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Posts Tagged ‘books

“Oh, I am fortune’s fool!”*…


Something on your mind?  Ask the (interactive version of) xkcd’s oracle

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


As we plan accordingly, we might recall, with gratitude, that it was on this date in 1935 that Alan Lane released the first ten titles in the Penguin paperback book series.  At the time a junior player at a publisher called Bodley Head, he was frustrated by the lack of affordable contemporary literature.  He wanted to offer cheap, quality books through outlets like railway stations and newsagents as well as traditional bookshops– to make good books accessible.  So his volumes were priced at 6 pence each, while the typical hardcover book sold for 7 and 8 shillings.  The experiment was a huge success: within a year, Penguin had sold 3 million paperbacks; skeptics– there were many (an earlier experiments in paperbacks in Germany had fizzled)– had been proved wrong; and Lane launched Penguin as a standalone publisher.

The original Penguins are an eclectic mix – a biography of Shelley, a Hemingway classic, a novel set in a pub, a novel about an old lady, two mysteries, an autobiography, and three more rather romantic novels– by authors both still widely read (Hemingway, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie) and not so well remembered (e.g., Mary Webb, E.H. Young, Susan Ertz).

Today, 80 years later, more than 600 million paperbacks are sold annually worldwide.

The First Ten Penguins, 1985 reprint box set




Written by LW

July 30, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential”*…


In 2014, in a forest at the location above, Scottish artist Katie Paterson launched Future Library

… a public art project that begins with a thousand trees planted in the Norwegian forest of Normarka. After a century of growth, these trees will be cut down, pulped, and turned into a collection of books to be housed at the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo, which is scheduled to open in 2019.

During each year of the forest’s growth, one writer will contribute a text to be published in the anthology. The writing will be unseen by the public until the book collection is created in 2114. So far, two prominent writers have announced their involvement: Canadian author Margaret Atwood and British novelist David Mitchell. Both authors have either won or been shortlisted for the Booker Prize on numerous occasions…

Read more at “How to Harvest a Library in Just 100 Years.”

* Winston Churchill


As we take the very long view, we might send a celebratory sonnet to Francesco Petrarca– Petrarch; he was born on this date in 1304.  Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was famous for his paeans to his idealized lover “Laura” (modeled, many scholars believe, on the wife of Hugues de Sade, Laura de Noves, whom he met in Avignon in 1327, and who died in 1348).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century based largely on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).



Written by LW

July 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world”*…


Having a citizenship means that you have a place in the world, an allegiance to a state. That state is supposed to guarantee you certain rights, like freedom from arrest, imprisonment, torture, or surveillance – depending on which state you belong to. Hannah Arendt famously said that “citizenship is the right to have rights”. To tamper with ones citizenship is to endanger ones most fundamental rights. Without citizenship, we have no rights at all.

Algorithmic Citizenship is a form of citizenship which is not assigned at birth, or through complex legal documents, but through data. Like other computerised processes, it can happen at the speed of light, and it can happen over and over again, constantly revising and recalculating. It can split a single citizenship into an infinite number of sub-citizenships, and count and weight them over time to produce combinations of affiliations to different states.

Citizen Ex calculates your Algorithmic Citizenship based on where you go online. Every site you visit is counted as evidence of your affiliation to a particular place, and added to your constantly revised Algorithmic Citizenship. Because the internet is everywhere, you can go anywhere – but because the internet is real, this also has consequences…

Citizen Ex, co-commissioned by The Space and created for Southbank Centre’s Web We Want festival, allows one to explore what citizenship might mean in an ever more wired world.  Pledge allegiance at “Algorithmic Citizenship.”

* Francis Bacon


As we hurry home, we might recall that it was on this date in 1801 that the American Company of Booksellers, one of the first trade associations of booksellers in the U.S., was formed.  The ACB lasted only four years, before rattling apart amidst members’ accusations of unfair competition against each other.  Several other such attempts were similarly stillborn over the 19th century– until 1900, when the American Booksellers Association was founded.




“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts”*…


“… Refuted thus”


Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn’t mean you SHOULD.


“Actually, without reading the book, I don’t know if this is a bad cover; it might be a perfect representation of what to expect.”


More at Lousy Book Covers (and/or at their Tumblr).

* Charles Dickens


As remind ourselves of Groucho Marx’s insight: “outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s too dark to read,” we might recall that this is a big date in the annals of English letters…  It was on this date in 1842, that Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published Poems.  While the future Poet Laureate had been writing for a decade, it was this two-volume release (which included “Ulysses” and Morte d’Arthur”) that made his name.


And on this date in 1925, Virginia Woolf published the story of a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway– one of Time‘s “100 Best Novels since 1923” (2005).


Written by LW

May 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“We are all fools in love”*…


The most common assumption about romance novels, buoyed by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, is that they are anti-feminist. And though the so-called bodice rippers of the 1970s (in which men who look like Fabio ravish passive sweethearts) are still quite popular, the genre has also expanded rapidly in recent years to include fiction of the paranormal, gay, evangelical, steampunk, time travel and Gothic variety (and many more). Its female leads, in many contexts, have evolved with the times, rendering the notion that romance novels are full of oppressed, unthinking women, profoundly ignorant. Not only is the industry itself rife with female entrepreneurs; its heroines always get what they want. In fact, the only formula that rings true across all romance novels is the HEA: the Happily Ever After. It is unanimously believed to be the defining principle of the genre. “The women always win,” says [filmmaker Laurie] Kahn. “And that doesn’t happen in most places.”…

Find out “Why romance novelists are the rock stars of the literary world.”

* Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


As we still our pounding hearts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that the Illuminati was founded.  While the name has been given to a number of organizations– real and imagined– over the years, this first incarnation was real enough.  It was started by Adam Weishaupt, the only non-clerical professor at the Jesuit University of Ingolstadt– an experience that turned him into a rabid anti-cleric.  He first tried to become a Freemason, but couldn’t afford the initiation fees and dues; so he created his own organization– the Iluminatenorden, or Order of Illuminati.  In some ways a typical Enlightenment secret society, the Illuminati’s goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power.  And like other secret societies with similar goals, it was pretty promptly outlawed by the State at the urging of the Church.  Still, rumors persisted– and persist still– that the Illuminati built a world-wide conspiracy of powerful folks who pull the world’s strings from behind the curtain.

The cover of an Illuminati pamphlet, featuring their “logo”: the owl of Minerva – symbolising wisdom – on top of an opened book



Written by LW

May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”*…


The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)


Jonathan Basile, a Brooklyn author and Borgesian Man of the Book, taught himself programming so that he could recreate Borges’ Universal Library [the Library of Babel, which “contained all books”] as a website. The results are confounding. A true site-as-labyrinth, Basile’s creation is an attempt to write and publish every story conceivable (and inconceivable) to man. In the process, Basile encountered new philosophical conundrums, French rappers, and unheard-of porno search strings. The possibilities, after all, are endless…

Browse the Universal Library here; read more of Basile’s prodigious project here.

* Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” [“La Biblioteca de Babel”]


As we renew our Library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1667 that John Milton sold the rights to Paradise Lost to printer/publisher Samuel Simmons for £10.  Milton, who’s worked for Cromwell, was on the outs in those early days of the Restoration.  (Indeed, Simmons kept his name off the title page [below], naming only his sellers.)

That original edition was structured into 10 sections (“books”).  Milton revised his work and reordered it into 12 books, the form we know today; it was published in the year of his death, 1674.  While his motive may well have been, as some critics have suggested, to emulate the structure of Virgil’s Aeneid, a second payday probably also figured in.



Written by LW

April 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass”*…


In the first decade of the 20th century, Edward Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  As the head of the group, he commissioned writers to create quickly-written, formulaic juvenile novels; authors received short outlines, and returned book manuscripts within a month. As Meghan O’Rourke writes in The New Yorker,“ Stratemeyer checked the manuscript for discrepancies, made sure that each book had exactly fifty jokes, and cut or expanded as needed,”  The syndicate’s popular protagonists included the Hardy Boys,Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey Twins, along with many that are now unfamiliar, like the Outdoor Girls, the Motion Picture Chums, and the Kneetime Animal Stories.

The first of the two-page outline for The House on the Cliff, the second Hardy Boys novel


In this two-page outline for the 1927 Hardy Boys mystery The House on the Cliff, Stratemeyer directed writer Leslie McFarlane in the construction of the plot of the second book in the franchise’s original series. The book was officially published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon, a fictional author whose name appears on all of the Hardy Boys books.

Stratemeyer, who grew up reading the Horatio Alger and Oliver Optic book series, was himself a writer of boys’ fiction. As Meghan O’Rourke wrote in the New Yorker in 2004, Stratemeyer was publishing his own series fiction—the Rover Boys, the Motor Boys—when he figured out a way to bridge two oppositional strains of children’s literature: “the nineteenth century’s moralistic tradition and the dime novel’s frontier adventures.” Stratemeyer’s books would be sold in hardback, thereby appearing “respectable” to parents, while containing adventure stories that were just as appealing to kids as cheap stories of the dime novel type…

James Keeline, who researchs the history of the Syndicate and granted me permission to run these scans of the Hardy Boys document, has put several other Stratemeyer outlines up on his site.

Rebecca Onion, in The Vault

* Eudora Welty


As we turn the page, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), & The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one o fte most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.




Written by LW

March 17, 2015 at 1:01 am


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