Figure 1 A picture of my BSC collection. Image: (c) Jamen Willis.
Whether you’ve read one of the books or not, chances are you’ve at least heard of the ultra-popular series from the late 80s called The Baby-Sitters Club. It revolves around a group of girls who, as different as they may be, come together to form a babysitting service in their town. While the series is far from being realistic and is not without flaws, it does a good job at teaching its readers about responsibility, friendship, and compassion. Ann M. Martin, the author whose name is plastered on each of the pastel covers, surely made her mark in the literary world. The Baby-Sitters Club series is comprised of over 200 books and has “more than 176 million copies in print” (Woytus). Talk about a financially successful series for the publisher, Scholastic! Especially now that Netflix has taken it upon themselves to turn the beloved series into a TV show, its audience is bound to grow.
Brandon C. Wall
Nishio Ishin’s light novel series, Monogatari, is a bit of an infamous modern classic in Japan. It was not written with readers outside of Japan in mind and this was made evident when I decided to work through the original, untranslated novels during my never-ending study to acquire Japanese as a second language. It is an incredibly dense, difficult series, famous for intelligent and creative manipulation of linguistics. Monogatari has been translated and adapted to various languages and mediums from graphic novels to animation and film. Therein lies the beauty (or glaring issue, depending on outlook) with the series. Translators are quickly met with great difficulty turning the original work into something comprehensible for readers unfamiliar with the countless quirks and irregularities in Japanese culture and linguistics. Seemingly each of the thousands of pages of text throughout the series are coated in critiques and commentaries on the Japanese language, culture and customs. My first time experiencing Monogatari was watching the animated adaptation by Studio Shaft, accompanied with official English translations in subtitles. While the official subtitles done by esteemed translators at a certain popular localization company did what I would call an impressive job, it was still painfully evident how much of the story is simply untranslatable. To reiterate, Japanese is not my first language and I did not grow up in Japan so a ton of idioms and cultural references are bound to fly over my head, yet even a consumer in my position can notice subtlety; details in the story that would never be understood by someone without an understanding of the Japanese language. I want to put a spotlight on a couple of examples of this phenomenon I found myself to, perhaps, show appreciation for the original work and caution any readers of any work that has gone through translations and republication, if nothing else. For clarity, I will Romanize any Japanese words necessary.
Ah, the table of contents. At times glossed over, the table of contents is a key element of book design that has persisted over centuries. We are all pretty familiar with its basic design, at least on printed work: chapter and/or segment divisions with their corresponding page numbers. Though simple and straightforward, it is safe to say that we would be lost without it. Especially when it comes to maneuvering hefty texts, *ahem* any English literature anthology *ahem*. The table of contents is essentially a roadmap that provides a visual for maneuvering the text. It allows the text to be broken down into its components, which helps the reader navigate and draw connections, without becoming too overwhelmed with text. Since the table of contents lays out the sections of subject matter that make up the text, it is easier for the reader to see how all the sections work together and relate to the bigger idea. Also, by breaking down the text into chunks, the reader is less overwhelmed and can choose exactly where they want to go for certain information. An important distinction to make is that the table of contents is not a search tool but a navigational tool. Its purpose is not to provide the reader with a list of terms and concepts that are significant (like an index would) but rather to provide a path that the reader can follow to certain parts of the text. Though sometimes we do not give the table of contents the praise it deserves, it is an essential part of the reading process.
Figure 1: A Kindle E-Reader. Courtesy: Radiance Harris, 2020.
However, with the rise of the internet and new technological developments seemingly appearing overnight, virtually all aspects of life as we know it have been changed, including the table of contents. With immense technological waves have come the ability to reimagine what the table of contents can do and reinvent it accordingly, especially through digital mediums like e-readers. In his article, “The future of books in an electronic era,” Philip Barker writes that printed texts have “significant inflexibility…in terms of: how information can be stored within them; when, where and how they can be accessed; and the ways in which their contents can be displayed” (194).
No longer only including sailors, bikers, and pirates, the tattooing industry has become more mainstream than ever with 40% of the population of North America having gotten ‘inked up’. Tattoos are widely done now for aesthetic purposes, but tattoos throughout history were done for a multitude of reasons. A mummy, nicknamed Otzi, was found with around 50 tattooed lines around the body and dates back 5,300 years. The reasoning behind the tattoos is complicated because while the lines closely follow acupuncture treatment spots, traditional Chinese acupuncture wasn’t practiced for another 2,000 years (McGill). So what were the tattoos for? How did they do it? That will remain another mystery of tattooing history. The art form is found in almost every single culture around the world such as Polynesian, Inuit, Indian, Celtic, and Egyptian. Tattoos have gained a stigma because of the history of who received a tattoo, such as in Japan when criminals were tattooed on their foreheads after getting caught (McGill). Tattooing is also a painful experience and for a while only the ‘toughest’ of people were willing to endure that irritating pain for hours on end. Fortunately for us, the stigma around tattooing has lessened and tattooing now holds a new meaning. Some say that ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’, but sometimes people just want the words. Whether it’s getting a loved one’s name, a special quote, or just a certain word, tattooing text brings a new kind of writing support into the picture. Skin is the largest organ of the human body and driving a needle repeatedly through it is uncomfortable to say the least, which is a disadvantage for a writing support especially if the person getting tattooed is in too much pain to continue. But a good tattoo is used to accentuate a certain part of the body and using various script of text can have different implications.
The Archie Comics have enjoyed an understated but pervasive popularity for many decades now. At the library where I work, there are always Archie comics needing to be shelved. I remember purchasing the comic in my early teens because I liked Betty and Veronica’s outfits, but the content of the comics mostly made me sad – the jokes were not funny, Betty always deserved better than what she got, and I was consumed by self-hatred for the fact that my body did not look anything like the girls in the comics.
Nakita Funk, “The Male Gaze in Archie Comics I”, 2021.
Perhaps some immensely lucky person who felt self-confident throughout their teens would think that past me was being a bit dramatic – why would I compare my body to a cartoon? You’re a real person, obviously you don’t look like that. But as someone who did not consume a lot of teen-oriented popular content (thanks, conservative parents!), the Archie comics were one of my primary guidelines for navigating the terrifying obstacle course that is teenage dating. What the Archie comics taught me was that dating was for the slimmest and most mature looking girls, who, even if they were among the most beautiful and smart in their entire school, would battle among themselves for the most mediocre guys. It’s great if you have a nice personality, but it’s really about your looks – a bad personality can be excused if you look hot, but a nice personality will not catch anyone’s attention if you are not hot.
My bookshelves are my trophy cases displaying the worlds I have explored, the many pages I have turned. Over the course of the years, the basis on which I have chosen which books to read has varied. A notable shift occurred during high school, when I began to select shorter novels, often containing fewer than 300 pages. My reasons for this were mixed, but a primary one was that, with classes, I had begun to have a hard time staying engaged with lengthy novels. The amount of time I spent reading dwindled, especially during exam season when my attention was taken up elsewhere.