Books in General

The Desolate Wilderness

26 November 2015

For visitors from outside the United States, today is Thanksgiving, a national holiday.

Days of thanksgiving and special thanksgiving religious services arose as part of the English Reformation during the reign of King Henry VIII. In the United States, the tradition began in 1621 following a good harvest in the Plymouth Colony located in modern-day Massachusetts. The only other English colony in North America was Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia, over 600 miles to the South.

The Colony was founded by a group of English religious separatists that had suffered religious persecution in England. After first moving to Holland, the separatists eventually decided to settle in that part of North America that was nominally controlled by England.

Of the original 102 passengers that embarked for the New World from Plymouth, England, on the Mayflower, only two died during the voyage, but, after landing in December, 1620, approximately half of the company died during the first winter. The climate and topography were much different than those found in England and Holland and, as the following passage indicates, their new home was an intimidating place.

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford , sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

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No Heroes

25 November 2015

From Slate:

The shock and awe of Amazon’s new series The Man in the High Castle comes mostly from stuff and settings. It depicts an alternate 1960, in which America lost World War II and is occupied by the Nazis (the Northeast and Midwest) and Japan (the West Coast), with a strip of neutral territory surrounding the Rocky Mountains running down the middle. Struggling to animate some fairly weak characters, it leans heavily on the disorienting impact of its rich, meticulous visual design: swastikas emblazoned on everyday objects like cigarettes; familiar San Francisco street scenes with the signage all in kanji; a happy, wholesome, Cleaver-esque family sitting down to breakfast with a son in a Hitler Youth uniform. In the threadbare neutral zone of the series, you can still glimpse a bit of Americana among the shuttered and peeling storefronts—a Chevrolet sign, for example—all of it so rundown, grimy, and obviously defunct that it’s already half fossil.

This is the world Philip K. Dick created for the series’ source, what’s widely considered his best novel, published in 1962. But the new TV series is so alien to the book in spirit that it would be a shame if it came to supplant our understanding of what is also one of the best mid-20th-century American novels about colonialism and its corrosive effects on the human psyche. The Man in the High Castle is a strange, mournful story in which not very much happens to people who have very little control over their lives and even less inclination to do anything to change that. It ought not to be engrossing, yet it is. The series’ creators have tried to pump up its premise into something that can sustain a 10-episode season (or more) by giving Dick’s dystopia an element that it utterly lacks in the book: an insurgency dedicated to fighting the twin fascist regimes that control the former United States. The people in Dick’s novel never consider resistance. They’re not heroes, and that, paradoxically, is exactly what makes them so arresting.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Scientists finally get under the skin of a 13th century publishing mystery

24 November 2015

From The Guardian:

Using an off-the-shelf pencil eraser and electrostatic technology first pioneered 2,500 years ago, University of York scientists have settled one of the great puzzles of pre-Gutenberg commercial publishing.

Pocket Bibles, painstakingly inscribed by hand in their tens of thousands in the universities of Paris, Oxford and Padua, were made of vellum taken mostly from the hides of calf, sheep and goats, and then made ultra-thin by a process still unknown.

For decades, researchers have puzzled about the fineness of the so-called “uterine” vellum that could be bound in volumes small enough to fit the whole hand-lettered biblical narrative from Genesis to Apocalypse inside a capacious pocket. Page thicknesses varied from 0.28mm to as fine as 0.03mm, a measure that makes the term “paper-thin” meaningless. The fineness of the tissue, and the medieval use of the Latin term abortivum, suggested that the source might have been foetal or aborted livestock.

But since at least 20,000 pocket Bibles were delivered by professional scribes working with quill pens and ink made from oak gall and iron salts centuries before the milling of paper or the invention of moveable type, the supply of unborn animals would have been unsustainable. So suspicion turned to squirrels, rats and rabbits as possible thin-skinned sources of the ultra-fine vellum.

. . . .

The analysis of the electrostatically-collected samples proved as good as, or even better than, taking and destroying a direct sample of parchment, the scientists say. It also confirmed that the parchment or vellum was made chiefly from calfskin, though goatskin and sheepskin were also used, which suggests the hides were byproducts of ordinary farming.

. . . .

That still leaves open the riddle of how the “uterine vellum” – ultra-thin but tough enough to survive for eight centuries – was fashioned. The researchers had found evidence for the equivalent of a set of 13th century Europe-wide industry standards, defining the raw material for a labour-intensive copying system that published at least 20,000 Latin pocket Bibles for an eager market. But the technology remains elusive.

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

The Professor on Lee Child’s Shoulder

22 November 2015

From The New York Times:

The tough-guy hero Jack Reacher first appeared 18 years ago in Lee Child’s novel “Killing Floor.” On Sept. 1, 2014, Mr. Child started writing “Make Me,” the 20th in his best-selling Reacher series. But for once he was not alone in his office in Manhattan. He was being observed by Andy Martin, a longtime Reacher fan and University of Cambridge lecturer, sitting a few feet behind him and shadowing the creative process all the way from the first word (“Moving”) to the last (“needle”).

While Mr. Child was writing, Mr. Martin was simultaneously writing about him writing, typically for several hours a day.

The bare-bones plot of “Make Me”: A big guy called Keever is buried using a backhoe; Reacher gets off a train in the town of Mother’s Rest; a mysterious woman is waiting for him (or is she?) at the station; the town is visited by death and destruction.

In a recent conversation, the authors reflected on their cheek-by-jowl arrangement, beginning with a progress report on Mr. Child’s current novel.

. . . .

Lee Child Listen to this: “In the morning they gave Reacher a medal, in the afternoon they sent him back to school.” The first sentence of “Night School.” What do you think? I started writing it on September 1, as usual. And I turned around … and you weren’t there. Weird. I wanted to discuss the comma. The balance of the sentence. Should it be “and”? I’ll have to get back in the habit of talking to myself. Instead of you.

Andy Martin Hold on. Eleven syllables, each side of the caesura. Diminished alexandrine. Nicely symmetrical. And that rhythm. Like a limerick. Did you know you were doing that?

CHILD See, I’ll miss all that.

MARTIN I know. It’s like the end of a romance. There’s one immigration guy convinced I was having an affair. Wanted to know why I kept coming back to New York. I said I wasn’t working, it was just pleasure. How was it for you?

. . . .

CHILD Do you ever think there is something crazy about writing 20 books about the same guy?

MARTIN Well, no crazier than 19, I suppose.

CHILD That’s why I did it. I thought it would make a change. I’ve been writing about Reacher for 20 years. I never had anyone watch me do it before. And it was a world first. A mad experiment. Literary criticism, but in real time. You were a wild card. What was the worst that could happen?

MARTIN I was sitting about two yards behind you while you tapped away. Trying to keep quiet. I could actually make out a few of the words. “Nothingness” I remember for some obscure reason. And “waterbed.” And then I kept asking questions. I couldn’t help myself. How? Why? What the…? Oh surely not! A lot of people thought I would destroy the book.

CHILD Here is the fundamental reality about the writing business. It’s lonely. You spend all your time writing and then wondering whether what you just wrote is any good. You gave me instant feedback. If I write a nicely balanced four-word sentence with good rhythm and cadence, most critics will skip right over it. You not only notice it, you go and write a couple of chapters about it. I liked the chance to discuss stuff that most people never think about. It’s weird and picayune, but obviously of burning interest to me.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Bookshelf Porn

20 November 2015

Naked books.


On bookshelves.



Link to the rest at Bookshelf Porn

Hemingway’s Paris Memoir Flies Off Shelves in Show of Defiance

19 November 2015

From Bloomberg:

Ernest Hemingway’s memoir about the time he spent lounging in cafes and bars in 1920s Paris has become an unlikely totem of defiance against the terrorist attacks that claimed 129 lives in the City of Light last Friday.

Hemingway’s ‘‘A Moveable Feast,’’ or “Paris est une Fete” in French, is flying off the shelves at bookstores across the French capital and is the fastest-selling biography and foreign-language book at online retailer Daily orders of the memoir, first published in 1964, three years after the American author’s death, have risen 50-fold to 500 since Monday, according to publisher Folio.

Copies have been laid among the flowers and tributes at the sites of the massacres, and people are reading the book in bars and cafes, Folio spokesman David Ducreux said Thursday. Orders surged after a BFM television interview on Monday with a 77-year-old woman called Danielle, who urged people to read the memoir as she laid flowers for the dead. The video was shared hundreds of times on social media.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

English is not normal

19 November 2015

From Aeon:

English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

Spelling is a matter of writing, of course, whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. Speaking came long before writing, we speak much more, and all but a couple of hundred of the world’s thousands of languages are rarely or never written. Yet even in its spoken form, English is weird. It’s weird in ways that are easy to miss, especially since Anglophones in the United States and Britain are not exactly rabid to learn other languages. But our monolingual tendency leaves us like the proverbial fish not knowing that it is wet. Our language feels ‘normal’ only until you get a sense of what normal really is.

There is no other language, for example, that is close enough to English that we can get about half of what people are saying without training and the rest with only modest effort. German and Dutch are like that, as are Spanish and Portuguese, or Thai and Lao. The closest an Anglophone can get is with the obscure Northern European language called Frisian: if you know that tsiis is cheese and Frysk is Frisian, then it isn’t hard to figure out what this means: Brea, bûter, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk. But that sentence is a cooked one, and overall, we tend to find that Frisian seems more like German, which it is.

We think it’s a nuisance that so many European languages assign gender to nouns for no reason, with French having female moons and male boats and such. But actually, it’s us who are odd: almost all European languages belong to one family – Indo-European – and of all of them, English is the only one that doesn’t assign genders that way.

More weirdness? OK. There is exactly one language on Earth whose present tense requires a special ending only in the third‑person singular. I’m writing in it. I talk, you talk, he/she talks – why just that? The present‑tense verbs of a normal language have either no endings or a bunch of different ones (Spanish: hablo, hablas, habla). And try naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something. Do you find that difficult? Unless you happen to be from Wales, Ireland or the north of France, probably.

Why is our language so eccentric? Just what is this thing we’re speaking, and what happened to make it this way?

. . . .

English started out as, essentially, a kind of German. Old English is so unlike the modern version that it feels like a stretch to think of them as the same language at all. Hwæt, we gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon – does that really mean ‘So, we Spear-Danes have heard of the tribe-kings’ glory in days of yore’? Icelanders can still read similar stories written in the Old Norse ancestor of their language 1,000 years ago, and yet, to the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.

The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and also Frisians) brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues. Their languages were Celtic ones, today represented by Welsh, Irish and Breton across the Channel in France. The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about 250,000 Germanic invaders – roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City – very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.

Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first (came first the verb). But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do: they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb. Do you walk? I do not walk. I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker – as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones. Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth.

At this date there is no documented language on earth beyond Celtic and English that uses do in just this way. Thus English’s weirdness began with its transformation in the mouths of people more at home with vastly different tongues. We’re still talking like them, and in ways we’d never think of. When saying ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’, have you ever felt like you were kind of counting? Well, you are – in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games. ‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ – what in the world do those words mean? Well, here’s a clue: hovera, dovera, dick were eight, nine and ten in that same Celtic counting list.

. . . .

Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, English got hit by a firehose spray of words from yet more languages. After the Norse came the French. The Normans – descended from the same Vikings, as it happens – conquered England, ruled for several centuries and, before long, English had picked up 10,000 new words. Then, starting in the 16th century, educated Anglophones developed a sense of English as a vehicle of sophisticated writing, and so it became fashionable to cherry-pick words from Latin to lend the language a more elevated tone.

It was thanks to this influx from French and Latin (it’s often hard to tell which was the original source of a given word) that English acquired the likes of crucified, fundamental, definition and conclusion. These words feel sufficiently English to us today, but when they were new, many persons of letters in the 1500s (and beyond) considered them irritatingly pretentious and intrusive, as indeed they would have found the phrase ‘irritatingly pretentious and intrusive’. (Think of how French pedants today turn up their noses at the flood of English words into their language.) There were even writerly sorts who proposed native English replacements for those lofty Latinates, and it’s hard not to yearn for some of these: in place of crucified, fundamental, definitionand conclusion, how about crossed, groundwrought, saywhat, andendsay?

But language tends not to do what we want it to. The die was cast: English had thousands of new words competing with native English words for the same things. One result was triplets allowing us to express ideas with varying degrees of formality. Help is English, aid is French, assist is Latin. Or, kingly is English, royal is French, regal is Latin – note how one imagines posture improving with each level:kingly sounds almost mocking, regal is straight-backed like a throne,royal is somewhere in the middle, a worthy but fallible monarch.

Link to the rest at Aeon and thanks to Terrence for the tip.

BBC Launches Campaign Promoting Reading

18 November 2015

From Publishing Perspectives:

BBC Director-General Tony Hall announced the launch of Get Reading – a campaign for 2016 that will celebrate great authors and their works, created to get the people of the UK reading and sharing the books they love.

Get Reading will include a Get Reading Weekend, a digital and social media campaign from BBC Learning, as well as specially-commissioned programs that will be available across BBC TV, Radio and online.

. . . .

The campaign kicks off in spring with the BBC Shakespeare Festival 2016 – a major season celebrating the genius of William Shakespeare, 400 years after his death.

Over the summer there will be a season of children’s books on the BBC, at the heart of which will be programming to mark the centenary of one of the UK’s most famous children’s authors, Roald Dahl.

In the autumn, a landmark season on BBC Two: The Book That Inspired Me and an accompanying nationwide social media campaign led by BBC Learning, created to encourage everyone to share their favorite books.

And throughout the year BBC Two and BBC Four will be celebrating the work of famous authors such as the Brontës and Rudyard Kipling, while Radio 4 will explore the work of contemporary figures such as Alex Garland, Toni Morrison and Jeanette Winterson.

Get Reading will culminate in a Get Reading Weekend as the BBC, working in partnership with UK organizations to inspire everyone across the UK to read something new.

. . . .

Jonty Claypole, Director, BBC Arts, added: “Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but also plays a huge role in broadening our horizons and sharpening our imaginations – which is why authors and books have always been at the heart of the BBC. Whether you’re catching an author with their latest book on BBC Breakfast, watching CBeebies bedtime story with your child, celebrating the lives and works of our greatest authors on television, or being transported by our many evening radio book shows, you are joining millions of others in a shared love.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Loved the Novel About a Girl on a Train? You May Have Read the Wrong Book

17 November 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Alison Waines didn’t expect her two-year-old psychological thriller to hit it big.

But it suddenly took off this year, selling tens of thousands of copies, climbing to the top of Inc.’s U.K. and Australian charts for e-book downloads, and becoming a topic of discussion in book clubs.

“I’m making more money than I ever have before,” said the former psychotherapist.

The plot twist? Many of Ms. Waines’s readers bought the book, “Girl on a Train,” by mistake. They meant to buy “The Girl on the Train,” the best seller by Paula Hawkins that is being made into a movie starring Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux.

Of roughly 300 reviews on Amazon of Ms. Waines’s 2013 book since Ms. Hawkins published her novel in January, around 40 reference buying the wrong book. Many appear to have read the entire 429-page novel without realizing their error.

. . . .

Jade Wilson didn’t catch her error until she got lost during a book club discussion. Others were talking about a plot involving an alcoholic who couldn’t stop loving the ex-husband who cheated on her. She had read about a journalist obsessed with finding out what happened to a woman who sat next to her.

“I’m like, ‘No dude, this is not the book I’m reading. That’s not right,’” Ms. Wilson said. “They all made fun of me for picking the wrong book.” But she actually liked Ms. Waines’s book better. When it was her turn to select the club’s next read, she chose “Girl on a Train.”

. . . .

An entire book club in Needham, Mass., read Ms. Waines’s novel and discussed it at their monthly gathering this summer.

It wasn’t until this reporter informed one member, his mother, about the other book that the readers discovered their mistake.

This reporter had borrowed Ms. Waines’s book from his mother and read it cover to cover. He found out later that it wasn’t the best seller he thought it was.

. . . .

While title overlap isn’t entirely new, the growing popularity of e-books appears to have added to the confusion.

In 2013, when Stephen King published “Joyland,” there was a spike in e-book sales for Emily Schultz’s novel of the same name. Mr. King’s novel is a story about a boy working in an amusement park, while Ms. Schultz’s book, which came out in 2006, is about a boy and an arcade. Mr. King declined to comment. He previously said he was “delighted” for Ms. Schultz and planned to buy her novel.

Mr. King’s “Joyland” wasn’t available in e-book format at the time, but Ms. Schultz’s was. E-books made up the majority of the sales of her novel. “I don’t think you can ever make that error in a bookstore,” she said.

The experience inspired Ms. Schultz to launch the blog “Spending the Stephen King Money.” She estimates she made about $3,200 on her accidental association with the prolific author. The blog went viral, and she says it boosted sales of her next book, “The Blondes.”

“It opened up a new audience for me,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Sean for the tip.

This guy created an easy way to block all Kardashian content from your iPhone

17 November 2015

Relationship to books and authors? Kim did write (or photograph) a book.

From Business Insider:

Since Apple allowed “content blockers” on the iPhone in a recent update, most of the chatter has been about ad blocking. The debate has centered on whether blocking ads on websites that rely on them for revenue is, at its core, unethical.

But now an enterprising developer has reminded us all that ads aren’t the only annoying content on the web that could stand to be blocked.

Julio Castillo has created “K Blocker,” a content blocking extension that purges all Kardashian references from your iPhone. The extension blocks Kim, Kylie, Khloe, Kendall, Kourtney, and even Kanye (Kardashian by association).

Link to the rest at Business Insider

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