Archives for the month of: October, 2014

With all this independence turmoil, Scotland is enjoying an identity orgy (or whatever the opposite of identity crisis might be). Naturally the Gaelic language is getting its share of attention even though only about 1% of the population can speak it.


The Evening Post reveals that although there are more people in Dundee who speak Polish than Gaelic, nevertheless Dundonians (and other Scots) may soon be getting street signs in Gaelic as well as English. This seems fair enough to me, and is a trend which is already under way. If a nation wants to be bi-lingual in its signage, surely that’s perfectly fine. Of course more people in Ireland speak Irish Gaelic than Scots who speak Scottish Gaelic. In parts of London you can find street signs in Arabic. If Dundee wants to add Polish to its signage surely that’s up to them, and has nothing (much) to do with a national policy on road signs in Gaelic. It seems perfectly appropriate for a government to try to preserve ancient languages (as indeed is required under EU law — The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages mandates protection for the language).

Ian Jack tells us in this 2010 Guardian article that his new UK passport has the name of the country in Welsh and Gaelic as well as English. He gives a good review of the history of the language, and expresses sadness at the “imposition” of a Gaelic label on places which never housed any Gaelic speakers. I don’t really agree: a nod in the direction of a national heritage surely doesn’t impose any burden on the inhabitants of the Borders, even if they were speaking Northumbrian or Cumbric at the time of Gaelic’s widest distribution.

Almost unbelievably there is a version of Wikipedia in Gaelic. It is called Uicipeid, and may be reached via the quite thorough Wikipedia article on Gaelic. There’s a separate entry on literature in Gaelic. Robert Crawford’s Scotland’s Books (OUP in US, Penguin in UK) is notable for its attention to Scottish literature in languages other than English or Scots, especially Latin (though he misses Esperanto, in which language William Auld, a Scot, is regarded by some as the premier poet). Sorley MacLean (Somhairle MacGill-Eain) is by no means the only, though undoubtedly the best known modern writer in Gaelic. Recent Gaelic poets include George Campbell Hay (Deòrsa Mac Iain Deòrsa), Derick Thomson (Ruaraidh MacThòmais), Iain Crichton Smith (Iain Mac A’Ghobhainn), and Aongas MacNeacail. Perhaps the most famous work of Gaelic literature is the embarrassing fakes that were the highly romantic Ossian translations. It turned out, after their sensational reception, that the works of Ossian were not actually based on any Gaelic originals, but were in fact the creations of their “translator” James Macpherson.

“From the 1970s onwards, Gaelic publishing was given a significant boost by the newly formed Gaelic Books Council (established in 1968, and still a member of Publishing Scotland today). The effect has been significant: in the first half of the 20th century, only four or five Gaelic titles were published in Scotland each year. There were very few novels – a comparatively recent addition. Most creative writing was given an airing in the influential magazine, Gairm, which ran from 1952-2004. Since the 1970s the numbers have increased to over 40 titles per annum.

Gaelic continues to be promoted in particular through the efforts of Acair, the publishing house based in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis; by Storlann, also based on Lewis; and smaller companies dotted around Scotland; as well as Gaelic-interest titles published by Birlinn in English. The ground-breaking new imprint, Ùr-sgeul, founded in 2003, revolutionised the publishing of the novel in Gaelic, issuing works by new and more established writers, allied to strong production values, and has been one of the biggest success stories of the past decade. The moves to expand dedicated Gaelic-medium school education in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere in the country over the past twenty years has also played a large part in fostering an interest in Gaelic books.”

[From SAPPHIRE’s exhibition “40 years of Scottish publishing, 1974-2014”]

A search on Amazon’s UK site reveals over 3000 hits for Scottish Gaelic, most of which look to be language learning helps. Confidence cannot be placed on this total: the list does contain a translation into Gaelic of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it also includes Hart’s Rules, that invaluable guide to compositional practice at OUP — no doubt buried somewhere therein are some instructions regarding the setting of Gaelic. Disappointingly, an Amazon search for Ùr-sgeul, the Gaelic imprint mentioned above finds only a single book: maybe like Hachette they are working on their relationship with Amazon. Their Wikipedia entry suggests that they are still in vigorous existence: they got a write-up in The Irish Times this June (in Irish Gaelic appropriately enough). I can’t imagine that interest in Gaelic is likely to decline in the near future: the political situation guarantees continued attention. Whether we shall ever have more than 1% of the population speaking the language is perhaps doubtful, but there’s surely enough interest to ensure the language’s survival, and to allow Gaelic publishing to prosper.


In 2025, according to David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, Three Lives Bookstore is still there at Waverly and West 10th. “‘Wow look at all these books. It’s rare to see so many, these days.’ ‘Books’ll be back . . . Wait till the power grids start failing in the late 2030s and the datavats get erased. It’s not far away. The future looks a lot like the past.'”

Three Lives is an excellent bookshop. Don’t wait till 2025 to visit it though.

Bowker calculates that there were 28 million books in English in the world in 2013. Of course we know that counting ISBNs doesn’t really give you an accurate answer — after all the hardback, the trade paperback, the mass market paperback, the Kindle edition, etc., etc. should/will all have different ISBNs. Working in the other direction, we also know that many self-published authors don’t go to the bother and expense of getting an ISBN at all. And what about all those books in libraries which were published before we thought of ISBNs? So is the number of titles more or less than 28 million? Really it doesn’t matter at this level. And of course, as we bring back “into print” more and more books from the past the situation will only get worse. Or should I say better?

Publishing Perspectives finds that most of us don’t think 28 million is too many. Gabriel Zaid, said in So Many Books (2003) “The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.”. But I think most of the discussion at the Frankfurt panel almost misses the point: if you grow up in a house with only six books in it, you will read all of them from cover to cover, over and over again. If you live in a world with 28 millions choices, you will use books differently. Sure you’ll read this one from cover to cover, but you’ll dip into that one; refer to the index of this other one; ignore most of them knowing that when and if you need to consult them they’ll be there. My tutor at university, Gus Caesar, once said “The purpose of your education is not to make you to know everything; it’s just to teach you to know where to find it when you need to.” Probably he was thinking mainly of the University Library — they lay claim to a paltry 15 million volumes. The Library of Congress has 23.5 million books out of a total of 158 million physical objects. Who cares? There’s enough to be going on with.

We have been panicking about digital publishing, e-books, the death of print, new paradigms for ages and ages now. Everybody fears the unknown, and we all tend to exaggerate threats. Gartner, an IT research company has a measure they call the hype cycle. New things start quietly, quickly attract wild enthusiasm, then fall into a trough of disillusionment when rapid results are not forthcoming, and finally find our view of them slowly improving, eventually to reach the plateau of productivity. Does this not sound familiar?

Source: Gartner 2014

Source: Gartner 2014. Click to enlarge

While all the hype has been going on, Oxford University Press (to be fair, like many companies but probably more aggressively and successfully than most) have quietly been going about the business of shifting from a print culture to making digital a fundamental part of their business. Here’s Niko Pfund, President of OUP, USA, reporting on the OUP blog on ten years of progress; successes and lessons learned. Of course nobody should assume that this transition means that print is no longer relevant. It remains by far the largest segment of Oxford’s sales, and will no doubt continue thus for years to come. To some extent this places publishers in a difficult position as they have to fund two different businesses concurrently: yesterday’s and tomorrow’s.

However already at the plateau of productivity for OUP would be POD (almost half their ISBNs are supplied this way), e-books, and on-line publications like The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Language Dictionaries Online, Oxford Bibliographies Online, and Oxford Scholarship Online.

Irma Boom, a Dutch book designer, presents her work in this YouTube video. Her website can be found here. Maybe designers hoping for commercial opportunities should beware: one of the things she says about customer briefs is “Do what you like — it’s always better”. Not sure how well this will go down at most publishing houses.

Here’s a link to a collection at the University of Amsterdam featuring her books.

Map by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Map by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Brooklyn Magazine has published a list of the best book for each state. No doubt there’s lots of room for debate, but that of course is part of the point.

They already did one on Brooklyn neighborhoods which you can get to via the same link.

(Shared by Shelf Awareness)

Robert Crawford, author of Scotland’s Books (my only justification for including this piece, which has nothing to do with books or publishing — though it does appear on the Oxford University Press blog, and is rather amusing) riffs à la Shakespeare on the occasion of the recent independence referendum.

The Mellon Foundation has financed a five-year project to produce an on-line catalog the incunables held by the University Library in Cambridge. One of the focuses of the project was the individual markings, annotations, binding, evidence of use, of each of the early printed books. One example is their Gutenberg Bible which they have been able to see was used as copy for setting another Bible which is also in their collection. This YouTube video, provides an introduction to the exhibition, “Private lives of print”, celebrating the conclusion of the project. The exhibition lasts till 11 April 2015.

This associated video showing the University Library’s hand press in operation provides an excellent impression of 15th century letterpress printing.


I guess this is a good idea — I’m a little uncertain, and would prefer to try it out before deciding. Book Drum provides a wiki where Tom, Dick and Harry can add stuff to any preexisiting book — annotations, pictures, maps, videos etc. etc. This means, I suppose, that you have to put up with whatever Tom, Dick and Harry may throw at you. They seem to have two books available in annotated Kindle editions. I guess the others involve you in keeping two files open at once. FutureBook, The Bookseller blog, brings us this story about it. But Book Drum’s co-founder Hector Macdonald has moved on from that place to something called Advance Editions, where you can participate in forming the book. The main hope is that people in the know will correct factual errors in new books like the example he gives of Daniel Defoe having the naked Crusoe fill his pockets with shipwreck loot.

Publishing Perspectives has a story of a similar initiative by Stephen Fry and Penguin books, though it doesn’t contain a link to take eager participants to the coal face. This can be found at I suppose Penguin and Fry are pretty much onto a win-win here. Yes there may be a few who end up satisfied with the free download alone, but I imagine you’d only do the download and participate in the group-edit if you were a fan of Fry’s; and if you’re a fan, you’ll probably want to go on to buy the whole thing. Your editing suggestions are probably not going to lead anywhere, but if some brilliant idea comes up that’s money in the bank. The only cost is the time of the intern who gets to go through any suggestions.

Amazon, unsurprisingly, is also getting into the act The Digital Reader and Brave New World disclose.

Slightly different, true, but this Guardian story contains the news that this year’s Booker list contains its first crowdfunded book, Paul Kingsnorth: The Wake. This book just won the Gordon Burn Prize.

Unknown“The tradition of buying and giving annuals based on popular comics, characters, TV programmes or even pop stars has become a fixed part of the Christmas calendar in the UK. Most of these will originate with one Scottish publisher, D. C. Thomson of Dundee. Thomson began publishing comics such as The Beano, The Dandy, Rover, Wizard, Hotspur, Bunty, and Judy in the 1930s. Thomson’s first annuals appeared in 1939.

Gifted artists and writers produced a range of memorable characters for these publications such as Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, and (for Thomson’s newspapers) Oor Wullie and The Broons. Oor Wullie was voted the top Scottish icon in 2004 – ahead of Sean Connery and William Wallace!

While comics went into decline from the 1980s, the annuals have prospered for longer. Some continued to appear even after the disappearance of the comic itself. The most popular annuals are now those based on Oor Wullie and The Broons, tapping into both the extensive readership of the weekly Sunday Post and the market for nostalgic reminders of childhood.

Their popularity was further proven by the publication in 2007 by Waverley Books of Maw Broon’s Cookbook, which became a bestseller, and a subsequent series of Broons-based titles covering topics from ‘gairdening’ to holidays (in the But ’n Ben, of course).”

[from SAPPHIRE’s exhibition “40 years of Scottish publishing, 1974-2014. In May 2014 SAPPHIRE (Scottish Archive of Print and Publishing History Records) joined with Publishing Scotland to curate an exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of Publishing Scotland. Publishing Scotland represents the interests of over 100 Scottish publishers, and the exhibition charted some of the successes and highlights of Scottish publishing since the 1970s.  It opened at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh in May, going also to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Dundee Literary Festival, and the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.]

Oor Wullie

Oor Wullie

Here’s a link to the National Library of Scotland’s site where Oor Wullie (Our William to those of you who aren’t up to speed yet) will teach you Scots.