An e-book inheritance

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Boston Globe takes a look at what happens to authors' personal libraries after they die. Who gets to decide what is worth preserving? Some 2,500 volumes of David Markson's library are scattered through The Strand bookstore in Manhattan, where fans are reassembling them assiduously via Facebook groups and blogs. A long-time customer of The Strand, Markson wanted it this way, instructing his daughter to donate the books to the store. The collection of David Foster Wallace's books now on display at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas was handpicked by his widow and agent, who selected only books with handwritten notes inside them.

The obvious question in the interest of this blog is what becomes of an e-book collection when we log off for the last time? Does it disappear with the forgotten Amazon password? One of the points the Globe article makes is that so many authors' books were discarded because libraries and estates simply didn't have the room to keep them all. But scholars would at least benefit from a comprehensive list of what an author read. An e-book library inherently solves this problem, but what value would it be as an impersonal, computer-generated list, no different than scanning a random user's Goodreads account? And what value are the highlights and annotations of a Kindle book vs the handwritten scrawl in a paperback?