Books in General

The Little-Known ‘Slow Fire’ That’s Destroying All Our Books

18 October 2019

From LitHub:

How to fix a book: first, gather your tools. The bone folder that feels familiar in your hand, the knitting needles still sticky with glue, the X-Acto knife, the tiny Tupperware of glue.

Then, diagnose the damage. If there’s scotch tape, grab the lighter fluid. If the book is on its last leg, worn out, prepare to make a box. Check that the guillotine is free.

Sometimes you need to be brutal, eschewing sentimentality as you cut off a spine or replace a book’s old, water-stained cover. At other times, gentle, delicate—especially with the books from Special Collections, those unique, fragile (and expensive) texts. And sometimes you find books with yellowed, stiff pages. The old dog-eared folds break off in triangles, flutter to the floor. These books can’t be helped by simple repairs—they’re acidified, dying, and the opposite of unique. In fact, they’re examples of a large-scale catastrophe that’s been quietly building in libraries for decades.

It’s called a “slow fire,” this continuous acidification and subsequent embrittlement of paper that was created with the seeds of its own ruin in its very fibers. In a 1987 documentary on the subject, the deputy Librarian of Congress William Welsh takes an embrittled, acid-burned book and begins tearing pages out by the handful, crumbling them into shards with an ease reminiscent of stepping on a dried-up insect carcass.

. . . .

The destruction is inevitable. Depending on how a book was made and how it’s been stored, embrittlement can happen in as little as 30 to 100 years. Already, books have been lost, and the methods of preservation are too limited, time-consuming, and expensive to address the scale of the problem. Mass deacidification, where an alkaline neutralizing agent is introduced via a spray or solution applied to paper, once seemed like the golden solution; but while it can be used to prevent slightly acidified paper from deteriorating, it doesn’t reverse the effects of prior damage. The fallback is digitization—a fancy way to say mass-scanning, and the most used method of saving the content of a text, but not the book itself. In an article about the Library of Congress’ digitization efforts, Kyle Chayka reports that it would take literally decades of scanning to preserve the institution’s over 160 million object collection. At our existing technology’s current scanning pace, preserving the prints and photographs division alone would take about 300 years.

As Ed Vermue, my boss at the tiny college preservation lab where I worked, put it: we cannot stop the slow destruction of our collections. From the mid-19th century until now, we’ve never had more paper, more print materials floating around our world. And there’s about to be a physical hole in the historical record that coincides precisely with the largest creation of printed materials in human history.

. . . .

In western Europe, from the 16th to mid-19th centuries, paper manufacturing was inherently a recycling industry. Old rags, dead peoples’ bedsheets, even canvas sails—all were collected, sorted, pulped, and turned into the material backbone for paper-making.

Paper demands fiber, and recycling was cheaper and faster than relying on the raw plant materials like flax and hemp to be grown, harvested, and readied for use. But as demand grew, papermakers started eyeing another kind of plant: trees, in all their abundance.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that someone figured out the code: an industrially intense process of pulverization and harsh chemicals that killed the fish in the streams that powered paper mills and, crucially, created highly acidic, weak paper. Think of newsprint, how quickly it disintegrates. For decades, and continuing into the 1970s, the material used to record both the mundane and profound thoughts of generations was just a few grades stronger than that notoriously short-lived medium.

Part of the reason wood-pulp paper is so weak is due to the comparably short strands of its fibers; it creates pages prone to break, and all the acids the paper retains from its production process creates pages that are already always burning up from the inside.

. . . .

The books and documents that history has deemed valuable, the ones made hundreds of years ago and kept in temperature-controlled vaults, will survive. Partly because of their importance, and partly because so many of them were made in the time before wood-pulp; many 500-year-old books are stronger and in better condition than texts created just a few decades ago.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Can Everyone Stop Slagging Off Brighton, Already?

17 October 2019

From Crime Reads:

It’s a sad fact, but from its earliest days as a resort in the late 18th century, the seaside town of Brighton has been treated pretty unkindly by literature, film and art. If I didn’t live down here on the South coast of England, I reckon that on hearing the name “Brighton” I would conjure up any number of depressing images, among which would be sad, guilty couples in Graham Greene novels coming to the out-of-season seaside to be even sadder and guiltier; characters in Carry On films sniggering over sexual innuendos on the Palace Pier; Walter Sickert’s defeatist pierrots performing in the garish Edwardian footlights; and Sixties mods and rockers in the film Quadrophenia brutally smashing deck-chairs over each other on the beach. But mostly, I suspect, I would think of Brighton’s famous fictional criminal underworld: of Bob Hoskins in the film Mona Lisa being chased by mobsters, and of the young Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock having his cheek slashed by a razor, and looking incredibly annoyed about it. As an outsider, I would think of Brighton and automatically wince at how tawdry it is. Somehow or other, that’s how it’s always been.

Nowadays, the observable reality of Brighton is somewhat at odds with this received notion. It’s a thriving seaside destination, home to many media types and rock icons, famous for being only 50 minutes on the fast train from London.

. . . .

So why, over two centuries, have writers consistently shaken their heads and warned the world against visiting this cheery resort? Writers have continually told us, both implicitly and explicitly: bad things happen in Brighton. Nowadays, the first thing anyone sees in bookshops down here is a wall of moody, sinister black-and-white images of Brighton landmarks as depicted on the bestselling crime novels of Peter James—books with foreboding titles such as Not Dead YetDead Simple, Dead Like You, and Not Dead Enough. We love Peter James, of course: he’s very popular, he’s well respected for his excellent research vis-à-vis police procedure, and he’s hugely admired for the way he keeps finding new ways of using the word “dead” in a book title. But for obvious reasons, he is not a great publicist for a pleasant, crime-free visit to the seaside. If you’ve ever picked up a book thinking, “I wonder if anyone actually dies in this?” it won’t have been a novel by Peter James.

The beware-Brighton cautionary note, however, predates Peter James by a couple of hundred years. It was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) that struck the first, heavy blow against the town, when the flighty young Lydia Bennet begged to visit Brighton and then fell almost automatically into sin, dragging her devastated family after her. Even before that, Dr Johnson had famously warned his friend Mrs Thrale, who owned a house in West Street, that living in Brighton would make you want to hang yourself, but good luck finding a tree. Thus, from the very beginning, it was somehow built into Brighton’s reputation that behind the thin, bright façade of the gay seafront lay dismal vice and despair. This was a town where immoral people came to get away with things; where no one was innocent. As the writer Keith Waterhouse so beautifully put it: “Brighton has the air of a town that is perpetually helping the police with their inquiries.”

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Is The Golden Notebook a feminist novel?

15 October 2019

From The Guardian:

The New York Times critic Ernest Buickler once wrote that “a firkinful of scorching aphorisms” could be culled from nearly every page of The Golden Notebook. An exaggeration, of course – but only just. Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel is eminently quotable:

“For with my intuition I knew that this man was repeating a pattern over and over again: courting a woman with his intelligence and sympathy, claiming her emotionally; then, when she began to claim in return, running away. And the better a woman was, the sooner he would begin to run.”

“The real revolution is women against men.”

“If we lead what is known as free lives, that is, lives like men, why shouldn’t we use the same language.”

“One had to be much older than I was then to understand George’s relationship with his wife. He had a fierce loyal compassion for her, the compassion of one victim for another.”

. . . .

The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes The Golden Notebook as a landmark of the women’s movement in the 1960s, an achievement Lessing disliked, denying that the novel was a “trumpet for women’s liberation” or an account of “the sex war”.

It would be reductive to describe all of Lessing’s female characters as victims. Most of them are too smart, determined and independent-minded to allow themselves to be beaten down entirely. But the odds are stacked against them, especially in their relationships with men.

Time and again, the men get to do and say dreadful things, then trot off unscathed to their next victims.

. . . .

It’s impossible to read The Golden Notebook without thinking that there’s something very wrong in the gender relations it describes and in the world at large. It’s easy to see why readers might have taken it as a call to arms and feminist inspiration. But even so, it’s just as easy to see why Lessing was annoyed that people might describe the novel in exclusively feminist terms. It’s too complicated and ambiguous to fit any political programme.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG wonders if it matters whether The Golden Notebook is a feminist novel or not, particularly when the author denied “that the novel was a “trumpet for women’s liberation” or an account of “the sex war”.”

The Visigothic Code

14 October 2019

PG is a sucker for great headlines.

The Visigothic Code is one such headline, particularly in the legal arena, where the Uniform Commercial Code and The Code of Federal Regulations are just a few of the many legal codes in the US.

The Visigothic Code struck PG because he generally associates the Visigoths with a bit more barbarity than is implied in an extensive written legal code. After all, Visigothic forces led by Alaric I pretty thoroughly sacked Rome in 410 and thereafter, in PG’s limited understanding, The Roman Empire started to go downhill at an accelerating pace, kicking off what some have called the Dark Ages.

It turns out The Visigothic Code was a real thing.

From Wikipedia:

The Visigothic Code (Latin: Forum Iudicum, Liber Iudiciorum; Spanish: Libro de los Jueces, Book of the Judges), also called Lex Visigothorum (English: Law of the Visigoths), is a set of laws first promulgated by king Chindasuinth (642–653 AD) of the Visigothic Kingdom in his second year of rule (642–643) that survives only in fragments. In 654 his son, king Recceswinth (649–672), published the enlarged law code, which was the first law code that applied equally to the conquering Goths and the general population, of which the majority had Roman roots, and had lived under Roman laws.

The code abolished the old tradition of having different laws for Romans (leges romanae) and Visigoths (leges barbarorum), and under which all the subjects of the Visigothic kingdom would stop being romani and gothi instead becoming hispani. In this way, all subjects of the kingdom were gathered under the same jurisdiction, eliminating social and legal differences, and allowing greater assimilation of the populations. As such, the Code marks the transition from the Roman law to Germanic law and is one of the best surviving examples of leges barbarorum. It combines elements of the Roman law, Catholic law and Germanic tribal customary law.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

How can you not love lawmakers with names like Chindasuinth and Recceswinth?

Someone evidently decided The Visigothic Code would gain more respect if it was written down in an impressive manner:

Visigothic Code or Liber Iudiciorum or Lex Visigothorum. Set of laws promulgated by the Visigothic king of Hispania, Chindasuinth and enlarged by Recceswinth (654).Vit. 14-5. I foliate I. Miniature Painting. SPAIN. Madrid. National Library.

“Where,” you may ask, “might I find a Library of Iberian Sources online so I can examine the Lex Visigothorum aka The Visigothic Code?”

PG has the answer to that question in one link aka LIBRO.

When you start writing laws down, they tend to proliferate, so it turns out The Visigothic Code ended up with 12 volumes. Since PG’s Latin is so rusty that there may be little of the original left unrusted, he was happy to find a translation into English.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

Book II, Title I Law IX

No woman can conduct a case under the authority of another, but she is not forbidden to transact her own business in court. Nor can a husband conduct the case of his wife without authority from her; and, indeed, he should protect himself with such an instrument in writing, that the wife may not repudiate the whole proceeding; and if she should repudiate it, the husband shall undergo the penalty to which he is liable who presumed to conduct a case without the authority of his wife. And if the husband should lose a case which he prosecuted without the order of his wife, her rights shall in no way be prejudiced; and she can afterwards either prosecute the case herself, or can authorize any one she wishes to do whatever is proper in the matter. And if the case should justly go against the husband, and the wife should believe that the adversary who prevailed should again be sued; and, after the second trial, it should be apparent that her husband was not unjustly beaten in the first trial, the wife shall render satisfaction as prescribed by law, not only to the judge who first heard the case, but also to the other party whom she brought into court for the second time.

. . . .

Book II, Title III, Law VI It shall not be Lawful for a Woman to Act as an Attorney, but She may Conduct her Own Case in Court

No woman can conduct a case under the authority of another, but she is not forbidden to transact her own business in court. Nor can a husband conduct the case of his wife without authority from her; and, indeed, he should protect himself with such an instrument in writing, that the wife may not repudiate the whole proceeding; and if she should repudiate it, the husband shall undergo the penalty to which he is liable who presumed to conduct a case without the authority of his wife. And if the husband should lose a case which he prosecuted without the order of his wife, her rights shall in no way be prejudiced; and she can afterwards either prosecute the case herself, or can authorize any one she wishes to do whatever is proper in the matter. And if the case should justly go against the husband, and the wife should believe that the adversary who prevailed should again be sued; and, after the second trial, it should be apparent that her husband was not unjustly beaten in the first trial, the wife shall render satisfaction as prescribed by law, not only to the judge who first heard the case, but also to the other party whom she brought into court for the second time.

. . . .

Book II, Title IV Law VI – Concerning Those who give False Testimony.

If any one should give false testimony against another, and be detected, or should acknowledge his crime; if he is a person of rank, he shall give as much of his own property to him against whom he testified falsely, as the latter would have lost by his evidence, and he shall never again be permitted to testify in court. If he is a person of inferior rank, and does not possess the means wherewith to make amends, he shall be delivered as a slave to him against whom he testified falsely. But the cause shall by no means be lost by reason of such false testimony, unless the truth shall have been established otherwise; that is, either by a lawful and approved witness, or by just and legal documents in writing. If any one should corrupt another, either by a gift, or by fraud, and should thereby induce him to perjure himself, then, as soon as this fact shall become apparent, the instigator of the crime who aimed at the injury of another, as well is he who was induced by avarice to swear falsely, shall undergo the penalty of forgery.

. . . .

Book III, Title IV Law VI. It is not Lawful for Slaves to put Persons to Death who are taken in Adultery.
While parents have the undoubted right to kill adulterers caught in their houses, slaves have no such authority. But if slaves should discover them, they may keep them in honorable custody, until they can be delivered over to the master of the house, or to the judge; and, after having been found guilty by reliable evidence, the legal penalty shall be inflicted upon them.

. . . .

Book IV, Title II, Law II. Concerning Poisoners.
Different kinds of crimes should be punished in different ways; and, in the first place, freemen or slaves who are guilty of preparing, or administering poison shall be punished in like manner; as for instance, if they should give poisoned drink to anyone and he should die in consequence; in such a case those who are guilty shall be put continuously to the torture, and be punished by the most ignominious of deaths. But if he who drank the poison should escape with his life, the party who administered it shall be given up into his power, to be disposed of absolutely as he may desire.

. . . .

 Book VI, Title IV I. Concerning the Injury of Freemen and Slaves.
Where one freeborn person strikes another any kind of a blow upon the head, he shall pay five solidi for a bruise, ten solidi if the skin is broken, twenty solidi for a wound extending to the bone, and a hundred solidi where a bone is broken. If a freeborn man should commit any of the above named acts upon the slave of another, he shall pay half of the above named penalties, according to the degree of his offence. If one slave should strike another, as above stated, he shall pay a third part of the above penalties, proportionate to his offence, and shall receive fifty lashes. If a slave, however, should wound a freeborn person, he shall pay the largest sum hereinbefore mentioned, which is exacted from freeborn persons for assaults upon slaves, and shall receive seventy lashes. If the master should not be willing to give satisfaction for the acts of his slave, he must surrender him on account of his crime.

Link to the rest at The Visigothic Code

KDP Access Issues

11 October 2019

PG is working on access issues to KDP.

These began last night and during his interactions with KDP support, he thinks he was transferred to CreateSpace support. He’s not certain why they are two different groups of support people.

The Createspace support person was very conscientious and got PG an unlock code for an ID/email that was clearly his, but wasn’t the usual ID he used for KDP – it had one extra character. He thought he might have used the provided ID for some related purpose with KDP and forgotten about it, but was happy to get a reset code via email.

After resetting, these slightly-different credentials got him into a time-warped collection of Mrs. PG’s books with older covers. However, none of Mrs. PG’s more recent titles were there. It was a bit like a setup for The Twilight Zone.

PG thinks he remembers that KDP and Createspace used to have different logins – you went to Createspace to do indie POD books and KDP to do indie ebooks. He suspects the place he ended up had an archive of Mrs. PG’s POD books at the time the Createspace and KDP processes were combined. All the publication dates were from 2012-13, before Mrs. PG’s revised covers were added and no ebook versions were present, although there were links that offered the opportunity to either link to create a Kindle ebook or link to an existing ebook.

PG has spent a lot of time trying to understand what his various and sundry KDP logins do and documented the strangeness for a second discussion with KDP support.

Posts will continue to be a bit scanty until PG figures this all out or he hears Rod Serling’s voice.


Quote or Quotation?

10 October 2019

PG has been seeing the word “quotation” used in places he would expect to see, “quote” lately.

As in, “Here’s a quotation from President Trump.”

He understands that English is a constantly growing and evolving language, but this strikes him as a little strange.

The OED defines quotation, in part, as:

  • 1.a group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker:“a quotation from Mark Twain”(synonyms omitted)
  • 2.a formal statement setting out the estimated cost for a particular job or service:“you will be sent a written quotation for the cost of repairing your machine” (synonyms omitted) says, in part:

  1. something that is quoted; a passage quoted from a book, speech, etc.:a speech full of quotations from Lincoln’s letters.
  2. the act or practice of quoting.

Is quotation merely a longer way of saying “quote” or is there something more subtle going on or is it part of the decline and fall of the English language?

Old Master Discovered in Elderly Woman’s Kitchen Worth £5.3 Million

7 October 2019

Doesn’t have much to do with books and writing, but it’s hard to pass up a story like this.

From Art Law and More:

A long-lost Medieval masterpiece has been discovered hanging above an elderly woman’s kitchen stove in northern France. When it goes up for auction in October, the painting is estimated to fetch around €6 million (£5.3 million).

“It was considered special by the family, but they thought it was an icon,” explained Philomene Wolf, the auctioneer who found the artwork during a house clearance in Compiegne this summer.

Small and unassuming in size, the tempera painting is believed to be Christ Mocked by the Florentine master Cimabue (1240-1302). Infrared testing was used to confirm the attribution, with some experts stating there is “no disputing” its origin.

Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo, was a pioneering Italian painter and is known as the father of western art. His paintings break away from the highly stylised Italo-Byzantine tradition to depict more life-like religious scenes.

. . . .

Subsequent research by Turquin revealed that Christ Mocked could also be part of polyptych – a type of altarpiece painting consisting of three or more panels. Two other scenes from the set, which show the Flagellation of Christ and Madonna and Child Enthroned between Two Angels, are displayed in the Frick Collection in New York and the National Gallery in London.

“You can follow the tunnels made by the worms,” said Turquin, who compared the marks made in the panel by wood-eating larvae to those found in the other sections of Cimabue’s polyptych. “It’s the same poplar panel,” he added.

Link to the rest at Art Law and More

Who can resist a mystery that is solved by analyzing worm tunnels?

Outlet Malls Bucked the Shift to Online. Until Now.

7 October 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Outlet stores had long been immune to pressures weighing on traditional malls, including the shift to online shopping that has sapped customers from physical stores.

Shoppers often were willing to trek miles to outlet centers, located far away because brands didn’t want their reduced-priced goods to be too close to their full-priced stores. For that reason, outlet merchandise, typically last season’s goods sold at steep discounts, hasn’t been widely available online. Until now.

Simon Property Group Inc., one of the largest mall owners, in conjunction with Rue Gilt Groupe, which operates flash-sale websites, has launched, where brands from Vince to Under Armour offer their outlet goods for sale online. It is one of the first curated websites to feature merchandise from outlet stores.

Simon Chief Executive David Simon said he isn’t worried the website will siphon shoppers away from his company’s outlet malls, which include Woodbury Commons Premium Outlets, a sprawling complex in Central Valley, N.Y., with 250 stores ranging from Gucci to Nike that does more than $1.4 billion in annual sales.

“When you can’t make that trip to Woodbury, knowing you can get outlet pricing online makes sense,” he said. “We think the two will feed off each other to generate higher sales.”

Outlet stores were long a source of growth for retailers, which have been hard hit by the shift to online shopping and competition from startups. Shoppers flocked to these centers for bargains they couldn’t traditionally get at malls, but now outlets are showing the same signs of stress as traditional stores.

. . . .

“The proposition of driving (typically) much further distances to get to an outlet center seems that much less attractive,” Paul Lejuez, a Citi analyst, wrote in a recent research note.

. . . .

Outlet retailers are among the last to venture online, in part because some of these chains are high-end and don’t want consumers to be able to easily search the internet for discounts that could tarnish their brand.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

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