Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Neglected Books

From a link found in the comments section of this article, comes the website Neglected Books. The site chronicles great books that, for whatever reason, have fallen off publisher's backlists -- but are slowly being rediscovered by reprinters and reaching bookstore shelves again.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Philip Pullman: Controversy Drives Sales

Philip Pullman is the author of The Golden Compass, which (aside from its popularity) can mostly be noted for being banned for Christian blasphemy without any direct Christian characters in it (it's one thing to call sexually-active Jesus blasphemous, yet another to call a little girl with a talking-polar-bear-friend such). In yesterday's Guardian, Pullman looks at the US' book-banning efforts with his droll UK sensibility. His response: zealots, keep it up — book sales couldn't be better now that he's climbing the challenged book lists. His best response, which applies to far more than just banning books:
In fact, when it comes to banning books, religion is the worst reason of the lot. Religion, uncontaminated by power, can be the source of a great deal of private solace, artistic inspiration, and moral wisdom. But when it gets its hands on the levers of political or social authority, it goes rotten very quickly indeed. The rank stench of oppression wafts from every authoritarian church, chapel, temple, mosque, or synagogue – from every place of worship where the priests have the power to meddle in the social and intellectual lives of their flocks, from every presidential palace or prime ministerial office where civil leaders have to pander to religious ones.

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How The Garcia Girls Lost Henrico County

On October 7th, Henrico County, VA hosts author Julia Alvarez, whose book How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was on — and then removed from — the high school summer reading list. Despite the removal, the book remains on the 'continuing education' course list for area high school English teachers, as an example of how to use a book in education (see item SLA17038, here), but another session focusing on another Alvarez book, Finding Miracles, had been added. Those teachers who prepared for the García session were to have read the book in its entirety, then attend the CE class, before actually meeting Alvarez to further discuss...the book that the high school students will no longer be encouraged to read. Alvarez' own website would indicate that García Girls has been replaced by Something to Declare at her reading on the 7th.

Now, the kicker is this statement from the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch:
"[School Superintendent Jean] Murray noted that the selection of "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents" has not been challenged formally in Henrico. It may remain on the shelves at school libraries...

"...[Library Director Gerald] McKenna said there were no plans to include "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents" in the county's observation of Banned Book Week, which started Saturday."
And this, readers, is why Banned Books Week is so important. The inclusion of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents on the high school reading list was hardly a casual mistake. The list was first compiled by the school's literary experts. Then a course for English teachers was developed around the book's application in high school classrooms. And, then, the book's author was brought to town by the public library to coincide with the teacher's CE course and a citywide event called "All Henrico Reads". Numerous people were involved in this decision — including the author — to make the book an influential one on students at Deep Run High School. When the parent complained, their child was given an alternate book to read...but that was not enough for the parent, who enlisted the help of a School Board member to undermine the school and the public library's decision to hold up the book as an example of relevant literature to young adults, so the book was removed from the reading list. It is splitting hairs to say the book was not "contested" in the narrowest definition of the word, or that the event is irrelevant to Banned Books Week. This sort of populist, anti-intellectual act is exactly what Banned Books Week addresses.

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Insane Book Titles

Oh, I'm not usually one for regurgitated-list-blogposts, but this one made me chuckle — bizarre book titles:

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Knightly Book-Lover

Christopher Morley, On Visiting Bookshops:

"It is a curious thing that so many people only go into a bookshop when they happen to need some particular book. Do they never drop in for a little innocent carouse and refreshment? There are some knightly souls who even go so far as to make their visits to bookshops a kind of chivalrous errantry at large. They go in not because they need any certain volume, but because they feel that there may be some book that needs them. Some wistful, little forgotten sheaf of loveliness, long pining away on an upper shelf—why not ride up, fling her across your charger (or your charge account), and gallop away. Be a little knightly, you book-lovers! "


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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Banned Books: As Seen On TV!

The Wifey and I watch a lot of Gameshow Network, which means we're subjected to a lot of commercials for their target audience: Medicare supplements, class-action lawsuits, hearing aids, pet care, and random "As Seen On TV" products. One advertisement came on during prime-time hours, though, that made me stop where I was; I had to grab a piece of paper and write it down, because the medium and message were quite unexpected for an ad timeslot that caters to conservative, elderly women. While I could have ordered over the phone, it offered a website — the URL I was so anxious to write down was "myhuckfinn.com".

The commercial over on the left is a longer version of what was aired: the Easton Press is selling the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written, finely bound in leather with gilt edges, on a subscription basis. The reason for the Twain reference in the URL is that the first book in the series, available for an introductory rate of about 15% actual price, is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

As far as a book's history goes, Huckleberry Finn takes as much from its contents as from the events revolving around it. Written as a sequel to a much more popular novel, Huck Finn took a darker, more introspective look at the Southern culture that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer took more lightly. From when Finn was first published in 1884, readers lashed out at the book, citing coarse language and uncouth demeanor of most of the characters. The repeated use of the word 'nigger' grew to a more unacceptable degree into the 1950s, and is the root (along with other negative depictions of black people) for modern attempts to censor the book. However, great minds lauded Huckleberry Finn as a masterpiece — Hemmingway declared, "...all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." With good reason, the book has been a staple of English courses, because the book combines modern literature, American history and locales, a sympathetic young character, and a touch of adventure and thrills to keep students interested. The book's critics, however, still keep Huckleberry Finn in the top ten most challenged books of late. I can't imagine Easton would be ignorant of the book's history, and the choice to make the hotly-disputed Huck Finn their loss-leader edition seems a deliberate act.

Easton, sadly, doesn't provide the list of the 100 Greatest Books, but other people have. Huck Finn isn't the only overlap when it comes to banned books: Brave New World, Of Mice and Men, Uncle Tom's Cabin, On The Origin of Species, Canterbury Tales, and numerous others (at least 20%) all appear on both the Easton's list and somebody's contested-book list. To some people, Easton's commercial on prime-time cable TV is about as bad as a Playboy subscription commercial on Nickelodeon, showing a mother and child reading from the Greatest Books library — together! In fact, children figure prominently in the commercial's cast, all shown enjoying the literature found in these books, much to the shock and dismay of those who think such smut is only found in gradeschool classrooms and public libraries. The attitude of book censors suggests that these dirty, naughty works of literature should be under the counter, bound in plain-paper, available only to those who understand what they're getting into. While I don't advocate shelling out over four grand for Easton's library, I greatly respect their decision to wrap these offensive books in fine leather and silky end-papers, make their outsides sparkle with gold, and make one of the most contested books in American literature their flagship product. Banned Books Week is here, courtesy the ALA, and those challenged books should stand out as the great works they are, and not as the small-minded opposition sees them as.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ancient Technologies, Modern Africa

The great thing about the internet is how thought progresses along hyperlinked trails. A few weeks ago, I painstakingly transcribed and scanned some early 20th century plans for a hydrocarbon-burning 'magic lantern' (or primitive slide projector). Days pass, my little page is linked at a few popular websites, and today I start to see incoming links from "Friends of African Village Libraries", a blog of a nonprofit working towards providing books for small African settlements. It's clear the idea didn't come from me directly, but the info I provided helped build evidence to back up the concept that basic multimedia systems can be provided for literary education, without significant power consumption, rather than a high-tech solution that requires electricity. It reminds me of the candle-powered radio I read about in the book Design for the Real World, intended for rural third-world regions. The radio required little to no maintenance, could be powered by anything that burned, and could be made from simple components salvaged from available materials (and a few key provided components, of course). Viewing a culture for its capabilities and familiarities may be more successful than to throw technology at it; there's a limit to what technology can accomplish without causing societal changes to make it work.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Censoring Of Mice and Men

Stupidity doesn't wait for Banned Books Week to make a spectacle of itself: a woman wants Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men to be removed from an English course's reading list, because of overt use of the word 'nigger'. The less attention we pay to that naïve woman, the better — however, the school spokesman does an excellent job of explaining just why banning books like Steinbeck's works (Grapes of Wrath is often equally contested):

"It's not a pleasant part of our history," David Smith, a spokesman for the school district, told KMBC-TV. "But kids these days need opportunities to learn about it, understand it, not in a sanitized 21st-century way, because that's how we move forward in society."

via - For video of the woman announcing her dislike of the book (including a "I'm not trying to ban it") comment, KMBC has more.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Island At The End Of The World

Book cover contests are always fun: This one is for a Penguin book, Island at the End of the World:


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Friday, September 19, 2008

The Meat And Gristle Within

Christopher Morley, On Visiting Bookshops:

"Some shrewd soul, who understands books, remarked some time ago on the editorial page of the Sun’s book review that no superlative on a jacket had ever done the book an atom of good. He was right, as far as the true bookster is concerned. We choose our dinner not by the wrappers, but by the veining and gristle of the meat within. "


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Agatha Christie On Tape

Mystery author Agatha Christie was extremely press-shy, so hearing her interviewed in any form was a rare occurrence. Her estate, still cataloging and researching her assets, has come upon an amazing discovery: Over 13 hours of Agatha Christie on tape, dictating her autobiography. The autobiography was published first 1977, the year after Christie passed away, and there had been recent interest in re-issuing it with new photos. Now the tapes provide the possibility of adding new material, if it differs from the original manuscript -- and the possibility of Christie's own voice reaching her readers.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure: College Years

Choose Your Own Adventure was a series of books that came out when I was a kid, and while it feels like it died out in the early 90s, the line has refused to die. And, like most thirty-year-old literature, it's being addressed in college-level literature courses. At George Mason University, the English 343 class is dissecting a COYA and mapping it as an assigment -- and the students have to write about their experience. (note: not all students understand 'tags' - there's more CYOA stuff under 'Reflections')

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Things In Buffalo Books: Three

As we've seen before, we found several things between the pages of an auction lot of books my wife and I purchased. Next up -- Thing #3:

An Envelope Of Human Hair

Yes, this caused a brief creep-out moment at first, but judging from the envelope's age, this dates from at least pre-1960s, if not 1940s and earlier. The tradition is for parents to keep a sample of their children's hair as a memento of their early haircuts, so I assume that is the origin of these follicles.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cartooning In Class

Over at Kitschy-Kitschy-Coo, wifey D has posted some fun doodles from the beginning of an old textbook.

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The 200-Year-Old Mystery Book

A Londonderry man was cleaning out an attic and discovered a 200-year-old first edition of Thomas Moore's The Odes of Anacreon translation. Some people have all the luck! The mystery is, the finder of the book wants to know how the book ended up in his attic -- in his research, he could find no reason for the book to have ended up in Londonderry, although the bookplate has some clues that it wasn't a new transplant to the area but had been there since the start.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vander Ark's New Potter Book

Followup: Steven Vander Ark, recently banned from publishing a Harry Potter lexicon, has moved forward with a new Potter-related project. It will entail more analysis, investigating the real-world connections of the Potter universe, and less direct content from Rowling's mind -- a definite application of fair-use that shouldn't cause the legal wranglings he experienced with his Lexicon. (Via.)

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Things In Buffalo Books: Two

As seen earlier, stuff found in books bought at an auction. Thing #2:

Assorted School Photos

I believe all came from the same old textbook, probably dating from the 1940s. There were a couple duplicates; most seem to have been taken at the same time, but the lower-left one is distinctly different. None have any writing on the back.

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Book Love At First Sight

Christopher Morley, On Visiting Bookshops:

"There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love, and like that colossal adventure it is an experience of great social import. Even as the tranced swain, the book-lover yearns to tell others of his bliss. He writes letters about it, adds it to the postscript of all manner of communications, intrudes it into telephone messages, and insists on his friends writing down the title of the find. Like the simple-hearted betrothed, once certain of his conquest, “I want you to love her, too!” It is a jealous passion also. He feels a little indignant if he finds that any one else has discovered the book, too. He sees an enthusiastic review—very likely in The New Republic—and says, with great scorn, “I read the book three months ago.” There are even some perversions of passion by which a book-lover loses much of his affection for his pet if he sees it too highly commended by some rival critic. "


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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Book-Lover's Test

I didn't think I'd do as well at the book-lover's test as I did. See, I'm not a huge reader, and I've known some pretty obsessed readers, so I figured there'd be a lot of book-stuff I do that wouldn't be on the test. It does a good job of including readers, traders, sellers, and obsessive-compulsives, so there was plenty for me to check. My score: 62. That makes me a "minor-leaguer", which is actually 2nd Place.

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Enough to Make a Frog Laugh!

Illustrator Palmer Cox was best known for his Brownie books, but this was one of his lesser-known collections of short poems accompanied by his illustrations. Queer People was a three-volume set of short children's books, consisting of "Wings and Stings," "Claws and Paws," and "Goblins, Giants, Merry Men and Monarchs". Unfortunately, "Wings and Stings" is the only one available, in its entirety, on Google Books. The verse is light and visually-driven, as you might expect from an illustrator, so if the other two books are anything like "Wings and Stings," I'd agree that any one of them could make a frog laugh. This ad appeared in Old Time Agriculture in the Ads, by a book distributed by none other than Cenex.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Rowling Wins Copyright Fight

J.K Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter empire, has won her copyright suit against the Harry Potter Lexicon. The Lexicon was a fan-created reference online, but when Steven Vander Ark started the process of publishing a book, Rowling put her foot down. Most argue that the Lexicon is far from a threat, and deserves to exist, if only because it adds to the art. Sadly, copyright is written in stone, even if you've forgiven transgressions or granted permission in the past. I sincerely sympathize with Vander Ark, because I'm sure it's devastating for such a labor of love to be taken away, and I doubt his book is truly a threat to Rowling. The law, however, is pretty firm, unfortunately. Rowling is in her right to decide not to accept fan-created, unauthorized Potter texts in the marketplace and profit from her creations solely. I'm on the fence; while I do think copyright is extended to absurd degrees today, and the courts need to side with 'fair use' more often, artists still need to protect their creations as their own.

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Things In Buffalo Books: One

We attended a rural auction in Buffalo, North Dakota recently, and bought a crapload of books. If going through the books, we found several interesting things wedged between pages -- Thing #1:
Random Bits of Clover.

These weren't all in a single book; they were spread out among several books, mostly encyclopedias. Note the 4-leaf-clover in the upper left.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Automated Book Scanner

I work at a company that scans books (amongst other things), and this video has to be the most innovative way of doing book scanning that I've seen. It appears prone to jams and potentially damaging a page if a page turns incompletely, but innovative nonetheless:

The machine is by Treventus, a German company. PDF brochure here.

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All The Books In The World

Visiting "All The Books In The World," a dusty, book-stuffed storefront, can be a remarkable experience:

This is a translation of a Croatian short comic about a magical bookstore that has a copy of every book in the world. Except one, of course. The purchase is far less about the book's contents, and more about what the book means to the reader -- which is the truth about most bookstore purchases to begin with. (via)

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

25 Banned Books To Read

A little early for the usual Banned Book Week festivities, but it'll give you a head-start on your reading: 25 Banned Books You Should Read. What I like about this one is that it includes a number of books that aren't the usual Great Works Of Fiction and includes minor, but critically acclaimed, books that have seen opposition but haven't gotten as much press as Huck Finn or Lady Chatterly. Regardless of content, it's always nice to see a book list that includes something unexpected or unfamiliar.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

America's Most Dangerous Librarians

It's a common bugaboo about national security, the comment that the government can see your library records (the film Se7en even made it a plot point), but the Patriot Act days we live in actually have FBI agents desiring people's reading habits. These are performed, without warrant, simply by giving a librarian a National Security letter explaining they are gagged from discussing even recieving a letter, and that they are required to turn over the records without ability to question or appeal the request.

Librarians, however, are standing up to the invasion of their readers' privacy -- but at great risk to themselves, which paints them in a poor light in the FBI's eyes, practically terrorists themselves. While progress has been made, enforcing lawful search-and-seizure requirements for all law enforcement, terrorism focus or no, the government is still pushing the limits of Constitutional review of citizen's reading history.

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Getting In The Phonebook

A GIS-browsing phonebook cover designer had the courtesy to use CreativeCommons attribution when borrowing a photo for this year's edition:

They even had the courtesy to contact the photographer and ask his permission. I'm impressed with the diligence of a phone book publisher, who usually aren't seen as the highest level of publishing excellence. It does show that the environment of the professional photographer is being encroached upon; in the old days there were complex licensing processes to get in contact with and permission from a pro photographer to use his or her images. CreativeCommons isn't a copyright-replacement that most people believe it is -- it's a simplified licensing process for behaving as both an amateur and a professional, which lets anybody with talent show off their work and get published without having to work too hard at it.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Banning Books Increases Exposure

Attempts to ban books have had much the opposite effect: readership and scholarly attention grows the more negative attention a piece of media gets. 2 Live Crew would like you to know that they figured it out twenty years ago. No word on if it counteracts the legal hell a publisher or author experiences in trying to defend their work, though; even a successful defense against an obscenity charge could bankrupt most small businesses and freelancers.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Play's, Waltz's, Polkas

Went thrift-shopping Saturday (as we often do), and books and records were about all we found. While I didn't buy it, this was such a language trainwreck that I had to take a picture:

OK, I think they were going for "Joe Tishmack Plays Waltzes and Polkas". Let's break it down:
  • Joe Tishmack: No punctuation failures, but no difficulty: zero points
  • Play's: an apostrophe with a verb doesn't work -- "play is"? "play was"? A common apostrophe mistake, since 'plays' is a valid verb; minus ten points.
  • Waltz's: As a plural, Waltzs doesn't work: it is waltzes for either a verb or a plural noun. Again, as with above, was their intent "Waltz is", or "Waltz was"? Wifey suggested it was a posessive contraction: Waltz has. Sadly, in context, they're all wrong. Since there's no way to accidentally use an apostrophe this way, minus thirty points.
  • ...and Polkas: What, they suddenly checked Strunk & White for apostrophe usage, but couldn't go back and fix the others? They get a plus, because it could be either a noun or a verb in context (...Plays, Waltzes, and Polkas), so I'll give them +10 for getting it right despite their past efforts.
So, the net score is negative thirty. It makes me wonder if the graphic designer just took Tishmack's hand-scribbled title, put it on the album cover, and never bothered to look at what he wrote.

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