Archives for the month of: December, 2018

Aida Ylanan, an intern at The Los Angeles Times, put together this digital analysis and appreciation of the covers used on the classics series from New York Review Books.

Do click on the link: this slide show is a thing of beauty.

And here’s NYRB’s version:


BuzzFeed submits their round up of 2018’s most beautiful covers (there are 42), and the insatiable Literary Hub comes up with 75 of them. To me the New York Review Books Classics collection covers look better.

I started wondering if French flaps were invented in France, and if they weren’t — which is what I assume to be the case — why they got to be called French flaps.

I suspect this is one of these unruly wild geese which we can chase to exhaustion, and that at the end we’ll find there’s no real evidence for preferring one origin myth over another, rather like prefect bound. (See also the comments on the Perfect binding post.)

In the end I come down on the side of French fold as the origin of French flaps: but a misuse of the term rather than the real meaning. A real French fold is printed on only one side and folded into 4 panels. It is often used in invitations or greeting cards. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this to be called a French fold rather than a Welsh, an Argentinian, a Thai one — people often grasp for the French as a sophisticated sounding appellation (and often of course as an insulting one, as in disease, leave, letter, loving; which for tit-for-tat’s sake are labelled as Anglais by French speakers).

The label “French fold book” appears to have evolved to mean something like this, where there are obviously no French folds involved — a French fold would demand that the top bolt was also left untrimmed, which would make any binding impossible to open. A seemingly knowledgable source says that such a binding style should really be called Japanese stab binding or French binding — though I was always familiar with French binding as a sewing term involving covering the raw edges of a bit of fabric with a ribbon or bias binding folded over the raw edge and sewn through. But again, why French? As far as I can see from this time-lapse video of a Japanese stab binding, there’s no inherent need for the uncut fore-edge element to be involved in this binding style. But of course if “everyone” is referring to a book like the one illustrated with uncut fore-edges and a stabbed spine binding as a French fold binding, then French fold binding it rapidly becomes. Maybe whoever came up with the idea of a French flap cover had recently seen one of these, and figured that the uncut fore-edge was what “French” was all about.

My habitual source of all knowledge on word origins, The Oxford English Dictionary is silent on the subject of French binding, French folds or French flaps. They even give the go-by to French joint which OUP tells us via their 2-volume Oxford Companion to the Book is a joint slightly wider than normal to allow a thick or heavy book to open more easily. Ingenious folk those French.

Later: On the subject of French . . . compounds here’s a delivery from yesterday:

Forbes has just released its list of top-ten-earning authors for 2018. They are

  • 1. James Patterson: $86 million
  • 2. J.K. Rowling: $54 million
  • 3. Stephen King: $27 million
  • 4. John Grisham: $21 million
  • 5. Dan Brown (tie): $18.5 million
  • 5. Jeff Kinney (tie): $18.5 million
  • 7. Michael Wolff: $13 million
  • 8. Nora Roberts (tie): $12 million
  • 8. Danielle Steel (tie): $12 million
  • 10. Rick Riordan (tie): $10.5 million
  • 10. E.L. James (tie): $10.5 million

According to Shelf Awareness of 19 December, James Patterson gave holiday bonuses of $750 each to 333 independent booksellers — individuals not businesses. His generous support for bookselling is well-known and much appreciated. Of course all of these authors, and all others, support bookstores by providing books which they can sell.

These are really quite impressive numbers, and remind us that there’s not too much point in paying any attention to those Jeremiahs who love to moan about the death of the book publishing industry.

The first edition, 1843

Open Culture brings us two readings of A Christmas Carol, one by Neil Gaiman and the other by Monica Dickens, the author’s great granddaughter. Both of the readings pay tribute to the author’s histrionic delivery. Atlas Obscura has a story about Dickens’ constant revision of the text in performance.

To get the Neil Gaiman reading at Free Live Radio you have to click on the link above and follow the instructions there. The Monica Dickens version is at YouTube, below.


If you don’t see a video here. please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

That should keep you busy over the holidays.

Here also is a gallery of covers over the ages from BookBug. The picture at the top comes from there.

And, Happy Christmas to all our readers.

Well, I’m not sure this is a battle they can win, but, as Shelf Awareness of 20 December tells us:

“The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, N.Y.*, has an answer for ‘showrooming,’ the habit of some bookstore customers to learn about books at bookstores and then order them online on their phones, sometimes in front of booksellers who just made the recommendation. Last weekend’s experience at the Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va., was a timely reminder of this.

At the Golden Notebook, a sign on the front door reads, ‘Please inquire at counter regarding in-store photography. Thank you!’ As a result, wrote co-owner James Conrad, ‘we have no issue approaching a customer photographing and saying “excuse me, we do not allow in-store photography.” We then attempt a teaching conversation about how we struggle against the internet and how hard we work to find the unique and sometimes extremely hard to find types of titles that reflect our unique community and customers. Usually people are extremely apologetic and sometimes they just say nothing because we basically told them we know exactly what they were doing.

‘The sign also gives people the chance to just ask at the counter first and when they say they have a blog and want to promote us or live far away and can’t carry the hardcover home we say go ahead and photograph! (Just make sure to use an independent bookstore when you get home!)’

Conrad added: ‘Without the sign, you seem rude to mention it, but with it you can have a more polite moment to tell people the importance of small businesses and the struggles we face.'”

Now of course I don’t approve of selecting your books in your local bookstore and then buying them at a discount from Amazon, but while I’m sure a “no photography” sign helps, it can’t ever cure the problem. Once upon a time we didn’t all carry a camera around with us all the time, yet we were able, using that subversive technique called memory, or its lame-brained cousin hand-writing, to achieve a similar result. It’s not the cell phones which cause the problem, it’s the fact that on-line retailers can afford to (need to) use discounts to attract custom. Either we have to accept the fact that a proportion of the customers moving through will end up buying elsewhere at the lowest on-line price, or take up arms against the pathology, and offer discounts too. The discount doesn’t have to match Amazon’s, just something, so that people can feel they’ve negotiated a deal. Better to have more traffic than to miss sales surely. Some kind of straight-forward appeal on the subject next to the check-out counter might encourage many buyers to pay the full price: after all, people do buy books from bookstores at full price, and they must by now all be people who are fully aware of the fact that they could get the thing for less elsewhere.

Here comes a story from Vox (via BookRiot) suggesting that social media have in some cases been good for bookstores. Just reinforces the point that it’s people not technology that make the issue (and can overcome it).

See also Showrooming.


* An employee at The Golden Notebook is one of 333 individual booksellers to receive a Christmas bonus of $750 from 2018’s top-earning author James Patterson.

The SHARP listserv drew our attention earlier this year to this movie, discussed at Melville House’s blog. Here’s a trailer.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

The theft described turns out to be chaotic and pretty incompetent but really did happen at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY. The thieves dropped the two large Audubon volumes which were their real target as they ran out of the library but did get away with a few rare books which they tried to hawk to Christies in New York.

The movie has done the rounds, and may now be seen at Amazon Prime for example. It got an 88% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

What is all this about? It seems just fine that the Register of Copyrights (the Director of the U.S. Copyright Office) should be appointed by the Librarian of Congress. Suddenly we have a move to change this and make it a presidential appointment with Senate confirmation and a term limit. In April Publishers Weekly told us the story. Would anybody be too bent out of shape if it were any President other than the present incumbent? The initiative seems to be tied up with the identity of the current Librarian of Congress, and her attempt to replace an incumbent Register, who now has another job. There is also some potential money wasting being alleged. But doesn’t our Congress have better things to worry about? Maybe some members think there’s nothing more important than patronage.

What it was all about now seems set to become academic — Shelf Awareness of 17 December 2018 tells us “The Senate Rules and Administration Committee has indefinitely postponed voting on the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, making it unlikely that the proposal will go to a floor vote before the 115th Congress adjourns. (That would mean supporters would have to start fresh with new legislation next year, where a Democratic House of Representatives might look differently on the whole prospect.) The legislation would make the register of copyrights a presidential appointee and set a 10-year term limit for the position. Currently, the register is selected by the Librarian of Congress and has no term limit. The bill was opposed by the ALA, the Society of American Archivists, and others. Critics noted, among other things, that the bill was being pushed through late in the session, that if favored commercial interests, and that it would represent a decrease of power for the Librarian of Congress.”

Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress

Not sure I’m able to see why this appointment should have become a party issue, and I wonder what commercial interests it’d favor. Can it all have gotten started because President Obama was the one who nominated Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress, and a certain part of our government seems to have no aim more pressing than thwarting everything our last president did?

Publishers like to use French flaps to give a paperback a de-luxe look, and justify a higher price. They are quite fashionable these days as are all sorts of embellishments to our books. (Once upon a time there was a more general consensus that the content was what would sell the book, though I guess even back then we did try to make our jackets pretty.)

French flaps are just like the front and back flaps on a book jacket transferred onto a paperback cover. They do increase your costs, partly because they use more cover board, but mainly because they split the trimming process into two steps. The fore-edge of the book block has to be trimmed before the cover goes on — if it wasn’t you’d end up with handy bookmarks in the front and back of the book when the guillotine chopped off the edges. Then after the cover has been applied to the spine, the book gets trimmed again to chop off the top and bottom margins. Not every book manufacturer is set up to provide this option, so price and scheduling can be issues. There’s always a risk of over-trimming the fore-edge so that the cover overlaps a bit too much. The opposite effect, leaving the white pages sticking out beyond the cover is so awful that the safety margin is moved inwards. Be it said, the manufacturer of the Very Short Introductions series does a pretty good job in this regard.

To celebrate the publication of Branding: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press made a video on branding featuring the author of the book, Robert Jones.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

With a neat circularity the book is published in what is probably the best branded academic series around nowadays. The covers of Very Short Introductions to a, b, and c all look the same but are all slightly different. They have their own Wikipedia page which lists all the books in the series — though it hasn’t been updated since July. To whomever it is in the OUP marketing department whose job this is — wake up! OUP’s series page tells us that one of the recent (locally relevant) titles is Paul Luna: A Very Short Introduction to Typography. In bookstores the books live in spinners and present themselves as the best way to find out quickly and authoritatively about . . . anything.

Spinners, those metal racks holding a bunch of books which you spin to see yet more titles, are difficult. They do make it look like the books are popular, but they are the devil to keep up-to-date (they also cost quite a bit to make). Allow customers to root around in your stock and they’ll put them all out of sequence immediately, so finding gaps in your holdings becomes very difficult. In the olden days the publisher’s rep would go through a spinner and order up replacements for books which had been sold. But nobody has time for this sort of thing anymore, not even booksellers, so spinners  can be frustrating if you are looking for a specific title. For serendipity they’re great of course. See my earlier post, A very, very short introduction to intellectual property, on my struggles with these very spinners. The series has been (is) successful, and therein perhaps lies its major problem. All the books, which are little paperbacks with French flaps, are printed in the one plant in south England, which tends to result in out-of-stock notices over here much too often. For example Amazon US is today showing Branding: A VSI as out of stock, and it’s been published for over a year now.

Link via David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

Do we all have to get familiar with virtual reality? Should it really be being used in conjunction with our books? I am a bit skeptical, but David Smith at The Scholarly Kitchen insists we have to take VR seriously. As an example he shows a video of a trainee archaeologist “living” the experience of being in a dig. OK, but we don’t really learn anything new from a video like this: in order to create the video someone had to know all the facts shown, so not having the VR presentation leaves us precisely where we were before we looked at it. It enables the student to find out facts in a fun way perhaps, more fun than the old way of just reading them. But is this useful as a training tool? I’d think better training tools might be provided by giving the guy a shovel and a little brush and sending him out to dig the real soil. Clearly though, dealing with a stalled airplane, or open-heart surgery might be better handled via a virtual reality presentation.

So, maybe education publishers might be needing to look at VR to enhance their textbooks on aviation and surgery. But surely most publishers will find it absolutely irrelevant to their offerings. I don’t see how the connection between the book To Kill a Mockingbird and a virtual reality presentation inspired by it is any closer than the relationship of the book to the movie — and book publishers have never thought of the ability to make a movie as part of their essential toolkit. People who may want to enjoy a VR presentation of To Kill a Mockingbird are, and will always be, a different group in general from the people who want to read it. Just because a new technology comes up over the horizon is no reason for publishers to think they have to use it. We do books, and have our hands full with that. In the time-honored way with any new technology, publishers will hire freelance VR specialists as and when they may need them. Beyond that, I suggest that no further attention need finally be paid.

!n 2014 I was rather more positive about Virtual reality.