Archives for the month of: September, 2015

This may seem like taking things too far, but someone is teaching bibliotherapy. The BookList Reader brings us this important news. There was even an interview on NPR.

In general the idea that reading a good book can be good for you comes as no surprise. Going to a therapist, rather than a librarian, for a reading list seems excessive, but I guess there are therapy-friendly folks all over. I suppose bibliotherapy was occasionally administered when I was a schoolboy: I’ve had books thrown at my head on a few occasions, and of course often had to copy out lengthy passages from books as punishment. It certainly stopped our bad behavior, if only for the time we were engaged in our penmanship.

The books Ms Elderkin recommends all seem pretty good. Unfortunately Helen Simpsons’s excellent Hey Yeah Right Get a Life is published in America under a different title, which may frustrate listeners who rush out for a quick therapy hit.

With Ella Berthoud, Ms Elderkin has written The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You, which has a nicely punning title I guess. Maybe reading Anna Karenina as a “cure” for adultery might work, as you’d no longer have time for your problem pastime; or would it just exacerbate things by promoting deep and meaningful discussion?


Sensu stricto a cancel is a corrected version of any part of the book made after the book is printed. Thus if the entire book were thrown away and reprinted with corrections this would be a cancel, though nobody except the publisher and printer would really be aware of this. Usually however cancels are less extensive than that. They can be made to a single word or character, with the revised version pasted in (see Handwork); an entire page tipped in to the book after the wrong one was removed (usually called Rip and tip); or, if detected before binding, an entire signature, or a four page, double leaf insert.

That long “s”, ſ, has been causing confusion for years, but I wasn’t aware that Samuel Jonson had been a victim. According to Interesting Literature he misread Britannia and included foupe in his dictionary where soup was actually what Camden referred to. Johnson defined it as “to drive with a sudden impetuosity”. The Oxford English Dictionary confirms the Great Pajandrum’s error. The misreading is even odder when we see that the long “s” was used in the Dictionary itself! Maybe his copy of Camden had a typo, an “f” for a long “s”.


On its front page The New York Times weighs in today, 23 September, with the “good news” that e-book sales have fallen by about 10%. Perverse industry to be happy about a 10% drop in any format! Especially the format which has resulted in a recent profit bump!

What the story, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print is Far From Dead” by Alexandra Alter, leaves out of the calculation is the segment of the market not attributable to traditional publishing companies: self publishing and indie publishing. As the article itself admits “It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar. . . . At Amazon, digital books sales have maintained their upward trajectory, according to Russell Grandinetti, senior vice president of Kindle. Last year, Amazon, which controls some 65% of the e-book market . . .” No need to go on. If the retailer who controls 65% of the market says sales have increased, and traditional publishers say their sales have gone down by 10%, then the conclusion (without access to the real numbers which Amazon is always cagey about) is that sales from non-traditional publishers must have increased quite sharply, certainly more than the amount represented by the 10% decline in traditional publishing product. The implications of this for the survival of print books is precisely zero. Obviously if trade publishers are selling fewer e-book, the proportion of print to e-book must be improving; but the key question is how are print sales holding up. And the answer isn’t too rosy, if not immediately disastrous.

Is the real threat to trade publishing not in fact coming from a huge disorganized segment of the business, with nothing to do with format?

Here, via The Digital Reader, is a graphic illustrating the problem with the NYT article.


Robert Gray writes a regular, sane column for Shelf Awareness, generally on some aspect of book selling. On 12 September 2014 he wrote about bookstore newsletters, with links to several of them. With social media so fashionable, it is perhaps easy to focus on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. and forget that e-mail exists too, and can still work for you. E-mail is not something I use much for communication now, but I do get lots of content notifications every day about stuff about books. It works smoothly — I don’t have to do anything about it, except look at my in-box whenever I’m ready to. As an almost static, inertia promotion method it has much to recommend it. Indie Bound provides this sort of service for independent bookstores.

Bookstore blogs provide a similar service. Here are links to a few NYC bookstore blogs: McNally Jackson, Word, Bookcourt, Applause BooksBooks of Wonder. If content was my focus I would be having to sign up for bookstore newsletters — luckily (‘cos there are lots of them) I don’t.

Here’s Joho The Blog suggesting that newsletters in general are once again becoming a vital ingredient of our lives. The Economist of 29 August has an article about advertising on social media which I hope you can reach here. These two charts are from the article.


Photo: iStock

Edinburgh from the Calton Hill. Photo: iStock

Of course as a capital city Edinburgh would be bound to have had a significant printing industry, but Scotland’s capital certainly did have an extra large book manufacturing industry. I can remember ordering printing and/or binding from R. & R. Clark and Oliver & Boyd. Here’s a link to the Edinburgh: City of Print website. This is a treasure trove of historical information about a book manufacturing industry which is now all but gone. (Unfortunatley some of the links are not working which I have pointed out to them.)

Edinburgh has had a long history of involvement with the book. Robert Burns went there to get into the big time, and in those days it was the literary capital of the nation (Britain, that is). In the nineteenth century it was the origin point of those magazines which did so much to form literary opinion: Blackwood’s, The Edinburgh Review etc. Recently there has been a bit of a renaissance in Scottish literature, centered of course on the capital. None of the poets in Alexander Moffat’s 1980 picture, Poet’s Pub are with us any longer, but the renaissance can certainly take as its founder Hugh MacDiarmid, in the blue suit at the center. The others, in counterclockwise order from him are Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean, Ian Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, Sidney Goodsir Smith, then behind, Edwin Morgan, Robert Garioch, and at the front Alan Bold (whom I once met up with myself in another Edinburgh pub). The only other one I ever saw in the flesh was the great man himself, when MacDiarmid came to Cambridge for a reading.


National Galleries of Scotland. ©Alexander Moffat

The Guardian brings us a story about the creation of an on-line literary map of the city launched on 30 March 2015. The map, LitLong, can be found here. They also provide an app which allows you to walk around the city being informed at every step about what literary events may have occurred there with suitable quotes. Be careful when crossing the streets: this risks being another dangerous means of keeping people’s eyes glued to their iPhones. The City of Literature website is perhaps a little scanty when it comes to Scotland’s contribution to world literature. Surely we could come up with more than Ian Rankin’ Rebus series, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Heart of Midlothian, 44 Scotland Street and Trainspotting. Well there are actually a few more hidden about the site.

BuzzFeed tells us of fifteen Edinburgh bookshops we have to see before we die. And this doesn’t include the two biggies I remember from my childhood, James Thin’s (now a branch of Blackwell’s) and Bauermeister’s (which closed its doors in 2004 after 110 years in business).

14744946George Cruikshank here responds to the Infant School movement by showing babies in their little walkers chasing after their letters. This is part of a sheet from his Scraps and Sketches, 1828-32. Pictures like this were often cut out and pasted into albums and commonplace books which were popular at the time. In the background Literature, hunted by horse and hounds, is shouting “We shall be run down — be devoured! — there won’t be a bit of us left for succeeding ages! the dogs have such large capacities!”

The idea that literature could get all used up if too many people had access to it sounds totally weird to us now, but this all came at a time when reading was moving from an intensive to extensive mode of use. As cheap printing made more and more books available to more and more people, reading travelled from a repetitive, over-and-over reading of the same few books to a pattern more familiar to us, where almost any book was available to the curious reader. If there were only two or three books in the house, obviously having too many people wanting to read them would create difficulties.

A hornbook, illustrated below, was the schoolbook for about three centuries from the mid 16th on. A printed sheet was protected from the grubby fingers of the pupils by a sheet of transparent horn mounted on a wooden back board with handle. As William Shenstone puts it in The School-Mistress (1737):

Eftsoons the Urchins to their Tasks repair:
Their Books of Stature small take they in Hand,
Which with pellucid Horn secured are;
To save from Finger wet the Letters fair:
The Work so quaint that on their Back is seen,
St. George’s high Atchievements does declare:
On which thilk Wight that has y-gazing been,
Kens the forth-coming Rod, unpleasing Sight, I ween.

HornbooksNice to see that that other staple of old-fashioned education, the rod, gets its mention. No child back then risked being spoiled by the sparing of the rod. Seemed to work in my day too.

The top left of the sheet shows a cross, from which the hornbook got the nick-name Christ Cross Row, or criss-cross-row. The alphabet in small and large letters was followed by the vowels and their combinations with the consonants in tabular format. The Trinitarian formula – “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” – followed, then the Lord’s Prayer. The hornbook often concluded with the Roman numerals.

imagesJust think how those punch cutters would have reacted to the news (with a video) that development of a cheaper 3-D metal printer is being supported by GE Ventures. Of course with the main ingredient, the metal powder, costing $120 per kilogram it would not have attracted Gutenberg and Caxton I fear. CNC which Mr Burris refers to, stands for computer numerical control. (Shopbot can do it for you.)


For years we have been used to getting news of yet another university press in trouble as they struggle to make ends meet. “Not for profit” cannot be allowed to slip into “at a loss”. True many U.S. universities give their presses a subvention, but times have been tough for them too. The latest closure, in July, was The University of Akron Press, upon which occasion Director Tom Bacher was quoted as saying somewhat explosively “Another blow against culture by a short-sighted administration. It’s sad that the university values beans over brains.” Turns out that the brains have been reprieved at the eleventh hour and the press will be continuing to operate.

The tide may well be turning. Joe Esposito’s report on this year’s AAUP meeting, at Scholarly Kitchen, is relatively upbeat. And here from The Literary Platform comes the news of the setting up of a new U.K. university press. (Link via Jose Aphonso Furtado.) Sam Leith’s recent essay in The Guardian may be going a bit too far — university presses have published general non-fiction for eons — but the optimism is not out of place. Whether such books are really being sidelined by trade publishers or not, your local university press is always likely to be eager to publish such potentially salable stuff. I remember years ago a rich vein of paperback publishing by a university press consisting of picking up the rights to books which a trade house would declare OP because sales dropped to less than 4,000 a year. No university press is going to sneeze at 4,000 a year, or even 4,000 lifetime.

Maybe The Guardian editors thought that this was a sort of continuation of the Leith story — but this piece about unsuspecting academics being conned into writing books for unscrupulous university presses almost has to be a spoof, as suggested by The Digital Reader. Its writer, “Anonymous academic”, must either be desperately writing for the money or living so far up the ivory tower that the oxygen has deserted his/her brain. The conversation described may show a somewhat callow editor at work — we all have to pass through the callows in order to get to the sea of authoritativeness — but the reality described is just that, a reality. Any academic who thinks that a narrow research monograph is going to make the bestseller list needs to go back to school, elementary school probably. The author of a specialized monograph can probably name, without too much effort, every researcher in the field who might conceivably buy a copy of their book. The truth of the matter is that a book on a narrow topic will reach a narrow market. Now if the editor had implied that the riches of the Orient were being held in escrow for the author who only needed to dust off a doctoral thesis in order to enjoy them, then there would be reason to complain. And don’t grasp at that perennial favorite of the disaffected author, that more (any) marketing would have boosted the sale to levels appropriate to the authorial ego. A full page ad in every newspaper, plus a television campaign is never going to increase the sale of The Uptake and Storage of Noradrenaline by a single copy. Academics are unsurprisingly, rather easy to contact, and potential customers will have to work really hard to avoid knowledge of the publication of another book in their field. There might be an argument to be made that many university presses lack the marketing and sales fire-power to be able to take the next Steven Pinker book and promote it into the bestseller lists, but several do; and if it’s really true that trade houses are abandoning this sort of book, university presses will get better at it too.

I remain bullish. The sort of “important” publishing that a university press does is, to my mind, the most resilient type of publishing. Chasing the buck may have its place, but publishing good books is more important to us all.