Monthly Archives: November 2011

Can You Use Math to Write a Bestseller?

Gabe Habash -- November 30th, 2011

Here’s where you say “No. Math is a cold, sterile thing and writing is a blooming, loving sunflower and when I write I perch on it like a bumblebee. PWxyz should have its tongue lopped off, for that is the source of lies.”

But not so fast. Over at The Bestseller Code, they let you plug in an excerpt of your writing and, using statistical analysis, they tell you the probability of your book becoming a bestseller. Your results take the form of a “Bestsellers Score,” a number out of 20, with 20 meaning you’re the baby that would come from a Steven King-Agatha Christie union and 0 meaning your book is the equivalent of this.

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The Worst Book Ever is ‘Microwave for One’

Gabe Habash -- November 29th, 2011

Before you get all riled up about how we’ve previously called two other books (How to Avoid Huge Ships and Dildo Cay) the Worst Book Ever, you should know that sometimes PWxyz makes mistakes. Please forgive us our mis-pronouncement and come, walk with us down the hallowed halls of literary infamy, for we have a whopper of a book to show you.

In 1987, The Book Services Ltd published a slim, 144-page cookbook called Microwave for One. The book is by Sonia Allison, who has quite a few publications under her belt. But she’s best known for her masterpiece of tragedy, a book whose title and cover is so rife with sadness that one almost has the urge to brush the invisible tears from Ms. Allison’s face as she leans over her microwave and her food spread.

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The Best Book Covers Ever Belong to ‘East of Eden’

Gabe Habash -- November 28th, 2011

A book cover has to both draw you into the book when you first pick it up as well as stand as an aesthetic representation of the story’s heart. For many of us, book covers are a big reason why we’re still holding onto physical books, and there’s something about the best of them that conveys the transportive ability we find in our favorite books.

Here’s why East of Eden by John Steinbeck, published in 1952 and adapted into a James Dean film in 1995, takes the prize for having the best book covers: its story naturally lends itself to being captured in one representative image. The story is a sprawling family history with Biblical overtones and one of the best realized settings in literature, and the inherent quality of grandeur filling every one of its 600+ pages just makes for a better picture to put onto a book cover. We’ve looked through East of Eden‘s 50-year publication history for its best covers and have highlighted the best of the best below. What’s interesting about these covers is how they all choose a different aspect of the book to feature. While most feature the Salinas Valley as the centerpiece, some convey the complex character relationships via blocking (usually having one character face away from another), while still others play up the Biblical references found in Steinbeck’s book.

If you haven’t yet read East of Eden, you’re in for a treat. You just have the unenviable task of picking one of these editions over the others. Which one is your favorite? Or, do you think a different book has a better collection of covers than East of Eden? Let us know in the comments!

(First Edition cover, The Viking Press, 1952)

(Centennial Edition, Penguin, 2002)


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The 10 Weirdest Cookbooks

Gabe Habash -- November 22nd, 2011

Thanksgiving is almost here, and while most families will roll out the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, a select few out there will get a little adventurous and might dig deep into the cookbook archives. For the sake of the children, hopefully none of them have these cookbooks.


1. Innards and Other Variety Meats by Jana Allen and Margaret Gin

Best Recipe: Pickler Pigs’ Ears, Chinese Style


2. Cooking in the Nude: Playful Gourmets by Debbie Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell

Best Recipe: Hanky Panky Greens


3. Wookiee Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook by Robin Davis

Best Recipe: Wookiee Cookies (duh). Second place goes to Jabba Jiggle.


4. Unmentionable Cuisine by Calvin W. Schwabe

Best Recipe: Mudfish and Banana Stew


5. The Astronaut’s Cookbook: Tales, Recipes, and More by Charles T. Bourland and Gregory L. Vogt

Best Recipe: Space Shuttle Black Beans


6. Critter Cuisine by Mary Ann Clayton

Best Recipe: Tadpole Consomme


7. The Mini Ketchup Cookbook by Cameron Pearl

Best Recipe: The one that uses ketchup.


8. The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook by Don Colbert M.D.

Best Recipe: Edamame


9. The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook: 33 Ways to Cook Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin by David George Gordon

Best Recipe: Fried Green Tomato Hornworm

10. The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today, Together With a Collection of Recipes for Marmalades and Marmalade Cooking by C. Anne Wilson

Best Recipe: Transparent Marmalade

Special Bonus Fact: PW review of The Book of Marmalade in January 1985:

A favorite British condiment, marmalade derives from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince, from which marmalade was once made. Wilson (Food and Drink in Britain) traces the history of marmalade back to the ancient Greeks, whose physicians prepared quince jellies to aid digestion. She follows developments over the centuries as tastes changed and other fruits became available, discussing modifications in preparation and uses. Marmalade has been ingested as an aphrodisiac, to combat seasickness and gastronomic disorders, to fight colds and heal bruises; it was popular as a dessert before it became a breakfast food; originally it was dried in brick form and sliced, whereas now it is cooked to the consistency of jam. Ancient and new recipes accompany the text, providing instructions for marmalades made from a variety of fruits, as well as recipes for foods that include marmalade as an ingredient, chicken marinated in lime marmalade, marmalade relish, syrup and ice cream.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Penguin USA drops library access

Peter Brantley -- November 21st, 2011

In an unexpected development, Penguin USA has announced that it is pulling new titles from library ebook vendors, such as Overdrive. In a statement provided to Library Journal, a Penguin spokesperson said, “[d]ue to new concerns about the security of our digital editions, we find it necessary to delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format while we resolve these concerns with our business partners. ”

Overdrive, the major ebook vendor to the library market, indicated that the publisher’s action was “abrupt,” and that Penguin’s existing titles would be maintained in their catalog. Overdrive was instructed to remove “Get for Kindle” functionality for all digital titles, whereas only new titles are being withheld from the general Overdrive catalog. They are working to reach accommodation with Penguin. The impact on other library ebook vendors such as 3M or Proquest is unknown, but Penguin’s statement does not indicate that its withdrawal is limited to Overdrive.

In an email statement provided to Publishers Weekly, ALA’s Carrie Russell, the Director of the Public Access to Information program, responded:

“While we are pleased that Penguin chooses to sell e-books to libraries (unlike some other publishers), we are disappointed in their decision to delay sales of new titles to libraries. Penguin says that they have security concerns with library sales which we find puzzling. There is no evidence that security breaches have been tied to public libraries or library users. One would think this is more of an issue with everyday consumers or hackers who do not want to pay for e-books. “

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NDPL: Hello in There

Peter Brantley -- November 21st, 2011

We’ve wrapped up the meetings of the National Digital Public Library in Los Angeles. It was a an intense three days, and I felt lucky to be surrounded by so many insightful people driven by the passion of getting more information out into the world. Thanks to the LA Public Library under Martin Gomez, the LA Library Foundation, IMLS, and the Sloan Foundation, among so many others, for helping to make the meeting possible. Kudus as well to all of the staff at LAPL who made navigating around the library and downtown LA so effortless.

In a lot of ways, however, the final half-day was frustrating. It was an attempt to recapitulate prior sessions via conceptual silos such as “content”, “communication”, and so forth. After a compelling opening by Ken Brecher, the head of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, discussion was led primarily by Gary Strong, the University Librarian of UCLA. The tenor was far more conservative than what the audience wished. Core principles such as “free to all” were questioned; people would have preferred to have been roused.

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Can You Guess These Books from Their Most Commonly Used Words?

Gabe Habash -- November 18th, 2011

It’s Friday, and what better way to fill up those last few hours of the work week with a game? One of Amazon’s coolest secrets is the text stats and concordance pages they have for certain books. These two features tell you word count, complexity, and, for the case of this quiz, which 100 words most commonly occur in a book. We’ve picked 10 classic books, looked at their concordance, and picked some select words that should reveal the book, if you’re a smartypants. To reveal the answers, just highlight the white space between, and click the title to see the full concordance. How many can you figure out?

1. god, lord, love, mother, mulligan, stephen, street, yes


2.assembly, beach, glasses, rock, spear

Lord of the Flies

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National libraries: old and new, or just old?

Peter Brantley -- November 17th, 2011

At the National Digital Public Library meetings at Los Angeles public library this week, we’ve completed the first full day of programming, which will be followed with a wrap-up of next steps, Friday morning. Already though, one of the first major points of decision is apparent. Simply, it’s whether the library will be only an online repository of older, digitized things, or also a library of new things.

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The Food at the National Book Awards: A Review

Gabe Habash -- November 17th, 2011

The National Book Awards were held last night, going to Thanhha Lai, Nikky Finney, Stephen Greenblatt, and Jesmyn Ward. But while you can type in “National Book Awards” in Google and get 13,100,000 results, most of which will be slight variations of the same article, here at PWxyz we set the bar a little higher for ourselves. We’re all about giving you a scoop that you won’t find anywhere else. Which is why this is a review of the food at the 2011 National Book Awards.

The weather decided it wanted to rain on November 16 in New York City. So, with my apt. 5 umbrella I made my way down to Wall Street for the awards, my first. I made a quick detour to Zuccotti Park, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting 30 protestors to be huddled around in ponchos (I got a flash of that scene in March of the Penguins when the weather really gets bad) while police (which numbered a lot more than 30) and spectators stood around silently. It was like I’d stumbled upon a dress rehearsal and no one knew their lines. The only sound seemed to be the scraping of a city worker’s dustpan as he swept up soggy leaves. Encircling the barricades and the park were at least 20 news trucks. I had my phone out, in my hand. I was going to take a picture of Zuccotti Park for my mom. I put my phone back in my pocket.

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E-lending and public policy

Peter Brantley -- November 16th, 2011

This week I am attending meetings at the Los Angeles Public Library, headed by Martin Gomez, under the rubric of National Digital Public Library (hastag #ndpl). Already, we’re seeing clear statements on community, the synergy of national digital library efforts, and the the urgent need for libraries to reclaim the debate on “e-lending” (digital book lending) and access to networked information.

The NDPL is an IMLS, Sloan, and LA Library Foundation funded effort to concentrate attention on how public libraries can contribute to the creation of a national digital library system. There is a strong overlap in mission, goals, and personages with DPLA, but the intent here is to focus on public libraries. There’s no dedicated web site yet for the NDPL, but there is a wiki, and I can recommend the eloquent opening statement of Martin Gomez: “There is a library movement underway. The movement is not just local or national. The movement involves the development of a technology platform and a series of agreements and prototypes, all leading toward a vision that is very close to becoming a reality: a global digital library. ”

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