Archives for the month of: October, 2021

Strange name when you think about it, as Katie Herman at The Rare Commons provokes you to do. “Commonplace books are personal notebooks full of interesting snippets and quotations from other authors, thinkers and poets, known as ‘commonplaces’, that are all held in a common place (the book itself.)” Not sure I go along with the etymology she proposes though.

As the Oxford English Dictionary informs us commonplace is named “after classical Latin locus communis, itself after Hellenistic Greek κοινὸς τόπος (in ancient Greek simply τόπος (Aristotle: see topic adj.)), explained by Cicero ( Inv. 2. 14. 47 et seq.) as a general theme or argument applicable to many particular cases. Later, collections of such general topics were called loci communes (frequently from the early 16th cent. in book titles).” The meaning of words travels of course. Getting from Cicero to “something everyone knows” is an understandable first step, but moving from there to a sense of “a trite, boring comment” and then to “a record of important passages” is an odd journey I think. Though I suppose if you allow for the arrogance of the intellectual, step one does become fairly obvious — “If they know it, it must be rubbish”.

Nowadays I think we think of a commonplace book as a collection of quotations which have struck the copier as particularly significant. In the second of her four Parts Ms Herman shows us a more directed sort of book: a typed-up listing of story ideas by H. P. Lovecraft. I guess he’d carry it around with him in case some random supernatural visitation compelled him suddenly to put pen to paper. There are examples of a few others at her third installment. And here’s Part 4, in which she suggests that commonplace books may be compared to social media. To some extent I’d agree that this blog is to somewhat analogous to a commonplace book. I get to note random things which pique my interest, and make what amounts to a quick note about them, often quoting others via links.

John Locke provided instructions on how to do a commonplace book properly. You can follow along at Harvard Library’s page viewer. Perhaps wisely Mr Lock, as they seem to have referred to him back in his day, emphasizes the finding of items using an indexing system. I rather think the chaos of a commonplace book is part of the charm, but of course if you are using your commonplace book as an aide-memoire it does make a difference if you can’t actually find the thing you’re trying to remember.

I do think there are some character traits which determine if you are the sort who likes this sort of organization, or one who’d prefer not to be forced into it. I have taken my BoB and entered it in Numbers in my MacBookAir (how I miss FileMaker Pro). It’s now easy to see when I last read Foundation ( — 1998); you just hit Command F and enter Foundation. But I still feel that searching though all those analog pages of listings brings with it an extra zing — “Oh I remember that book”, “Has it really been that long since I looked at Wuthering Heights?” etc. Even more intriguing is the all-too-common experience of “What on earth was that book about?” — e.g. in this picture that book by Robert Goddard: without out more research I fear it is indeed Beyond Recall.

I do of course have a commonplace book — stubbornly analog, indeed handwritten. Anyone who worked in book manufacturing in the last century had access to lots of blank books — we used to make a blank paper dummy for many books in order to make sure the die and the jacket fit the spine — and once you’ve used them for that purpose there they are — worth nothing, but beautiful objects just begging you to write something inside them. Mine is the bulking dummy for Alastair Fowler’s Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (CUP, 1970). This book had an unusual format, rather taller and narrower than standards (5¾” x 9″), and my copy’s bound in a nice bit of cloth. I’ve used it merely as a sort of informal anthology of poems published in ephemeral sources — magazines, newspapers etc. To me the idea of indexing it is truly weird.

In some way one might regard Beethoven’s Conversation Books as the ultimate in commonplace books. When he became deaf he carried a notebook around with him in which may be found all sorts of aide memoire stuff, shopping lists, appointments, things to do, plus half of the conversations he’d hold — the incoming half. At a book event the other day Paul Griffiths told us he’d used the Conversation Books extensively to source the dialog he used in his novel Mr. Beethoven (NYRB, 2021), an imagining of Beethoven’s coming to Boston to attend the premiere of his (fictitious) oratory “Job” — a work which had in reality almost been commissioned by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society before the composer’s death.

Not that long ago I had occasion to allude to Robert Burns’ commonplace book. Doesn’t it look suspiciously lavish for a poor farm boy?

Via Nate Hoffelder’s Weekly News Brief comes the news that Amazon has come up with another marketing idea for the Kindle Direct books they publish. They are adding a feature called a transparency code to their barcode area. Click on the QR-like square to the right of the blue cap T and you’ll be taken to “a more engaging experience between you and your readers . . . When a reader scans the Transparency code, they can learn more about you and your book, leave a star rating or review, and go to the book’s Amazon detail page.”

Well, OK. I suppose it’d be churlish to object to more engaging experiences, wouldn’t it? Of course you don’t have to click on the damn thing if you find the experience of reading the book sufficiently engaging, but, to me, this all smacks of a lack of belief in the quality of the product. I couldn’t deal with more engagement in my reading of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series. I’m engaged already thank you: that’s what (good) books are meant to do for you!

Amazon’s Help page gives the details. Self publishers interested in developing their brand should find this a positive. (I have to accept that my negativity doesn’t help!)

The New York Times Book Review recently noticed this poem, which they had originally published in their issue of 31 October, 1915. My interest, unlike theirs, in not in the quality of the verse but in its printing.

If you click on the picture you can enlarge it. Luckily the second column is in better focus in my picture. The sixth line of that column, “Gorges, precipices, and heights” and the fifth to last line “Giving suck to a child” are squashed vertically so that they look smaller than the other lines. Without changing font (which nobody would waste time doing) this would seem impossible in hot metal setting. Such compression of lines is occasionally an artifact of digital scanning — you can almost think of it as the paper slipping as it’s fed through the scanner. Could one imagine a similar slippage in the plate-making process? But the squashed lines are not to be found in the left hand column too, which might tend to suggest that the original may have been set in one column. But that’s not correct either, because in this reproduction they show the whole thing in situ with the surrounding material partially shown. How then could this happen? Could they have printed it in one column, with a plate-making flaw, then cut the plate apart and re-composed the page as double column? Sounds unlikely if not impossible.

Nate Hoffelder tells us in his Weekly News Brief “Kris Rusch is right to point out that major publishers are ignoring their backlist, and that it’s costing them money.”

The problem with this sort of talk is basic definition. What do they think backlist means? Backlist is that section of your publishing output that is no longer front list — the bit you spend time and money pushing on the public. A small part of any publisher’s backlist will, we all hope, continue to sell because it has become established, and sells itself for the simple reason that there are people out there who want it, and know where to get it. The only people in the publishing office who get involved with backlist titles are the guys who order reprints. If publishers weren’t ignoring it, it’d no longer be backlist! Take a backlist title and give it some promotion, and it immediately moves into front-list, as a reissue, or if revised at all, a new edition. Publishers are doing this all the time. Maybe it’s not very frequent in the sorts of books fiction readers buy, but in academic, and serious non-fiction trade publishing it happens all the time.

Extra opacity is provided by Ms Rusch’s reliance on a quote from J-P. Colaco, head of ad sales for WarnerMedia, who has declared “IP is the new primetime”. Her source, Variety, goes on to gloss this remark as “a nod to the fact that consumers can watch whatever shows they like whenever they like in today’s multiplatform world”. But what does it mean? What is IP? It seems to be more “internet protocol” than “intellectual property”, but nobody (as far as I can see) bothers to define it. Could it be “information processing” or even “International Paper”? Whatever it means it seems to have something to do with the wide availability of streaming services, and a hunger on the part of the owners of such services for “content”, which as we know may often be found in books.

What Ms Rusch is really talking about at her post has nothing to do with book sales qua book sales. What it has to do with is rights sales. She’s accusing publishers of doing nothing (though what she thinks they should be dig is left conveniently vague, and she ignores the fact that lots of books are being used by streaming services) about getting their books turned into movies, television series, online videos — into whatever she thinks is covered by the label “IP”. I’d bet that there’s no book publishing rights department in the world that thinks all they have to do is deal with front list. If they can sell film rights in that 1947 novel that is set in a time of plague, they’ll sell film rights — as long as those rights along with all the others have’nt reverted to author or agent. Can’t find a movie studio to bite? They’ll try for a TV series. And so on. But, a book they published three years ago which underperformed isn’t going to occupy a large portion of their attention until someone asks about it. Ms Rusch seems to think it should, and that publishers are throwing away opportunities by failing to promote their old stuff. Maybe our rights departments know our books better than you outsiders do, and the reason nobody wants to pay a fortune to make a film of this one is because it has no filmic potential.

As I suggested in my earlier post on Backlist, the best kind of promotion you can do on your backlist is the make sure your metadata is as good as it can be.

Here in its entirety is a posting to the SHARP listserv from Professor Terry Belanger, founding president of Rare Book School:

At an American Library Association conference in the late 1970s, I attended a reception hosted by Black­well’s, where I met the late Miles Black­­well. He remembered that I had recently reviewed a book (in the Bibliography newsletter) on the history of his family’s cele­brated  book­selli­ng and publishing firm in which I mourned the gradual disap­pearance of Blackwell’s Old World style of doing business (if you didn’t pay your bill promptly enough, you would eventually get a tactful  re­­minder in the mail suggesting that you should neither a bor­rower or lender be).

        Miles Blackwell said that he was too senior in the firm to know what was sent to customers, and he asked me if I would be willing to run up my bill at Blackwells, keeping a file of the reminder no­tices, and then sending them to him.

        “Certainly not,” said I: “I’ve spent years getting my Blackwell’s bill current, and I want to keep it that way.” Well then, would I be willing to set up an account under another name and run up a bill that way? This seemed like fun, and we agreed that I would open an account using my home address in New York but under the name “William Sutton,” an hommage to the celebrated bank robber, Willie Sutton (famous for the following exchange: “Willie, why do you rob banks?” “Because that’s where the money is”).

        Once the account was open, I bought about £50 of books, and didn’t pay for them. William Sutton received increasingly firm computer-generated requests for payment. I got what I later learned was letter no. 4, followed by letters no. 5, 6, and 7 – but then I got no. 4 again, followed by letters 5, 6, and 7, and then back to no. 4 again….

        Informing Miles of this sequence, he did a bit of research and reported that since he had authorized the Sutton account, Black­well’s automated pay-up sequence was programmed not to  gen­er­ate letter no. 8, in which delinquents were informed that their account had been turned over to a collection agency. Please, he said, would I run up a bill in my own name?

        Which I did, though it was hard going: letter no. 7.5 was a per­sonal plea from the firm’s senior accountant, saying that because I had been a customer for nearly 20 years he hated to turn me over to a collection agency; would I please let him know what the dif­fi­culty was? I felt like a heel, but didn’t respond.

        I finally got letter no. 8, Miles told Black­well’s accounting de­part­ment what was going on, my credit was restored, and Miles sent me a handsome book as a thank-you present.

          I used to tell this anecdote to bookish friends (how not?), one of whom was Stephen Roxburgh, then Publisher of Children’s Books at Farrar Straus & Giroux. Some time later he sent me a photocopy of an internal FS&G memo from the firm’s office manager to the staff. “We received a package yesterday that we can’t locate. Some­one named Willie Sutton signed for it. Does anybody know who he is?”

          I  have continued to buy books from Blackwell’s, not only because of Auld Lang Syne but also because in our NY days the firm once did Rare Book School an enormous favor (again through the good offices of Miles Blackwell), shipping two dozen large boxes of books — a Bodleian Library  gift to RBS of surplus San Garde material — airmail to New York, gratis.

          More recently, I have bookmarked the Blackwell’s website, because I am using it so often: the firm has an attractive new policy (new to me anyway) whereby the listed price of new books (published both here and otherwise) includes free postage to US locations. I generally check both Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as Blackwell’s before buying a new book; the Blackwell’s prices are almost always competitive, and indeed, sometimes lower than those of A and B&N.

I can endorse the Blackwells retail recommendation. Fortunately they are now back online after 10-day systems outage as the Bookseller reported. The company tweeted on October 8th “We are doing all that we can to get through the backlog of dispatches and to answer your queries as speedily as possible. Please accept our apology for any inconvenience this has caused.”

Are all these service interruptions we’ve been going through recently merely coincidental?

Gird your loins once more and hit the streets. It’ll be University Press Book Week again before you can say Jack Robinson, and you will want to make sure of your purchases in this year of shortages and supply chain disruption. The ever-popular celebration takes place from 8 November till the 12th.

Keep UP is the theme, so don’t lag.

As Shelf Awareness tells us “The university press community will host online celebrations of this year’s theme via a blog tour, and there will be a virtual panel discussion about the strengths and challenges of university press publishing scheduled for Wednesday, November 10. Organized by Seminary Co-op in Chicago, Ill., the panel will feature author Deesha Philyaw, University of North Carolina Press publisher John Shere, bookseller Stephen Sparks (co-owner of Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes, Calif.) and Alena Jones, Seminary Co-op’s director of buying and content.” University Press Week has been running since 2012: I have not noticed all of them on this blog.

In order that you can get ready to pivot, those of you who love “Weeks” will need to know that immediately following University Press Week will be Book Week Scotland, which gets under way on the 15th.

It’s a never-ending celebration! The website National Today brings us the news that there are 360 “holidays” in this October alone. Importantly today is National Nut Day, and perhaps even more signficantly, Smart is Cool Day. The website Happy Days 365 tells us “Smart is Cool Day is an annual celebration observed on October 22nd of every year. Smart is the new cool now. Get ready to show the world how smart you are with a celebration day in the calendar. Smart is the Cool Day celebrates your IQ and your intelligence. . .”. It looks like we’ve been strutting our smartness since 2017. Cool!

Manicule just means little hand in Latin. And it is just a little hand. The pointing forefinger ☛ (index* in Latin) was originally used as a way to annotate your book to point out bits you had thought important — “Just look at this!”

Here’s a little red one in the right hand margin:

Keith Houston’s Shady Characters shows and tells

A hyper-dextrous manuscript manicule. He even seems to be using his pinkie to scratch his wrist.

Whether scribes writing out old manuscripts copied the manicules added by readers because they understood their job as to follow the copy text out of the window, or whether in some cases they may have added them themselves as a sort of rough and ready textual commentary is impossible to know, but when we came to printing, manicules were well-established, and were carefully carried over into the world of hot-metal typesetting. The aim of the earliest printers was to make their wares as close to indistinguishable from there prestigious manuscript versions as the could. Until the eighteenth century manicules were very common in book work. I suspect their popularity waned as the craft turned more and more into a business. Manicules usually need to be set out in the margin, which means surrounding them with non-printing spaces, as well as requiring a bit more paper. Today they are vanishingly rare, though you can (inevitably) buy fonts which include manicules pointing in all directions.

Just look at all those shiny spaces. Someone has to fit them all.

I Love Typography has an illustrated piece outlining the history of the manicule’s early use in print.


* The OED tells us, under its entry on Index “1727 W. Mather Young Man’s Compan. (ed. 13) 38   Index is a Note like a Hand, with the Forefinger pointing out at something that is remarkable, thus ☛.” So manicule does tie in with indexing — both aids to navigation.

Publishers Weekly has asked Thad McIlroy to do a round-up review of books about publishing. A fuller version is available at his own blog. Go straight there.

The books he selects and comments on are

  • Shatzkin & Riger: The Book Business: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2019)
  • Woll: Publishing for Profit: Successful Bottom-Line Management for Book Publishers (5th edn, Chicago Review Press, 2014).
  • Biel: A People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business from the Ground Up (Microcosm Publishing, 2018)
  • Clark & Phillips: Inside Book Publishing (6th edn, Routledge, 2019)
  • Greco, Milliot & Wharton: The Book Publishing Industry (3rd edn, Routledge, 2013)
  • Thompson: Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century (2nd edn., Polity, 2012)  
  • Thompson: Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing (Polity, May, 2021)
  • Thompson: Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States (Polity, 2005)
  • Phillips & Bhaskar: Oxford Handbook of Publishing (Oxford University Press, 2019)
  • Handy & Harrison: Metadata Essentials: Proven Techniques for Book Marketing and Discovery (Ingram, 2018)
  • McIlroy & Register: The Metadata Handbook (2nd edn., DataCurate 2015)
  • Baverstock & Bowen: How to Market Books (6th edn., Routledge, 2019)
  • Holzberg-Call: The Lost World of the Craft Printer (University of Illinois Press, 1992)
  • Dana: Against the Grain: Interviews with Maverick American Publishers (University of Iowa Press, 1986)
  • Hunt: The Family Business: How Ingram Transformed the World of Books (West Margin Press, 2021)
  • Cerf: At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf (Penguin Random House, 1977, 2002)
  • Rosset: Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship (OR Books, 2017)
  • Rosenthal: Barney: Grove Press and Barney Rosset, America’s Maverick Publisher and His Battle against Censorship (Arcade, 2017)
  • Goodings: A Bite of the Apple: A Life with Books, Writers and Virago (Oxford University Press, 2020)
  • MacSkimming: The Perilous Trade: Book Publishing in Canada, 1946-2006 (McClelland & Stewart, 2007)
  • Dewar: The Handover: How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of Our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational (Biblioasis, 2017)
  • Mount: Arrival: The Story of CanLit (Anansi, 2017) 
  • Harris: The Other Black Girl (Atria, 2021)
  • Gissing: New Grub Street (1891)
  • Gallenzi: Bestseller (Alma Books, 2011)
  • Waugh: Scoop (1938, Back Bay Books, 2012 edition)
  • Rachman: The Imperfectionists: A Novel (Dial Press, 2011)
  • Anderson: Scholarly Communication: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • Greco: The Business of Scholarly Publishing: Managing in Turbulent Times (Oxford University Press, 2020)

He doesn’t include the seven-volume Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, comprehensive but of course localized, nor Raven: Oxford Illustrated History of the Book (2020), nor Suarez & Wouydhuysen: The Oxford Companion to the Book (2010)

When I was a lad we neophytes were set to reading Sir Stanley Unwin’s The Truth about Publishing, (George Allen & Unwin, 1926). Beth Luey’s Handbook for Academic Authors was an early entrant into the field of guides for authors when it was first published in 1987. It’s now available in its fifth edition — Cambridge University Press, 2010. And let us not ignore Peter Ginna’s What Do Editors Do? or Bill Germano’s Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books (University of Chicago Press, 3rd end., 2016).

Fiction may be more immediately impactful — Anthony Powell’s What’s Become of Waring? (1939) is one example not mentioned by McIlroy. And maybe Severance by Ling Ma counts — although it’s really about a pandemic, rather worse than the one we are going through — one hopes. Its protagonist is a production manager for bibles printed in China. She works for a book packaging operation, realistic in every way except perhaps in its obvious size and prosperity. The account of a plant tour rings true, with its final focus on an almost meaningless process which can be studied because simple and obsessively mechanical. We tend to get distracted when touring a plant, but each time it’ll be something different. That’s why it’s a good idea to go on plant tours as often as you can. I always found I learned something new every time I went, even up to the end of my career when “I’d seen it all”.

The ostensible reason for Isaac Azimov’s Foundation is the compilation of Encyclopedia Galactica, a complete record of humankind’s entire culture, compiled so that, when the inevitable chaos came to pass, survivors would have an instruction manual on how to get things going again quickly. In the course of the novel we are told of the writing process “It had been done. Five more years would see the publication of the first volume of the most monumental work the Galaxy had conceived. And then at ten year intervals — regularly — like clockwork — volume after volume. And with them there would be supplements; special articles on events of current interest, until —”

Mr Azimov published over 470 books in a 51-year writing career, so efficiency was clearly a strong suit, but anyone who could write those sentences obviously never worked in encyclopedia publishing! NOTHING in publishing works like clockwork, and collaborative volumes are among the least controllable (most chaotic, most off-schedule) projects. Getting one author to deliver a manuscript by the agreed date is rarely straightforward, and contributors to a collaborative work are no exception. The norm is that by the due date you may have half the manuscripts on hand, with another few arriving a few months late. But a few authors will (for perfectly reasonable and valid reasons) be unable to complete their contribution. For one or two this may turn out to be a permanent state, and you’ll need to start over with someone else. Others, perhaps the most tricky part of the whole, will be convinced, and will convince you, that they’ll be able to complete the work in a couple of months. Some may even manage this. Of course the Foundation has its writers on staff, and thus amenable to a bit more in the way of discipline, but surely even 12,000 years in the future it will still happen that writers fall ill, get writer’s block, get distracted, and discover bits of new fascinating information, and disappear down assorted rabbit holes. Whole new topics may be discovered which fundamentally alter something written decades ago for Volume 2, and that’ll require revisions to on-going projects.

One conceit in the Foundation series is the attribution given by the author (always quote your sources) when he quotes from the Encyclopedia: “All quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica here reproduced are taken from the 116th Edition published in 1020 F.E. by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, with permission of the publishers.”

Perhaps one might say that the book/film readers in this series seem rather crude for 12,000 years of development. In 1951 they were of course ridiculously futuristic, but I have the impression that my iPhone can give me a rather similar experience today. I fully expect things to have evolved beyond the wildest dreams of Trantor if we manage to make it to the end of this century.

Publishing Perspectives reports that the Association of University Presses has signed up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact organized in collaboration with the International Publishers Association. In July, the IPA says, there were 100 signatories. Now at one swoop* another 150 publishers have been sort of signed up.

This is no trivial undertaking. The ten commitments you take on are:

  • Committing to the Sustainable Development Goals† (SDGs): Stating sustainability policies and targets on the signatory’s site, including adherence to this compact; incorporating SDGs and their targets as appropriate
  • Actively promoting and acquiring content that advocates for themes represented by the SDGs, such as equality, sustainability, justice, and safeguarding and strengthening the environment
  • Annually reporting on progress toward achieving SDGs, sharing data and contributing to benchmarking activities, helping to share best practices and identify gaps that still need to be addressed
  • Nominating a person [in the signatory company] who will promote SDG progress, acting as a point of contact and coordinating the SDG themes throughout the organization
  • Raising awareness and promoting the SDGs among staffers to increase awareness of SDG-related policies and goals and encouraging projects that will help achieve the SDGs by 2030
  • Raising awareness and promoting the SDGs among suppliers, to advocate for SDGs and to collaborate on areas that need innovative actions and solutions
  • Becoming an advocate to customers and stakeholders by promoting and actively communicating about the SDG agenda through marketing, sites online, promotions and projects
  • Collaborating across cities, countries, and continents with other signatories and organizations to develop, localize, and scale projects that will advance progress on the SDGs individually or through [the company’s]
  • Dedicating budget and other resources toward accelerating progress for SDG-dedicated projects and promoting SDG principles
  • Taking action on at least one SDG goal—either as an individual publisher or through your national publishing association—and sharing progress annually.

I suppose we’d expect those liberal publishers to do what they can for environmental conservation — this is especially true because the industry’s impact on the situation is pretty minor. We’re not a major source of any kind of gas — our hot air is usually locked in solid form— so the sacrifice isn’t immense. No doubt it is possible to buy paper from non-sustainable sources, but nowadays almost all books are printed on papers which are made by companies which plant more trees than they harvest, as well as containing significant amounts of recycled pulp. You’ll find the Forest Stewardship Council logo and the recycling logo on the imprints page of many books.


* I’m a bit fed up with the cliché “at one fell swoop”. Macbeth‘s Macduff has a lot to answer for, though in his usage “All my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop” he does have the virtue of living consistently in the hawking metaphor. The swoop is of course the hawk’s dive onto its prey, and “fell” just means deadly. But this must now be the only context in which we find “fell” used as an adjective, though The Oxford English Dictionary does give us a rather arch example from 2011 in The New York Review of Books.

† Information about the seventeen SDGs —sustainable development goals, labelled below — may be found here.

Maybe you saw the television series “Lupin”, about a slick burglar inspired by the fictitious cambrioleur Arsène Lupin. It’s quite fun. You can find it on Netflix. Slate, via Technology • Innovation • Publishing brings us this story of yet more Sherlock Holmes copyright troubles, these ones dating from 1907; troubles which lead to the French publisher’s cleverly changing their detective’s name to Herlock Sholmès. Instantly recognizable, but obviously different — and whatever your views as to whether characters are copyrightable or not, not an infringement.

The Arsène Lupin books were written by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941). Naming problems seem to have dogged the series. The main character was originally called Arsène Lopin at his “birth” in 1905, but a local politician of that name objected to having a burglar named after him, however smart, so o became u. The short story “Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late” was published in Je sais tout magazine in June 1906 leading to Conan Doyle’s objection. When the story and its sequel were published in book form in 1908 the title had been changed to Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmès. Leblanc wrote 25 Lupin books. There’s a whole tangled history of naming changes made by translators into English. The Holmes estate is rather prickly when it comes to interpretation of the copyright laws, and still seek to exercise control, as I wrote a few years ago in Holmes run. Plus ça change, plus c’est la mème chose.

On a different Holmesian tack, The Economist’s 1843 Magazine (link via Nate Hoffelder; probably behind a paywall I fear) tells us about the man who was employed for seven years to reply to letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Wikipedia tells us that by the 1990s there were already over 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective, so correspondence was quite vigorous, particularly as lots of people believe Holmes was real.  Nearly 60% of respondents to a British poll in 2008 believed he was a living person. (Equally inspiringly, a quarter thought Winston Churchill was fictional).

In 1975 Chris Bazlinton was offered a job in PR for Abbey National. “’Oh, one more little thing,’ the general manager said. ‘You will also have to act as secretary to Sherlock Holmes, answering the mail that comes in for him.’” In the early years of Mr Holmes’ existence Baker Street didn’t extend beyond Number 85, so any letters to 221b were just abandoned by the Post Office. But when Abbey National opened their new headquarters in 1932, their building occupied numbers 219-229 — so they started getting the letters. Rather than throw them away they decided to treat them as a public relations windfall and to reply to as many as they could. Mr Bazlinton became the seventh secretary to Sherlock Holmes. He figures he must have dealt with about 6,000 fan letters. Abbey National moved out of its Baker Street building nearly twenty years ago. Today the Sherlock Holmes museum occupies a Georgian row house a bit further up Baker Street. They have been given the number 221b, a bit out of numerical sequence, so they now get the fan mail.