Archives for the month of: September, 2017

Etherington & Robert (see the Print Glossaries tab above) define remboîtage as “A French term applied to the process of transferring a book, i.e., text block and endpapers, from its original binding to another. The new binding may be more luxurious, more nearly contemporary, or simply more appropriate, than the original. The term also refers to the process of transferring a superior text of a work into a better binding than the one originally made for it. There is not a comparable English word for this expression*, recasing being the closest; however, in craft bookbinding, “recasing” connotes a book that has been removed from its covers, repaired and/or resewn, and then returned to the original covers, while in library binding, it indicates a new, but usually just ordinary, case.”

Early book cloths, in the 1820s and 30s were only a marginal upgrade on the paper-over-boards style of temporary binding that publishers had been purveying for a few years. Temporary because it was still assumed that everyone would get their books rebound in leather, so these covers were merely a protection to ensure the sheets got to the bindery in good shape. From about 1850 onward it became usual for the publisher to assume the cost of final binding — i.e. the temporary cloth binding evolved into a permanent gold foil stamped hardback book intended to remain that way for ever. Of course there remained traditionalists who’d take that hardback and subject it to remboîtage.

Jeff Peachey has a post about his attempts to replicate this early temporary book cloth in which he says:

Publishers’ book cloth started in the 1820s.  Originally it was undecorated, faded quickly, attracted dirt, and over time became brittle. The book structures it was used on were traditionally considered “temporary”, were cheap and insubstantial, and as a result many examples have been rebound. Most studies of nineteenth century bookbinding focus on attractive and visually interesting aspects of book cloth that begin in the 1840, such as gold stamping and cloth grain patterns. Until recently, these early cloths have been overlooked by historians. It is doubtful that three piece adhesive case binding (aka. the hardcover) would have become the dominate rigid board book structure without book cloth.

Many examples of early cloth, searchable by year, can be found at The Library Company of Philadelphia’s wonderful online database of nineteenth century cloth bindings.  Another easy to use visual resource is The Publishers’ Binding Online, where you can browse by the decade. But the best thing is to get to the nearest library and examine some actual books. Images cannot substitute for this.

John Carter, in his classic essay, “Origins of Cloth Bindings” recounts the moment of the innovation: a conversation in the 1820s between Mr. Pickering (the publisher) and Mr. Sully (the binder), with Mr. Pickering expressing a desire to cover a boards binding with something a little “neater”, like a blue calico window curtain that was hanging in the room. Since this event was recalled and recorded first in the 1850s, some leeway should be ascribed as to the details of this encounter. But it’s a good read.”


* Any implication that this is what remboîtage means in French should be resisted. This adopting of the fancy foreign word to designate a special instance of something for we have a perfectly normal word is not that unusual — cow/beef, sheep/mutton, pig/pork. In French remboîtage means recasing tout court. Who knows, the French may call rebinding into a superior cover “recasing”! As well as its book binding sense, the French word in general means putting something back together, including that jerking of an arm to get a dislocated shoulder back into place which is (maybe used to be) such a highlight of the rugby field.

Teleread reports on Baen’s selling EARCs for $15. An EARC is an e-ARC.

The innovative part of this story is not the idea of creating a digital proof — lots of (maybe all) publishers offer this sort of proof nowadays. There is still a significant reluctance on the part of review media to accept this format: lots of reviewers just want to read a paper book, so publishers have to create both digital and paper ARCs . The innovation is the offering such a prepublication proof for sale to the general public.

Not sure whether I think this is a great idea: no doubt Baen are in a better position than I am to analyze the results of the policy. It just seems to me that selling an uncorrected proof for $15 is going to cannibalize your final sale. I think it’s great to offer your books at different price/format points, but why not do that later, after the book’s in its final form? Does anyone who buys the EARC come back and buy the final book? Well, of course you could respond, does anyone who buys the hardback come back later on and buy the paperback — and of course the answer’s no. Maybe $15 is more than/the same as their regular ebook edition’s price, in which case they are just letting fans buy sooner (and raising earlier revenue). But does your author really want his/her readers to be getting a provisional version of the book?

Cambridge University Press is not the only one to tangle with the forces of regression in China’s literary marketplace.


Jifeng, an underground bookstore (literally — it’s in a subway station below the main public library) in Shanghai is to shut down at the end of January. Their persistent selection of books too liberal-minded for the authorities seems finally to have brought them to grief. Enough is enough: their lease from the library will not be renewed. The library says they have no choice in the matter.

Obviously anyone seeking to keep a lid on any kind of materials available to their citizens is likely to keep an eye on bookshops. Book selection is an even more challenging problem for Chinese booksellers than it is elsewhere. However, as The Economist relates politically risqué books and Western literature in general can often be offered in stores which purvey clothing or café service. The vigilant authorities will probably catch up with many of these, but in the meantime others will open. Whac-a-mole lives. (The Economist piece on-line doesn’t actually show a picture of Jifeng at the top, as their print edition did. Their picture is of the café named 1984 which displays various editions of the Orwell novel, but carefully displays a sign stating “None of the books in this shop is for sale”.)

Brodart is a library services company: a big one. It was founded in 1939 by Arthur Brody, and is headquartered in Williamsport, PA.

Library services consist of things like creating catalog records and the cards carrying them, putting shelf labels onto books, sticking in the loan record pouch, barcoding, and often protecting the jacket and sticking it to the book — all the sorts of things a library will have to do to a book before they make it available to their patrons. Some companies will even rebind a paperback into hard covers so that it’ll stand up to more library lendings. Unsurprisingly over the years librarians have found it more efficient to subcontract these mundane operations to companies who relive them of the hassles. (As I suggested in a recent post reference publishers have also provided many of these services — buying them from the same set of library services companies.)

In the same way (though perhaps on a slightly smaller scale) that xeroxing has come to mean photocopying, so brodarting has come to mean covering a library book in a plastic cover which incorporates and protects the jacket.

You can see in the second picture that the plastic-wrapped jacket is taped to the case with a bit of Scotch Tape (Sellotape) top and bottom.

For those obsessed with protection, finding themselves stymied by the fact that their book has no jacket Brodart has this reassuring message: “No problem! With Brodart Econo-Fold Book Jacket Covers, you can cover any book!”

Messy-fingered boys used to protect their books by wrapping a plain paper cover around them. I remember doing this: what I can’t remember is why, as a messy-fingered boy, I cared.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You kind of trust the author to write the sort of book you signed up for. But sometimes you get surprised. And sometimes circumstances change and what looked like a perfectly decent project becomes “indecent” because the world’s conversation has moved on. What do you do when you get a manuscript that you cannot approve of? You can suggest changes, but sometimes the trouble is too fundamental for that to be an option.

Now of course any publisher has the right not to publish any book they don’t want to. Usually nobody is aware of this refusal taking place — the publisher just doesn’t make an offer for a book of a type they don’t want to be seen as supporting. However, it occasionally comes to pass that a contract for a book does exist, and when it’s finally written the publisher wants to back out for one reason or another. Depending on the terms of the contract a publisher may have to have very good and specific reasons for refusing to publish a manuscript, but the contract language is probably a bit too vague to cover lots of instances. The commonest excuses are that the manuscript has been delivered later than specified in the contract, or is much longer than the book contracted. In the absence of contractual outs the publisher can probably find arguments to justify publishing most “unacceptable” manuscripts. At the most anodyne level imagine that you decide to abandon your publishing program in computational linguistics. Professor X delivers his computational linguistics manuscript a year later, there being no delivery date specified in the contract. It may actually be in the author’s best interest to have a more committed publisher take on the book, and probably some sort of separation can be arranged. But if Prof. X wants to enforce the terms of his contract, the publisher would no doubt find no great difficulty in publishing the book; or just printing it and “making it available”. Computational linguistics is (no doubt unless you are a linguist) a relatively uncontroversial subject area: when you get into politics and social hot-button topics, the temperature rises.

The Passive Voice certainly makes it sound like HarperCollins acted prejudicially in the case of a sci-fi novel, CTRL ALT Revolt!, which involves the controversial topic of abortion. I think Nick Cole’s post shows an author desperately seeking reasons why what he wrote didn’t please. The author’s complaint is that the publishers “were attempting to effectively ban a book because they felt the ideas and concepts I was writing about were dangerous and more importantly, not in keeping with their philosophical ideals”. Despite the Passive Guy’s habitual animus against New York publishers, there appears to be no reason to think HarperCollins rejected the novel simply because it incorporated something about abortion. (We do only get to see one side of the argument of course.) Does it not remain possible that the book wasn’t as good as Mr Cole’s previous one? Indeed his claim that his use of abortion is merely “a very small background justification for global homicide” sounds like a conclusion way beyond what AI-enabled robots watching one woman on a reality TV show would ever come up with: they’re meant to be intelligent after all! One suspects that the book was rejected not because of its attitude towards abortion, but because abortion was an insufficient motivator for the entire action. Now he’s published it himself one could judge for oneself.

In any case, what law (beyond the author’s contract: and that can be settled by money) can be said to force HarperCollins to publish books which are “not in keeping with their philosophical ideals”?

Simon & Schuster must of course have known how much Milo Yiannopoulos’s book would or would not be “in keeping with their philosophical ideals” when they contracted it. It was their conservative imprint which signed it up after all. Yet after they saw the manuscript they decided to back out. Despite Mr Yiannopoulos’ legal threats he has apparently decided to self-publish his book Dangerous. Prior restraint ain’t what it used to be, now the author can just do it himself. Despite reports of slow sales, Milo Inc.’s CEO Alexander Macris claims “We printed 105,000 books and every single one has been ordered.” Nevertheless Mr Yiannopoulos has filed suit against S&S: oral arguments are scheduled to start 8 October unless the publisher’s lawyers succeed in dodging the bullet.

Cambridge University Press’ current problems in China are of a slightly different nature — here it’s not the publisher who’s objecting to the content, but a foreign government, but the debates caused by the event are likely to be fairly similar to earlier instances where books were withdrawn because of political or legal circumstances. I wrote a couple of years ago about Karen Dawisha’s book, Putin’s Kleptocracy dropped by CUP for fear of libel implications. I suppose fear of expensive law suits is less dramatic than fear of polonium poisoning, but surely a publisher must have the right to decide whether they want to expose themselves to any kind of risk. Libel laws are less plaintiff-friendly in USA, and as far as I know Simon & Schuster have not suffered from publishing Professor Dawisha’s book. (Nor has presumably the author, nor the potential audience for the book. The only sufferer is the original publisher, who presumably will never be getting another manuscript from this author and no doubt many of her friends.)

An earlier Cambridge case, the withdrawal in 1996 of Anastasia Karakasidou’s Fields of Wheat, because of warnings from the British Embassy that staff might be in danger, drew a snotty note from Misha Glenny in the London Review of Books. The same parenthetical comment at the end of the previous paragraph no doubt applies in this instance too. But, Mr Glenny, and other barrackers, if you were warned that writing this or that might put your employees at risk . . . — oh, but of course, you don’t have any employees to worry about, do you? Consider how the commentariat would instantly change their tune if, disregarding such a warning, a publisher had gone ahead and an employee had been killed, maimed, injured — the sanctimony would be overwhelming.

In earlier times, in the 1970s, Cambridge University Press did refuse to withdraw Stanford Shaw’s History of the Ottoman Empire, despite bomb threats because of its treatment of Armenian history. A bomb did explode, without injuring anyone, on Professor Shaw’s doorstep. Staff were just told to be vigilant and careful.

At an even earlier time, as a carefree junior editor in 1972 or 1973, I pooh-poohed the subeditor’s query as to whether it was a problem that a linguistics text used as example sentences often employing names from the Kennedy White House. Only first names were used, but cumulatively readers might well have thought “Camelot”. The sort of thing was “John earned a bad name for himself by swearing a lot.”, “Walt gave Ted the finger”. The book was printed, and after it arrived in USA was promptly withdrawn and pulped. I still have a copy, and still cannot see the problem. (It is true that W. W. Rostow was at that time a best-selling author for CUP in USA — was he maybe the one giving the finger?) The book was subsequently published by Indiana University Press; whether names were revised or not I don’t know. To my unrepentant mind an excess of caution was applied in this instance.

Why is it that these people insist of maintaining that publishers have some sort of moral obligation to publish books which they don’t want to? Publishers are free agents and can decide to do whatever they want. If you are making investments, you get to chose what you invest in. You may not personally like romance novels or want to publish them (even though they apparently sell like hot cakes) but Mills and Boon have every right to publish as many as they want. Nobody should (or does) think of criticizing them for not publishing exposés of the administration of the National Health Service, or analyses of Korean diplomacy.

In the absence of a contractual restriction, publisher whim, while not perhaps the greatest business strategy, cannot be disregarded. After all, if you are going to invest your money to fund the printing of the book, you surely ought not to be forced to do something you’d rather not, whether your reasons are good or bad. I can already hear the purists screaming about social responsibility and so on. Publishers may indeed claim some sort of social virtue when it suits them to do so, but when all’s said and done there’s no law enforcing it. Publishers are free to allocate their capital wherever they choose to.

Must almost be embarrassing to be earning less than $20 million a year.

1. J.K. Rowling ($95 million)
2. James Patterson ($87 million)
3. Jeff Kinney ($21 million)
4. Dan Brown ($20 million)
5. Stephen King ($15 million)
6. John Grisham ($14 million)
6. Nora Roberts ($14 million)
8. Paula Hawkins ($13 million)
9. E.L. James ($11.5 million)
10. Danielle Steel ($11 million)
10. Rick Riordan ($11 million)

Traditionalists tear their hair out on hearing of yet another library destroying its card catalog and breaking up the wooden cabinets of neat little drawers in which one used to find them. Bad enough they junk the actual books: but the catalog, that index of human knowledge too!

Atlas Obscura brings us the heartening news that the Library of Congress’ Card Catalog, though redundant, still survives in the basement, occupying a city block. Here it is in operation in 1919.

NPR’s Morning Edition had a piece on it, stimulated by the publication of the LOC’s book The Card Catalog with a Foreword by Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress. The story ends with the mysterious notice “The Library of Congress is working with universities and tech companies to create the next iteration of the card catalog — but unfortunately for all you tactile types, it probably won’t be stored in tiny wooden drawers.”

Three months later NPR brought us news of that “next iteration”. Twenty five million records from the LOC card catalog have been made available on-line. The Internet Archive reports these records may be found at These records are likely to be of interest to bibliographers rather than the man on the Clapham omnibus.

Here’s a set of LOC Library Cards, produced back in the days when publishers of reference books would compete by saving the librarians the bother of getting the index cards themselves by arranging for them to be printed and loosely inserted into the books as part of the initial production process. Note they are pre-drilled to fit on the metal rods which would prevent light-fingered readers removing them from those little drawers. The cards would come with preprinted record number stickers ready to stick onto the book’s spine, and that little sleeve which you may still be able to first pasted into the front of an old library book in which the withdrawal record was contained.

If you feel the need to read these cards, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines hapax legomenon as “a word or word form which is recorded only once in a text, in the work of a particular author, or in a body of literature.” It comes from the work of Biblical scholars, perhaps unsurprisingly: obviously the smaller the corpus of a particular language, the more likely a hapax legomenon is to appear. The significance of a hapax legomenon is probably greater at the level of the individual author’s output, be it book or total corpus (though I find it hard to grant it much significance at any level). At the level of the whole language, while it might seem initially more exciting, it ends up being much ado about nothing: but of course that’s the level that commentators prefer to focus on, because superficially it looks like it ought to be meaningful.

Atlas Obscura has a piece looking mainly at classical literature, primarily Petronius’ Satyricon, hiding place apparently for several hapax legomena.

I guess scholars love to count stuff. We even have terms for two, three and four-time occurring words, dis legomenon, tris legomenon, and tetrakis legomenon. Who knew? It would of course be neat if tetrakis legomenon only occurred four times in English, but I think the internet has killed any chance of that.

The existence of hapax legomena is apparently mandated by Zipf’s law.* To me, cynically, they would also seem to be mandated by human fallibility — many a unique usage resulting no doubt from copying errors, typos, and inadvertent misspellings. Certainly we didn’t wait to start making transcription errors till after the development of print.

To suggest that James Joyce liked to sprinkle his work with hapax legomena seems rather trivial to me: and highly unlikely. Avant la lettre you can’t ever be sure a hapax legonenon will remain a hapax legomenon. If the nature of your enterprise is to twist orthography and phonology into new and suggestive vocabulary, à la Finnegans Wake, it would seem that originating hapax legomena would be the last thing on your mind. Make up your own words and it’ll not be amazing that nobody else ever uses them again: the amazing bit would be when people actually do pick up one of your neologisms.

Does Dr Johnson’s foupe count as a hapax legomenon (or actually a dis legomenon I suppose), or is it just an error? The OED does in fact contain the word, defining it as “Error for soupe (see swoop 2b) through misprint of f for ſ. Swoop in sense 2b, though now obsolete, means to utter forcibly. Although curlers (is that what people who engage in the sport of curling are called?) may utter it forcibly, when they shout “Soop, soop” they are in fact encouraging their colleagues to sweep the ice; soop being Scottish for to sweep.


* To go to the other extreme Yule-Simon distribution is apparently in part a realization of Zipf’s law. It looks like this:

{\displaystyle f(k;\rho )\approx {\frac {\rho \Gamma (\rho +1)}{k^{\rho +1}}}\propto {\frac {1}{k^{\rho +1}}}.}

Solving this will apparently display to you k, the probability that any two words selected at random in any body of text will be identical. Such matters are the domain of stylostatistics.

Wikipedia will tell you more, if more you need.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, but who’s got the motivation to place hostile or wildly favorable fake reviews on Amazon? Hillary Clinton’s latest, What Happened was published last Tuesday, and overnight more than 1,600 reviews had been posted on Amazon. The reviews were extremely polarized, about half panning it and half giving it 5 stars. While it is of course possible that these people all stayed up all night to read the book, the assumption is that they were motivated by the same sort of animus on display during our recent election. Amazon has decided to remove all the reviews, as presumptively “fictitious”, except for the 338 which were posted by Verified Purchasers, customers who had definitely bought the book at Amazon and so had at least paid for it. It is of course impossible to know whether these Verified Purchasers had actually read the book overnight. Slate (via Book Riot) reports on Amazon’s response.

Polarization seems to be our default mode nowadays. Even people who don’t hold extreme views seem to feel the need to express their moderation in extreme terms. I was chided just the other day for demanding death and destruction for those who don’t toe my mild liberal line.

I dare say a bunch of reviews, good or bad, is not going to make much difference to the sales of Secretary Clinton’s book. You’re not going to be reading it because critics say it’s well crafted literature (I’ve no idea whether it is or isn’t): you’re going to be reading it because you are interested in what she has to say by way of explanation for an election loss which many still find hard to believe. It’s the sort of book you order without thoughts of quality: you just want to know what it says. I’d be surprised (if it weren’t for this kerfuffle) if anyone would have bothered to look at the Amazon reviews. And, other than letting off steam, what do the reviewers think their reviews are going to achieve? Does anyone think that a single person is going to decide against buying the book because “Wrathful of Podunk” claims it’s no good? Or the opposite I guess goes for the Clintoniacs.

All publicity is good publicity.

Bubbles by John Everett Millais. An early Pears Soap advert (with the addition of a bar of soap in the bottom right-hand corner). Chromolithograph © Victoria and Albert Museum.






Pears’ Shilling Cyclopaedia was first published in December 1897. It offered “A Mass of Curious and Useful Information about Things that everyone Ought to know in Commerce, History, Science, Religion, Literature and other Topics of Ordinary Conversation”. The Guardian has just told us that, according to Penguin Books who now publish it, the just published 2017-18 edition will be the last one. The editor, Chris Cook, has been at it for the past forty editions, and is now retiring, or being retired.

Pears’ Cyclopaedia (no doubt it hasn’t cost a shilling for quite a while) was unobtrusively omnipresent in the Britain of my youth. It would contain a chronological list of events, a list of prominent people, ancient and modern, a miniature encyclopaedia of general information and around a dozen or more other sections on various subjects such as cinema, classical mythology, current events, wine, astronomy, ideas and beliefs, gardening, medicine, as well as an atlas and gazetteer. Arguments could could there be settled. It was the pre-Internet equivalent of Google Search.

Robert Gray wrote an elegant nostalgia piece about Pears Cyclopedia on Shelf Awareness on 8 September. It can be found at his blog Fresh Eyes Now. Nostalgia for a book which you never saw might seem paradoxical, but he justifies it with reference to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, where he writes “There are bars of Pears soap and a thick book called Pears’ Encyclopedia, which keeps me up day and night because it tells you everything about everything and that’s all I want to know.” It did provide vast amounts of information between two affordable covers. The same might be said for the phone book — when did you last get one of these dumped on your doorstep? Sales of the Cyclopedia have declined in recent years: the 2001/2002 edition sold just under 25,000 copies, while last year’s sold barely 3,000! Eager autodidacts have other routes nowadays.