I thought it would never happen, but no doubt that was because of an undue fixation on our national governmental stasis. How could we forget that many states are different? The city of San Francisco has just budgeted $103,000 to support eleven independent bookstores. The Mission Times (via Shelf Awareness) tells the story.

“In addition to the grant money, the bookstores will receive technical assistance for marketing, human resource consulting, and help negotiating long-term leases.

The recipient stores were Green Apple Books, EastWind Books, Dog Eared Books Valencia, Dog Eared Books Castro, Alley Cat Books and Gallery, Adobe Books and Arts Cooperative, Comix Experience, Bolerium Books, Mission: Comics & Art, Stevens Books and Just a Touch Christian Bookstore.”

I still await, with dangerously bated breath, the legislation which will make it illegal for landlords to jack up the rent on bookstores beyond some sort of acceptable level. We have rent control and rent stabilization in New York City for people’s apartments, so why not for socially important shops too? It’s not really good enough to cross your fingers and hope that the landlord will be socially responsible enough to moderate rent demands on their own initiative. This did in fact recently happen when Three Lives was saved. No doubt one could make a list of other important institutions to be included, like the corner grocery store. We recently rallied (successfully, rather surprisingly) in this neighborhood against a chain pharmacy’s plan to turn our supermarket into a massive drug store — more pharmacies we don’t need, food we do.

D. Eadward Tree, author of Dead Tree Edition, has published a post celebrating ten years of live trees, entitled A Decade of Delusions. (The link comes via Publishing Executive.) Although Mr Tree’s focus is on the magazine business, what he says has relevance for the book business too.

The delusions he points to are:

  1. There’s a magic formula for 21st century publishing – we just need to figure out what it is.
  2. Web publishing means posting your magazines’ articles online.
  3. “Video is the next big thing.”
  4. The big publishers will join together to fix the newsstand system because that’s the only option.
  5. Print is dead.
  6. Legacy publishers must go all-digital to succeed on the web.
  7. Digital editions will revolutionize publishing.
  8. The future belongs to the big, sophisticated publishers.
  9. Some kind of postal reform must happen soon.
  10. Advertisers hate free copies.

We all overrated the impact of the digital revolution both on the positive and on the negative side. It’s proved neither doom nor bonanza; it’s just another format now, one that permits us to do things print wasn’t able to, but an addition to our quiver, not a total transformation.

BoingBoing brings us the exciting news that the University of Michigan Library has acquired a book made up of pages consisting of plastic-wrapped American cheese slices. One suspects that library patrons will not be allowed to take out this volume, for fear that it might fall victim to the lunch menu. The book is one of an edition of ten produced by Ben Denzer, whose earlier works include “200 one-dollar bills arranged in serial number order, and a tiny volume of Chinese restaurant fortunes”.

If librarians store the cheese book carefully they can probably manage to keep the book worms and library mice at bay. Do libraries feature freezers?

Link via The Digital Reader.

Nice of Tottenham Hotspur to offer to personalize a shirt for me, but I’d prefer a bit more letterspacing before I’d consider plonking down my £80.

In an ideal world Caps would always be letterspaced — have a little extra space added between the letters, varying depending on the fit of the characters to make the line look even in its “color”. Just look at that IC. You need quite a bit of space between these two to prevent it looking like they are crashing together. Clearly the Ls create their own space, and the counter of the C makes it look OK next to the K. I’d probably want a little letterspacing between the O and the first L, and a bit more between the H and the O. I’m sure this isn’t an option at the Spurs shop — besides I wouldn’t have the side to append my name to Harry Kane’s number.

In hot metal setting, Monotype or hand setting especially, where each letter is a separate piece of metal, letterspacing seems to me to be easy to understand. You just stick a little bit of metal in between the characters so that that H is faced a lilt distance away from the O following. Remember that in order to print a page of metal types every line has to be exactly the same length so that the type can be locked up in a forme so as not to move under the pressure of the press, and this means calculation has constantly to be made. Add space here, take it out there, or break a word, hyphenate it and once more adjust the space. Letterspacing is usually 1/9 of an em, but adjustments can be made by the compositor. Here from Hugh Williamson’s Methods of Book Design is a description of the universe of available spaces: “The set of fixed spaces in metal is related to that of the em of the fount. A hair-space is 1/6 em or a fraction over 16 percent: a thin, 1/5 or 20 percent; a middle or mid, ¼ or 25 percent; a thick, ⅓ or just over 33 percent; and an en or nut, ½ or 50 percent. The em itself, 100 percent, is often called a mutton in conversation, to distinguish it from the en. In most composition, the space between words should not be narrower than thin or wider than nut, and the thick space should be wide enough for the majority of lines.” So for letterspacing that shirt, you might reach for a mixture of hair, thin, and maybe even a mid for that IC crash leaving the 1/9 space between the two Ls and the C and K.

The Publishers Weekly table lists the top 53 publishers worldwide by sales.

I also copied and pasted this table last year, and wrote about the 2014 list. By and large there’s a recovery, partial or complete, from the dip in revenue in 2016.

Chetham’s Library in Manchester is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world. It was founded by the bequest of Humphrey Chetham,* who became fabulously wealthy as a result of trading in fustian, a cloth made from a mix of linen and cotton, and controlling the entire supply chain reaping profits all the way through: the Jeff Bezos of his day. A religious man, he wanted to use his wealth to overcome poverty by curing ignorance, and paid for the education of 20 boys. He once declined a knighthood, an affront for which he was fined. When he died in 1653, by his will he established a school for 40 boys, Chetham’s Hospital, as well as the library.

The building housing the library is even older, dating from 1421, when it was built for the housing of a college of priests attached to the nearby church, now Manchester Cathedral. It can be seen through the entrance gate archway in the picture above. The sandstone buildings can be seen to advantage in this photo, with the library wing in the distance — by which I don’t mean the downtown skyscrapers.

The school, which now occupies the site vacated by Manchester Grammar School — the red brick structure on the left of the gateway — is now a School of Music. Because it’s a place of study, access to the library is by guided tour, on the hour. Entry is free, with a suggested donation. They also have a few items for sale: notably a handsome little book about the library published by Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers in London. The place still acts as a free public library, though you’ll need to make an appointment to come in and consult a volume. Their catalog is on-line and may be found here.

The books in the library were originally chained, but now they are protected by gates closing off each bay. 

Chetham’s Library’s collections contain 40 medieval manuscripts, and 120,000 printed books, most published before 1850 when for space reasons they began to restrict their purchasing largely to Mancuniana. They have a copy of The Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493 with a 16th-century English translation in the margin.

Chetham’s will also left £200 for the provision of “five small libraries of books, designed to be ‘chained upon desks or to be fixed to the pillars or in other convenient places’. They were to be located in the parish churches of Manchester and Bolton and in the parochial chapelries of Gorton, Turton and Walmesley.” The one from Gorton has survived and has been acquired by the library. It may be seen here. The books in these little libraries were all of an elevating nature, and in English.

Perhaps the highlight of the tour is the very table at which Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx sat researching and writing during Marx’s visit to Manchester in 1845. They display it with books they are known to have consulted — not the actual copies, reprints. 

As a tail piece you may admire this blogger reading up on The Poor.

Thanks to Peter Sowden for notification of this survival.


* Quaintly the Library pronounces his name to rhyme with cheat ’em, while the school, often referred to as Chet’s, uses a short e. Chetham spelled his name various ways and nobody knows how he’d have pronounced it.



The Daily Campus, the University of Connecticut newspaper, tells us that several Pearson textbooks were out of stock at the beginning of the semester — which is exactly when an efficient and huge textbook publisher would aim to have them there in abundance. Textbook publishers move heaven and earth to ensure that their books don’t get into this position. Huge sums are invested in creating textbooks and missing the starting gun is a disaster. Teams of workers meet almost daily to ensure that every bit of the project gets completed on its crazily tight schedule. Because a successful textbook will print often and long, printers will commit to the moon in order to land the job. Many new textbooks are printed in a smaller quantity in the summer so as test the waters in the fall semester, with the full printing already scheduled as a potential reprint to take place once the results of sales campaign become evident, and the book is known to be a success.

The article doesn’t tell us why Pearson’s books were not available, and there’s some sort of implication that it was all down to electronics. But can this be printer backlog caused in part by paper shortages?

I would imagine that the problem must have been taken care of by now, but I can’t find any mention on-line.

From our roof we can see the dome above the onlie begetter of this business in America, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. It’s in the middle of this picture, just to the left of George Washington High School* (in Manhattan) whose spire dominates the scene. Follow the classic pediment in front of it to the north (left) past those trees, and just at its end and level with it there’s a pale green blob. That’s the copper-covered dome, across the Harlem River in the Bronx. For fans of the city, that’s Co-op City in the hazy distance, almost at the north-eastern edge of NYC. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans was opened in 1901, and usually is just called The Hall of Fame. Wikipedia has a list of the 96 bronze busts of famous Americans you can gaze upon. There’s room for 102, so hope springs eternal. 1976 is the last time anyone was inducted: no doubt because of the bicentennial. Didn’t someone recently talk about making Americans great again?

As a Brit I think of Halls of Fame as a uniquely American mode of commemoration. However the Bronx Hall of Fame was allegedly modeled after the Ruhmeshalle in Munich and the Walhalla memorial in Bavaria, products of Ludwig I’s reign. The Hall of Fame was built on New York University’s Bronx campus. In 1973 under severe pressure during New York City’s financial crisis NYU had to to sell the campus to City University of New York. (New Yorkers will be surprised at what that says about the relative positions of NYU and CUNY in 1970s.) The campus has now become the Bronx Community College.

There are all sorts of Halls of Fame for you to visit. Wikipedia will tell you of the rich variety of family pilgrimages you can mount. They range from The Diecast Hall of Fame (unfortunately just a Las Vegas event not a place) to The Walk of the Stars in Mumbai. Not that Wikipedia lists them, but we can be proud that there are publishing halls of fame. I don’t think these are places you can actually visit and muse on the wonders of our industry, but there are at least two: The Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and a newly inaugurated Hall of Fame sponsored by Digital Book World. A Google search will bring up a Self-Publishing Hall of Fame too. The Publishing Executive Hall of Fame ought properly I guess be presented as The Publishing Executive Hall of Fame, as it is the creation of the magazine, Publishing Executive. Perhaps if you visit their offices you can pay your tribute to those who have gone before us, but their website doesn’t allow you to see a list of inductees. I do know one, which is the only reason I’m aware of its existence.

The only halls of fame I’ve visited are the original at the Bronx Community College, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. A visit to Cooperstown offers the sublime/ridiculous option of attending an opera at Glimmerglass after going round the Hall of Fame and the Farmers’ Museum. It was also of course James Fenimore Cooper’s home town. An exciting bonus is provided by the fact that Cooper is in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Additionally I have both run and biked up and down the Bronx Walk of Fame, which is essentially just the southern end of The Grand Concourse with a bunch of markers attached to lamp posts. Enough, enough.


* Famous alumni include, Harry Belafonte, Henry Kissinger, Alan Greenspan, Rod Carew, Manny Ramirez and my wife. Only one of these is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

You can do the math. This Medium piece The Simple Truth Behind Reading 200 Books a Year walks you through it. The only thing stopping you from reading 200 books a year is apparently a lack of will power! Warren Buffett can do it, so why not you? His recipe for success: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works.” Dead easy.

Well, hang on a bit. We do often get tired, and may then be unable to knock off our 400 words a minute. Actually when you come down to it 400 words a minute is quite a clip. Even the lower level of 200 (the piece tells us Americans read at an average of 200-400 words per minute) is not undemanding.

Readingsoft sets a test so you can determine your reading speed. The piece you read is all about speed and reading, so is relevant to the task at hand. When you finish there are questions to measure your comprehension.* I managed 219 words per minute with pretty good comprehension, but I did feel I was reading fast, and would have slowed down under non-test conditions. You just can’t read for hours on end at top speed and with full concentration — well, at least, I can’t. We have to allow after all for those interruptions when a Cooper’s hawk flies by, (or was it a sharp-shinned hawk?), or when you need to blow your nose, or take a drink, or even maybe just think about what you’ve just read. Maybe you have to look back a few pages to remind yourself what the word is for those bits of a glove that fit between the fingers (fourchettes, for those not currently reading Philip Roth’s American Pastoral) — and your wpm rate goes out the window and off with that hawk.

So by allowing for life to go on simultaneously while we are reading I suspect we have to allow that average wpm to go down to something like 100, which may even be a bit optimistic. This means that the Medium calculation for reading 200 books is going to commit you to 1,668 hours of reading each year. This is still less than we apparently spend watching television, so might still be doable: after all it’s only 32 or so hours a week, about 4½ each day. But I’m not sure how you’re going to be able to fit in the time to select enough books with a page count of 200 or less. Of course there are some, even quite a lot, but there are many, many burdensomely long ones which you’ll have to avoid if your will power drives you to get to 200 in the year. I wonder if careful training would enable you to double your throughput by simultaneously listening to an audiobook and reading a print edition of a different novel? Would that count?

Being retired, I read a whole lot, and I managed a paltry 60 books last year. Warren Buffet may make his 200, but most of us have to be content to make less than him, both in book and money terms.

Here’s another test, that for me at least yields a different result. See also Speed reading.


* One flaw. The questions don’t really require you to have read the piece. As the offer multiple choice answers  common sense will navigate you through with relative ease.

Shortlisted titles for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2018. From left, top row ‘The Baghdad Clock’ in its English translation by Luke Leafgren; ‘The Critical Case of ‘K”; ‘The Second War of the Dog’; and ‘Flowers in Flames’. From left, lower row, ‘Heir of the Tombstones’ and ‘The Frightened Ones’

The shortlist for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Short Fiction is delivered to us by Publishing Perspectives. These are their covers. And the winner was Ibrahim Nasrallah, the Jordanian-Palestinian author of The Second War of the Dog, second from the right in the top row. The  large symbol in the bottom right corner is the logo of the Prize itself which is run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation.

One problem restricting the growth of book publishing in Middle Eastern countries is that apparently many modern Arabic books are written in Modern Standard Arabic, a formal variant of Arabic which is rarely spoken and is quite hard to learn. Think of reading Robert Burns’ poems — relatively straightforward to a Scots dialect speaker,* but a struggle for others. Or as another parallel imagine that all books in “English” were written in a form of 17th century Cornish. Always were, and always will be. While we’d all no doubt have been put through some sort of Cornish instruction at school, most people would doubtless find themselves unwilling to make the effort to read more than a few books, and a bestseller would probably show numbers only in the low thousands. Actually of course we only have to go back a few hundred years to find an analogous system in operation in the European world. Once upon a time all books were written in Latin. I am absolutely innocent of any knowledge of Arabic, but I dare say Modern Standard Arabic is closer to the different Arabics spoken in various countries, but the comparison is I think helpful. It isn’t perhaps too amazing that reading in Arabic-speaking countries is not a mass activity. I would think that publishing in local versions of Arabic must be getting more popular.

The Economist has a little piece on the difficulties of publishing in the Arabic-speaking world. Apparently Middle Eastern nations only have by and large only recently started to think about copyright laws, so piracy is quite common, which makes the book industry a precarious catch-as-catch-can chase. Here at  Hyperallergic an Israeli publisher, Resling Books, justifies recently publishing without clearing any rights a collection of stories by 45 women from 20 different Arab-speaking countries as follows “When you translate from English, you deal with norms, you have a subject and you ask for rights. We as a publisher do it all the time, and we never publish foreign works without permission. It’s different in the Arab countries, where there are no publishers.” “No publishers” is of course a bit of hyperbole. More publishing houses are being set up all the time. Here’s a report on Middle Eastern Book Fairs this year.

The Millions on the other hand explains to us Why we can’t have Arabic books in America. It’s just hard to buy a book in the original Arabic. The writer, seeking to buy the Arabic text of the 2010 IPASF winner, got book-jacked twice — paid a dealer on Amazon who offered the book but in reality had no stock and very little ability to acquire any — and was unable to order direct from the publisher in Beirut/Baghdad, nor from a middle eastern dealer. Another problem in the Arabic language book trade is censorship as this piece from Quartz tells us.

Translation of Arabic originals is a better bet perhaps, and is increasing steadily. Publishing Perspectives sends us several links: one outlining the general difficulties of publishing Arabic books in translation, another telling of a UK-UAE Partnership, another of a new translation imprint, Hoopoe Press, another an interview with a UAE publisher. The Literary Hub is running a series on Arabic Fiction. Here’s No. 5, on Short Stories.

I’ve been reading  Leg over Leg by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (usually referred to as Fariyaq). It’s an odd performance for the middle of the 19th century. It’s a sort of Tristram Shandy-esque tour de force, metafictional in its persistent focus on the mechanics of what the author is doing. One doesn’t expect a book published in 1855 to kick off with a couple of pages of words for different types of sexual intercourse, but preserving words is one of Fariyaq’s passions, and you are going to get taken along with him on his journey through many many lists. Formal structures dictate chapters in different literary modes, repeating at regular intervals. This 2-volume “novel” is part of New York University Press’ Library of Arabic Literature. The White Review offers an extract.


* Later: Atlas Obscura has just delivered a nice piece on the survival of Scots.