Archives for the month of: June, 2016

This is either very artistic or really silly. A nano-printed poem which can be inserted into your body may turn out to be your way of devouring poetry, but I’m not sure I can see the point. Huffington Post tells the story. “If you could have a poem embedded in your very flesh, what would it say? This was the question on poet and artist Jen Bervin‘s mind”. My feeling is that it would merely be another instance of Bishop Berkeley’s tree falling in the woods: an excuse for nerds to debate it. Outside the box definitely.

“I can’t turn my back on the work” proclaims Jude Law in this trailer for Genius. We almost wish he would — so much intensity!

Who’d have thought our book publishing life would be interesting enough for the Hollywood treatment? But then “That’s what we editors lose sleep over, you know, are we really making books better or just making them different.” Which of us has not yawned that?

Link via Paul Wright on the SHARP listserv.

The Printer's Error
by Aaron Fogel

Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-
seven years at my trade,
and served five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printer's Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers' errors.

First: I hold that all books
and all printed
matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are their
most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.
Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer's trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish professors
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.

Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert interferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.
Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers' protest,
and errors by
God's touch,
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable.

Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.

From The Library of Congress' Poetry 180 site. Reproduced here by kind permission of the author.
Dr Fogel's book, The Printer's Error is published by Miami University Press.

Shelf Awareness of 7 June 2016:

James Patterson’s BookShots Hits Stores Today

Today is publication date in the U.S. for the first two titles in the new BookShots line, a partnership of author James Patterson and his longtime publisher, Little, Brown. At a press conference yesterday, Patterson called the imprint “a very unusual and rare innovation in publishing–an evolution and to some extent a revolution.”

The books are less than 150 pages long, cost less than $5, and are “fast paced and all thriller, no filler,” Patterson said. They’re short enough, he continued, to be read in one sitting, and each chapter, usually no more than a few pages long, “has to move plot and characterization forward.” They’re designed for the many people today who don’t have enough time to read and are put off by the idea of reading a 450-page book. “The time is exactly right for this,” he emphasized, adding, “We need long form books for sure. This hopefully complements them.”

Press conference: NPR’s Michele Norris and James Patterson

Patterson, who has generously supported literacy, bookstores and school libraries, said BookShots titles will get more people into the habit of reading, draw more people into bookstores and, because reading is so beneficial to people, improve people’s lives.

The first two BookShots titles are Cross Kill by Patterson and Zoo 2 by Patterson with Max DiLallo. Each has a first printing of 500,000 and will be offered mainly in bookstores and via Amazon. But just as Patterson wants to expand readership by publishing exciting titles that are quick reads, he also wants to expand distribution. He fondly recalled the many mass market titles that used to be sold in drug stores, and praised Sweden for having books available in so many nontraditional outlets, including gas stations.

Patterson said that booksellers’ reactions have been positive. When “one big supplier” was told about BookShots during the holiday season, he responded, Patterson said, “You’ve just given me my Christmas present.” Another “head buyer” echoed this, saying, “You just gave me my birthday present.” For its part, Amazon said, “Think bigger.”

Next month, BookShots will publish four titles in the U.S., including two romance titles, part of the BookShots Flames romance series that will consist of two titles every other month. BookShots will also publish mysteries and science fiction. In September, it’s publishing a nonfiction title, Trump vs. Clinton: In Their Own Words, which collects the likely presidential candidates’ opinions on a range of subjects. Patterson commented: “If it was a $27 book, I don’t know if I would want it. At $4.99, I do.”

Through the rest of the year, BookShots will publish two to four titles a month. There’s no lack of material: Patterson said yesterday that he has 117 manuscripts “finished or almost finished,” some of which he’s written. For more than 80 books, he wrote outlines of 20-30 pages for others to complete.

Asked how he would measure success for BookShots, Patterson said, “If it’s making money instead of losing money.” He’s decidedly optimistic, adding, “We’ll do well with it.” — John Mutter

When you think about it James Patterson is in effect behaving like a publisher while being rewarded like an author. After all many a publisher has rather heavily “edited” many a book: think Look Homeward, Angel or To Kill a Mockingbird. Mr Patterson gets to select the books, arrange for them to be written by his collaborator team and himself. In a sense he’s hired Little, Brown to finance, produce, and market them. With successful books this has to be the best way: all income, no risk.

After lunch on Thursday I got on my bike and rode the 6 miles there and back to buy a copy. Zoo 2, (or is it Zoo II?, the cover and the interior can’t reach agreement) is pretty good. By the evening I’d finished it; they’re not joking when they say “Stories at the speed of life” at the top of the front cover. Maybe faster. I got to the end exhausted from saving the world again and again, and inclined to shout “God”, or maybe “St James. What the heck? After all I’ve just done you’re going to lay this on me too?” It is a business: the story ends with a hook for yet another sequel or even two. Surprisingly perhaps Barnes & Noble didn’t have the books displayed in the front of the store: I had to ask where to find them. The book is 5″ x 7″, 160pp, printed on a good groundwood at Crawfordsville. It’s got an embossed cover. The back cover tells me it’s available also as an e-book and an audiobook — quite efficient of them. The pricing is interesting: $3.99 for the e-book, $4.99 for the p-book, and $9.98 for the audiobook. This trailer would seem to be addressed to the adventure fan who’d no doubt enjoy Zoo II. Why do we think that that sort of macho-shouty voice is such a good idea in adverts?

One way the internet appears to have affected writing is the fashion of smashing words together with capitals in the middle. BookShots just looks trendier than Book Shots — really? Are we to read shots as shots of liquor: the short to go along with your pint of beer?

Jane Friedman, a normally sensible commentator and purveyor of sane advice to self-publishers, seems to have taken this corner a bit too fast and as a result has come off the rails here. The problem is highlighted by her title: “The myth about print coming back and bookstores on the rise”. She seeks to undercut this later by saying “While I’m not at all proclaiming the death of print or traditional publishers, few media outlets have an understanding of the big picture.” So what is it that her media outlet is doing in this discussion of the big picture if it isn’t proclaiming the death of print? Maybe she’d say she’s only reporting that print is very sick, has been hospitalized for months, and may soon be taken off life support. But of course that’s nothing like proclaiming its death! As it happens the patient hasn’t even visited the doctor, apart from its annual physical which as ever seems to turn out fine.

Her “evidence” for the death of print is that “about 12 million coloring books were sold in 2015” — wow, that is overwhelmingly dire news isn’t it? No wonder enquiries about DNR notices are being bandied about. Below I reproduce the Nielsen chart upon which she bases her claim. You’ll notice that the print bar, the blue bit, peaked in 2008 at $778,000,000 and then began a decline as it gave up space to e-books. It declined to $591,000,000 in 2012, since when it has recovered to $653,000,000 in 2015. Need I point out that this is a pretty big number? I’d like to put to Ms Freedman the same question she puts to us: “Once interest [in coloring books] cools off, what do you expect will happen to print sales?” We might (and no doubt did) ask the same question about the Harry Potter books, or Fifty Shades of Grey, or Lord of the Rings, or any of the other fast selling sensations that magically come upon us at regular intervals. Do we have to believe that there’s no author out there putting the finishing touches to next year’s sensation?


She similarly disses the retail book trade. Few would argue with her that Barnes and Noble appear to have problems. “As far as how well independent bookstores are doing, they are a very small percentage of book sales when compared to chain bookstores, big-box stores (the Wal-marts of the world), and of course Amazon.” Amazon is undoubtedly the big fish here, and does as we know sell lots and lots of books be they print or e. Debate continues as to how many bricks-and-mortar stores Amazon is planning to open, but we do know it’s more than the one they already have in Seattle. We have in fact been getting steady news of new independent bookstores opening here and there, but Ms Friedman assures us that we don’t have to bother thinking about them in our analysis, because “For ABA bookstores reporting to Nielsen, their unit sales increase in 2016 has so far been 5%, compared to a 6.4% increase in all US print book sales.” A paltry 5%! Onto the dialysis machine!


For the sake of the potential protester I should point out that Nielsen’s figures doubtless underreport e-book sales. Their figures apparently cover books with ISBNs, and of course lots of self-published books don’t have them. I dare say Ms Friedman is correct and that the drop in e-book sales is related to higher prices. In this context see my earlier post Agency Pricing. However, as I have often been at pains to point out, this isn’t a zero sum game. No matter how high e-book sales really are, we can be pretty sure print sales are $653,000,000 and whether that’s more or less than the “real” e-book number it is nevertheless a very large pile of money.

NOTE: I am embarrassed to admit it, but I think the numbers in the story above are all units sold, not $. It’s hard to get straight, but book publishing sales in America are somewhere north of $20 billion. This doesn’t affect my argument, beyond permitting the cynic to say I must be talking nonsense as I can’t even tell the difference between 1 book and 1 dollar.


One of the comments on The Digital Reader‘s piece Is hardcover the new vinyl? got me thinking. Joseph Sanchez says “There is another significant difference between books and music: music does not require your full attention. I have music playing in my office all day . . .”.

Maybe the ideal reader, of whom Mr Sanchez is apparently an example, never fails to address the book with complete and focussed attention. Shamefacedly I have to report that I am not that ideal reader. All too often I find my mind has disengaged its gears and is gaily freewheeling down the page until brought to a sharp stop by that big white snow drift at the bottom. At this point one has to decide whether it’s worthwhile climbing back uphill to continue the conscious journey, or just cutting one’s losses and flipping onwards. Of course, not going back rather calls into question the basic reason why you are reading the book in the first place, but I think few will abandon a book because of one temporary brain freeze.

Actually I can recall instances where this freewheeling went on for several pages before the jolt woke me up. This often seemed to happen with foreign language books where the poor student was reading for the word meaning as well as for the sense. If you have to stop every few feet to look up a word, it quite easily becomes hard to discern what road you are on and where the last corner was. Eventually a student of modern languages will get to the point where reading may be done pretty much as it is in our native tongue — in other words you just smoothly overtake the words you can’t actually define and infer their meaning from the context. I was always rather distressed that classics students at university never seemed to get to that take off point. My room mate, a classicist, would always have to sit there with a Greek or Latin dictionary open beside him. Perhaps that gift is reserved for the postgraduate.

Poetry needs to be read in yet another way. Of course you have to keep your brain in gear, but you need also to be reading with your ear. This doesn’t mean you have to read out loud, though that’s a good ploy; it’s enough to mouth the words so that your body forms them and “feels” the shape of the line. I realize this sounds a bit effete, but it really is true: I think the poet wants you to appreciate the “mouth-feel” of the words. However I find it distressingly easy to read verse with disengaged mind. Maybe this is why people tend to read poems multiple times! At this point I make a conscious decision not to get into close reading, though it does of course have similarities with that reading with the dictionary open beside you.

I don’t believe there’s any real difference in the way we read an e-book or a p-book, just as I don’t think we’d read a hardback in any different way than we’d read a paperback. Much more significant than the format of the book is the mood of readers, and most importantly how tired they may be. I wonder if this means that reading in bed is significantly different from reading at a desk. I haven’t noticed any consistent effect.

Obviously reading a science book calls for a different kind of engagement with the text, though for all I know mathematicians can probably sweep through multi-line equations without any more hesitation than one of us coming up against a rare word. But when you read for study, maybe taking a note here and there, you are behaving very differently than when you are enjoying the new James Patterson. Whether note-taking aids comprehension or not perhaps depends on who you are. To some it’s vital, so vital that the Kindle had to give you the capability, while to others like me it’s just a silly distraction. Highlighting with yellow magic marker always seemed to me to be a way of deceiving the world into thinking that you’d read and understood the book. It strikes me as ritualized behavior analogous to a dog’s lifting its leg at every lamppost.

Maybe we have to consider reading music. Obviously different; yet interpreting signs written on paper is what reading is. As a musical semi-literate all I can do here is leave it to those of you better qualified than me to comment. (Looping back to the start of this riff, I might point out that listening to music is not all about having it play as a background to your other activities: clearly you can study a song in a serious and attentive way.)

And let us not forget reading aloud. This used to be a more widespread habit than it is nowadays. St Jerome is reputed to be the first person to figure out that one could read silently; but here I’m thinking more of reading aloud to someone else. In early modern times a book would be more likely to be a family good than an individual possession, and would be “read” with the ears by most people. Modern families tend not to read aloud to one another: this is now thought of as something you do for a child. Clearly if you are reading aloud you do need to keep alert. You have to encourage the engagement with the text not only of yourself, but of your audience. The villain has to speak in a growl, the ingenue sweetly, the hero boldly. It’s a performance. The current boom in audio books means that many actors are making good money reading books into the mic. I’ve not done enough reading aloud to adults, or being read to, to be able to report whether or not voicing the text makes any difference to one’s appreciation of it. Certainly reading the lesson in church gives you a different feeling than silent reading — a feeling of nervous tension.

Studying a textbook and reading out loud both have much in common with our first engagement with a book, when we were being taught to read. It wasn’t so much a word by word hike then, as a letter by letter trek. Mental Floss (via Shelf Awareness) sent us 15 Fun Facts about Dick and Jane a while back. My memory goes back too far for all this — Dick and Jane in four color — what are you talking about? We did have a second color, dark green comes up when I say “Run Spot, run!” This is the locus of my only (mild) synesthesia: when I say the word book I smell the warm, dusty classroom in Gullane where I first formally and publicly engaged with one.


We used to use the term India paper loosely to describe a good, thin, opaque bible paper. Apparently we were guilty of ignoring OUP’s role in turning a cheap commodity paper into a quality sheet. Rags to riches.

The Oxford Companion to the Book describes India paper thus: “A very thin, tough, soft, absorbent unsized opaque buff paper, introduced from China about 1750. [It was originally called China paper.] It was also known as India (proof) paper since it came from East Asia. Made from bamboo fibre, it was used by plate printers to take first impressions of fine engravings. It was imitated in 1875 at Wolvercote Mill, Oxford,* as a thin opaque rag paper for the Oxford University Press for use in bibles, prayer books, airmail letters, etc. This later paper was known as Oxford India or bible paper.”


*Oxford University Press acquired Wolvercote Mill in 1872, from Thomas Coombs, superintendent of the Clarendon Press, who had bought it in 1855. It had been in operation since about 1674. OUP sold it, and SAPPI closed it down in 1998.

headerCompetition among eighteenth and nineteenth century book binders spurred many on to ever more elaborate displays.* Printer/publishers tended to sell you folded sheets. You then took them to your binder to turn the sheets into a volume handsome enough to be included in your personal library. Edwards of Halifax, one of the best binders of the time, were known for the excellence of their fore-edge painting. (As you can see from The British Library database, they also did many translucent vellum bindings.)

The Lilly Library of Bloomington Indiana has a nice on-line exhibition showing examples of fore-edge painting from their holdings. The banner at the top appears to show John Gilpin well on his way to Ware.

Fore-edge painting was done in water color, usually on fanned-out pages so that the picture was actually carried on a narrow strip down the edge of each page. The book was often gilded afterwards, and that would make the illustration invisible until the pages were fanned again. There were double fore-edge painted books, showing different pictures if fanned from the front or fanned from the back. Apparently some virtuosos would do double fanned edge painting on top and bottom too, though the top and bottom ones must have been hard to fan.


Books with painted fore-edges can be found from the middle ages, but the full elaboration of the art really got going from the middle of the seventeenth century, remaining popular till the early nineteenth century. Antiquarians debate the authenticity of some volumes as the edge-painting was executed long after the book had been bound. This seems overly nice to me: surely either way it’s an amazing skill.


Unfortunately I can’t find any dating information on that gigantic Borghese account book, but I like to imagine its being early.


I doubt whether any modern book binding lines have been adapted with ink-jet printing equipment so as to incorporate such a feature. Probably it should remain a handcraft option: no doubt there’s still the odd book or two getting fore-edge painting on a one-off basis. If you are going to pay for a top class hand binding, why not go the whole hog?

ABAA (the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America) has an article about the process, straightforwardly entitled A collector’s guide to fore-edge painting by Jeff Weber.

Here’s an article from Atlas Obscura with many examples.


* The Bind is a late manifestation of this elaboration.


Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 2.55.36 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-18 at 2.56.38 PM

From a 1920 issue of Printing Art.

book-store_200516_06aThis almost too reflective bookstore has just been opened in Hangzhou, China. The Contemporist site has a photo-gallery. It’s nice to see such investment in the bricks-and-mortar book business. (Link via The Digital Reader.)