Little Golden Books were of their time — but their time refuses to come to an end. They were invented in 1942 to fill and fit the press owned by Western Printing in Racine, WI, and sold for 25¢ at a time when children’s books often retailed for about $2. Wikipedia tells us that the books originally had 42 pages, 28 printed 2-color and 14 four-color. To help save cost, Western and Simon & Schuster, the original distributor, dispensed with the nicety of turning the preprinted case cover over at the edges, and just trimmed the whole thing to allow the cardboard of the case to show at the edges. The binding was side wire, with a decorative strip wrapping down the outside of the spine to cover the staples. First printings were 50,000, and by 2001 when Random House acquired the line, one of the original titles, The Poky Little Puppy, had sold almost 15 million copies world-wide. (That price of 25¢ has gone up to $4.99, though the books are now four-color throughout, but only 24 pages long.)

They celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2017 with several events including a presentation at one of the Book Industry Guild of New York’s monthly meetings at which I received my copy of Puppy Princess.

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”. We all know literary (or any other artistic) influence is essential to the development of art. Conscious or more often unconscious copying happens all the time. A hundred years ago people no doubt didn’t altogether approve of straight copying, but only rarely had to confront the evidence. If you are reading along in War and Peace, are you really going to check that tinkling bell by rushing off to read Evgeny Onegin all the way through to check on your suspicion that Tolstoy’s really quoting Pushkin? (This is a notional example. I’m not saying Tolstoy did, or did not quote Pushkin or anyone else.) But a digital world allows for word searches which can quickly bring such things to light. A special subset of this sort of search tool is plagiarism software systems, designed primarily to prevent students just copying and pasting in order to get to the required word count in their essays, and appear to have a solid grasp of the subject. I recently learned that many school pupils in Britain have to submit their essays with a plagiarism score attached. (I have not heard of publishers making this sort of demand of their authors, but who knows what goes on in the dark?) Now that it’s so easy to check the vocabulary and structure of any piece of writing, it’s not too surprising that lots of people are running this sort of check, and all sorts of “plagiarism” scandals can rise up to appall us.

Now it’s reached the top. Dennis McCarthy says he wouldn’t accuse Shakespeare of plagiarism after detecting an apparent source for bits of Shakespeare’s writing. The New York Times tells the tale. Plagiarism is a heavy charge, and you’d be crazy to level it at Shakespeare and expect not to be slammed by most of the academic community. So you decide to call it not plagiarism but creative influence.

Page from George North’s A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels which is claimed to be the source for some of the “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” speech in Richard III. If they say so! Much seems to depend on the rarity of some of the words used and the order in which they occur.


Book Business links to a Guardian article on plagiarism. As the Helen Keller story illustrates having a good memory can be a burden. Of course having a poor memory can also be problematic as you fail to remember ever having read about this brilliant plot turn your muse is whispering into your ear.

See also Plagiarism, which contains a link to online plagiarism checkers.

No, we’re not talking about those cardboard mailers in which books often arrive in your mailbox.

Packaging is a sort of partial publishing operation. Book publishing consists of several functions; most importantly financing the whole thing, but in more day-to-day terms, acquiring books to publish, editing and copyediting them, designing them, laying them out, getting them printed and bound and into the warehouse on time; and then the hard bit — publicizing them and getting them into the hands of customers willing to pay for them. A book packager is a publishing company with responsibility for everything up till the difficult stuff cuts in. As BookEnds puts it packagers “do everything a publisher does with a book except distribute, sell, market, and publicize.”

Big publishers — almost all publishers — always want to increase the number of books they publish so that they can report ever growing sales. Hiring more editors and other staff and producing more books for yourself is obviously expensive and rather long-term. Easier to contract with a supplier to generate books for you which your sales force can sell without any increase in staff. Sure, you’ll pay more per copy but, slam bang, here comes another book you can sell, adding to revenue without an increase in overhead costs. The unit cost will be a bit higher than your other books’, but it includes that part of your normal cost structure relating to prepress, and while each sale may look a bit less profitable, it’s profit is almost all “net”. Many packagers will settle for supplying a print-ready file to the “customer”, but most will try to get the work of printing and binding the books too: for which they will be able to charge a higher fee. I have had a job for a book packager arranging printing and binding of packaged books, and I have also, in other jobs, had responsibility for printing and binding from files provided by a packager.

Since the risk is lower, why doesn’t everyone want to become a book packager? Some publishing companies may well have started out packaging — but there are advantages to controlling your risk, negotiating a price with a big publisher which is guaranteed whether the book is a wild success or dismal failure. If you were to take on the sales and distribution part of the game your potential upside would be large, but bad judgements would be punished by a loss of money. The packager gets paid when the book (or the file for it) is delivered to the publisher. Less of a potential reward, but a more certain reward.

We tend to forget that the relationship between author and publisher has always taken a variety of forms. We assume that all books are the result of a contract with an author who goes off to their garret, types away, and brings back a manuscript to the admiring publisher. And it’s true that that’s the way the vast majority of books happen. But the wide availability of software for book creation has empowered self-publishing authors to prepare their books to final sellable form. The rise of the indie publishing business, and the possibility of selling a book without a sales force visiting bookstores, represents a parallel track to book packaging/book producing. Given that large publishers are bound to remain susceptible to the lure of increasing their output without increasing their costs, book packagers will remain an important, if hidden, element in book creation.

Hard to know just how many books are produced by packagers, but it’s probably more than you’d think. Packagers are represented by the American Book Producers Association, whose website sets out their operating philosophy.

It is perhaps apt that the Nobel Prize for Literature should not have been given in 2018 because of a sex abuse scandal. Years from now will we look back on 2018 and see it as the year when we all became woke?

To make up for this hiatus the Nobel committee has now decided that two prizes will be awarded in 2019, one for this year, and a catch-up one for last year. Aren’t they are having a bit of a rough patch in Stockholm? Dylan’s 2016 Nobel remains controversial. I thought it almost OK, but one has to admit there are undoubtedly better poets out there, and that he has no doubt been sufficiently rewarded already.

The question of who should have gotten the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature (if the answer hadn’t been nobody) was discussed in The New York Times. (Link via Literary Hub.) I guess this becomes newly relevant in light of the latest Nobel announcement. There’s some brief discussion of whether winning really means anything or not. However, just like all these other book prizes, the Nobel does exist, and surely no great harm is done to anyone by winning it and any of the other prizes around. Far from harm, the money given to winners is no doubt quite welcome. The publicity and adulation, if adulation there is, can be a serious distraction to a writer, but human attention spans being what they are this distraction is probably relatively short-term. The burden of expectation of course remains to be dealt with in the writer’s mind, though Nobel winners tend not to be in the first flush of youth, which must help in this regard. However as the Times‘s discussants admit, there are lots of authors they have discovered as a result of their having won a Nobel Prize. Surely that has to be a good thing — anything that helps to thrust books in front of the public’s face must be a force for good, whether many members of the public act on this or not.

Particularly relevant here is The Wife, a recent movie starring Glenn Close as the wife of a man about to be given the Nobel Prize for Literature. It seems “that her role in Joe’s career has amounted to far more than smiling at events and reminding him when to take his medication” as The New Yorker delicately puts it — she wrote the books, but having no narrative talent, relied on Joe for plot and incident. The Economist reviews it here. The film, based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, is set in 1995. It runs the risk of being most famous because of Glenn Close’s failure to win the Oscar for her rather straight-faced role as the writer, as opposed to story-teller, in an unacknowledged creative combo.

What sort of sales boost can winning a Nobel (or any other) Prize bring about? Most people probably assume it means thousands and thousands of extra sales. But what we don’t realize is how few copies a book has to sell in order to be judged a success. We only get told about the huge bestsellers, so any sales numbers we hear about tend to be extremely large. But wild successes are few and far between. The low thousands is a reasonable target for most regular trade books, and for academic books, the high hundreds. Publishing serious books is not a high volume business. The Nobel must add a few sales, but how many we can never really find out.

NPR has this story from 2015 about the effect on sales of Booker prize shortlisting. Of course all anyone knows is sales numbers: we can’t know what these numbers would have been if the book hadn’t been nominated, so all you can do is look at averages and use your imagination! The ultimate winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, was one of the better performing in the early running, selling perhaps an extra 5,000 to 10,000 as a consequence of being on the list. I wonder if the general public can sense a winner ahead of time.

Now Time’s Money blog reports on the Pulitzer lift. They are reporting on Amazon rankings however, which are difficult to translate into sales numbers: the ranking just means you sold more copies than all the books below. It is possible that all the books below you only sold one copy and you, with your jump in ranking actually managed two sales! They do have a link to a Publishers Weekly report from 2012 that weekly sales got a three-times boost in the three months following a prize win announcement for one title. The book of 2016’s winner (for Drama), Hamilton: The Revolution sold 38,654 copies in the early going according to Publishers Weekly, though of course we cannot know what number it would have sold if the musical had not won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama!

This Guardian piece focusses more on what authors feel like after winning the Booker Prize. Mostly good, with a healthy dose of bewilderment.

Reading the same book one hundred times in ten years is a whole lot of rereading. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations must really ring Ryan Holliday’s bell. He justifies his choice at Medium.

As time slips by, the question of whether or not to reread a particular book yet again becomes more and more pressing. I once pronounced (many years ago) that I wouldn’t mind it if for the rest of my life I just reread William Faulkner’s novels over and over again. Is it because of the all-or-nothing-ness of that statement that I’ve hardly opened a book by Faulkner since then? Yes, yes: you love this book, but what reason does that give you to believe that out there there aren’t other books which you’ll love just as much? In a way, of course, what’s the point in indulging in that search? Say you did find what you considered the perfect book for you — would that condemn you to rereading it eternally? Why wouldn’t you have to think that an even more “perfect” one remained yet to be discovered? I think we don’t read books in order to enjoy reading them: we read books in order to enjoy having read them. Why wouldn’t we enjoy conquering new worlds?

I reread quite a lot of books, but it’s a rare event that I turn the last page of a book and immediately start at the beginning again. In fact I think it’s probably a unique occurrence. I last did it in 1997 when I read Henry Green’s Living twice on the trot. I’m not ruling out the possibility that I might have done something like this as a child, but I’d very much doubt it: playing touch-rugger on our ideally proportioned front lawn with my chums was much more of a priority. That I’d certainly have done over and over again.

Sorry Mr Holliday, I haven’t even read Meditations once. May be too dangerous to make the attempt now.

In the context of turning over stones with exciting new things under them, I once agin recommend Neglected Books.

The Passive Voice comments on a Guardian piece on the difficulties of maintaining a bookstore in New York City. The headline is a bit misleading (The Guardian‘s fault not his). “Why are New York’s Bookstores Disappearing?” doesn’t quite represent current reality, where we are in fact experiencing a little bounce from what we all hope is a bottom. So, in 1950 we had 386 bookshops, while now we have 80? This has absolutely no relevance for the demand for books: in 1950 there was only one way to get a book. Not quite true today: yet more books are sold now than then.

The Passive Guy surprised and delighted me by launching in on a riff about rent control: “Following World War II, concerned about rising residential rents during the post-war boom, New York politicians established Rent Control on apartments, a complex set of laws and regulations limiting the maximum rent a landlord could charge a tenant while the tenant continued to live in the apartment. Rent control continues to this day, over 70 years following the emergency it was established to address. Another set of complex regulations, Rent Stabilization, governs the amount by which monthly rent can increase in almost a million rental properties. When an apartment is finally free from rent control, it becomes a rent-stabilized apartment. Among other things, these rent regulations can prevent landlords from tearing down an old apartment building to provide room for new residential or commercial space.”

But just as I was getting ready to cheer he comes up with this out-of-left-field assertion: “This type of regulation alone increases the costs of doing business in New York City, including the costs of operating a bookstore, by a huge margin.” Forcing landlords to charge lower rents increases the cost of doing business in New York? I guess the thought is that if they can’t rip off their residential tenants, landlords will naturally turn to ripping off their commercial ones? I’m no economist, but increasing the cost of doing business for landlords in New York seems to me to be a great idea. Do we really have to stick to rigid capitalist orthodoxy that the most benefit for everyone is to be found in allowing business to extract the most profit from our wallets which will allow unfettered competition to bring prices crashing back down again? In macro terms I dare say an almost convincing argument can be constructed, but if the best way forward for bookstores is extermination because of an inability to afford ever-increasing rents, enabling by their disappearance the eventual evolution of something different (better?), I say stop talking rubbish. My immediate concern is not the benefit of the U.S. population of 2119 or 2219 — I see today, and know that rising rents, while good for landlords, are bad for bookstores (and many other small businesses and individuals). I’d like to see rent control extended to small businesses too.

In a paragraph which The Passive Voice chose to omit The Guardian says “One of the causes of skyrocketing business rents is speculation: owners are forcing out tenants because buildings are sometimes more valuable empty. The goal is ‘to empty these buildings of rent-regulated residents and small businesses’, Moss says, so that they can be sold for profit or used as collateral with which to borrow money that is then invested elsewhere.” I’m not sure what it is about this process that can be held to be good for us.

The Passive Voice makes much of the fact that bookselling is a low profit business, which nobody will deny. As he informs us though, so too is Walmart. I imagine that buried in his piece but not expressed is the notion that it is those wicked publishers who are really the ones killing bookstores, by our stubborn refusal to give the booksellers bigger discounts. The commentariat alternates their excoriation of profit-seeking publishers by bashing them today for cheating bookstores, then next week for cheating authors. No doubt if they knew enough, they’d bash us for cheating suppliers too. Amazing to reflect how it happens that a low-paying industry staffed by and large by idealists, can have grown into such a rapacious monster.

Of course the fact of the matter is that this mature industry is ticking over just fine. Most sales are made through Amazon, and that’s just fine (Mike Shatzkin argues in his latest post that Amazon is in fact each big publisher’s most profitable outlet). The book chain era is over, or almost over: the dinosaurs have been superseded by Amazon, but lots of people have noticed that they rather like going into bookstores and looking at the books before they buy them. There is, to be sure, a show-rooming problem, and there will always be people who think it’s OK to stand in an independent bookstore and take out their phone to order from Amazon a book they’ve just discovered. There are unfortunately more of these jackasses than of people who will follow The Passive Guy’s suggestion of just slipping a bookseller a $20 bill every now and then, but they have to be outnumbered by folks who think supporting their local bookstore is a really good idea. Despite the fact that the point was passed long ago that it was impossible to fit another book in our apartment, we cannot visit an independent bookstore without walking out with yet another book. Almost reached this point with Barnes & Noble too, now they are in such trouble. Maybe we should just start handing out folding money.

In the antiquarian and restoration world there are a variety of custom-made boxes to hold books or loose papers or a mixture of the two. One common type is the solander, a hinged-lid, clamshell box made of heavy board or even wood covered in a stout cloth, leather, or some other material. This one is embellished by a little pocket in the lid, to hold smaller bits of paper. The solander is named after Daniel Solander, a Swedish botanist who allegedly came up with the idea while working at the British Museum.

Daniel Carlsson Solander (1733-82) studied under Carl Linnaeus, whose classification system he promoted throughout his life. He went to England June 1760 and in February 1763, began cataloguing the natural history collections of the British Museum. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1764, and in 1768 sailed with James Cook’s Endeavour on its expedition to the Pacific. Wikipedia tells us that he holds the quaint distinction of being the first university-educated scientist to set foot on Australian ground.

It would be unusual for a book publisher to go to the extent of creating an archival box like this for one of their publications, but in the limited editions, deluxe end of the business one might find such a thing containing a book plus perhaps some loose engravings or facsimile documents.

See also Slipcase



Hardly exhaustive, but maybe of interest to some, Merriam-Webster sends us (via Shelf Awareness) a Glossary of Different Parts of a Book and their Meanings (and derivations).

There are entries in this blog about many such terms, and at one of the tabs at the top of the page you can find links to several glossaries of book and printing vocabulary.

A fleuron is an ornament on a printed page in the shape of a small flower or leaf. It is sometimes called a printer’s flower or floret. It can also be found in discussions among aesthetic architects and numismatists. The Oxford English Dictionary even shows us a quotation referring to pastry flourishes. It is also used to refer to a bookbinder’s tool, carrying such an ornament for stamping on a case cover.

The most common fleuron is perhaps this one, derived from an ivy leaf, and apparently sometimes called a hedera, the botanical name of ivy. These flourishes were often brought together to form borders and rules, though modern taste has moved away from the clutter this often produces.

Here are a few examples from my Linotype Collection book published by the Mergenthaler Type Corporation. On the right hand page you can see how these ornaments could be combined in bravura arrangements. In the hot metal world these fleurons would be available in various sizes — digital or film setting enables you of course to output various sizes from a single “master”, which is why the Linotype book only shows one size. They refer to them as flowers, the least flowery of the possible appellations.

Stanley Morison, a strong advocate for clutter-free typography, was involved in the setting up of the typographical journal The Fleuron; indeed it was he who proposed the name in a letter to Oliver Simon in October 1922. “I should like you to consider re-naming our Typographical Annual. The name I recommend is The Fleuron. This would be an advantage I suggest. In the first place the title ‘Typography’ is very stiff and not absolutely free in the public mind from technical connections. The Fleuron possesses just that note of historical & romantic feeling which we need to express.” Volumes 5, 6 and 7 were edited by Morison (Simon edited the first four) and Morison’s volumes were typeset and printed in Cambridge at the University Press, where as Typographical Advisor to the Press he could supervise the entire process of production. Only these seven volumes were published. The publication was losing money, as anything as lavish almost must, and the demands on Morison’s time became too much to be manageable. Plus, to a large extent, the intention of the journal, to raise standards of British printing, had been achieved after the seven years of The Fleuron‘s life.

The combination of type ornament elements on the title page is obviously an appropriate use of fleurons.

According to The Bookman’s Glossary (R. R. Bowker, 4th edition 1961) Lettre de forme, lettre de somme, lettre de bâtarde are “the three general classifications of Gothic type forms as found in the 15th century. The first is the Pointed and most formal; the second is the Round and less formal; the third is a Cursive form. They correspond to similar classifications of lettering used in the manuscripts that preceded printing.” Nomenclature is of course confusing with something as old as this: lots of people referred to the same thing by different names, and some minority usages still survive in unexpected corners. Just choosing to privilege the French terminology represents a choice of road taken.

In the examples below “Pointed” is referred to as Textura.

From The Dawn of Western Printing at Incunabula.

Here, from Incunabula, is a full discussion of the three forms. It tells us that Gutenberg’s type was based on the script textura quadrata, commonly used for bibles and derived from the “protogothic” script which developed in northern France around the eleventh century. A more rounded script, called rotunda, evolved in Bologna in the 12th century. Lettre bâtarde derived from less formal writing and tended to be used for documents in the vernacular, not in Latin.

Of course it was all more complicated than this, but we can think of scribes using half uncial, chancery hand, and insular scripts, which began to seem unreadable to many as different regions of Europe favored one version over others. Different scripts would be used for different types of book. Alcuin of York (c.730-804) succeeded in persuading scribes to use the more elegant Carolingian minuscule for most purposes, thus allowing international comprehensibility. While the Pointed, Textura style was the basis for the type used by Gutenberg in his Bible, the Carolingian minuscule, a few years later formed the basis for the types which we recognize today as Roman which were introduced by printers in Italy.

Simplified relationship between various scripts, showing the development of Uncial from Roman and the Greek Uncial. From Wikipedia.


Any account of these matters must inevitable over-simplify. Researchers look back on what was the individual practice of thousands of scribes and printers, and impose a pattern on their myriad activities. Such a pattern does provide a sort of history, but doesn’t of course imply any intentionality on the part of the actors. It’s not like Gutenberg said to himself, let’s copy the pointed script. He just knew that this was how you wrote bibles, so, obviously, that’s how you’d print them too. No doubt Aldus Manutius didn’t sit there musing “Why do we have to copy this barbaric Gothic nonsense? Let’s go back to Alcuin and start anew”. He followed the style of earlier classical and secular works, formalizing things as printed types will inevitably do.

My post on Black letter may have some relevance in this context.