Books in General

Leaner and More Efficient, British Printers Push Forward in Digital Age

14 April 2014

From The New York Times:

At a media conference a few years ago, the editor of The Guardian newspaper, contemplating the future of print, recalled his paper’s installation of its newest presses in 2005.

“I had a feeling in my bones that they might be the last,” said the editor, Alan Rusbridger.

The efforts of traditional print media executives to grope their way into the digital future have been well chronicled. But what about the executives even more tightly bound to the presses — the people who run big printing companies?

Ask Roy Kingston, the 55-year-old chief operating officer of Wyndeham, a privately held company that is one of Britain’s biggest printers and whose portfolio includes the British circulation of The Economist and Men’s Health magazine. A player in the printing game for three decades, he has felt the digital onslaught. And so far, he has survived to tell the tale, even if not everyone in his industry has been so fortunate.

“This boardroom is about the only thing that hasn’t changed around here,” he told a visitor, sitting at an antique conference table in the heart of Wyndeham’s printing plant here. “Everything else in this plant is different. All the equipment has been changed, and so have the people.”

. . . .

In many ways, printing itself has gone digital. Industrial-strength laser printers enable big printing plants to make quick and cost-effective small-batch runs on demand. Even Wyndeham’s big offset machines — which print from lithographic plates created from digital files — are so highly automated that a crew of just a dozen or so can put them through their paces.

“This is almost a peopleless business now,” Mr. Kingston said as he walked through the huge but mostly deserted printing hall. “At one point we had 350 people in this plant. Now we have 114. But the amount of work has more than doubled.”

Back in the 1990s, Mr. Kingston said, the plant had three presses that could turn out about 20,000 copies of a 32-page publication in an hour. Now there are two machines that are capable of producing triple that amount.

. . . .

 Britain’s printing industry, though large, is not the biggest worldwide. It is ranked fifth by revenue behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany. Yet its challenges and opportunities are emblematic.

. . . .

 The global printing industry, with estimated revenue of $880 billion last year, will continue to grow by about 2 percent a year until 2018, driven mainly by emerging market countries, in the view of Smithers Pira, another research company. China will probably overtake the United States as the world’s biggest print market this year, Smithers Pira said, while India will slip ahead of Britain into the No. 5 spot by 2018.

. . . .

 Book publishers, who are not under the same time constraints as newspapers or magazines, are looking much farther east, with printing increasingly moving to Asia, where the labor costs are even lower.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Sue Townsend: death of a ‘great comic writer’

11 April 2014

From The Bookseller:

Sue Townsend will be remembered as one of “this country’s great comic writers”, her publisher has said.

Townsend died yesterday (10th April) aged 68, after suffering a stroke last weekend.

Her agent Jonathan Lloyd of Curtis Brown called Townsend a “living miracle”, saying that she had continued to write despite her many health problems – she had diabetes and was registered blind in 2001.

The author, published by Penguin, is best known for her Adrian Mole books, which began in 1982 with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole was released in 1984, and further novels followed the character through marriage and middle age.

. . . .

Townsend’s latest book was The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, published in 2012 by Michael Joseph. Lloyd said he and Townsend’s editor Louise Moore at Michael Joseph would take trips up to Leicester to visit Townsend. “She was such fun to deal with,” Lloyd said. ”Sue was so young and so talented and so brilliant. Her work will live on,” he added.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to Nick and several others for the tip.

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming

9 April 2014

From The Washington Post:

Claire Handscombe has a commitment problem online. Like a lot of Web surfers, she clicks on links posted on social networks, reads a few sentences, looks for exciting words, and then grows restless, scampering off to the next page she probably won’t commit to.

“I give it a few seconds — not even minutes — and then I’m moving again,” says Handscombe, a 35-year-old graduate student in creative writing at American University.

But it’s not just online anymore. She finds herself behaving the same way with a novel.

“It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” she confessed. “When I realize what’s happening, I have to go back and read again and again.”

To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”

. . . .

Word lovers and scientists have called for a “slow reading” movement, taking a branding cue from the “slow food” movement. They are battling not just cursory sentence galloping but the constant social network and e-mail temptations that lurk on our gadgets — the bings and dings that interrupt “Call me Ishmael.”

Researchers are working to get a clearer sense of the differences between online and print reading — comprehension, for starters, seems better with paper — and are grappling with what these differences could mean not only for enjoying the latest Pat Conroy novel but for understanding difficult material at work and school. There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.

The brain is the innocent bystander in this new world. It just reflects how we live.

“The brain is plastic its whole life span,” Wolf said. “The brain is constantly adapting.”

. . . .

The brain was not designed for reading. There are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision. But spurred by the emergence of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper and, finally, the Gutenberg press, the brain has adapted to read.

Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. Sure, there might be pictures mixed in with the text, but there didn’t tend to be many distractions. Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout, researchers said. We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.

The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.

. . . .

Ramesh Kurup noticed something even more troubling. Working his way recently through a number of classic authors — George Eliot, Marcel Proust, that crowd — Kurup, 47, discovered that he was having trouble reading long sentences with multiple, winding clauses full of background information. Online sentences tend to be shorter, and the ones containing complicated information tend to link to helpful background material.

“In a book, there are no graphics or links to keep you on track,” Kurup said.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Call for Beta Testers

9 April 2014

Regular visitor Claire Ryan sent PG the following:

I’ve spent a few months creating a new book discovery website, and now I need beta testers. I know a lot of your followers seem pretty technically-inclined and lean towards being self-published, so I’d be really glad to get their opinions on it.

The site is

I need authors and readers alike, and anyone can use the main search engine. Even if I don’t get many testers for the actual user functions, I desperately need feedback in general. It’s probably going to be supported by affiliate income if anything, but I’m not totally sure of that yet.

The 10 Worst Things You Can Say to a Writer During a Book Launch

9 April 2014

From The Huffington Post:

Remember Romper Room, that classic children’s TV show? There was this giant bee that would come on, cautioning kids to mind their manners and be a “Good Do Bee.”

This week I feel like that giant bumblebee is sitting on my shoulder while I launch my new novel, Beach Plum Island. I’m doing everything a Good Do Bee should: social media, radio interviews, library and bookstore readings, even TV. I’m also trying not to play the Don’t Bee by avoiding the constant temptation to Google my Amazon numbers. The song playing in my head goes like this: “Do bee a book tweeter! Don’t bee a review reader!”

I’m lucky to have such wonderful friends and a supportive husband who have been propping me up and hauling me off the ledge during this head-spinning time. Those of us who are writers, or friends of writers, know that publishing a book is a lot like the first weeks of motherhood, where you’re binge eating, weeping, laughing hysterically, and want to sleep but can’t.

. . . .

For anyone who knows a writer launching a book, therefore, I have compiled a list of things not to say if you want to avoid provoking a tearful outburst:

1. “You’ve got a book coming out? Congratulations! I sure wish I had time to read.”

2. “So you’re publishing a book, huh? Good to know. I could use your help. My book’s only halfway done, but I’ve already got over 1,000 pages.”

3. “I’ve heard that bad reviews are better than no reviews at all.”

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG thinks the descriptions in the article are an artifact from the succeed-or-die world of Big Publishing. A book launch is something that happens infrequently – every couple of years – and one poor-selling book can put you on the road to obscurity with your publisher.

Mrs. PG’s experience with her indie book launches are much less dramatic. For one thing, the launches happen much more frequently so there’s much less of a roulette wheel feeling to the process. For another, there are no to-do lists from her publisher. She disliked book signings, so she’s glad there are no more of those.

But mostly, it’s another income stream added to the many indie income streams that are reliably flowing from her previous books. She has a nice group of readers who look forward to the regular appearance of new books from her.

During Cold War, CIA used ‘Doctor Zhivago’ as a tool to undermine Soviet Union

7 April 2014

From The Washington Post:

A secret package arrived at CIA headquarters in January 1958. Inside were two rolls of film from British intelligence — pictures of the pages of a Russian-language novel titled “Doctor Zhivago.”

The book, by poet Boris Pasternak, had been banned from publication in the Soviet Union. The British were suggesting that the CIA get copies of the novel behind the Iron Curtain. The idea immediately gained traction in Washington.

“This book has great propaganda value,” a CIA memo to all branch chiefs of the agency’s Soviet Russia Division stated, “not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”

The memo is one of more than 130 newly declassified CIA documents that detail the agency’s secret involvement in the printing of “Doctor Zhivago” — an audacious plan that helped deliver the book into the hands of Soviet citizens who later passed it friend to friend, allowing it to circulate in Moscow and other cities in the Eastern Bloc. The book’s publication and, later, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pasternak triggered one of the great cultural storms of the Cold War.

Because of the enduring appeal of the novel and a 1965 film based on it, “Doctor Zhivago” remains a landmark work of fiction. Yet few readers know the trials of its birth and how the novel galvanized a world largely divided between the competing ideologies of two superpowers. The CIA’s role — with its publication of a hardcover Russian-language edition printed in the Netherlands and a miniature, paperback edition printed at CIA headquarters — has long been hidden.

. . . .

During the Cold War, the CIA loved literature — novels, short stories, poems. Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov.

Books were weapons, and if a work of literature was unavailable or banned in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, it could be used as propaganda to challenge the Soviet version of reality. Over the course of the Cold War, as many as 10 million copies of books and magazines were secretly distributed by the agency behind the Iron Curtain as part of a political warfare campaign.

In this light, “Doctor Zhivago” was a golden opportunity for the CIA.

Both epic and autobiographical, Pasternak’s novel revolves around the doctor-poet Yuri Zhivago — his art, loves and losses in the decades surrounding the 1917 Russian Revolution. At times, Zhivago is Pasternak’s alter ego. Both the character and the writer, who was born in 1890, were from a lost past, the cultured milieu of the Moscow intelligentsia. In Soviet letters, this was a world to be disdained, if summoned at all.

Pasternak knew that the Soviet publishing world would recoil from the alien tone of “Doctor Zhivago,” its overt religiosity, its sprawling indifference to the demands of socialist realism and the obligation to genuflect before the October Revolution.

But Pasternak had long displayed an unusual fearlessness: visiting and giving money to the relatives of people who had been sent to the gulag when the fear of taint scared so many others away, intervening with authorities to ask for mercy for those accused of political crimes, and refusing to sign trumped-up petitions demanding execution for those designated enemies of the state.

“Don’t yell at me,” he said to his peers at one public meeting where he was heckled for asserting that writers should not be given orders. “But if you must yell, at least don’t do it in unison.”

Pasternak felt no need to tailor his art to the political demands of the state. To sacrifice his novel, he believed, would be a sin against his own genius. As a result, the Soviet literary establishment refused to touch “Doctor Zhivago.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

How America Learned to Hear Itself Talk

6 April 2014

From The Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

In the August, 1868, issue of the San Francisco-based literary journal The Overland Monthly, a brief review of the pulpy latest by the popular writer John Esten Cooke opened with this pronouncement: “The great North American novelist has not yet appeared. Whether he be hidden in the womb of time, or now develops his budding talent in the weekly newspapers, we cannot say. It is tolerably certain, however, that it is not John Esten Cooke.”

This piece was unsigned, but it is very likely that its author was Bret Harte, The Overland Monthlys prolific editor-in-chief, and the complicated co-star of Ben Tarnoff’s new literary history, “The Bohemians.” Harte was thirty-one and already the most famous man of letters in California when he took the journal’s helm. He intended it to be the preëminent platform for a rejuvenated style of writing that would draw from the pioneer spirit of the West and, Tarnoff writes, “cast off the lingering influence of the Old World.” Cooke’s novel, a chivalric romance set in the antebellum South, was a perfect target for Harte’s urbane sarcasm. Recycling James Fenimore Cooper, who himself had recycled Sir Walter Scott, the book had “no confidence whatever in what our people delight to call ‘American Institutions,’ ” but was “fain to transplant the manners and customs of boar-hunting, ale-swilling, swearing Medieval England to Old Virginia.” It was stale European entertainment dished out to an American audience hungry for a literature of its own.

. . . .

It was during the Civil War when people like Harte—who had moved to San Francisco from New York in 1853—began to sense some depreciation in the Boston Brahmins’ intellectual currency. The war was profitable for California, and in San Francisco a development boom overlapped with a sudden influx of young men escaping enlistment. Tarnoff provides a fascinating snapshot of the era, when the city’s prosperity and unique international character (he points out that in 1860 almost two-thirds of the city’s adult males were foreign-born) brought about a thrilling, if chaotic, admixture of idealism and fun. He quotes the popular minister Thomas Starr King—a former Bostonian and an Emerson acolyte who brought the gospel of transcendentalism to the Far West—exhorting Californians to draw from the purity of their natural surroundings and achieve a moral rebirth from the carnage and race hatred that defined the war.

. . . .

Bret Harte didn’t reinvent American writing either, and the drama and pathos of “The Bohemians” is in watching him get overtaken and then thoroughly surpassed by another writer who would accomplish exactly what he had dreamed for himself: conquering the East with storytelling materials mined from the West.

It was, of course, Mark Twain who ended up doing it. Twain earned local notoriety cranking out newspaper columns in Nevada and San Francisco (often for Harte, whom he had befriended), but in 1865 he had his nationwide breakthrough. “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” which Twain had heard improvised by a backwoods forty-niner during a prospecting trip, is a somewhat inexplicable comic anecdote about a man who gets cheated in a bet about his pet frog. But the point of the story is all in the telling. Twain assumes the voice of a grizzled, plausibly drunken old miner who buttonholes an unfortunate visitor and weaves his way through the shaggy-dog tale. Something about the story, Tarnoff writes, “spelled the beginning of the end of the old guard in American letters: the decline of a genteel elite that looked to Europe for its influences and the rise of a literature that drew its inspiration from more native sources.”

. . . .

Twain’s innovation was to invert the expected form of narrative, so that unrefined idiomatic English—what Tarnoff repeatedly calls “living speech”—dominated the storyline rather than being slotted into the framework of distinguished prose like specimens in a Victorian hall of wonders. When Twain assumed the gentleman-scholar affect, it was as satire. (This is the strategy of his first book, “The Innocents Abroad,” which takes the perspective of bumbling middle Americans trying to appear sophisticated as they travel through pretentious Old Europe.) He was happiest when attempting a kind of inspired mimicry, touched with artful exaggeration, of the myriad voices in the American cacophony.

Speaking about a story narrated by an elderly black woman—the first thing he ever published inThe Atlantic Monthly—Twain remarked, “I amend dialect stuff by talking & talking & talking till it sounds right.” This oral quality was central to his writing, and it’s little coincidence that Twain built up his reputation on the lecture circuit, filling opera houses with a largely extemporized medley of tall tales, impersonations, and raunchy jokes.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Breaking Into Crime Fiction

6 April 2014

From BookRiot:

In the spirit of a “reading challenge,” I decided earlier this year to devote the entire month of March to crime fiction (mostly American). Why that particular genre? It had been beckoning to me furiously after I devoured five Agatha Christie novels in one gulp a couple of years ago, but there were always other books claiming my attention. After all, 90% of my TBR shelf is literary fiction or history; I simply didn’t own any contemporary crime fiction. Now, I had read Capote’s In Cold Blood, Poe’s mysteries, Collins’s The Moonstone, and all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, but I wanted to get a better sense of the 20th-century American scene (basically beginning with Hammett in the 1930s). I wanted to understand what “noir” was really like on paper (since I had seen plenty of it on film and tv).

So I asked my fellow Rioters and bookish twitter buddies for some recommendations and whittled them down to seven novels. I chose them based on the following criteria:

  1. I wanted to read a good selection, but I needed to pack them into one month, so I figured seven was my limit.
  2. I wanted to sample novels from different decades, in chronological order. Unfortunately, I wound up skipping the ’60s, ’80s, and 2010s (gosh that feels so weird to write!).
  3. I wanted a good selection of novels written by both women and men.

. . . .

The great thing about devoting an entire month to one genre is that you can notice patterns that you might otherwise have missed. One very freaky pattern that emerged was a kind of pairing-off of every two books, in terms of subject-matter, style, and POV. So please step into my dimly-lit office with the cigarette-stained desk and the broken venetian blinds and let me explain the results of my investigation into crime fiction.

. . . .

I started with The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Big Sleep (1939), two of the earliest and most definitive novels of the crime/noir genre. Both feature a lone, male Private Investigator with a gritty personality and jaded outlook on life. Both involve a “wild-and-crazy” femme fatale who is ultimately reined in cause she’s so very naughty, flitting around over town stirring up trouble (I’m trying so very hard to not let my snark overtake my tone here, but it’s hard, you guys). What made The Big Sleep stand out, though, was the first-person narrator, and the relaxed humor in evidence on the very first page. The Maltese Falcon, however, was deadly serious (except for a few sarcastic quips by P.I. Sam Spade). The Big Sleep had a jaunty feel, like in my favorite cartoons starring Pepe Le Pew, where wherever the lady cat runs, Pepe finds her, even if she’s running like crazy and he’s just prancing along, blowing kisses through the air. You get the sense that everyone could scatter like frightened cats when Marlowe steps onto the scene, but he’ll eventually get his man/woman. Which he does. Of course.

. . . .

These two novels were HANDS DOWN my very favorite of the month because they were so creepy and hair-raising and twisted and just fantastically written. In a Lonely Place and The Talented Mr. Ripley both feature a murderous young American man out to get everything he wants, no matter the cost. And what does he want? What the mid-20th century American man was expected to want: material wealth and status status status. I mean, WWII had recently ended, and the men and women who had witnessed so much bloodshed and death were expected to blend right back into “ordinary life.” Into this culture in flux were dropped Dix Steele (Lonely Place) and Tom Ripley, two of the most frightening characters out there because they look like anybody else, except for the little detail that they’re crazy murderers.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Saving Ink

4 April 2014

From Fast Company:

Grey London and U.K.’s Ryman Stationery have released Ryman Eco, a free typeface available to all that’s specifically designed to use the least amount of ink possible while retaining a beautiful design sensibility.

The project was born of an internal initiative at Grey London that encourages its employees to approach every brief with the question: How can this project create social good? “I’d written a point of view around the idea that good is the new sex. The idea that good stuff, not sex, sells these days,” says agency ECD Nils Leonard. “One idea that bubbled up when looking at our industry was the idea of a sustainable font, with the thinking being that everyone is writing about how to do good in the world but no one is thinking about the font that they are writing in.”

. . . .


To put into context how great an effect changing the default printer font can have, consider that almost 1.5 billion printer cartridges are sold globally each year, which contain toxic, oil-intensive, and largely non-biodegradable materials that can take cover 1,000 years to break down. Ryman Eco uses an average 33% less ink than standard fonts including Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, and Verdana and 27% less ink than the leading sustainable font. Simply switching Ryman Eco when printing would save over 490 million ink cartridges and nearly 15 million barrels of oil–equivalent to 6.5 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, according to Grey London.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG would like to assure all that no CO2 was generated by this post because he held his breath while creating it.

On a more serious note, he wonders if legibility for those with impaired vision, including the aged, might be compromised with this font.

Ten People You Don’t Want to Meet at a Writer’s Group

2 April 2014

From Hub Pages:

Writing can be a lonely pursuit and sometimes it can be hard to find motivation to go on. More so it doesn’t exactly invite a swinging social life onto the scene. You can’t blame us for wondering what the other writers are up to and wanting to meet them. This is why writer’s groups exist. It doesn’t matter if the group is just for public reading, for critique, for lectures, for learning, for interactive activities, or just for socializing, it all comes down to the same thing – we want to improve our art and meet like minds. However it’s not always as tame as all this. A friend once said, “Writer’s groups can be real freak shows.”

. . . .

The Critic is at every meeting you’ll ever attend. He’s everywhere and when you first sit down he might even impress you a bit. He’ll make sure to correct any obscure grammar anyone has gotten wrong, suggest better words for sentences, and wax and wane with reflective questions that are designed to get you, the writer, thinking about what you’re trying to say. At first you might think, “Wow, this guy really knows his stuff!” (And it’s almost always a guy, mind you.) However a few minutes later when he gets up to read his piece you’ll be startled at just how bad it is. You’ll realize pretty quick that knowing obscure grammar rules is not what makes a good writer. And then eventually he’ll go too far, make a mention of something that’s not even writing related that should be corrected, and you’ll want to punch him in the face. It happens. You’ll read your piece and grin and bear it as he takes note of every meticulous detail you have gotten wrong and when you get home you won’t change your writing, even if you know it’s wrong, just out of spite for who corrected it.

. . . .

The Potential Serial Killer is always a fun one. They always write in the horror genre, occasionally guest starring in science fiction. They like to write gore, hardcore gore. They will describe in visceral detail every gruesome sadistic act their characters do to other human characters, making sure that you can see every drop of blood and every anguished scream in your mind until all you want to do is excuse yourself to the parking lot to barf. They can be so convincing in their genre that people around you will be whispering, “Is this a true account? Is this guy a serial killer?” No one will dare point out how dastardly and socially awkward this move is because no one wants this writer tracking them down and slaughtering them. I’ve seen several movies and sitcoms that have even starred The Potential Serial Killer in a skit that involves people trying to figure out if his story is real or made up. As with most things this scenario doesn’t come from nowhere! He’s out there… lurking at many writers meetings so beware.

. . . .

The Amazing Go-Nowhere Author is both the most fascinating person you’ll ever meet and the most frustrating. He or she will write the most profound thing you have ever heard being read. It will capture your attention so fiercely you will be sitting there just begging for them to continue the story you’re now deeply immersed in but they won’t go on. Either they have yet to write the rest or they are too shy to go on. These people have the most stunning talent and yet they are always the ones who have the least confidence and self esteem. They are never published authors and probably never will be which is an absolute tragedy and why these people, although not as common as some of the other types listed, are the most dauntingly frustrating.

Link to the rest at Hub Pages and thanks to Randall for the tip.

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