The Public Collection: Indianapolis’s own ‘Big Free Libraries’

28 August 2015

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

I don’t often run across TeleRead stories in person, though it does happen from time to time. Oddly enough, the story I came across lately actually happened in the very same spot as that one, Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. Or at least part of it did. I stumbled onto a brilliant new art installation program in downtown Indianapolis called The Public Collection, designed to make books freely available to the general pubic, modeled after the “Little Free Library” project but on a much larger scale.

It all started Wednesday morning, when I visited the YMCA on Market Street that incorporates a bicycle shop, to check on the status of repairs to my e-bike. As I came out, I noticed that the weekly Farmer’s Market was in full swing—but I noticed something else, too: a big green box with a red crank on it. Looking closer, I discovered it was an art installation that was full of books, on a Ferris-wheel-like rotating shelf system. You turned the crank, and as long as the door was closed, a stepper motor would rotate the assembly so the next shelf came into view. Then you could open the shelf door and grab a book. It was a clever idea, and there was a sign next to it declaring it to be called “Harvesting Knowledge,” part of “The Public Collection.”

A little later that day, I was having lunch at Scotty’s Brewhouse, a few blocks away, and I noticed that some kind of art installation they were installing outside that—something that looked like wicker, only made out of metal—also had shelves with books in it! What was going on here?

The sign next to “Harvesting Knowledge” had mentioned it was being supported by the local public library, so I called their public relations department to find out. I learned that The Public Collection was a two-year program intended to support literacy and art appreciation in the Indianapolis Community through making books freely available to the public at eight art installations all around the downtown area. I also learned they were having a grand opening ceremony the next day on Monument Circle, so I made plans to attend.

. . . .

We talk a lot about the “digital divide” here on TeleRead, but they reminded me that there’s an analog divide, too. In thriving middle-class communities, there are an average of 13 books available per person—but in less well-off communities, there are an average of one age-appropriate book available for every three hundred people. And as The Public Collection’s blog points out, Indiana has an 8% illiteracy rate—nearly one in ten people can’t read. The Public Collection intends to try to remedy that a little.

. . . .

Project creator Rachel Simon and Mindy Taylor Ross of Art Strategies LLC decided to do something about this. They launched The Public Collection, reaching out to local artists to come up with ideas for art installations in the public space that could house books that would be free to everyone. The Indianapolis/Marion County Public Library would curate the collection of books for them.

Each installation was a different art project, and each one was located in a different public space. Some of them were open commons areas, such as the ones I’d seen so far that day. One was in a hospital, and another was in Horizon House, a local homeless shelter. One of the architects mentioned a reception was being held there later that day, so after the event at Monument Circle was over, I headed over that way.

Link to the rest at TeleRead


A Book Review

28 August 2015

It was a nice walk if you liked grunting

28 August 2015

I walked back through the arch and started up the steps. It was a nice walk if you liked grunting. There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street. They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail was as cold and wet as a toad’s belly.

Raymond Chandler

Faber records loss in latest financial year

28 August 2015

From The Bookseller:

Faber saw a drop in turnover for the year ending March 2015, with a significant increase in its operating loss from the previous 12 months.

The publisher’s turnover was £15.9m, down 1.8% from £16.2m the year before.

Faber made an operating loss of £813,000, up from £5,000 in the 12 months to March 2014. The operating loss including a “substantial one-off restructuring cost”, said the firm’s business review in its directors’ report and financial statements.

Stephen Page, c.e.o. of Faber, told The Bookseller: “The first half of the year, in terms of changes in the market and the way our list connected, was tough.

“We think real change has happened to some of the structures of the market… [and] maybe our list wasn’t as strong as it might have been in the first part of the year.”

. . . .

Page said: “The reason we restructured was because we felt we understood the balance of the market.

“There are fewer high street specialist bookshops. Waterstones are strong but [their strategy is not one] that can support a broad list from every publisher.

“Our view is that we have to be careful about what we publish and be clear about why we are publishing it.”

. . . .

Page said: “A lot of literary awards help build a writer’s career but there aren’t so many that create hits.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Does Neuroticism Breed Creativity?

28 August 2015

From Forbes blogs:

Some of the great thinkers of the past and present – Isaac Newton, Michelangelo, Woody Allen – have also been the most neurotic. One can’t help but wonder whether the creativity occurs in spite of their neurotic natures or because of it. There’s evidence to suggest that people who score higher on measures of neuroticism also score higher in creativity. And if there is a causal relationship, the logic behind it might go like this: People who are more neurotic are prone to overthinking, and perhaps even manufacturing threats that aren’t really there – and this overactive imagination might, under the right circumstances, give way to creative, problem-solving breakthroughs rather than nervous breakdowns.

. . . .

“It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts,” says Adam Perkins of King’s College London, “due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex that govern conscious perception of threat and you also have a tendency to switch to panic sooner than average people, due to possessing especially high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdale, then that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator.”

In plain English, this means that highly “thinky” people tend to spontaneously generate a lot of worry thoughts, because of activity in the very frontal areas of the brain, even when there isn’t necessarily a reason to be worried. These people (and you probably know whether you are one) also switch on areas related to panic sooner than regular folk. And this is all mediated by the areas that govern fear and emotion, the amygdala. But the capacity to conjure up threats that don’t necessarily exist could also help you conjure up other types of ideas, ones that are insightful and valuable to problem-solving — i.e., creativity.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

Maryland university to eliminate textbooks

28 August 2015

From USA Today:

The University of Maryland University College plans to eliminate textbooks this fall to save students money by using resources online.

Kara Van Dam, a vice provost, said Thursday students will be able use a variety of materials like readings and videos online at no cost.

Van Dam says the change will save students thousands of dollars over their academic program. She says other universities are taking similar steps, but UMUC is a front runner in making a transition of this magnitude.

Link to the rest at USA Today and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Books-A-Million, Inc. Announces Second Quarter Loss

28 August 2015

From MarketWatch:

Books-A-Million, Inc. today announced financial results for the 13-week and 26-week periods ended August 1, 2015. Revenue for the 13-week period ended August 1, 2015, decreased 0.4% to $107.9 million, compared with revenue of $108.3 million in the year earlier period. Comparable store sales for the second quarter decreased 0.3% compared with the 13-week period in the prior year. Net loss attributable to Books-A-Million for the second quarter was $5.8 million, or $0.41 per diluted share, compared with a net loss of $3.0 million, or $0.21 per diluted share, in the year earlier period.

For the 26-week period ended August 1, 2015, revenue decreased 1.1% to $209.7 million from revenue of $212.1 million in the year earlier period. Comparable store sales declined 0.6% compared with the same period in the prior year. For the 26-week period ended August 1, 2015, net loss attributable to Books-A-Million was $11.1 million, or $0.78 per diluted share, compared with a net loss of $8.6 million, or $0.59 per diluted share, in the year earlier period.

Commenting on the results, Terrance G. Finley, Chief Executive Officer and President, said, “While we benefitted late in the quarter from the phenomenal success of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman and E.L. James’ Grey, we were not able to fully offset the significant prior year media driven sales of John Green’s Fault In Our Stars, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is For Real. Again, this quarter we saw strong performances in our cafés and in our general merchandise departments.”

Link to the rest at MarketWatch

Share the Force

28 August 2015

Changing Tastes

28 August 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The June, 2015, issue of Vanity Fair had a nice little puff piece on the upcoming Star Wars film (the June issue came out in May), The Force Awakens. Interviews with J.J. Abrams, discussions with Kathleen Kennedy, a few tidbits about the storyline and George Lucas’s (possible) reaction to it all.

Star Wars is and was a cultural phenomenon, and I would expect Vanity Fair to cover the new film in one way or another, just like it’s covered the Oscars and Downton Abbey and other things that the society is currently discussing.

But I didn’t expect the article’s focus. It was worried that somehow the Abrams film wouldn’t upset “persnickity” fans. Okay, I assumed, as I started reading, that this was an anti-fan article. Yeah, that stuff happens, especially in some of the more elitist magazines like Vanity Fair.

However, the deeper I got into the article, the more I realized that the tone wasn’t about “persnickity” fans. The author of the article, Bruce Handy, also seemed concerned that the film would upset people who loved the original three movies.

He ended with this paragraph:

…“wonderful preposterousness” isn’t a bad descriptor of the Star Wars ethos at its best. Reviewing another scene, with spaceships blasting away at each other with phasers or whatever, Abrams could briefly be heard making ray-gun noises, the way a kid lying on his bedroom floor and drawing his own spaceships might. That galaxy far, far away appeared to be in good hands.

The fact that a magazine like this one worried that the “galaxy far, far away” was in good hands damn near floored me. I have been knee-deep in the women in sf project, and that has taken me back to the big sf fights of my early career. One of those fights was against space opera and the Star Wars/Star Trek fans “taking over” sf. In fact, as recently as ten years ago, David Brin edited an entire book on that very issue, Star Wars on Trial. I had an essay in that book, defending the media properties, an essay that Asimov’s also reprinted.

The idea that elites and critics would worry about the upcoming Star Wars movie living up to the original…well, it makes my brain hurt.

Those fights back in the day were pretty ugly. The woman responsible for the tone of The Empire Strikes Back, screenwriter and sf writer, Leigh Brackett, had trouble being taken seriously be the sf establishment of the 1970s, partly because her style of sf was considered passé—even though she influenced almost everyone writing and editing sf back then.

. . . .

Leigh Brackett was and is a marvelous writer, and if you read her science fiction, you’ll understand why Lucas asked her to contribute to the original Star Wars trilogy. Essentially, Lucas’s entire universe wouldn’t exist without Leigh Brackett.

I had a few moments of panic because of Hamilton’s comments. I read them just before NASA’s New Horizons space probe changed everything we “knew” about Pluto. Fortunately, I never wrote about Pluto. But I wonder sometimes what we “know” about something, that I’ve written about as hard sf or even as contemporary fiction that will be debunked in the future.

I cringe at times, because I came of age when the arguments were loud, particularly in sf, about what was and wasn’t appropriate for the genre. Whether I agreed or not, those arguments went in.

It took me forever to write space opera, and it took some creative traditional editors to buy it. Nowadays, we can publish what we want, indie if traditional publishing doesn’t want what we’ve done, and public opinion shouldn’t make a difference.

But it does.

Writers still put themselves in boxes. You can see it in the comments section of my recent rebranding post, where some of the people commenting followed a link from other sites. A handful of the people following links didn’t read the post at all. They just looked at the rebranded covers, and schooled me in what paranormal romance readers expected.

. . . .

[M]y Grayson novels—which were marketed as paranormal romance ten years ago—don’t fit much of the genre expectations at the moment.

That will change again in a few years. Genre expectations always do. That’s what Hamilton was fighting in his defense of Leigh Brackett. That’s what we looked at with the redesigned covers. That’s why people who were born after the original Star Wars trilogy have no real idea that, among the sf genre purists, those movies were reviled.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, whatever that moment might be. Since I’m digging into thirty- and fifty- and seventy-year-old fiction right now, I’m finding a lot of things that aren’t acceptable to modern audiences. From smoking cigarettes on spaceships to stories causally using racist terms to terms that no longer mean what they meant sixty years ago, I occasionally get inundated with then-versus-now.

. . . .

I think Lee always wanted Watchman to be in print. It’s a vindication, of sorts, almost sixty years later, of what must have been a terrible time for her. The book is finally in print, for good or for ill.

When she wrote that book, everyone would have understood the subtext. Now, she’s “ruined” Atticus Finch by portraying him as a bigot.

Here, I think Le Guin is spot-on. She writes,

So I’m glad, now, that Watchman was published. It hasn’t done any harm to the old woman [Lee], and I hope it’s given her pleasure. And it redeems the young woman who wrote this book, who wanted to tell some truths about the Southern society that lies to itself so much.

Times change. Opinions change. What is “true” changes as well.

And books still follow trends—or lead trends.

I’m not sure how Watchman would have been received had it been published in 1958 or 1959. It might’ve simply disappeared, and Harper Lee might’ve been a midlist author of good quality books for twenty or thirty years.

Instead, she wrote a second novel at the urging of an editor who liked the nostagic parts ofWatchman better than its truths. Mockingbird echoed the national mood of 1960, as the white establishment learned that injustice existed, injustice that people of color had lived with for generations. Mockingbird is an important book, not just for the excellent story that it tells, but because it hit the zeitgeist and helped with the national conversation of its time.

Some books do that. So do some movies.

Vanity Fair covered the new Star Wars movie because Star Wars, along with Jaws, changed the way that movies were made, and what was “acceptable” in film. We wouldn’t have any of the Marvel films or any of the summer blockbusters without Star Wars. But going to the movies would have been a lot less enjoyable.

. . . .

We can write what we want.

The trade-off is that hitting the cultural zeitgeist is much harder. The world has gotten bigger. The days when a single book rests on the coffeetable of everyone who reads are long gone.

What we gain in freedom, we lose in attention.

And many writers do their best to build boxes around themselves, as you can see from those comments a few weeks ago. Even indie writers believe that there are Rules To Be Followed, and Tastemakers To Be Placated.

Weirdly enough, in this world where we can upload the book today we finished writing yesterday, we have to wait to get attention for it. Yes, we might get our usual readers to pick up a copy, but for the book to have “legs,” for it to make an impact, that takes time.

And sometimes that time might be years, not weeks. The book we published today might be part of a cultural trend ten years from now. It’s up to us to remain informed, to see the trends building, to change covers or point out that this book—which first saw print a decade ago—actually has a lot to say about what’s going on right now.

It’s a whole different way of thinking about things, a way we’re not yet used to.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Cold Opening: The Publicity Campaign for “Watchman”

28 August 2015

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

The July 14, 2015 publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to Lee’s only other novel, the intensely beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, was the most anticipated publishing event since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows almost exactly eight years before. The initial print run for the novel was two million copies. According to Nielsen BookScan,Watchman sold 761,000 print copies in its first week (dropping to 220,000 the following week).

It was a big deal, and HarperCollins, Watchman’s publisher, designed its prepublication campaign carefully. A bit of news about the book leaked out between February, when Watchman’s publication was announced, and July. Two newspapers — one in the United States, one in the United Kingdom — were granted rights to publish an excerpt from the novel before publication. HarperCollins secretly provided advance review copies to only a few outlets, major legacy publications with national and international reach, on the condition that their reviews would be embargoed until the official date of publication. All other publications were told that ARCs were not available to anyone.

The embargo didn’t hold, though. On July 10, New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani reviewed the novel on the newspaper’s front page, mildly positively, and the Wall Street Journal published its review, along with an excerpt from the novel, the same day. This breached the dike. Soon after that, other publications — Time (July 11), the Los Angeles Times (July 11), The Washington Post (July 12 — by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey!), the Dallas Morning News (July 13), the London Guardian (July 13) — rushed out their own reviews in advance of the official publication date.

HarperCollins’ publicity machine declared itself disappointed that its embargo didn’t hold. “Am I angry at The New York Times? I’m not angry, but I’m not happy,” Newsweek quoted Tina Andreadis (senior VP and director of publicity) as saying. Andreadis called the Times’ move “a disservice” to customers, but it’s unclear quite what the disservice would be. More hype, more anticipation would seem to benefit Harper, not readers — for whom, presumably, reviews are written.

. . . .

The Times wouldn’t confirm whether it had indeed received an embargoed advance copy when Harper provided them to the press on July 10. But that didn’t matter: the Times reviewed its own bootleg copy. “Our policy is that we do not honor embargoes if we obtain a book independent of publishers’ official channels,” Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha stated. How theTimes got that copy is still a mystery.

After the Times and WSJ broke the embargo, it was a free-for-all.

. . . .

In the United States, only a few prominent publications were given access to advance review copies. The Times had one, presumably; the other major outlets who had been provided with ARCs, seeing that the Times had run a review, rushed their own out. But most publications — including major metropolitan newspapers with very vibrant book sections and web publications like this one — were denied ARCs.

In the film business this is sometimes called a “cold opening” — critics are not allowed to see a film before the release date on the assumption that their savage reviews will depress the box office. Cold openings are designed to maximize sales before the bad news rolls in. Did HarperCollins fear pans of this novel (which was, as was widely reported even before publication, a rejected first draft of Mockingbird) and thus orchestrate a Hollywood-style cold opening? The intent isn’t clear. But those early reviews were decidedly mixed: they weren’t Transformers: Age of Extinction bad, but they certainly weren’t rapturous.

. . . .

Nonetheless, this selective allocation of ARCs caused some ill feelings. Books editor Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — who was told repeatedly he couldn’t have a review copy until the date of publication — was “sad to see that [some] publications got special treatment.”

For these editors, HarperCollins’ caste system was ultimately counterproductive. “The Twin Cities has more than 50 independent bookstores and is consistently ranked at the top of the nation’s most literate cities,” Hertzel added.

The Star Tribune is in the top twenty in circulation in the country. We run book reviews three times a week — Mondays, Wednesdays, and two full pages on Sundays. All original, no wire. Our book reviews are widely read, widely shared online, and they often appear in other newspapers. There are more wonderful books out there than we can possibly review. The publishers need us more than we need them.

It didn’t help, either, that HarperCollins wasn’t honest about its ARC policy. Hertzel requested ARCs twice — in February and May — but both times was told by the HarperCollins publicity department that nobody would be receiving advance copies, so as to ensure a “level playing field,” in the words of HarperCollins’ Andreadis.

. . . .

The embargo and selective ARC provision aren’t the only distasteful things about the rollout of Go Set a Watchman. In their zeal to capitalize on what the Times’ Joe Nocera called a “phony literary event,” major media outlets seem to have lost their analytical faculties, and, with some notable exceptions (such as the Times, whose reporting on the Lee saga, Kakutani’s softball review aside, has been exemplary), served as publicity mouthpieces. On July 13 — the day before publication — PBS’s American Masters broadcast a short interview with Lee and Tonja Carter, Lee’s lawyer and the woman who brought Watchman to HarperCollins’ attention. Is PBS now working for HarperCollins’ publicity department?

The most important questions, though, are about the book itself. Why this version? Why now, after all these years? Harper Lee is aging — now 89 — and living in a nursing home. Her sister Alice Lee, a lawyer who looked after Harper for many years, passed away at the age of 103 on November 17, 2014. Almost immediately after that, Carter (who had worked in Alice Lee’s firm) brought the novel to HarperCollins’ attention. Carter stated that she had only discovered the existence of this manuscript in August 2014, but The New York Times reported that as early as 2011, Carter had been aware of — had in fact been present at an appraisal of — this very manuscript.

. . . .

Whether Harper Lee was fully capable of making these decisions is unknown. Alice, in a 2011 letter, said that her sister “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” Carter is sticking by her story, and HarperCollins has stated that they believe her.

. . . .

[W]hen I worked in the early 1990s for Basic Books, then a prestige HarperCollins imprint (now independent), on at least two occasions our editor-in-chief received instructions from the top either to publish or scuttle books that would have directly impacted Murdoch’s business interests in China. Would HarperCollins skirt its ethical responsibilities when it comes to a sure blockbuster title from a potentially compromised author? Is there anything to suggest the company wouldn’t?

. . . .

[T]his event shows us the underside of the publishing business. With conglomeratization and consolidation, the major publishers look to the major legacy journalistic outlets as partners in the promotion of this book. Smaller, regional outlets with links to local bookstores and readers were shut out, as were web-based publications such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, which are increasingly the places where readers gather.

More concerning is the refusal of editors and reviewers at the favored few outlets to discuss the “event.” Both the books editor and the reviewer at theLos Angeles Times, for instance, refused to comment, and the books editor atThe Washington Post did not respond to a request for a statement. All of this suggests a newspaper world more concerned with its complex relationship to publishers, and perhaps more importantly their parent media conglomerates, than to the free flow of information that is its stated mission.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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