Friday, November 28, 2008

The Most Expensive Book In The World

The Task is a book of philosophical poetry, written by philosophical poet Tomas Alexander Hartmann. While the guy doesn't seem to exist online, nor does he appear in the news aside from his newest book, he believes his work demands a high price. The Task has a print-count of only one edition, thirteen pages, with a cover price of €153,000,000. Yes, six zeroes, making it the Most Expensive Book In The World. He believes that, because he had worked on the book for thirty years, he deserves a €5,000,000 stipend as restitution, payable by the one person willing to read the book. Hopefully Amazon will carry it, and offera 20% discount once in a while — imagine the affiliate's portion of that!

Hartmann isn't the only person banking on producing the Most Expensive Book In The World, however. Publisher Marilena Ferrari has produced a finely-done hand-made book documenting the life and works of Michaelangelo. The book has a hand-carved marble cover, a bas-relief of Madonna del la Scalla, and the interior are nicely-printed black-and-white lithographs of Michelangelo's works. There will only be 33 editions produced with the marble cover, at a price of €100,000.

Collectors, however, control the price of antiquties, and the true bearer of the Most Expensive Book In The World, one that actually sold at that price, is the 12th century book of Gospels of Prince Henry the Lion, which sold at Sotheby's for €16,000,000. The illuminated, 800-year-old book had made its way through various hands and wars over the years nearly intact, which makes it well worth the money — which I can't say the same for some philosopher-poet's 13-page booklet.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bad Sex In Fiction, 2008

The results are in: John Updike has been titled the Laureate of bad sex writing, and author Rachel Johnson picked up the grand prize for having composed the absolute worst description of a sexual encounter during the past year at the Bad Sex In Fiction awards, courtesy the UK's The Literary Review. The award, of course, is all in good fun — anything can sound lame if taken out of context — and this years' winner, Shire Hell, quite clearly identifies itself as satire, so the amount of earnest effort put in doesn't seem to count for or against you. Johnson at least has the ability to fall back on the assertion that she was trying to write amusing sex. I don't know what excuse Updike has.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Toilet-less Library

As far as libraries go, there's important things: books, chairs, shelves, librarians, computers. Then, less important things, like wi-fi, ESL classes, voting booths, and bathrooms. Wait, bathrooms? For one library in Vermont, their historical building came with a floor, walls, roof, but no lavatory. When it was converted into a library, nobody thought to add one, because the church next door was friendly and allowed readers to use their holy bathroom. Now, there will be no more running outside to answer the call of nature: the library now has a bathroom.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fake Book Covers

Jake is loaded with Young Man's Ennui: his life is full of beer, chocolate, pissing away the workday, and attempts at hipster-friendly self-deprecating dry humor. However, in his spare time (where else could he fit anything in?!?) he uses Photoshop to change photographs into book covers for books that don't exist. He's so proud of his work that he splurged on a domain name and some hand-drawn fonts for quirky cred, but the site hasn't been up long, so there's only a few examples.

As far as what he's got up so far, it's clearly an exercise in trying to produce art by only knowing the outcome without understanding the process, like your uncle Ben plinking on the piano, certain he could write commercial jingles despite his lack of musical training. Not that book covers are that complex, but Jake's results are hit and miss. When they do hit, however, they can be quite good. Many of his fake book-covers fall into the Lulu/PublishAmerica fallacy that overlaying a fancy font is enough to make a cover. When the covers do work, however, Jake stumbles upon some basic design skills, making the font and the structure of the cover work together, like the example above and this one. Those two create intriguing covers that don't explicitly tell anything about the story, but encourage the reader to delve further. In the one above, you wonder, "which one is the painter?" "where are they at?" "why are they walking together, close enough to be friends, but with a respectable 'personal space'?" The image has a lot of lines that tend to intesect between the walker's heads, but the title and subtitle are cock-eyed in a way that their perpendicular lines intersect at the horizon, just above the people's heads; the tall structure of the bridge on the right is balanced on the left by the off-centered walkers — it creates a lot of movement to keep the eye drawn to the cover, which is exactly what you want it to do. While it's not the greatest cover ever made in the world (and, dear god, stop using unnecessary Filters) , it could easily be found on a shelf in Barnes & Noble without wondering, "holy crap, what self-published local leveraged their address to get on one bookseller's shelves?" I'm not saying that Penguin's going to knock on Jake's door any day soon with a design job, but there's legions of freelance book cover designers that are producing crap, so Jake's really not that far off from turning his work-avoiding hobby into a real job.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Neal Stephenson And Writing

The Onion AV Club has an informational interview with Neal Stephenson, author of some of the heaviest — both literally and figuratively — science fiction novels in recent years. While none of it is earth-shaking, he talks more about the research and tasks of writing than the writing itself. It's refreshingly job-like, unlike the reliance of authors on announcing their unbridled creativity. I will say I don't particularly like Stephenson's work; I've read Zodiac and The Diamond Age, both of which start promising but end with whimpers. His description of his prepatory work may explain that. Neither of the two I've read are advertised as crowning achievements, so I may have to try on the copy of Snow Crash that's on my shelf and see if it is any better.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Flavorful Old Books

From NatalieDee — Failed Jellybelly Flavors:

Old books are a failed flavor? They were checking with the wrong test group. I've got my fingers crossed for Jones Soda's Librarian 6-Pack of "Old Books", "1980s Xerox Copier", "Vinegaring Film", "Rubber Stamp Ink", and, of course "Hot Librarian".

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Re-Buying Books

This article really struck home for me: it's about when you're out browsing used book shops and find the perfect thing you were looking for…but then you get home and find one already on your bookshelf. Here's some examples from our book-buying outings:

Disclaimer: the Anne Roquelaure is not mine. The Complete Cheerful Cherubs, however, are. When I found A Fortune in the Junk Pile last weekend, I conferred with the Wifey because I thought we had it already. Wifey insisted no, but she'd written about it, so I figured I had some wires crossed with her article. Not a week later, I'm cleaning our office, and on the bottom of a stack of books, there it was. I have no idea when we bought it, or why it was in the office and nobody noticed, but we had certainly owned it for at least six months or more. Nigger by Dick Gregory is one that we've had to deliberately stop buying; we know we've got more than one copy of From The Back of the Bus, so we always assume we're missing the N-word one. Wifey and I have consiously told ourselves no more of those…having a shelf of that title might give people the wrong impression. We're not racist; we have poor memories.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top UK Stolen Library Books

Scotland has had £223,000 gone missing from their libraries, largely from people not returning them. In the past, sterly-worded letters were about all the culprits would get, but the libraries are beginning to turn people over to collections agencies. The Top 10 List of Books Stolen:
  1. Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets
  2. Lovers And Players
  3. The Diamond Girls
  4. All Rebus novels
  5. DSA Theory Test For Car Drivers
  6. Street Child (unsure - possibly this?)
  7. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
  8. Discworld books
  9. The Stand
  10. And Then There Were None

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Chapter Book Alfa Romeo

The book is The Red, Red Roadster, by Gene Olson, and published by Scholastic Book Service for the juvenile market. My first reaction was, "Hey, an Edsel! They think an Edsel is a hot roadster?" but then I did my research; by which, I mean, found the car's name in the book. While other cars are referred to by made-up names, the book is very specific about what car the teacher wanted:
Miss Barberry fought a sharp urge to spin and flee. She pointed tentatively at the little red car. "What is it called?"

The young man folded his hands behind him and stared upward at a large light fixture as if hoping that it would fall on his head. "Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Spider," he murmured. "And please, madam, don't say that it's a very large name for a very small car."

"Alfa Romeo . . . Giulietta . . . Sprint . . ."

"Spider. In Italian terminology, a light roadster to be used for competition or high-speed rally work. This is an Italian car. Now if you'll excuse me..."
An actual Giulietta Spider can be seen here - the cover artist was very faithful to the original. The book identifies the price of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, in 1962 dollars: $3,617. The 1960 Edsel sold for around $2,700. I tried to find the actual original sticker price of an early-60s Giulietta, but was unsuccessful, but I'd gather at Ms. Barberry got an enormously good deal on an Italian sportscar for under $4,000 in the early 1960s.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Things Found In Books

Found in a book: four dried and pressed sprigs of something resembling a citrus or curry branch.

The book is A Dictionary of the Bible: Comprising its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, by William Smith of the University of London, published in 1874.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Linotype Machine

Above is a hundred-year-old illustration depicting a Linotype text compositor: an amazing machine that creates entire lines of text, molded in a lead-alloy, compiled as a single block. Type text on a keyboard and then the molds, called 'matrices', drop into the mechanism and are lined up, until the line is finished and the text is molded. The line of text is dropped into the galley to cool, and the matrices are returned to their homes. All of this was done mechanically — some power source had to turn the driveshaft, which was eventually electricity, but it could have been steam-powered or water-powered. The machines were assembled with a watchmaker's precision, and many of them were still running, in use, in newspapers until the 1960s and 1970s and electronic typesetting became cost-effective for an upgrade from a machine that had been paid for many, many years before. Several of these machines are still running today, at the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota. This is one of them, connected to a tape-reader, which allowed text to be sent electronically over telegraph wires or even by mail:

You can see the tape at the far right, in front of the orange thing in the background. They looped the paper around and taped to itself. On the tape was "WELCOME TO ROLLAG WMSTR", encoded (most likely TTY) in a way the Linotype machine understands, finished off with a line-end (see detail here). The machine ran, unattended, creating text slugs from that tape. When the tape got to the end of the loop, the line feed told the machine to cast the text, and then the loop repeated, starting a brand new line. The 'galley' is at the bottom of the image with dozens of slugs ready to go to the printing press. This is where we get the term 'galley copy' for pre-press review copies sent out by book publishers. It was cheaper and easier to have a Linotype machine quickly typeset a manuscript and print off several hundred copies than to typeset an entire book by hand. As the Linotype operator casted line after line after line, the galley would fill, and when there was enough to print a page of text the galley was taken to the press and the Linotype operator started on the next page with an empty galley.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Most Annoying Phrases

Got an article to write, and need a way to pad out your wordcount while annoying readers? Check out the list of most annoying phrases, as assembled in the UK, so not only will you be annoying readers, you'll have that British Isles flavor that makes you seem smarter. The majority are either absolutes used as generalizations, or a combination of absolutes with generalizations, such as "fairly unique" — 'unique' means the one and only; being 'fairly' unique would indicate it's not unique, but the phrase lets you expand out the word 'rare' to two, and up goes your wordcount!

I'd like to include "literally" on the list: literally means exactly as said, as opposed to 'figuratively', but when you're interviewed on a Discovery Channel show about ghosts and say, "it literally scared me to death", people will be wondering how you're still up and walking around despite your fear-induced demise. Using literally to indicate hyperbole is making the word mean the exact opposite of its original meaning.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Library Book Returns Home

It takes some dedication to admit you were in the wrong, no matter how long it's been. Sixty-one years ago, an intrepid sophomore at Holland Hall School for Girls checked out New Word Analysis by William Swinton…but never returned it. Last week, however, the overdue situation was resolved. The book mysteriously returned to Holland Hall's library, with a $250 check to cover any overdue fees. The former student included a note, saying she doesn't know how it ended up never being returned — but isn't that what they all say? The library, however, has no means for handling overdue fines from so long ago: their best bet is to contribute it to the school's scholarship fund.

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Literary Band Names

Bookride has an awesome list of literary band names, including their sources. I've seen lots of shorter lists or 'top tens', but this is much more comprehensive than that. Some are kind of specious, while others I barely believe they're actually real bands ("Ungl’unl’rrlh’chchch"? Really?)

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Costco's Book Buyers

A quasi-internal magazine for the Costco network of big-box retailers features their book-buying department. It doesn't give many huge insights, other than verification that big publishers have the clout and the need to bend over backwards for a company like Costco. On the other hand, it's a nice revelation that the Costco book buyers still do it the old-fashioned way: reading galleys and placing individual orders.

The magazine has a stupid interface; either figure out the navigation at the top, or download the PDF here.

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Paperback Humor

Yesterday I wrote a little article for Collector's Quest about comedy paperbacks, from funny stories to satire to joke books. It is rather sad that they can be such a huge part of our culture's literary quilt, but they get such little acknowledgement. Much like comedy's invisibility to the Oscars, humorous authors seem to have their day and move on without lasting reward; they don't grow upwards in the direction of fine literature like their more dramatic relatives. Even Shakespeare's comedies are seen as a bit 'lesser' than the others. Hamlet and R&J get the respect, while A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't quite on the same level. But, then again, comedy writers aren't in it for the awards or the prestige. Humor generally has a message, and provided that gets across (even if it's just to point out the absurdity of the culture at large), the writer is pleased with what they've wrought. Nobody in Zucker's team shed a tear that Airplane! was passed over for an Oscar, but their place in the fabric of our culture still happened without a little statuette or arts grants.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Books That Should Never Be Written

Over at Fark, you can have your chance to show off your own book-cover designs, in today's Photohshop theme: Books that should never be written. Mostly, it's a bunch of juvenile pop culture references, or political ham-handedness, but the fun of humor by committee is that some pretty good stuff does appear from time to time. The voting results help narrow it down.

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Arthur Mee, on Freelance Writing

This is a subject I have trouble with, but am beginning to overcome:
"Everything has been Done." The population of greater London is seven millions: how many articles, one wonders, are there in that fact? How many books have been written out of it? It is a fact that everybody knows, yet it is a fact that can be written about by a thousand men in different ways, or by one man in a thousand ways, without ever wearying us or driving us to say "I knew that before." There is nobody so hopeless as the man who discards a subject merely because "it has been done before." If the subject had any inherent interest yesterday, it has the same inherent interest to-day. There may, of course, be a hundred reasons why it need not be written about to-day, but the fact that it was written about yesterday is no reason at all.
Emphasis mine: some of my writer's block has been prolonged by the negative sentiment, "I just wrote about that a couple months ago" or "I read two or three blogs about that lately," but I need to remember that there's still plenty of people who haven't seen all the blogs or read all the magazines or owned all the books that I do. There's plenty of freelance work out there writing dreary, repetitive articles that have been seen a million times before, but people still read it. If the axiom above were not true, there would be far, far fewer fashion, housekeeping, and car magazines.

The snippet is from "The Freelance Journalist", itself an excerpt from The Harmsworth Self-Educator, written in the late 19th century.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

NaNoWriMo Is Here!

As with most years, I spend the run-up to November 1st trying to come up with something to do for the celebration, but usually take a pass. It's National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to laymen like us. You've already missed your first eleven hours: starting at 12:01am today, you start writing about 1,700 words a day, until you've got a manuscript. No, it's not a finished book, and nobody's paying you for it, but it's the most important step in getting to a finished book or being published. Everyone talks about the story they've got knocking around in their head, and how someday, someway, it's going to be published and it'll be a big seller. Problem is, your list looks like something out of South Park:
  1. Desire to write novel
  2. (to be figured out later)
  3. Profit!
Fortunately for procrastinators like you, NaNoWriMo forces Step 2 to be started: actually writing the damn thing. You're not going to have a publisher-ready manuscript when you're done, but it will be something you can work with. At that point, if you're just so happy to be done that you want to show it off, upload it to LuLu, mail it in to the Blooker, serialize it online, get it out there. Or, maybe it'll spur you into motion and you'll discover, hey, this really is a book, and you'll find yourself a trustworthy editor who'll hone the edges and make it ready to go to an agent or publisher. You can't get that far unless you start Step 2. If there were ever a day to do it, today is that day. Don't be like me: open Wordpad, get yourself started, and make this 10th NaNoWriMo the one that gets you moving!

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