“Set the Page Free”, a Xerox® project, has just published Speaking of Work: A story of love, suspense and paperclips for the benefit of the 92nd Street Y and Worldreader, a literacy promotion organization. This collaborative work can be obtained at this link for free as an ebook. If you’re a died-in-the-wool traditionalist your Xerox rep can give you a printed copy. It’s really easy to get the ebook though: enter your name and email address and they instantly send you an email link to the book with options as to how you want to download it. Took about 2 minutes total.

Business Wire has an account, and The New York Times wrote about it on publication day, 23 October. The contributors are Jonathan Ames, Lee Child, Billy Collins, Sloane Crosley, Joshua Ferris, Jonathan Safran Foer, Roxane Gay, Valeria Luiselli, Alain Mabanckou, Aimee Mann & Jonathan Coulton, Joyce Carol Oates, and Gary Shteyngart. Chip Kidd designed the cover. I’ve enjoyed the book, particularly the story by Lee Child. And the price is right!

Contributions include short stories, one in the form of a tele script, essays, a poem, and a song. Whatever Jonathan Safran Foer’s piece is about (it’s more about words than work, though I guess you could argue that words are the work-tools of a writer) it includes this interesting disclosure. “Have you ever come across the word ‘esquivalience’? It’s a made-up word — a ‘ghost word’— in the New Oxford American Dictionary, created to detect breaches of copyright. (There would be no other way to know if another dictionary-maker had simply stolen Oxford’s list of words; ghost words prove plagiarism.)” I’m not altogether clear why you’d object to other dictionary-makers following your lead, but obviously OUP thought it worthwhile. The word did turn up at Dictionary.com and has since been taken down. Not sure just what good this does to NOAD. Surely you can’t copyright words, just the form of words used to describe/define them.

Esquivalience is defined as “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities”, something which seems ever more relevant to current political debate. Now while I can see that you can add fictitious data to a map to detect unauthorized copying, inventing words is surely less effective: it’s something that goes on all the time in any case, and gives lexicographers a good deal of their work. Surely trying to invent words is a risky procedure for a lexicographer: do it well and the word risks becoming real: do it badly and people will think your product is error-filled. Would it do me any good to write of the verbifurs at Dictionary.com as a method of detecting whether anyone as willfully copying my posts? If people think that the idea of a word-thief is one which needs a word, then verbifur may make it. If not, not. And what harm have I incurred either way? Esquivalience may have been invented in 2001 by dictionary editor Christine Lindberg, but surely it’ll have to be included in new editions of the dictionary as it gets used more and more. Ms Lindberg told the Chicago Tribune that she finds herself using it regularly.

Speaking of Work is sort of a promotion for Xerox’s ConnectKey® technology, a suite of apps which facilitate document handling and production. This was the system used to put the Speaking of Work project together. Xerox, a pioneer in so much, deserves our respect for being in at the origins of print-on-demand for books. It is good to know that PARC is still innovating.

At the end of the book there’s a description of how the software was used:

ConnectKey® Technology and the VersaLink® C405 Multifunction Printer enabled secure collaboration and communication across countries and continents, with enhanced productivity and security. DocuShare® Flex made content collaboration effortless. Easy Translator Service translated content around the world at the touch of a button. Xerox Apps for Google Drive & Dropbox empowered digital sharing through the cloud. Print Authentication provided device security using a smart phone. Voice Recognition Technology made productivity as simple as speaking. @PrintbyXerox App enabled printing from virtually anywhere. XMPie® software made the eBook personalized for each recipient*. And the printed book was produced on an iGen4® Press and Xerox Nuvera® 144 EA Production System using a FreeFlow® Print Server.


* The book does indeed contain a dedication page reading “To Richard and everyone, anywhere, who works.”