(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘books

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth”*…

Preserving precious publications…

It all started in 1994. The flooding of the Po river and its tributaries had just swept away entire villages in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, leaving behind only death and debris. The whole of Italy was shocked. Of all the damage broadcast on television, one caused a particular sensation: In the village Santo Stefano Belbo, the historical archive of Cesare Pavese, one of the most famous and beloved Italian writers, was buried in mud.

The debacle particularly impressed a man named Pietro Livi, president of Frati & Livi in Bologna, a company that had been restoring and conserving ancient texts for nearly 20 years. At that time, however, no one in Italy was equipped for this kind of rescue. In the past, flooded and muddy documents were entrusted to companies that used basic restoration methods that proved both invasive and ineffective: The books were simply placed in ovens or air-dried in large rooms, which often left the texts unusable and made mold only proliferate.

So Livi decided to find out if anyone in Europe had found a more effective way to save these invaluable records of human achievement. Finally, in Austria, Livi found a freeze dryer that held some promise, but it was too big and costly for a small artisanal company like his. Then, in 2000, the Po river overflowed again. In the city of Turin, entire archives belonging to distinguished institutes and libraries ended up underwater.

At a loss for what to do, Italy’s Archival Superintendency of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage summoned Livi. By this time, Livi had established a solid reputation as a master restorer, having studied the art of book restoration with Benedictine friars. But he realized that for a project of this scope, his expertise was no longer enough; he needed a kind of Renaissance workshop, where he could collaborate with professionals from a variety of disciplines. Livi believed that the time had come where the world of artisan knowledge and the world of technology, too often considered as opposites, had to talk to each other—for the benefit of one another…

Then, on November 12, 2019, the city of Venice, one of the world’s most mythical and most admired locales, suffered its worst flood in 53 years. The swollen lagoon soaked roughly 25,000 valuable texts, including the last surviving original of one of Vivaldi’s musical scores. Frati & Livi was quickly called to the scene…

In the city of Bologna, home to the western world’s oldest university, Pietro Livi developed an unusual machine shop—part artisanal and part high-tech—built to restore damaged ancient texts to their former glory. And then came Venice’s historic floods of 2019: “Italy’s Book Doctor,” from @CraftsmanshipQ.

* “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” – Anne Lamott

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As we celebrate craft, we might we spare a thought for publishing pioneer Condé Montrose Nast; he died on this date in 1942.  After serving as Advertising Director at Colliers, then a brief stint in book publishing, Nast bought a small New York society magazine called Vogue— which he proceeded to turn into the nation’s, then the world’s leading fashion magazine.  While other periodical publishers simply sought higher and higher circulation, Nast introduced the “lifestyle” title, targeted to a group of readers by income level or common interest.  By the time of his death, his stable of monthlies also included House & Garden, British, French, and Argentine editions of Vogue, Jardins des Modes, (the original) Vanity Fair, and Glamour; subsequently, the group added such resonant lifestyle books as Gourmet, New Yorker, and Wired.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 19, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.”*…

With a tip of the hat to James Burke

European civilization is built on ham and cheese, which allowed protein to be stored throughout the icy winters.

Without this, urban societies in most of central Europe would simply not have been possible.

This is also why we have hardback books. Here’s why…

Ham, cheese, snails, underwear, Jesus, spectacles– the ingredients in the birth of the book as we know it: a wonderful thread from the wonderful Incunabula (@incunabula) TotH to @inevernu.

* James Burke, Connections

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As we ponder precedents, we might send inventive birthday greetings to Marvin P. Middlemark; he was born on this date in 1919.

Old Westbury tinkerer Marvin Middlemark invented the “rabbit ears” TV antenna in 1953, helping millions of Americans get the fuzz, or some of it, out of their pre-cable television reception. Though not completely original – the design was based on the dipole antenna invented by Heinrich Hertz in 1886 – the update made Middlemark a wealthy man.

Middlemark was awarded 62 patents in his lifetime, but his other inventions, including a water-powered potato peeler and a technique for resuscitating gone-soft tennis balls, didn’t muster the same commercial appeal. He sold his antenna company, All Channel Products Corp., in the mid-1960s, parked the proceeds in municipal bonds, and retired to his wooded 12-acre estate, where he kept miniature horses, collected stained glass windows and housed a pet chimpanzee named Josie who liked to finish unwary guests’ drinks.

Middlemark died in 1989, leaving behind a $5 million fortune and, inexplicably, 1,000 pairs of woolen gloves. His son, second wife and her son from another marriage fought over the will for years. Highlights: Planted drugs and weapons, death threats and at least one choking attempt. And all that was by the widow. The stepson, a prominent North Hempstead political operative, pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced to two years in jail.

“Every lawyer has read ‘Bleak House,’ ” Neal Johnston, an attorney for Middlemark’s son said at the time. “This is as close as I’ve come to living it.”…

Long Island Press

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“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”*…

Behold, a behemoth…

Take a look at this graph. The blue is Amazon’s share of book sales in the past six years. The orange is where we are headed if their average growth rate (8%) continues. If nothing slows their momentum, Amazon will control nearly 80% of the consumer book market by the end of 2025. Every single book lover should worry. After we’re done worrying, we must change the way we buy books.

Books are a fundamental social good that have an outsized impact on our development, individually and collectively. They move us forward. They have been fundamental to our moral and social evolution, our inner lives, and our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. What they give us is too precious to trust to a single entity for whom they are ultimately just a product, and whose algorithms value them only by the revenue and customers they bring in.

Popular books are so deeply discounted on Amazon that other bookstores have found it hard to compete. Why does Amazon sell books at prices so low they lose money? Cheap books are a loss-leader that devalue books to drive competitors out of business and help Amazon gain control of the market, leaving them with near-monopoly power.

What is lost if at the end of 2025, Amazon sells 80% of books in the US? If one mega-retailer has unprecedented control over what everyone reads?

For one thing, diversity. The vast majority of people will be reading the same top-selling books, as determined by Amazon. On Amazon, as The New York Times puts it, “Best Sellers Sell the Best Because They’re Best Sellers”. Amazon is algorithm driven; the books promoted by Amazon are the ones that are already selling well. That makes it very difficult for new authors to build audiences. It keeps lesser known, unconventional books from reaching the readers who would appreciate them. It narrows our national conversation down to a very fine point, and sands the edges off of human ideas and creativity. It excludes marginalized voices. It does to our culture what losing biodiversity does to our environment.

Authors and publishers need to worry. Once Amazon dominates 80% of the book market, who are authors working for? Authors will effectively be producing content for Amazon to sell on commission, and Amazon will have control over the terms. Everything we’ve seen from Amazon indicates that when they have leverage, they use it to squeeze the most profit for themselves at the expense of their partners.

Local bookstores are essential to a healthy culture around books. Independent bookshops are crucial for emerging authors, who find passionate advocates in the booksellers who hand-sell their books and can make their careers. They are where authors meet readers, where book clubs form, where children discover a love of reading, and where schools and businesses partner to increase the impact of worthy books. Every bookstore is an activist for the importance of books in our culture; they ar ethe fertile grounds where all kinds of wild narratives are nurtured and grow.

f Amazon succeeds in putting bookstores out of business, readership will decline and the importance of books in our culture will diminish. Books will not thrive without the advocacy, passion, and resourcefulness of our booksellers.

Booksellers are people so taken by the imagination and insights of books that they have dedicated their working lives to them. Only a very special person makes that choice, and independent bookstores are filled with remarkable people. People with enthusiasm and curiosity, who can press a new book into your hands that you would never have discovered otherwise. We need that humanity in the book market, not algorithms.

I created Bookshop.org, a public benefit corporation, to help independent bookstores compete for online sales. Bookshop.org has just hit a major milestone — in the past 16 months we’ve helped bookstores earn $15,000,000 in profit, providing a lifeline for many stores. We’ve made progress, capturing about 1% of Amazon’s book sales. But it’s not enough. We need to shore up the culture around books against the forces of consolidation and big business. We need to make this a movement…

Every Book Lover Should Fear This Graph“; Andy Hunter (@AndyHunter777) reminds us to take our book buying where it matters.

Note that the effect of Amazon’s growing monopoly power on competition isn’t the only concern for readers…

You may own a Kindle full of books, but in reality, the only thing you truly own is the Kindle. Buried in the spaghetti code that is Amazon’s Kindle license agreement is the truth: your eBooks are not yours. You have a license agreement to view those books, and Amazon can revoke it at any time…

Technology Review

And of course, even as we support our local booksellers, we must also support our libraries, both local and global.

* Neil Gaiman, American Gods

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As we vote with our dollars, we might send historically-accurate birthday greetings to James MacGregor Burns; he was born on this date in 1918. A historian, political scientist, presidential biographer, and authority on leadership studies, received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in History and Biography for his work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s 32nd president, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 3, 2021 at 1:00 am

“A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot.”*…

As Anthony Powell once said, “Books do furnish a room.” But how to arrange that furniture?

The late French essayist and novelist Georges Perec understood the anxiety of shelving. In his 1978 essay “Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books,” the title work of a newly issued collection, Perec’s discussion of the many schemes for handling your personal library only shows how utterly impossible the task is. You could, for instance, agree only to keep 361 books in your library — buy one book, get rid of one. But then, he writes, you’d have to decide what a “book” is. Is a three-volume series one book or three? Maybe it’s better to stick with 361 authors instead of books. But then some books are anonymous, and some books don’t make sense without others in the same genre, and . ..

Perec died in 1982. His home library contained more than 1,800 books.

Perec’s essay is somewhat tongue-in-cheek — he was an Oulipian, a tribe of literary gamesmen who found creativity in extreme restraint. (He’s probably most famous for his 1969 novel, translated into English as “A Void,” in which he avoided using the letter E.) But however deep the joke runs, he knew he was writing about a legitimate crisis — not so much one of shelving as of personal identity. How much mess will we accept in our lives? How much order? Shelving, he notes, exemplifies “two tensions, one which sets a premium on letting things be, on a good-natured anarchy, the other that exalts the virtues of the tabula rasa, the cold efficiency of the great arranging, one always ends by trying to set one’s books in order.”…

Why bother organizing your books? A messy personal library is proof of life.” From Mark Athitakis (@mathitak)

[Image above: source]

* Alan Bennett

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As we stack ’em high, we might send pointed birthday greetings to Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce; he was born on this date in 1842. His book The Devil’s Dictionary was named as one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration.  His story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has been described as “one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature”; and his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also published as In the Midst of Life) was named by the Grolier Club as one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900.

A prolific and versatile writer, Bierce was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States, and as a pioneering writer of realist fiction.  For his horror writing, Michael Dirda ranked him alongside Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft.  S. T. Joshi speculates that he may well be the greatest satirist America has ever produced, and can take his place with such figures as Juvenal, Swift, and Voltaire. His war stories influenced Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and others, and he was an influential and feared literary critic.  In recent decades Bierce has gained wider respect as a fabulist and for his poetry.

In 1913, Bierce told reporters that he was travelling to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He disappeared and was never seen again. 

Conservative (noun): A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

The Devil’s Dictionary

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 24, 2021 at 1:00 am

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