Over a century later, the paper is still in fine shape — nothing like some of the pulp fiction I have from the 1940s and 50s that crumbles at the touch. Chalk it up, perhaps, to all those vitalized phos-phites.

8 Comments


  1. Hey, I want me some of them vitalized phos-phites too!

    I dunno. It used to depress me a lot, roaming the Sterling Library at Yale (one of the last of the great wander-the-stacks libraries, I understand, or at least it was twenty years ago) and seeing volume after volume of stuff no one was ever, ever going to read. Maybe it’s kinder to let all evaporate into the ether!

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  2. After packing up (and unpacking this weekend) multiple boxes of books for this move, I wonder about keeping all this stuff. (A good reason not to buy new bookshelves is forced weeding.) At least the poetry books are generally slim and some might be revisited. But it does seem like it should be easy enough to keep pieces/issues online indefinitely (I suppose server space could get to be a problem at some point, depending on the host).

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  3. On the other hand I’ve heard, that to some of us, the ether of the internet is oppressively indurate, that nothing will be lost, ever, that it’s all in some data base somewhere, waiting to be resuscitated. Who would do the resuscitating, I can’t imagine, but it’s not impossible that future generations might seek out the work of one or more Qarrtsiluni contributors. Apparently, their on-line work will be there for the asking, whether you make any further efforts at archiving or not.

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  4. I read just the other day that the 80s were now “vintage”. So the 70s must surely be “yore”.

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  5. dale – I grew up wandering the stacks of Penn State’s main library, so I know what you mean. I was pretty sad when they had to start moving some of the dustiest volumes off to an annex some 20 years ago. But it was fun looking at the date stamps from the pre-computer era inside the back cover of some obscure volume and seeing just when it had been borrowed, once or twice a decade maybe. Too bad borrowers don’t have anything like that anymore to give them a sense of solidarity with those other, unknown readers.

    Bill – You mean the Interent Archive? Yes, there is that. But it’s deliberately not spidered by search engines to prevent redundancy, so you have to know about it and search it out. As a librarian’s son, though, you can bet I’m very glad it exists.

    Karen – Ha! Yeah, it’s very strange to hear the kids going all ga-ga about 80s bands that NONE of the cool kids liked back when they first came out. Everything’s cool in retrospect, I guess. (Except those of us who actually remember the decade – we’re too old.)

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  6. The best part about the stacks at U.Va. are the half-stories. The main undergrad librry has tall ceilings, and the stacks in the back can fit two floors to every one out front. (I assume they haven’t changed it in thirty years.) So, going up the elevator to floor 4 1/2 — sounds like something out of children’s verse — felt like I was really checking out. I wasted more study time up there reading back issues . . . and sleeping.

    Qarrtsiluni has come up so far in the world. The level of material, the breadth of its writers . . . wow. You and Beth have really done good work.

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  7. Thanks, Peter. Yeah, the central stacks of Penn State’s Pattee Library are that way, too, but they’re numbered 1A, 1b, etc., rather than in halves. We’re lucky to still have open stacks – I gather most research libraries of a comparable size do not.

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  8. A friend, who is of the productively paranoid type, thinks that Google etc. caches every page they link to. He reasons that information storage is cheap so why wouldn’t they? So, no, I didn’t mean the Internet Archive. And, no, I don’t have hard information.

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