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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Six, in which Words are elsewhere

Your Bibliothecary has been busy reading H.G. Wells for the Slaves of Golconda, and Proust for Involuntary Memory. Since we haven't had much to say here recently, go read us elsewhere:

Involuntary Memory

Slaves of Golconda

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Five, in which old Books need a new Home

Your Bibliothecary has begun forcing ourselves to cull our personal collection by a couple books once every month. So far, the decisions have been rather simple. But others are not faced with such obvious decisions. Kate and Ella are both going through the process of divesting themselves of books. The question most often asked--after "Which ones go?"--is "Where do I send them?"

Friends and family often top the list of recipients. Other than that: a good place to start is your local library. If they cannot use them in circulation, most libraries now hold book sales to raise additional funds. If yours doesn't, perhaps you can organise one. Other places we frequently donate to are rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and veterans' homes. There are many national organisations, such as the American Association of University Women, with local chapters that hold book sales with donated books. Schools might be pleased to accept books from a kind reader. Special giveaways are a great way to reward readers of one's blog, and keep the book within a somewhat more personal circle than an anonymous donation. The Salvation Army is a permanent last resort.

Perhaps, though, a university--better still, the Museum of the Weblog--should provide a repository for all the books litbloggers must get rid of. Imagine an international collection in one building made up of books from your Bibliothecary, and Kate, and Ella, and all the others who are faced with deciding what to do with the books they can no longer keep. Let the MOTW Collection stand as a permanent memorial to book-fancying bloggers, a place that belongs to all and serves all, a good home for the books we once loved enough to take them in and make them our own.

Chapter One Hundred Thirty Four, in which Winning is contagious

Thank you Saint Duckett for blessing us with the second place prize in the Buy A Friend A Book Week anniversary contest, which included a box of books, bookmarks, and a year's membership with Library Thing. Then came the treasured Amazon gift certificate from a fond fan, causing us to rub our hands in delight at the prospect of picking something choice from the Wish List.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Three, in which We sing of Freedom

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230th Independence Day

Today is the day we remember and celebrate the Declaration of Independence from the British Government of The Free and Independent States of America.
"For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
The following song was written by Dr. Jonathan M. Sewall of New Hampshire, the adopted son of Chief Justice Stephen Sewall of Massachusetts Colony.

Come all your brave soldiers, both valiant and free,
It's for Independence we all now agree,
The cause is so glorious we need not fear,
From merciless tyrants we'll set ourselves clear.

Let's gird on our swords and prepare to defend,
Our liberty, property, ourselves, and our friends;
Still fighting we'll die in America's cause,
before we'll submit to tyrannical laws.

George the Third of great Britain no longer shall reign,
With unlimited sway o'er these free States again;
Lord North, nor old Bute, nor none of their clan,
Shall ever hold sway o'er an A-merican.

Upon our great Congress may heaven bestow,
Both wisdom and skill our good cause to pursue;
On heaven alone dependent we'll be
But from all earthly tyrants we mean to be free.

Unto our brave Generals may Heaven give skill,
Our armies to guide, and the sword for to wield;
May their hands taught to war and their fingers to fight,
Be able to put British armies to flight.

And now, brave Americans, since it is so,
We're now independent, we'll have them all know,
That united we are, and united we'll stand,
And keep British tyranny out of our land.

*photograph and music from New York Ancients Fife and Drum Corps.
*song from Songs of '76: A Folksinger's History of the Revolution, by Oscar Brand.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Two, in which your Bibliothecary asks the Questions

While Ella went away for holiday, Box of Books continued to keep us entertained and informed. Her Vacation Q&A Project forced numerous litblog enthusiasts to respond to five nosy questions, thereby baring their blackened souls for all her Concerned Readers to admire, or in our case, ridicule. If she thought she could get away with such strong-armed badgering and escape the consequences, good for her!

Following a nearly month-long absence from the blogosphere, we have been loath to skip many more days (for a while, at least) without posting a new emotionally draining chapter. Still, with numerous projects of our own consuming large chunks of time, to conceive, write, and publish something regularly is sometimes more than we can handle. Finally we came up with an idea that we thought would be perfect – a guest interview with Ella. Not only would we get a chance to ask nosy questions back at her, she would be doing all the work of answering them, and therefore writing the post. It was brilliant. We drafted an email the next morning:
Dear Fellow Bookfiend,
I'd like to post an interview of you on my site. The Q&A would consist of answering five questions about books and blogging. Would you be interested in participating?
So, without further ado, we bring you...

Q & A, Ella -- Box of Books

One of your many projects is reading the Modern Library. Have you ever given up on an ML book that just didn't merit any more of your time? What's next after you have read them all?

The ML project is really my main focus as a reader. It's my hope that by reading the catalog I will get the 'best of the best' - the most important books in Western literature. The really great thing about reading them is that, after a certain point, the books begin to inform each other. Now, of course, with reading Shakespeare, I'm getting a lot of that.

Giving up on a book is hard for me. Even if a book's awful, I feel obliged to finish it, if only to plumb the depths of the awfulness. (And there's always the hope that the last chapter will redeem everything.) Modern Library books I have wanted to give up on include: Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Irving Shaw's The Young Lions, and John Dewey's philosophy. And of course Feuchtwanger's Power, which was terrible on so many levels. So no, I've never been Waterlooed by the Modern Library. Yet.

After I read them all, I'm planning to tackle contemporary literature, especially nonfiction and poetry.

Have you already planned out your boy's reading curriculum? What is it, or what will it be?

I have hopes that he'll be as crazy about books as I am, just for selfish reasons - so I'll have someone to talk about Emily Dickinson with over breakfast. However, my husband is not much of a reader at all, so genetically I guess the baby has only about a 50% chance of being bookish. I'll do my best to push him in that direction, but it won't break my heart if he'd rather be playing baseball.

As for curriculum - I'm trying to wean him off the Seuss. Anything else!

Tell us about The Absent Classic. This is a series that you put together, much like the Modern Library series Bennett Cerf put together. What was his influence on this series, and what makes this endeavor so enjoyable for you?

The Absent Classic is a kind of homage to The Modern Library. It's not a parody, but it's written with tongue firmly in cheek, and intended to amuse rather than educate. Like the ML, my titles include fiction, drama, poetry, biography and a sprinkling of miscellania. I think Cerf and Klopfer's gift was for finding things that were a little esoteric, and TAC takes that one step further into the realm of the weird.

It's enjoyable work for me on a number of levels. First, it's fun just to write something and put it out there for public consumption. And then it's nice to put steady work into a long project, one which (hopefully) will show progress and development over the course of a year. Finally, my subversive little heart likes to toss a little disinformation into the litblog community, not necessarily to fool people, but to make the point that not everything you read on the Internet is true. Really!

Tell us a little more about your shoe collection. How did you begin collecting, and what is your favorite pair?

I started buying shoes when I worked in a fancy shoe store during college. However, after I moved three times and then got pregnant, I stopped. Now I just admire them from shop windows. The greatest shoes I've seen recently were high heels with rhinestones on the bottom of the sole. To walk on diamonds! Genius. My own favorite pair of sandals are lime-green, flat, and horribly uncomfortable. They too have rhinestones, but, alas, on top. I wear them a lot.

Who is your favorite underappreciated author, and what makes them great?

The great thing about the part of the Modern Library catalog that I'm reading (1930-1960) is that it's full of authors who were popular then but maybe not now. I am smitten with Somerset Maugham, for instance, who I found through the ML, but I don't think he really counts as 'underappreciated'. ee cummings, too, isn't exactly an unknown, but his memoir The Enormous Room is, and that's probably the book I'd save from a burning bookshelf. It's a luminescent and wonderful thing.

For really underappreciated writers, I adore WH Hudson, Mary Webb, and George duMaurier. All three have that mix of tension and dreaminess I find particularly nice in a novel.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty-One, in which Self-Publishing prevails

Publishers do not put out books as a public service to readers. They are in business to make money, acting as a middle-man, distributing the creations of writers to the consumer. Publishers put all manuscripts through an elaborate distilling process designed, not to retain only the purest gems (like the famed Slaves of Golconda), but to identify the most marketable and saleable products. They feign objectivity, yet the appreciation of fiction has ever been, and will continue to be, purely subjective. Quality of the writing, talent of the writer, any artistic merit matters only if it will generate more sales of the book. Even things that most consumers expect, like veracity, will be overlooked if sales are certain.

As long as there have been publishers, there have been what is commonly referred to as vanity presses. These presses offer the writer some of the same services that a regular publisher does, but they do not assume any of the costs, they pass them all on to the writer. With the explosion of the internet, subsidy publishers have experienced a boom in growth. Writers still accept the costs, but now, with the technology of print-on-demand, a minimum print run, which often leaves stacks of books unsold, is no longer required. A book is formatted and ready to go, so when a consumer wants one, one is produced; when ten consumers want one, ten are produced. The result can be virtually indistinguishable from a book from a traditional publisher.

This new form of publishing has not received good publicity from the establishment. One hears claims that without a traditional publisher, and an agent, readers are more than likely to find the life story of Aunt Mable the Amish goodwife, instead of "a thrilling, heart-pounding murder mystery that left us breathless and craving more killing." Yet perhaps not one in one hundred readers could tell if a certain book has come from Random House or Alfred A. Knopf (or if they are even different companies any more) or Lighthouse Press. Rarely, if at all, has a publisher established a recognizable brand, so that, for instance, a consumer who is looking for a good ChickLit book automatically thinks of Hummingbird Press. For all their claims of quality standards, Simon and Schuster, Doubleday, and Warner still put out books like Lady Boss, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Da Vinci Code--not exactly masterpieces of literature. What those books do, though, is sell to a mass audience, and that usually by appealling to the lowest common denominator. Books that are challenging, unusual, or generally uncategorisable often have difficulty finding a publisher, because publishers are conservative beasts that don't thrive on risk.

All of which brings us to Marcel Proust. One of the sins generally to be avoided by any writer is to have a character fall asleep, particularly at the end of a chapter. Such a lull in the narrative drive of the novel can possibly signal a reader to put the book aside and go to sleep herself. Publishers want a book that a reader just can't put down, that she stays awake all night just to finish. Proust has his narrator go to bed in the very first sentence of his epic novel. Du côté de chez Swann was initially rejected by several publishers, one of whom, according to Joseph Wood Krutch, returned it noting:
"I cannot understand why a gentleman should employ thirty pages to describe how he turns and returns on his bed before going to sleep."
In other words, "We don't believe readers will ever buy a book like this."

Proust was undeterred, and arranged with Grasset to pay for the costs of publication himself. What does this tell us about the judgement of publishing houses? They are interested in saleable stories that will turn an immediate profit. Waiting for seven volumes over fourteen years is too long. Writers take note: publishers are not arbiters of good literature.

Among those who had input in rejecting the novel, André Gide eventually apologized to Proust for:
"one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life."
Today In Search of Lost Time is regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty, in which the Poem of the Month is featured

This month's poetry feature comes from an old book catalogue issued by Charles E. Goodspeed, of Boston, in the early 1900s. This wonderful little piece gives us a nice feel for the craftsmanship that went into the production of books before Mr. Ford's success led to the mechanization of everything. The author is unknown.
Description of a Bindery

Three or four cutting-presses and three or four pins,
Three or four dozen of calf and sheep skins,
Three or four setts of letters and eight or nine rolls,
One or two sqaring shears and a pan for charcoals,
Three or four gilding-pallets and three or four stamps,
Three or four candle sticks, three or four lamps,
Three or four ruling pens, three or four rules,
Three or four sewing benches, and three or four stools,
Three or four setts marbling-rods, three or four brushes,
Three or four burnishers, (agates and tushes,)
Three or four folding-sticks, ivory and bone,
One or two beating-hammers, and one beating-stone,
Three or four shaving-tubs, three or four racks,
Gold, brass and silver-leaf, three or four packs,
Three or four bottles, cups, phials and bowls,
A standing press, press bar and box of charcoals;
One or two polishers and a grind stone,
Three or four skins of Morocco and roan,
Three or four sticks of green, red or blue taste,
A glue pot, a brush, and a bowl full of paste;
One or two knives, scissors, needles and hones,
Type cases, gold cushions and paring stones,
Three or four bottles or cups full of glair,
Triangles and compasses, three or four pair,
Three or four tables for folders and sewers,
Pressing and cutting boards, three or four scores,
Three or four patterns for cutting out leather,
Three or four quires to lay out and gather:
Three or four titles to letter and pare,
Three or four volumes to paste-wash and glair,
Three or four backs to be rubb'd off and draw'd,
Three or four benches of books to be saw'd;
Three or four volumes that are incomplete,
Three or four dozen books all to be beat,
Three or four books to be cover'd and path'd,
Three or four old volumes all to be math'd,
Three or four jobs to be polish'd and mended,
A bindery to hold them and thus th' affair's ended.

Estella's Revenge

The blatherings of your Bibliothecary have been published in the new issue of Estella's Revenge. Read a review of the book Founding Mothers and the film Munich, as well as sentences and paragraphs full of words by other talented writers.