Archives for the month of: January, 2016

The New York Times Magazine carried a report by Mimi Vu on 7 December about the opening of One Grand, a “curated bookstore” in Narrowsburg, New York. I’m not sure I’m going to make the trek up the Delaware: I don’t know if you’d have to, but the implication that if you’re serious you’ll buy all the ten books in the collection you chose would make me nervous. Actually, as their website makes clear, you don’t of course have to buy the lot (and you don’t even have to go there)! Narrowsburg is situated in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational area, so it might make a good target for an out-of-town trip. I do think that a list of 10 titles selected by someone whose name people will recognize is a good way of promoting books. In a way it’s no more than your normal front-of-store-table display; just in this case you’ll recognize the name of the person making the selections.

As the article says several writers have shared their ten-books-to-take-to-a-desert-island lists on-line, at the Times Magazine. It certainly makes more sense to take books to a desert island than the original discs. Though of course back when the radio program Desert Island Discs started, gramophones were wind-up things which could have been expected to go on and on (as long as you had strength in your arm) in the absence of a power source. It looks as if “My 10 favorite books” is an ongoing series, so we can look forward to more lists from more celebrities. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Jacob L. Wright wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s The Digital Campus supplement of 25 April, 2014, about his experience creating an enhanced e-book of his book published conventionally in a slightly different form by Cambridge University Press. Read the article here. You can download a free sample of King David and his reign revisited to iBooks. Just go to the iBooks store (go to iTunes and click on the Books tab), enter the author’s name then click on the image of the book. Below the $10.99 price you’ll see the button allowing you to download a sample. Not that the sample gives much away — it basically consists of instructions on how to read the book on your iPad. The author does start with the claim that this is the first enhanced e-book in the humanities — who am I to disagree — though in the on-line comments Sandy Thatcher reminds us that the ALCS Humanities Ebook Project and Gutenberg-e Project have been doing enhanced e-books for about ten years already. Another commenter suggests using BookOnPublish (also sold as FlexiPub) rather than the iBooks Author software the author used. On the evidence provided in the sample it is rather less exciting than I had hoped — maybe $10.99 would be more impressive. I did play around with the iBooks Author software and found it infuriating. Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I think sticking pictures everywhere in a book signals “trivial” — iBooks Author appears to be forcing you to put pictures all over the place! Text seems almost an afterthought. For those who wonder what an enhanced e-book might actually be eBook Architects provide a useful list of what these enhancements consist of.

Frankly the whole push to embellish (serious) books seems misguided to me. Even an entertainment (trade) book tricked out with some kind of electronic bells and whistles strikes me more as a digital film show with a book smashed into the same package, rather than a book with added features. You read a book one word at a time. Once you’ve read one page you (tend to) want to find out what’s on the next page. Being invited to see a video of excavations in the Holy Land seems to me to add nothing other than distraction. If I wanted to see such a video I’d want to do it later, and maybe a list of such sources in the back of the book, a sort of e-bibliography would be useful. But when I am reading a printed book a footnote referring me to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall does not cause me to break off, stop reading the book I’m in the middle of, and start reading Gibbon; so when I get a mixed media link, I am conditioned to ignore it. But who knows? Maybe there’s a new medium struggling to be born here.

Another immense, but blithely ignored problem, with such projects is that of future technical change. How today do you access that pioneering hypertext fiction, Afternoon, a story by Michael Joyce, published in 1990? The answer, according to Digital Book World, is that “you don’t, unless you are still operating on OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or Windows 7. Originally distributed on floppy disc, the work was reproduced up until quite recently on CD. But it hasn’t been updated in a number of years, and its availability for future generations will rely on continued efforts of digital preservation.” Now such problems can of course be taken care of by updating, but as the case of Afternoon shows, there comes a time when it’s not worth the cost. I own this work, in floppy disk form. I keep it as a memento mori. (This updating problem does of course apply to ordinary e-books as well, but as they are probably a bit easier to keep up-to-date, the end date for them may be a year or two further out. But it will of course come: and the prospect of grandad’s magnum opus being inaccessible should cause concern for eager heirs hoping to live off royalty income.)

This Digital Reader piece, from 12 December last year, turns its nose up at the enhanced e-book in response to a puffy New York Times article. I suspect that publishers who are pursuing apps and other means of “enhancing” their books are publishers who have lost faith in their product. They probably all want to get jobs in Hollywood or Silicone Valley: they should.

imagesPublishing Perspectives has a story about spoof Ladybirds which were quite a success in the last Christmas season. Foyles reported that eight of their ten bestsellers over Christmas were these Ladybird parodies. Just like any law the words of the copyright law are open to interpretation, and although “parody” is listed as one instance of fair use, the definition of parody can be debated, especially where it shades into “passing off”. Random House UK were upset by the original Ladybird spoof published in 2014 by an indie publisher, who under RH legal pressure, changed the imprint on the spoof book to Dung Beetle. It has apparently sold 60,000 copies.

The joke is no doubt lost on an American audience. I suspect that you had to grow up with Ladybird Books for it to mean much. There are few Brits who wouldn’t instantly recognize a style of picture that they’d first seen in Ladybird Books. The company was founded as a bookshop in 1867, in Loughborough, and in 1904 changed its name to Wills and Hepworth. The company published its first Ladybird book in 1914 and registered the trade mark in 1915.  Because of the success of the line, they changed their company name to Ladybird Books in 1971. It became part of the Pearson Group in 1972 and was merged into Penguin Books in 1998, at which time the offices and printing works in Loughborough were closed.

imagesThe original books were 4½ x 7 inches, with a four-color illustration on one page, and black and white text on the facing page. They were printed on a single quad crown sheet, measuring  40 by 30 inches, and folded down to 64pp. Case bound in paper over boards, they were instantly recognizable. My little sister used to refer to this one as “The seegie lamb”.


Here’s a film made by Sappi (formerly South African Pulp and Paper Industries Ltd.) which shows the early stages of paper-making rather well. This mill is producing specialized cellulose, also called dissolving wood pulp, which it supplies to other mills. Specialized cellulose is used in the making of cellophane, viscose, and rayon, as well as a surprising array of other products which the commentator will tell you about towards the end of this five-minute video.

For recyclers this will show you that the inner bags in cereal boxes and other glossy papers which you might mistake for plastic, are in fact made from paper fiber and should be recycled as such. (This does not include Saran wrap/Cling film, which really is made of plastics.) I hesitate to make any recommendations about rayon clothing: often other fibers are added at the spinning stage. This silent mixing of fibers is the reason why bulk “cotton” rags can no longer be used as a source of supply for our dollar bills.

The Kilmarnock Edition. British Library

The Kilmarnock Edition. British Library

“The heaven-taught ploughman” first published his Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect in July 1786. It cost 3 shillings and 600 copies were printed by its publisher John Wilson of Kilmarnock. Its success lead to a  second expanded edition, the First Edinburgh Edition, which was printed by William Smellie and published by William Creech, by subscription at 5 shillings and at 6 shillings for others, all “for the sole benefit of the author”, on 21 April 1787. Although Burns remained financially responsible for this second edition he had the support of a new-found patron, the Earl of Glencairn, who was a Masonic connection. The book was quickly reprinted and in all 3,000 copies were issued.

On 23 April 1787 Burns sold his interest in his poems to Creech for 100 guineas. Creech brought out the Second Edinburgh Edition in February 1793, in two volumes “greatly enlarged with New Poems”.

Gie me ae spark o’ Nature’s fire,
That’s a’ the learning I desire;
Then tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire
                At pleugh or cart,
My Muse, tho’ hamely in attire,
                May touch the heart.

The notion that Burns (1759–1796) was a “heaven-taught ploughman” may have been given support by these lines, but in fact he had a good bit of book learning imparted by a private tutor hired by his father, a struggling tenant farmer, and as a lad o’ pairts he obviously caught on fast. The verse form of this extract, the Standard Habbie*, so associated with Burns, was in fact garnered from Allan Ramsay’s work.

After the first printing of the First Edinburgh Edition had sold, the type had to be re-set in order to reprint. An error was made in the “Address to a Haggis”, where by “Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware”, became “Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware”. (Skinking meaning “wersh”, “watery”.) The second form of the 1787 edition has thus become known as the ‘Stinking Burns’. Burns probably cleared just over £50 from the Kilmarnock volume and about £855 from the First Edinburgh Edition together with the sale the sale of the copyright. He only received a few complimentary copies from Creech for the Second Edinburgh Edition. After the sale of his copyright to Creech Burns wasn’t inclined to make any money off his poems. He’d circulate them among friends as in the early days before the Kilmarnock Edition, publish some in local papers, and allow Creech to include them in later printings. That he valued and needed his government job as Exciseman may have prompted this de-emphasis. His radical views, shown for instance in “A man’s a man for a’ that” have always guaranteed him a place at the socialist board, but wouldn’t have endeared him to his employers:

For a’ that, and a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that;
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be, for a’ that.


His interest had moved to song and he would devote the rest of his life to preserving Scotland’s musical heritage. He was a major contributor to The Scots Musical Museum and to A Select Collection of Scottish Airs, for the Voice. This work collecting and editing (and writing words for) Scottish songs is as important a part of Burns’ opus as his poems. His songs are of course the best remembered of his works — on this, Burns’ Night, just think of Hogmanay.

Happy the publisher who has a poem addressed to him by his bestselling author (again in Standard Habbie):

To William Creech 

                            Selkirk 13th May 1787
Auld chuckie Reekie’s sair distrest,
Down droops her ance weel-burnish’d crest,
Nae joy her bonie buskit nest
                         Can yield ava;
Her darling bird that she loes best,
                         Willie’s awa. —
O Willie was a witty wight,
And had o’ things an unco slight;
Auld Reekie ay he keepit tight,
                         And trig and braw:
But now they’ll busk her like a fright,
                         Willie’s awa. —
The stiffest o’ them a’ he bow’d,
The bauldest o’ them a’ he cow’d,
They durst nae mair than he allow’d,
                          That was a law:
We’ve lost a birkie weel worth gowd,
                          Willie’s awa. —
Now gawkies, tawpies, gowks and fools,
Frae colleges and boarding-schools,
May sprout like simmer puddock-stools
                          In glen or shaw;
He wha could brush them down to mools
                          Willie’s awa. —
The brethren o’ the commerce-chaumer
May mourn their loss wi’ doolfu’ clamour;
He was a dictionar and grammar
                           Amang them a’;
I fear they’ll now mak mony a stammer,
                           Willie’s awa. —
Nae mair we see his levee door
Philosophers and Poets pour,
And toothy Critics by the score
                           In bloody raw;
The Adjutant of a’ the core
                           Willie’s awa. —
Now worthy Greg’ry’s latin face,
Tytler’s and Greenfield’s modest grace,
Mckenzie, Stuart, such a brace
                           As Rome ne’er saw;
They a’ maun meet some ither place,
                           Willie’s awa. —
Poor Burns—even Scotch Drink canna quicken,
He cheeps like some bewilder’d chicken,
Scar’d frae its minnie and the cleckin
                          By hoodie-craw;
Grief’s gien his heart an an unco kickin,
                          Willie’s awa. —
Now ev’ry sour-mou’d, girnin blellum,
And Calvin’s folk are fit to fell him;
Ilk self-conceited, critic skellum
                          His quill may draw;
He wha could brawlie ward their bellum
                          Willie’s awa, —
Up wimpling, stately Tweed I’ve sped,
And Eden scenes on chrystal Jed,
And Ettrick banks now roaring red
                          While tempests blaw;
But ev’ry joy and pleasure’s fled,
                         Willie’s awa. —
May I be Slander’s common speech;
A text for Infamy to preach;
And lastly, streekit out to bleach
                          In winter snaw
When I forget thee, Willie Creech,
                          Tho’ far awa! —
May never wicked Fortune touzle him,
May never wicked men bamboozle him,
Until a pow as auld’s Methusalem
                          He canty claw;
Then to the blessed, new Jerusalem
                          Fleet-wing awa. —



* The standard Habbie, or six-line stave, was named after the piper Habbie Simpson (1550–1620) who was elegized by Robert Sempill of Beltrees in this meter. Each stanza has 6 lines, rhyming aaabab, the a lines being four feet, the bs two. Burns used it a lot, but so had predecessors Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson.

Much of this information is gleaned from Robert Burns Country, and The British Library’s piece by Robert Irvine.

Well, is the print book going to survive? Is the Earth going to be hit by an asteroid? Are the rising seas going to push us all into the hills where we’ll kill one another because of the stresses of being so hemmed in? All unanswerable questions, of course, till we have lived through the next 100 years, just like all questions which require one to guess about future events. This of course doesn’t stop us going on guessing.

The recent slowdown in e-book and e-reader sales are being taken as evidence that all is rosy for the future of print. Maybe. But as I’ve argued before; we can’t say much using the scanty evidence we have to hand. Even if the numbers analyzed did include self-published and indie published e-books — and they don’t — they are still telling us a story with a ridiculously short time span.

Here, from Medium, via The Digital Reader, is “The Death of the Death of Books” by M. G. Siegler. This sort of piece is all too common. For the time being there are obviously bookstores selling print books: who’d seriously doubt that with 70% of regular publishing’s book sales being of the print variety. So what can one say about that? Not too much I fear — it’s just too soon do much more than express a preference. Siegler’s a bit dismissive about the bookstore scene in San Francisco. It’s true a downtown resident would have to take a trip out of town to get to a Barnes & Noble store, but why would such a native bother when there are several good independent stores around town?

Craig Mod criticizes Amazon for not developing the Kindle more than they have. Maybe this is fair: though it hasn’t been that long and it is comfortably dominant. If Amazon really is ignoring the Kindle, that could I suppose have print-survival implications. But I bet there’s some exciting new technology development lurking round the next corner. Mod’s much referenced piece at Aeon shows (at the very end) one sort of e-book development at Bret Victor’s Communications Design Group research laboratory in San Francisco. But who is going to pay for this sort of work? I suspect that the truth of the matter is that reading is a fairly straightforward activity. Bells and whistles aren’t necessary, indeed may be a distraction. In reading, one word after another gets the job done just fine. That’s no doubt why the printed book is such a suitable vehicle.


On the face of it the place of publication should be a simple matter of fact. But of course, publishing houses, which because they will insist on employing intelligent types full of ideas, are expert at over-complicating things. In the sixties and seventies Cambridge University Press’ title pages would announce the place of publication as Cambridge, London, New York, Melbourne. I guess if you lived in Brisbane, Melbourne would be the place the actual book in your hand came from, unless Aunt Daisy had mailed it to you from Cheltenham as a Christmas present. But of course “publication” as well as “place” are squishy concepts.

In the early days of publishing, before there were such organizations as publishing houses, books were printed and retailed by the same organization. If the printing press was in Chiswell Street, that’s where you’d go to buy the book, and the place of publication would obviously be London. As the publishing side of this operation became predominant, similar relationships between the front and back offices remained. A surviving consequence of this state of affairs is the law requiring that the name of the printer appear in every book printed in Britain — so that the printer can be sued for libel. Eventually however the printing plant and the publishing office grew further apart, culminating in most publishers selling off their printing arm entirely. So by the mid-twentieth century you might have a publishing office in London, and printers in Tiptree, Frome, Aylesbury, Fakenham, Edinburgh, wherever; and you certainly wouldn’t want to be describing the place of publication as the loading dock of your Tiptree printer. Actually things were even more complicated than that, since in those days printers tended to be separate from book binders, so you’d probably be shipping your sheets from Tiptree to Harlow, say. Publishers strove to have their warehouses in London, in order to be close enough to the big bookshops to be able to service the carriage trade, but post-WWII economics tended to force warehouses out of town. Thus your publishing office might be in an elegant building in central London, your warehouse in Northamptonshire, and your printers and binders all over the place. As consolidation and expansion pursued their irresistible march through the industry and many publishers moved their entire operations out of town, the picture naturally became even more complicated: just the sort of thing intelligent chaps with too much time on their hands love to debate.

Then there’s the wrinkle of what exactly “publication” means. Coming out of the copyright law, we have all generally accepted the word as meaning “the offering of copies for sale”. Now at CUP in the sixties, sales, marketing, publicity — everything one might connect with the offering of copies for sale — was run out of London. In Cambridge there was editorial, production and design, as well as the Printing House. So who was doing the “offering for sale”? It doesn’t really matter which answer one gives — the situation was if not complicated, at least not utterly straightforward. Nobody would really deny that the editor of a book had something to do with its publication. Thus Cambridge and all the sales offices were included on the title page. At that time Oxford University Press, which had many more branches around the world and couldn’t include all of them on the title page without having to shoulder something else off, described their (trade) books thus: London, Oxford University Press, New York, Toronto. They would make a distinction between books “published” out of London or another branch (the majority) and books “published” by the Delegates in Oxford. These latter would be labelled: Oxford, at the Clarendon Press. They’d all be sourced from the same warehouse in North London.

At the end of the day, place of publication doesn’t matter to anyone — except for academics compiling their bibliographies and I guess the librarians studying them. I often used to think that referencing books with their UK place of publication was a bit of an affectation among some US scholars. It sort of implied that you’d done all your research in the British Museum Reading Room or the Bodleian. I suppose in some ideal world referencing a book as Cambridge University Press, New York might pick up a distinction between an edition printed in America, as against the original printing done in Britain, which might be referred to as Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, or maybe London. But such nice distinctions, which aren’t agreed to by all parties anyway, may be utterly irrelevant. The two books may be to all intents and purposes identical, differing only in the paper used. That this sort of distinction may be exactly what some future PhD student wants to study doesn’t justify the whole game. What would be so wrong with just abandoning the place of publication in our referencing systems? Nowadays many a book published in Britain may be purchased in America even though there’s an entirely separate edition published here by a different publisher: these are the ones on Amazon with the odd prices — $16.71 or such-like direct conversion from a more rational £ price. [Publishers spend much time checking up on this sort of thing, and usually the overseas edition is quickly removed by Amazon.] And let us not get into any discussion of the place of publication of an e-book; The Cloud?

IMG_0373The Bind is a graphic novel by William Goldsmith published in 2015 by Jonathan Cape. It tells the story of the creation in 1912 of a wildly extravagant binding of a poetry book, A Moonless Land, by Edward Skirmish, a poet bitten to death by a spider. Egret Bindings is jointly owned by two brothers, Guy and Victor Egret, though the ghost of their father, who founded the business, acts as our guide throughout, wafting here and there through the large bindery. Guy is the business man, though also a talented binder, and Victor, a creative genius of bookbinding, is the flamboyant impresario of the operation. The plot involves the making of duplicate fake copies of the jewel-encrusted binding using worthless jewels. Their obnoxious customer Mr Theodore Pointe has annoyed Victor by writing from New York to complain that the binding, for which he appears already to have paid, is late. Apparently he’s such an artistic collector that he never opens his objet d’art bindings, and this gives Victor the idea for the fake binding. He won’t be using a second set of sheets of the book — I guess that’s not obtainable — he’ll provide dummy pages with dummy text. “The uncut pages would contain nothing but filth.” He makes the staff work at night duplicating after hours the steps they’ve taken on the real binding during the day. Just why Guy should decide to make a second duplicate to dupe Victor isn’t altogether clear, but he does, fools Victor and fires him. Victor dies in the War. Guy, understandably depressed, is brought to his senses by being hit by a bus, throws the genuine A Moonlight Land into the Thames, and ultimately opens up a new Egret Bindings.

IMG_0375The style of illustration is loose and flowing, done by brush not pen, and this presents a bit of a problem in identifying which brother is doing what. The book is printed China by C & C Offset in shades of black (grey) and brown. The brown drops away when we go into flashback mode. This is of course not a how-to manual though we do get taken through the steps of binding a book. It’s fascinating to reflect that (as I assume to be the case) there really were establishments like this, retailing elaborate bindings to a customer-base that would line up to get into the showroom when it opened in the morning. One trembles to think what may lie in store for the new Egret Bindings after its opening in 1919.

220px-Paige_CompositorJames Paige’s machine swallowed up $200,000 to $300,000 of Samuel Clemens’ money. That’s around half a million of today’s money. Like so many attempts at automating typesetting the machine never overcame its difficulty in making all its many components get along with one another. It was constantly in need of maintenance, and ended up missing the bus, partly because the perfectionist Paige couldn’t resist tinkering with the design. John Lienhard tells us that the Paige machine was 60% faster than the competition (when it was actually running). Codex 99 expands

In theory the Compositor was indeed the perfect typesetter. As Thompson wrote in the Inland Printer: “An adept operator could assemble certain syllables and even complete words at the 109-character keyboard. The justifier utilized 11 different sizes of spaces to fill the spacing between words. The distributor, as it returned the dead matter to its proper channels, removed any damaged or bent type.” It was also one of the most complicated machines ever built, containing more than 18,000 parts including “800 shaft bearings and cams and springs innumerable.”

This complexity is perhaps best seen in Paige’s epic 1887 patent application which included 275 drawing sheets, 123 specification sheets and 613 claims. “The Whale” as it was known by the Patent Office was the largest patent application in US history. It took eight years to review, with one examiner spending a month onsite with the machine, another dying during review and yet another going insane.

Like so many inventors Paige just loved inventing. It’s quite possible he actually had designed the best possible typesetting machine. The trouble was that the best possible wasn’t what the world was actually waiting for. A machine that’d work adequately would fit the ticket. Paige finally had a machine he was willing to patent in 1887. Unfortunately for all concerned this was three years after the Linotype had been introduced. Confident that their superior machine would ultimately prevail Paige, egged on by Twain, continued to tinker. A test at The Chicago Herald in 1894 was a breakdown disaster. The company went bankrupt in 1887. James Paige died penniless in 1917.

Only two Paige machines were ever made. One remains, and can be seen at Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT. If only Twain had bet on Ottmar Mergenthaler!

I’ve been seeing evidence of the rumblings about the closure of Ashgate. The on-line petition seeking to stop the closure says “Independent academic presses like Ashgate have offered a safe haven for scholars working in certain subfields as University presses closed entire publishing specializations and fired editorial staff in response to campus austerity measures. Academic presses are more than profit margins, income from the backlist, utility bills, payroll, and marketing campaigns. Ashgate flourished through the bonds formed between editors and authors, the care and attention of copy editors, and above all, the good will of authors and readers.” There’s a Save Ashgate Publishing website.

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s report on the purchase by Informa (which most in book publishing will recognize under the label Taylor & Francis) includes these challenging words. “Critics now worry that Informa, which is a publicly traded company, will respect the desires of its shareholders more than those of the scholars who supply its product.” Who are these daring critics who are so far outside the box in their thinking that they can contemplate a publicly traded company which might pay more attention to academics than to its own shareholders? Academic presses may be “more than profit margins, income from the backlist, utility bills, payroll, and marketing campaigns”, but the glorious ideal of furthering important scholarship, blazing the odd trail, and providing a general cultural good don’t make these nasty money things go away. The tragedy of small companies in any line of business is that the better you run them the more likely they are to be a target for takeover and rationalization. One can hardly advocate incompetent management in order to discourage takeover interest. The ideal — which is just that, an ideal, unrealizable on any scale — is a company run by a philanthropic millionaire who doesn’t need to do anything he/she doesn’t believe in. Such beauties do exist, but can hardly be expected to provide mass employment.

If you’ve worked there for years, you naturally want a company to continue needing your services; after all what they are is in part because of your efforts. Takeovers are always bring pain and suffering. It’s awful to be forced into having to look for a new job. Let’s all hope the Ashgate folks make a safe landing, and find their new jobs as satisfying as their old ones.