A few months ago I realized that I needed a better way to hold books as I copy passages for both reviews on this blog and for my academic work. A bit of Googling found some really janky looking products that led me to sigh and rig a solution that consisted of a bunch of heavy anthologies (those of you who were English majors might remember the infamous Nortons; they’ve finally become useful again, albeit in a way slightly different from their intent) to lean a book against, while the heaviest of them all sat slightly in front to hold the relevant book up.
Then Kevin Kelly’s blog Cool Tools came to the rescue through a review of the Freesia Book Stand:
This is a simple but well-designed book stand that does exactly what it sets out to do. It is sturdy enough to hold big, heavy textbooks, but [it] looks nice. It is impressively adjustable, allowing for nearly any reading angle . Amazingly, despite the ability to hold heavy books, the stand itself is relatively light (around 3 lbs). The stand has an anti-skid coating on the bottoms so that it stays where I put it.
Exactly what I wanted. Thank you, Stephanie Misono, for suggesting this. She says, “I now wish I had gotten it years ago.” Me too; I chose the Best Book Stand Jasmine, and it would’ve been insanely useful as an undergrad, when I spent many hours looking at computer science textbooks in particular, going back and forth from page to screen.
The Freesia version is too big, so I ordered the smaller version. I have something similar for standalone printed papers, but even that isn’t nearly as satisfying; I was making edits to a novel earlier, and I flipped from one page to another with greater ease by using the Jasmine. So it’s not only good for copying passages from books, but for holding edited pages.
Does this sound minor? Maybe it is, but managing to find the perfect tool to fulfill a major need is incredibly satisfying, and this is perhaps the best solution I’ve found to a major problem in my life since reading “Tool for Thought” by Steven Berlin Johnson, which concerns DevonThink Pro. Although these tools are useful on a micro level, they probably also change the nature of what I do; as Nicholas Carr says in The Shallows:
Even as our technologies become extensions of ourselves, we become extensions of our technologies […] every tool imposes limitations even as it opens possibilities. The more we use it, the more we mold ourselves to its form and function. […] Whenever we use a tool to exert greater control over the outside world, we change our relationship with that world.
I’m probably more likely to copy marginal passages from books now that it’s become marginally easier both to do so and to organize the output once I have done so. The Jasmine hasn’t yet faded to the point of it reaching what Heidegger called “readiness-to-hand” or “Zuhandenheit,” which, to use Graham Harman’s formulation, “refers to objects insofar as they withdraw from human view into a dark subterranean reality that never becomes present to practical action any more than it does to theoretical awareness.” I’m entirely aware of the Jasmine, which is part of its pleasure, but when it fades “into a dark subterranean reality,” it will be really incorporated into my work (I suspect that writing the dissertation might force this state on me, as one book after another checks in and check out).
The Jasmine cost about $30, with about $10 in shipping. I probably would’ve paid $100 for it. Maybe more. It’s difficult to overstate its usefulness, given the kind of work I do. Students, academics, and bloggers are an obvious audience, but I’m sure other groups would find it useful too.