Archives for the month of: July, 2014

I had thought that we were making a fairly good job of adjusting to the digital world. Maybe I’ve been lucky in where I’ve worked — we were preaching the gospel at Macmillan.USA almost twenty years ago, and certainly Oxford University Press has laid down a sizable marker in the digital arena. I think many people might include digital in their view OUP’s brand identity, largely because of the dictionary program, though their Oxford Scholarship On-Line, now expanded to include other publishers’ content, has a huge presence in the academic and library world.

Joe Wikert’s blog post, “How print is slowly killing publishers”, at Book Business Magazine is pessimistic though. He accuses publishers of seeing their businesses through the print lens. I expect he’s right — just not so much in the worlds of academic and reference publishing. I keep emphasizing that we can’t really talk about “publishing” and think we are meaning anything coherent; there are just too many different beasts in that ark. If he is right about trade publishing, then maybe loyalty to print will in the long run bring about the demise of the print-based book business (since the volume supplied by the trade houses is what keeps the low-cost book-manufacturing business chugging along).

The commentariat continues to hold forth on Amazon’s negotiations with Hachette (and other publishers). If this isn’t a watershed moment, determining the shape of the book industry from here on, it won’t be for the lack of trying on the part of the media. The wonderful part of it all is that nobody seems knows anything about what’s really going on so speculation is allowed free rein. 

The New York Times of Sunday 13 July has a big article featuring a satisfied Amazon author and an ambivalent Marlie Wasserman, Director of Rutgers University Press, among others. No conclusions are really reached. Hugh Howey has of course weighed in again, in his usual over-the-top mode. Mike Shatzkin makes a good attempt to talk him down, answering his intemperate post paragraph by paragraph.

In the issue of 13 June, The Times Literary Supplement reviews a book published by Amazon CreateSpace, Alan Macfarlane’s Thomas Malthus and the Making of the Modern World, 9781490381855. (He publishes quite a lot, including several at CreateSpace — and I am particularly interested in his work as we sat in the same classroom when we were teenagers.) I don’t track this but I do believe this is the first time a book published by Amazon has been reviewed in this bastion of the literary tradition (or at least it’s the first I remember — which I agree is far from the same thing). The TLS has reviewed an e-book before, so that may have priority. This one is available as a Kindle book as well as in paperback (CreateSpace doesn’t make hardbacks). At a time when we see such nonsense as an embargo at Barnes and Noble of Amazon-published books, it is heartening to see this review, treating the book as a book, not a missile to be lobbed over the barricades in a trade war.

Now The Digital Reader comes up with the thought, what if Amazon bought Simon & Schuster? Is that logical? This chart (from Writer’s Workshop via Book Patrol) suggests that margin might be a motive.


I’ve never heard of printer’s gait, but of course operating a hand press would no doubt involve a lot of repetitive muscular activity. A member of SHARP enquired about it (with no great response) citing Rollo Silver’s The American Printer 1787-1825 which apparently states on page 10 “The cumbersome presses demanded so much brawn to pull that the right shoulder and foot of men who constantly worked at press became enlarged, causing them to walk in a sidewise manner”. The man working the press in the illustration appears to have both arms involved, as well as his foot, though he obviously predates 1787. 4aaf37c47b39066e9c9bdcb51a893ebaWhy foot any way? If you had to keep pushing a lever with your foot, wouldn’t that tend to enlarge the muscles of your thigh, not just your foot? And why would an over-developed right shoulder plus an enlarged foot cause you to walk “sidewise”? One could imagine many muscular functions which would lead to unequal development of the worker’s body, not just printing. What about weaving, coal mining, blacksmithing etc., etc.? Nowadays we are worried about carpal tunnel syndrome. Would that have been called editor’s wrist in a simpler age? Maybe it would have been lumped in with writer’s cramp, also called scrivener’s palsy.

See also Printer’s paralysis.

Author and publisher! Just in case you were worrying what “the captain” will be doing after this farewell season.42335-Contract-PWeblast-F

Hemingway’s posthumous publications outnumber those he released during his life, 18 to 15. This doesn’t include the first two volumes of his correspondence, projected by Cambridge University Press eventually to top out at 17 volumes. In this posthumous activity he’s not unique of course: Jack Kerouac is running at 20:17 for example.

One of the things Hemingway left after his exit was his yacht, Pilar. Below is a post about it from George Conk’s Voyages blog.

Hemingway’s Pilar and Top Hat – Two Wheeler Playmates

Hemingway's Pilar —  preserved in Cuba

Hemingway’s Pilar — preserved in Cuba

At the foot of Cropsey Avenue in Brooklyn was Wheeler Shipbuilding.  They built pleasure boats and commercial boats.  During WWII they built 230 patrol craft and mine sweepers.  There was a line of pleasure boats called Playmates.  The most famous of them was Hemingway’s Pilar, a Wheeler Playmate he commissioned.  A Pilar replica was built for `Hemingway & Fuentes’  an Andy Garcia movie (now filming)about Hemingway and his captain – Fuentes to whom Pilar was bequeathed.  Hemingway and Pilar did 40 days of submarine patrol duty in 1942 on the coast of Cuba, spotting only one sub.

Top Hat

Top Hat

Here at City Island Yacht Club George Ignatius Robinson had the same vision for his Wheeler Playmate Top Hat.  Robinson applied to the Coast Guard hoping to convert his sailboat – usually chartered for weekend cruises – into a patrol craft complete with foredeck mounted machine gun and depth charges.

Page 1 of George Robinson's application to the Coast Guard to convert Top Hat from weekend cruiser to anti-submarine patrol craft.

Page 1 of George Robinson’s application to the Coast Guard to convert
Top Hat from weekend cruiser to anti-submarine patrol craft.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superbook — ?


A Sports book (or sportsbook) is not just a book on the beautiful game, it is also a place where you go to gamble on sporting events. Wikipedia explains it well. I didn’t get this shirt for my services to sports betting however; I was in Las Vegas for the Library Association Meeting, and where better (not bettor) to watch the World Cup games than in the Sports Book? They have a series of massive TV screens showing all racing and sporting events going on at any given time. So that was the obvious place to go to watch the U.S. v Germany game. Luckily they set up a little annex for the games (with a mere seven giant screens) since the main floor has no sound in order that the punter can concentrate on the important business of wagering. At half time they raffled off a soccer ball, which mercifully I didn’t win (how do you transport such a thing in airline luggage?), but they did give me this tee-shirt, shown here against the background of the Hudson River looking downtown. 220px-Las_Vegas_sportsbookThe sportsbook conveniently displays the odds on all events between the  TV screens. I didn’t spend much time figuring out what they all meant — and I remain mystified as to who they really thought would win.

1714 is the earliest reference given by The Oxford English Dictionary for “book” used to mean “a record of the bets accepted by a person (esp. a bookmaker), originally kept in a notebook”. This reference comes from a Scottish source (another reason for national pride in this the year of the independence vote?). This sense seems to get going in the nineteenth century. The OED doesn’t appear to know about “sports book”. Their earliest reference to “bookmaker” is from 1833, appropriately from The New Sporting Magazine. I’m proud to report that their primary meaning for “bookmaker” is that used by this blog — a person who makes books (as a material product).

french_marbleMarbling is the art of printing those swirly designs onto paper. You might assume that it was done by photographing an original and printing it offset. No doubt for mass production items — candy boxes or whatever this is what would be done, but for deluxe book production, only the original will do. But how rarely do we nowadays get to use printed endpapers, or even a color end? Marbled papers are (obviously) expensive — each one unique, printed as follows (from Marble Art):

 1. Some alum is dissolved in water. This is sponged onto each paper to be marbled, and the paper is allowed to dry. The alum is what will bond the color to the paper.

    2. A thick liquid, referred to as the size, is made by blending a type of gelatin (carrageenan) with water.

    3. The size is poured into a shallow tray.

    4. Several colors of ink or paint are sprinkled onto the surface of the size. They float on the surface because they are lighter than the thickened water.

    5. A stick is used to stir the floating colors if desired. Various combs and rakes may also be run through the colors to make more intricate patterns.

    6. A sheet of the alum-treated paper is gently laid onto the surface of the size, and it absorbs the floating colors. Only one print can be made.

    7. The paper is lifted off, rinsed, and hung up to dry.

This Folio Society video gives a good impression of how marbled papers are created. 

Here’s a link to a site offering a marbling kit for sale at £60.

See also Making marbled papers.

Prepared for you by The Open University. (But why, one wonders?)

1. Anglo-Saxon 

2. The Norman Conquest 

3. Shakespeare 

4. The King James Bible 

5. The English of Science 

6. English and Empire 

7. The Age of the Dictionary 

8. American English 

9. Internet English 

10. Global English 

On a more serious level, The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen has a website which will answer your questions about language. Many have already been answered. The blog Brain’s Idea explains it.


When I hear “book club” I think of those organizations where we would sign up in advance and receive, basically on approval, one book a month. One time when I was moving from one apartment to another the moving man looked at all the boxes of books and said “You must be a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club”. I may not have been at the time, but I certainly had been at various points in my life. You could lapse and then sign up again and get the premium offer (the magnifying-glass version of the Oxford English Dictionary is the one I remember best).  Now the meaning of “book club” appears to have shifted to mean those groups of like-minded people who meet once a month to discuss a book which they all agreed at their last meeting to read. The Millions brings us a description of this growing movement. Wikipedia makes the distinction between “book discussion clubs” and “book sales clubs”. According the Reader’s Circle there’s also something called a “reader’s circle” where not every member reads the same book: they just get together to discuss whatever it is they are reading at the time. A search of their database yielded 205 book clubs in response to my zip code. Rather overwhelming. They are however ranked by distance away, and this ranges from 2.2 to 98.7 miles; this latter obviously a bit further than the subway is going to take me.

The only book club (book discussion club) I’ve belonged to was in the Chesterton, part of Cambridge, England. And it was a poetry club: we’d all research poems on the agreed theme and read them to one and all. The best theme was the first I was involved in: we had to find poems on the theme “Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men”, which is Macbeth to the murderers. We never seemed to hit that height again — spring, death, parting and such like concepts seemed dull by comparison.

Germany was long a bastion of the old-fashioned book club, but now we learn that even Bertelsmann is getting out of the business (Hollywood Reporter story). “The business model of book clubs is old and has been largely superseded by online sales, where Amazon is the market leader,” Sarah Simon, senior media analyst with Berenberg Bank in London, told the Wall Street Journal. According to Publishers Lunch, Bertelsmann “will keep book clubs operational in Russia and Ukraine as well as Spain, in which the company has a 50 percent stake.” Of course Book-of-the-Month Club still operates though its clout is much reduced from its heyday. Same is true of Doubleday Book Club and The Literary Guild. Their web sites all look pretty similar, maybe just because this month they are all featuring Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest.

In addition to these sorts of club there has long been the club for bibliophiles. Examples are The Limited Editions Club, and the poor man’s version of it, The Heritage Press (closed in 1982), and The Roxburghe Club, though that’s a more hands-on group — each member is meant to print a book for presentation to all the other members, so access to a press is obviously a requirement. The Folio Society is a step up from Heritage, and makes many beautiful books. (I recently reported on their Letterpress Shakespeare.) AbeBooks has a listing of such clubs, many of which although not in the business of regularly printing books for their members would create the occasional fine edition. Such a club was The Typophiles to which I belonged in the seventies. It seems to have a continued existence on-line, though for all I know it may continue to have lunch meeting like the ones I used to attend at The National Arts Club in Gramercy Park.

robotwritestI’m not sure whether to welcome this as a sign of progress or as back-sliding, taking a digital route to an analog outcome. I suppose in that respect it is essentially no different than an Espresso Book Machine, or any digital print engine. This robot scribe can transcribe the Torah in about 3 months, a quarter of the time it takes a human sofer. I wonder how many hours a day the robot can run. Sounds like it has to get a rest every night, or it’d beat the scribe by even more wouldn’t it? Unsurprisingly such labor saving devices cannot substitute for the real thing and robot-writings are not permitted for use in synagogues, so there’s nobody threatened with unemployment.

This video trailer shows a somewhat earlier attempt to achieve robot writing. The guy is a better drawer than writer I think. It’s creepy how the eyes move. But these Coppélia devices are fascinating.

At a slightly different angle, AP is apparently looking into having robots write some news stories. As if journalists weren’t under enough pressure already!