Archives for category: Reading

This is Shelf Awareness‘ story from 1 August, 2017:

PBS will launch the Great American Read, an eight-part television series and nationwide campaign that “explores the joy of books and the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved books, chosen by the public.” The initiative is designed to “spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have inspired, moved and shaped us.”

In addition to the PBS series, the Great American Read will feature community reading programs and special events, and a range of digital and social media initiatives. The series will include testimonials from notable figures in the entertainment, sports, news and literary worlds, and culminate in the first-ever national vote to choose “America’s Best-Loved Book.”

The Great American Read launches in spring 2018 with a multi-platform digital and social campaign leading up to the reveal of the 100 books selected by the American public and an advisory panel of literary professionals. Beginning with a two-hour kick-off event in May, the documentary special will feature appearances by celebrities and everyday Americans passionately advocating for and explaining their personal connections to their favorite books.

Voting and social media engagement will continue throughout summer, with six episodes of the series exploring the nominated books through various themes, including “Being American,” “Heroes,” “Growing Up,” “What We Do for Love” and more. PBS stations will partner with local organizations and booksellers to activate and inspire the next generation of readers through library, education and community initiatives. Moving toward autumn, voting will close and America’s top 10 books will be revealed, counting down to America’s Best-Loved in the final episode of the series in September.

“The time is right for this nationwide reading initiative that will encourage conversations and complementary activities in communities across the country. We can’t wait to see what America chooses,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS chief programming executive & general manager, general audience programming.

“The Great American Read will speak to all Americans,” added Jane Root, CEO of TV production company Nutopia. “These books tell our story, explore our passions and celebrate the depth and range of our culture. Which book will win? I don’t know, but I’m super excited to follow the journey and find out.”

This sounds promising. Of course “best” lists don’t mean much, but the process of discussion (and invitation to think) are likely to do much good.

Here’s a Publishers Weekly story, and the PBS press release announcing the series. (Can’t decide what “(w.t.)” means. Can’t be working title surely, can it?) The Publishers Weekly story clarifies how the initial list of 100 books has been chosen; it was “chosen through a demographically representative survey of ordinary Americans conducted via YouGov, a polling organization. Based on the question ‘What is your best-loved novel?,’ the YouGov survey produced a list of 1,200 titles.” This list was then whittled down by “a volunteer panel of ‘respected industry professionals including heads of not-for-profit literary organizations, educators, a librarian and members of the literary press,'” So all you’re going to get to vote for is the order in which these 100 “best books” should be ranked. Better than nothing I suppose. Let’s hope folks join in.

I just noticed that Pamela Paul has gotten a memoir out of her list of all the books she’s read since 1988 — My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. I too have such a list, starting in 1987! She looks a good deal younger than me so she must have started the list at an impressively early age.

Although I have the list, even if such was my bent, I guess the memoir path is closed to me — been done. I actually started keeping records several years before that, but an ex-wife tossed out the book in which I was keeping my records. She claimed this was unintentional. My current list is in a dummy Bible (i.e. a thing that looks like a Bible but has no type inside, or in this case outside either). Should last me. Periodically I enter the titles into FileMaker Pro on my laptop, so the whole thing is searchable.

Pamela Paul’s book provoked Robert Gray into musing at Fresh Eyes Now on the fact that maintaining such a list might rather cramp your style when it comes to pretending to have read a book. Although I don’t do this a lot, I doubt if the existence of my BoB would inhibit me at all. I can’t remember, without looking them up, the books I read in 1996 (heck, even 2016 for that matter. Some of the titles I even have difficulty recognizing at all!) so why should I hesitate to claim to have read a title which might in fact turn out not to be there. One case he cites, that of assuring an author, falsely, that you have read and loved his book, always seems to me to be deeply fraught with potential disaster, and I have never done it. After all, if you express fervent delight, the author may feel the need to engage you in further chat about especially brilliant gems from the text. Much better to tell the truth, or at worst, the half-truth “I’ve started it” — after all reading the title could be regarded as a start.

Not sure what I think about this. BookCrossing is a way of sharing your books by releasing them so that someone else can pick them up and enjoy then too.

You print a label and stick it in the front of the book, then leave the book where someone else will pick it up. They then go to the BookCrossing website and record the fact that they have the book. Then in theory on it goes again. They’ve been at it since 2001 and claim that there are currently 1,769,999 BookCrossers and 12,047,263 books travelling throughout 132 countries.

There’s a tab at their site called Book Map which appears to notify us of releases and captures as they happen. It seems to be active in Europe. Apparently nothing ever gets done anywhere else, which is odd because 29% of their members are in USA.

“It is a fair bet that there has not been a single day since 19BCE when someone somewhere has not been reading Virgil’s Aeneid, and it is hard to think of many other books, apart from the Hebrew Bible, of which one could say that.” Thus Mary Beard in her Guardian survey of Roman history.

Publius Vergilius Maro seems to have started having his name misspelled, if that’s what it was, early on. J. W. Mackail points out that the relatively common family name Vergillius was also spelled Virgillius in different times and places; the different spelling probably reflecting different pronunciations. In The Classical Tradition Gilbert Highet suggests that the vowel shift from e to i may have begun because of Vergil’s nickname Parthenias, apparently bestowed on him during his lifetime by the Neapolitans, which makes reference to the poet’s alleged sexual restraint. Get it? Vergil’s a virgin, I guess.

I wanted to make Vergil/Virgil into one of those Oxford/Cambridge arguments, like civilisation/civilization or medieaval/medieval, but even these examples appear to be of questionable validity. Probably we in Cambridge used just to brush off alternate spellings by sniffing that that was how they did things in the other place. (I certainly played a similar game after arriving in America. I became a much better speller as soon as I could claim that that was how a word was spelled over there.)

Amazon’s not messing around: search for Vergil, and they’ll deliver results for Virgil, knowing you made a typo. The Germans seem to go for Vergil. They attribute the spelling with i to late antiquity and early medieval periods. The French are in the i camp; Virgile is their man. They apparently (at least on Wikipedia) don’t acknowledge that e was ever an option. Ditto the Italians and Spanish where Virgilio reigns alone.

I guess it doesn’t matter how we spell his name, as long as we read him. Professor Beard’s claim must rely a whole lot on school children. I’m not sure at what age I was assigned my first book of the Aeneid, but I did two or three of them. Serious Latin students got to browse Georgics too, but I was never in that group. One of my retirement projects is to read the Aeneid in Latin. I’m a bit bogged down near the end of Book 1 in my Loeb Classical Library edition, dealing with Dido: I always found her a bit trying. Aeneid was forever being extracted and reworked, and the Dido and Aeneas story was one of the favorites. On to Book 2 and the Trojan war!

Even a hesitant Latin reader like me can appreciate the efficiency of Latin as a language for verse. Because the words conjugate and decline you can put almost any word anywhere in the sentence without risk of misunderstanding, and thus the poet can make dramatic juxtapositions and focus on the melody in the words, almost allowing the sense to take care of itself because of the agreement of word endings. Consider the famous line 462 of Book 1, “sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.” It consists of two phrases made up of verb, subject, qualifying noun, and then object, subject, verb. “Are — tears — of things. Mind — mortal-things — touch.” The Loeb translation does as well with this as any I’ve found “here, too, are tears for misfortune and human sorrows pierce the heart”. Tough for a non-inflected language to match the concision and also the slight ambiguity as to whether the “rerum” are themselves weeping or being wept over.

I wonder if there’s any way to count how many copies of Vergil’s various books have been printed. While the print runs, except perhaps for things like a school edition of Aeneid Book VI, were probably always fairly small, they were constant. I’m sure best-seller Vergil could boast that his works have never been out of print. Amazon offers at least 15 different translations into English. In my post on tie-ins and fan fics I expressed surprise that fan showed 14 fan fics based on the Aeneid. In the two and a half years since then the number has gone up to 30.

One Book events have been sponsored in many places since the first one in Seattle in 1998. Basically the idea is everyone in town reads the same book at the same time, and starts to talk about it with their neighbors. The Library of Congress shows there have been hundreds of these events. Their site, which seems to be in dire need of updating, lists 108 of them just for books by authors whose names begin with A, and that doesn’t include the NYC one just completed where we all read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. (“We all” does not, I’m ashamed to say, include me.* Nor did anyone try to discuss it with me.)

This year’s New York event is over, and Literary Hub brings a report on its success. A lot of people participated — can it really be eight million? The Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment promoted the mass reading, and here, including an hour-long video, is their round-up which took place at New York Public Library on 5 June.

Get geared up for next year.


* Good citizen that I am, I am hastening to make up for this lapse. The book’s main character is a blogger who uses the WordPress platform with great success. A Nigerian who’s moved to America, she is blogging about more provocative material: race in America. Maybe it’s just me, but the bits about the blog and writing in general are the bits where the book comes alive: most of the narrative just strikes one as words freewheeling downhill. The book is valuable for its portrayal of what it means to be black in America — most of this occurring in the blog posts reproduced.

The New York Times Book Review named Americanah one of the ten best books of the year. It’s not that it’s bad; far from it — just somewhat short of what I’d like to think of as “the best”. I guess I don’t read a whole lot of modern fiction! Great that eight million may have read this one though.

Not sure I find any of these suggestions (from The Peabody Institute, via The Digital Reader, and E-Book Friendly) very helpful. But there you are. “Don’t finish” is all well and good, but I find it really hard to do; plus I always worry that it might become habit-forming.

In the end, if you don’t want to do it, you won’t do it.

Shelf Awareness alerts us to this Bustle post on 19 books to read based on your drink of choice. Though I have no principled objection to either drinking or reading I’m not sure how good an idea this is. Too many drinks might tend to slow you down rather than enhance your reading experience — unless you’re one of those who read in order to fall asleep. Certainly the idea shouldn’t be used as encouragement to open a bar/bookstore. The risk of spilling coffee on unsold books must haunt owners of bookstores with coffee bars; but spilled liquor would be an almost certain result of encouraging boozy browsing. Rings from the bottoms of beer mugs do not enhance the value of a novel. But could an aroma of mint julep coming from that copy of Absalom, Absalom! perhaps work as a subliminal sales enhancer?

Not sure that this concept is worth much: choosing books appropriate to the drink you are consuming seems like mixing apples and oranges, or maybe grape and grain. A book takes so much longer to read than any drink to consume. If you persist in downing vodka shots while reading War and Peace you will never finish the book, and may possibly die in the attempt. Maybe it’s an insidious plan by the liquor industry to make us all to go on benders.

The Wine Society advises us that Robert Louis Stevenson called wine bottled poetry, which frankly seems a bit naff to me — but it was a long time ago. They provide a few literary wine references. No doubt you can come up with lots more (but some would say these are already too many).

The idea of a book-of-the-month + wine-of-the-month club does seem to have potential. A package of a book plus a bottle of wine related in some way to this month’s book selection would be a welcome sight. I’d sign up for such double serendipity. The problem however is that book publishers are not allowed to ship wines, and wine stores don’t need to bother with such troublesome procedures to sell their wares. If you see Penguin Random House buying a liquor store, keep your eyes open.* Might it be called Random Public House?

The nearest we effectively get to a wine/book club is a book club (in the sense of a reading circle) which meets to discuss the month’s reading over a bottle of wine. I dare say there are some such groups which strive to make a link between the wine served and the book read.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then go ahead, drink up while reading away. Just chose something that doesn’t demand your full attention. However well it all starts off, you won’t be able to bestow it for too long. Chose a thriller rather than a philosophical tract perhaps. Maybe short stories would be best: see Pub lit.

See also Writers and the bottle.


* About a week after I drafted this along comes the news, via Publishers Lunch, that Penguin Random House has acquired T-shirt company Out of Print Clothing. The new building-annex will be reporting in to the VP of publishing innovation development. PRH indicates that this signals “its intent to greatly expand its author- and imprint-brand-based merchandising capabilities.” Can that liquor store be far behind? After all brands expand.

In a related (?) story Publishing Perspectives also tells us Bertelsmann (PRH’s parent) Education Group has acquired the Idaho-based WhiteCloud Analytics, which specializes in performance management in healthcare.

Sent via The Digital Reader, this infographic comes from Global English Editing.

If you find it hard to make out, click on the link to Global English Editing above where you’ll be able to read a larger version.


Too many kids fall behind in reading early in their school career; indeed probably before they even get to school. Exposure to books, and adults who read books, is important in forming the habit of reading. I guess using the barber-shop, a bit of a social center, as a vehicle could work. Certainly the charitable organization Barbershop Books believes it will. Barbershop Books was founded in Harlem, but has already expanded way beyond New York City having active locations in 10 other states.

The theory behind the initiative is that “African-American boys who don’t often see black men reading a book” should be exposed to books in their regular environment. “Barbershops are some of the only places kids go to on a regular basis . . . There’s already that rapport there, already that relationship with the barber. Why not ask the barber to encourage them to read?”

(If you don’t see a video at this point, because you get this via email, please click on the post’s title in order to see it in your browser.)

There are similar initiatives in Ypsilanti, where Fuller Cut offers a discount to any boy who will read aloud while having his hair done, and in Mobile, Columbus, Jackson, Dubuque, Baton Rouge, Muskogee, — all over.

Did gentlemen really wear ties when they went camping? I guess they might have, if they were plus-four wearers too.

One worries about eyestrain in those deep shadows.

Courtesy of Literary Hub.