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Database Writing

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Philip M. Parker has, in theory, written more than 85,000 books. According to the Guardian UK, Parker, a professor international business in France, has patented a system for specifying a structure for a book, which is then fed a database of information about the book's topic. The book machine outputs a book, basically on demand. Apparently, many of the books offered on Amazon are not actually produced until (or unless) someone actually orders a copy.(This story, btw, is possibly apocryphal, but for several reasons discussed below, also seems perfectly plausible. In addition, a search on Parker's name at Amazon does indeed return more than 85,000 hits.)

Top selling titles by Parker include Webster's Albanian to English Crossword Puzzles, Level 1, The 2007 Import and Export Market for Seaweeds and Other Algae in France, and The 2007-2012 Outlook for Chinese Prawn Crackers in Japan.

What is interesting about this is not that Parker has published 85,000 books—these are not books in the traditional authorial sense. Instead, Parker is occupying and construct a type of book that exists in the margins between book and database. My guess is that these books are something more akin to catalogs, which are a category of the larger conceptual object of "book," but in our culture fly almost completely under the radar. Anyone who works in a technical industry—electronics, genetics, toy manufacturing, audio processing, etc.—is familiar with the huge catalogs common in those industries. About a month ago, for example, Mouser.com sent me a copy of their audio and electronics catalog, apparently because I'd ordered a hundred various, cheap resistors, capacitors, and transformers from them for a small project earlier. The catalog is a monster, thousands of phonebook-thin pages long, weighing several pounds. I have no actual use for the catalog, both because I order such parts only very occasionally and, more importantly, because I use Mouser's online database to place orders. But the existence of that information as simultaneously database and print text highlights the increasingly common collapse between the two conceptual objects.

(See the Metafilter post about Parker for additional links and some interesting discussion.)

[via metafilter.com]