Monthly Archives: December 2011

Overcoming Clunkers: Why ‘The Art of Fielding’ is Still a Great Book

Gabe Habash -- December 29th, 2011

In the foreword for Infinite Jest, Dave Eggers talks about readability in contemporary fiction. How one end of the spectrum is “easy to read” writing, “communicated on a somewhat conversational wavelength,” and the opposite end is writing that’s “challenging, generally and thematically,” writing that makes the reader “work a bit.” He argues that the two kinds of writing are, in a perfect world, not mutually exclusive:

“There might even be…readers who find it possible to enjoy Thomas Pynchon one day and Elmore Leonard the next. Or even: readers who can have fun with Jonathan Franzen in the morning while wrestling with William Gaddis at night.”

The Art of Fielding doesn’t need me to say this (Little, Brown and Harbach are doing quite well for themselves, after the book received furious media petting, causing it to sell to the tune of 93,000 copies, print only, since its hardcover hit in early September), but The Art of Fielding is a great book. But the reason why AoF is worth writing about here is not because of its literary merit, but because it puts a perspective on the readability spectrum Eggers was talking about, crystallizing its poles by occupying a space somewhere in between.

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Reading 55 Books in 2011: What I Learned

Gabe Habash -- December 28th, 2011

At the time of this writing, I have a beard and I’m finishing up The Colossus of New York. It’s the last book I’ll read this year, which started off innocently enough in January, but by winter became something of a maddening ascetic bender. This is what I learned from reading 15,000 pages in 2011.

My memory is awful. The first book I read in 2011 was War and Peace, mostly because it’s War and Peace, but also because of perspective: clearing its 1,300 pages would, for the rest of my reading life, make reading anything else seem doable. So I began my year at my grandfather’s desk that he made with his own hands while the wind blew outside my bedroom window, working through Tolstoy’s epic.

It took me about three weeks to finish it, and now, 11 months later, I remember very little. I remember Pierre and Andrei, their differences in background and ideals, and I remember Napoleon scheming outside his tent in the early morning as he loses the war right before our eyes. But not much else. The spiritual discussion somewhere around 700 pages in between Pierre and Andrei was the book’s highlight for me, but I can’t for the life of me retain the details of the discussion. I’m not going to dwell on my bad memory because it’s honestly too depressing, but since I’m stuck with my brain, I’ll look at the bright side: when reading, I learned to latch on tighter to the parts of a book that are meaningful to me.

Dense spiritual discussion between Pierre and Andrei, I'll never let you go.

There’s no way I can remember all the parts of a book, especially not a book as dense and densely populated as War and Peace, but I can focus on the parts I found most enjoyable and commit them to memory. I can remember the feeling a particular section inspired in me, and really, that’s more important than remembering the Rostov family tree.

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When borrowing isn’t free

Peter Brantley -- December 26th, 2011

In our current understanding of how public libraries operate, one of the things that most people take for granted is that lending is free, although the library obviously has to purchase the books to begin with. The “First Sale Doctrine” in copyright law permits the library to circulate a print book until it literally falls apart without requiring additional compensation for the publisher or author. With e-books, however, the landscape has changed. In a recent New York Times article, Maja Thomas, SVP of Digital at Hachette USA, was quoted as saying that “selling one copy that could be lent out an infinite number of times with no friction,”  was not a “sustainable model.”

But free e-book lending is not the only way to go for libraries. Libraries could charge for borrowed items, and even make distinctions for top-selling titles.  Such a system, where local public libraries charge users to borrow e-books, perhaps working with a common library hosting platform or a central agency comparable to the e-book rental models that I’ve previously discussed, would both offer access to patrons and provide the kind of friction Thomas suggests publishers need (with the noted exception that publishers would not be compensated on a recurring basis with a portion of the rental fees). And now, from Down Under in New Zealand comes word of just such an experiment.

Wheeler’s is a private company developing an e-book platform that enables libraries to charge for e-book lending. And, another critical feature, it also offers support for the outright purchase of e-book titles from book distributors, versus licensing. In addition to clarifying the legal status of e-books in a library collection, “purchasing” the e-book also permits libraries to be more flexible with their funding, in comparison to paying recurring license fees. Further, the ability to charge patrons for e-book rentals generates friction in lending, and helps to compensate libraries for the costs of ebook purchasing.

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‘The Whore of Akron’: 2011′s Most Heartfelt Book

Gabe Habash -- December 21st, 2011

Full disclosure: Scott Raab hates LeBron James.

The Whore of Akron is part personal manifesto, part memoir, part invective. It’s a portrait of one of the most studied professional athletes ever at a pivotal moment in his life–when he went from beloved to reviled. But what makes the book more than a sports book and a small-scale treasure is that Scott Raab is just as much of a character (and that’s the right word, because you won’t believe some of the blue streaks he gets on) as LeBron James, probably more so.

How boring another book about a professional athlete would be. How boring another sterile profile of LeBron James, an athlete so digested there are no nutrients left, would be.

What we get instead is an autobiography of Raab’s middle age, his life as a father and husband, his seesawing weight (which even requires him to use a wheelchair at one point), and his passion for Cleveland sports. It just so happens that LeBron James is the center around which it all revolves.

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PW Staff: The Best Books We’ve Read This Year

PWStaff -- December 20th, 2011

PW has already named its Best Books 0f 2011, but since readers rarely get to see the faces behind the scenes, we thought we’d let our staff share the best book they read in 2011, because deep down, we’re all just book nerds. Here are our staff picks. Let us know your favorite book you read this year in the comments!

Andrew R. Albanese, senior writer:

How to Fix Copyright by William Patry. If you know me at all, you know this appeals to the copyright geek in me. Before she left for NPR, my friend and colleague Parul Sehgal asked me what I was reading, and I said this book, “because…” She cut me off. “Because you’re you,” she said. Yup. That’s pretty much right. But this book appealed more to the artist and creator in me, than the policy wonk. It is a follow up to Patry’s 2009 book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, which examined the way we’ve come to frame copyright around moral issues—theft, piracy, plagiarism. Creativity, however, is all about building on what has come before us, Patry argues. This book struck a chord with me for its simple premise—that copyright is not the basis for creativity. A heady mix of law, history, practice, and a genuine appreciation for what goes into the making of art and culture, this is a fascinating read not just for those of us in the publishing business, but for anyone interested in maintaining a healthy, creative culture.

Peter Cannon, senior reviews editor:

Since I’m still plowing my way through Arguably, I’ll have to nominate Hitch-22, the autobiography of the late Christopher Hitchens, who as a provocative clear thinker ranks up there with his idol, George Orwell. You don’t have to agree with Hitchens on every issue to appreciate his brilliance and his wit. Who else would’ve been the first to notice that there’s no Lenin figure in Animal Farm?

Jessamine Chan, reviews editor:

As of today, I’m halfway through rereading Revolutionary Road, which I first read in my early twenties, when the story seemed 90 percent depressing and 10 percent wondrous. Today, it seems 90 percent wondrous, 5 percent super depressing, 5 percent sharp and funny. Tormented young married people – can’t get enough of them. Next up – Anna Karenina.

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The new power of “open”

Peter Brantley -- December 18th, 2011

I should be holiday shopping, but instead I have been thinking about something called linked open data. It’s not an entirely insane use of my time, as I have to consider a day-long session at ALA Midwinter in Dallas, “Libraries, Linked Data, and the Semantic Web” in which I am supposed to declaim meaningfully alongside colleagues who know quite a bit more about this than I do.

Fortunately, linked open data, or “LOD”, is a relatively simple concept. It refers to the practice of presenting, or “publishing” data held in a database or information repository in a normalized and structured way. This is often done in a formal syntax known as Resource Description Framework (RDF), but it need not be. For a basic example, consider the book “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman. A linked data approach to this title would produce statements representing bibliographic information as relationships: “Title is ‘Thinking, fast and slow’”, and “Author is ‘Daniel Kahneman’”. If this data was represented in RDF, it would look something like this output from Open Library. (Open Library will produce RDF for any title in its catalog; you can play with similar entries to your heart’s content).

One essential component of linked data approaches is making sure that you publish hooks with which to identify the thing you are talking about, that other people can use as a reference. For books, fortunately, publishers and libraries have had these for decades: they are usually ISBNs, or alternatively, some sort of library catalog identifier. At Open Library, we have unique identifiers both for works and their unique “manifestations”, which are the editions of any given book: for example, you can see our pointer to the first edition of Kahneman’s work using the identifier: OL24896701M.

The cool thing about linked data for libraries and publishers is what happens when people associate new information with books, particularly where they can map relationships with other data using connectors such as ISBNs or some other identifier. There’s not much value in simply recording catalog entries for books in RDF and leaving them to sit in glorified, geeky XML syntax more suitable for computers than humans. The key to the power of linked data is the “O” in “LOD”: Open. When linked data statements about books are open, other people can knit together skeins of associations between books that were not possible before. Continue reading

A Man Ranks How Likely He’d Be Caught Using a Kate Spade Book Clutch

Gabe Habash -- December 16th, 2011

When I have a lot of things to carry, I sometimes put them all in a plastic bag. I hate messenger bags, they hit against my keister every time I take a step and I’ve very reluctantly stopped wearing my backpack, which I’ve had for close to a decade, since I’ve finished school (I still have to convince myself I’m not a student, and so I’m trying not to look like one).

I don’t have any purses, let alone carry a clutch around. The closest thing I have to a purse is a lunchbox, which I sling over my shoulder on my way to work, and I have been made fun of for this. Keys, phone, and pen go in my pockets. So aside from the fact that I’m a male and males don’t wear purses (unless you’re David Beckham or Kanye West, in which case you could strap on cross braced garters like Malvolio and run down the street laughing and it wouldn’t matter), what do I need a purse for?

But if I did need a purse, and I didn’t find the idea of spending $325 on one horrifying, I’d probably want one of Kate Spade’s Book of the Month Clutches. I’m going to do five of them (there’s also Pride & Prejudice and Romeo & Juliet but those don’t make the cut). Here they are in ascending order of how likely I’d ever be caught holding one of them.

5. Emma

Love the simple design, especially the arrows curving around the back. But what’s with the lazy fletching illustration? If I’m going to pay $325 for this purse, I want some good fletching. That, combined with the peach creamy color knocks this purse to dead last on this really important hypothetical list.

Likelihood I’d Clutch This Clutch: 2.2 out of 10

4. The Importance of Being Earnest

I love Wilde’s play (I even wrote a super accomplished paper on it in college that was much talked about among Victorian scholars) and I like how one side is purple and the other side is red, but there are a lot of colors going on here, and, honestly, if I look at it for too long I start to get a stomach ache. I also don’t know if those are tear drops or quotation marks or speech bubbles. Frankly, I don’t care to look long enough to figure it out because my RGB sensors need to be fixed.

Likelihood I’d Clutch This Clutch: 2.4 out of 10

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An Ode to Shakespeare and Company

Claire Kirch -- December 15th, 2011

Ever since I profiled Shakespeare and Company’s 30-year-old owner, Sylvia Whitman, for PW’s “50 Under 40” series in 2008, and, last year, broke the story that the bookshop was launching a prize and a literary magazine, my editors and I have joked that my territory as a regional correspondent for the magazine extends far beyond the Midwest, all the way to Paris, France. Last night, when I heard of the death of George Whitman, who founded Shakespeare & Co. 60 years ago, I was as personally touched by the sad news as I had been the day before, when I was informed of the death of another legendary book person, Ned Waldman, who once owned a publishing company and a distribution company here in Minnesota.

George Whitman’s death indeed marks the end of an era on the Paris bookselling scene. Even in an age when online retailers and e-books seem to hold sway in the book industry, though, Shakespeare & Co. surely will thrive, continuing to draw customers to the little bookshop near the Seine, with its slightly-dilapidated façade, the cute little courtyard in front filled during store hours with bookcarts, the wishing well in the center of the main floor, and especially the rabbit warren of rooms on three floors, all filled with books, that can be accessed only by climbing rickety stairs.

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Remembering the rights of others

Peter Brantley -- December 14th, 2011

Two years ago, in September 2009, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) testified in front of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives, urging support for the proposed Google Book Search (GBS) settlement between Google, the Authors Guild, and the AAP. Nearly one year previously, in October 2008, the University of Michigan, one of the participating GBS libraries, had demonstrated to the NFB how they would make their digital collection accessible to the print disabled. In the GBS settlement, the NFB saw the means to daylight millions of books that otherwise would remain unavailable to the visually impaired, never having been made accessible by their publishers.

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The Top 10 Book Covers of 2011 #2011bestcover

Gabe Habash -- December 13th, 2011

We won’t waste your time telling you what makes a great book cover great. You know a great book cover when you see it. And though cover design is notoriously one of the most fickle and unscientific aspects of publishing, the best covers can come close to a general consensus of “Yep, that’s a good book cover.” PWxyz spent an amount of time we won’t care to admit looking at cover after cover, and these are our choices. That being said, this is 100% a subjective list, so let us know in the comments and at the hashtag #2011bestcover what your choices are for the best book cover of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

How the Dead Live by Derek Raymond (Melville House)


Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian (Scribner)

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