Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Worst Book Ever is ‘Moon People’

Gabe Habash -- January 31st, 2012

Moon People has reshaped my literary perceptions.”Goodreads reviewer Neil

What I’m going to do before telling you about the epic stinker Moon People by Dale M. Courtney is issue a blanket sic statement for the duration of this article. I think that’s important to say before we move forward. Anyway, this is how chapter one of Moon People by Dale M. Courtney opens (source):

This story begins on a Beautiful sunny day in Daytona Beach Florida With a man by the name of David Braymer. A 45-year-old Single man that works at the local High school as a science teacher and astrology in the 12-grade level. Now he’s been here about 5 years and has become kind of partial to a young lady by the name of Cheral Baskel a local restaurant owner in Daytona Beach. At the moment Cheral’s preparing her restaurant for another Shuttle launch at the cape and everyone always gathers at her place because you can see the launch real good at her place. It’s also on the water and its real close to the cape and she really decks the place out.

You probably have questions. That’s understandable. The wonder of Moon People is so great, its folly so staggering, that it jams a reader’s ordinary thought process onto a weird separate track that the brain was never meant to use (also sometimes called an “aneurysm”). It’s only through a careful construction of its pieces that we begin to understand the magnitude of what Courtney has created.

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Back doors to transformation

Peter Brantley -- January 30th, 2012

This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in a Mellon Foundation-funded meeting discussing the future of open peer review for scholarly materials. Peer review is the process by which journal articles and books are evaluated by one’s colleagues in advance of publication in order to improve their quality, or in some cases, recommend their rejection. Peer review concerns itself with questions of originality, clarity, and overall contribution to the literature. The practice arose in conjunction with publishing, and as peer review evolves, we begin to see new – and potentially profound – impacts on scholarly presses.

In contrast to older models of peer review in which submissions are reviewed by one’s colleagues in a “single blind” fashion in which the author does not know the identity of the reviewers, open peer review takes place more or less openly on the web. This has a number of potential benefits, including timeliness; lessened risk of favoritism or backstabbing; and increased quality of comments, knowing they will be aired publicly. Open peer review is not an absolute; portions of the process might be initially closed and then opened up, or the reverse. Anonymity might be preserved at certain moments, but prohibited in others. The reviewing community might be global, or restricted to members of a specific community.

In our discussions, one of the things we kept stumbling over most was the relationship between open peer review, and open access. The distinction is significant: open peer review concerns itself with how the scholarly community evaluates itself online, more or less openly, whereas “open access” presumes that scholarly publications are openly available within at least the boundaries of academic institutions, and perhaps the broader public. But open peer review inherently means that the text under consideration is public to a greater extent than ever before, along with the comments that any number of reviewers might have of it. If this richer fabric is available online for anyone to see, what is then left to publish by a press? To put it another way, open peer review opens a back door to new forms of publishing.

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The 5 Books That Inspire the Most Tattoos

Gabe Habash -- January 24th, 2012

Source: Rate My Ink

What’s just as interesting as a tattoo is the story behind the tattoo, and that’s certainly true for the subcategory of tattoos that are inspired by famous literary works. We spent an untold number of hours combing the Internet’s two most extensive literary tattoo sites: Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos and The Word Made Flesh, then cross-checking the most frequently occurring tattoos with Google searches and Google image searches, all to get to the bottom of what books inspire the most tattoos and why. And though this isn’t a scientific ranking, it’s the closest anyone’s come to tabulating which books inspire the most tattoos, given the Internet’s evidence. What you’ll find below shows a fascinating effect: as you look past the superficial design, you’ll find a wholly specific reason, wholly specific to the individual. It’s why one person can have an “I am nobody” tattoo from Sylvia Plath and someone else can have an “I am I am I am” tattoo from Sylvia Plath–it shows how we all treat stories and writing differently.

5. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Evidence: leg collage, bicep mantra, torso paragraph, arm Marla, bicep mantra #2, smirking foot revenge, arm Robert Paulson, hip soap, torso mantra.

King of the long mantra quote, with “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything,” cropping up the most. Fight Club also inspires a healthy mix of text tattoos and image tattoos, more so than any other book on this list. Certainly the film has helped its popularity as an ink subject (a lot of Brad Pitted flesh came up), but what seems to most elevate Fight Club as a tattoo choice is the story’s counterculture message and its promotion of the individual, two considerations always at the forefront of the tattoo-minded’s mind. Morgan, who has an “It’s only after…” tattoo, stated on Contrariwise: “This tattoo represents having strength and independence and losing all fear no matter what situations we are dealt in life.”

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Evidence: upper back birds, forearm boa, ankle sheep, wrist boa, neck rose, hip garden, upper arm quote, hip prince, back galaxy, back prince, tree.

The book’s most famous line, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye,” is well represented in ink, as is the elephant swallowed by the boa. But most of the Prince tattoos you’ll find are of the Prince himself, with variations of this design inked onto the back or flank being the most popular. Certainly Saint-Exupéry’s watercolor illustrations in the book naturally lend themselves to tattoos, but it’s the book’s themes of loneliness, being true to yourself, and the appreciation of the world’s wonder and beauty that make it so popular. Like a number of the books on this list, The Little Prince is a children’s book with an enduring message. Check out the book’s official website here to here the stories behind the tattoos, including Ange, who has the book’s famous rose “to remind me that we should learn to know people as they truly are, and not trust simply to appearances.”

3. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Evidence: a total leg panorama sleeve, back “I’ll eat you up”, back jungle, wrist crown, hip Max, shoulder Max, chest jungle, wrist Max, feet rumpus, shoulder monster, hip rumpus.

Probably more than any other book on the list, Where the Wild Things Are captures the kid in those who have its characters tattooed on their bodies. A search of the archives turns up an equal number of Wild Things tattoos and Max tattoos, almost every one citing how they loved the book as a child. Along with The Little Prince, Wild Things seems to be the book of choice for those looking to capture the wonder of childhood storytelling. But some have more specific reasons: Deana got this tattoo of Max in commemoration of her son’s (also named Max) surviving a metabolic disease which caused him a severe form of epilepsy. “I could have never imagined how he would turn out to be such a fighter. Or all the Wild Things he would have to face in his short life. That’s how I see my Max. As the most wild thing of all. The one who told all the other wild things to BE STILL! And the rest of his life has been, and forever will be the wild rumpus.”

2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Evidence:  hip “Who in the world am I”, twinkle twinkle feet, shoulder caterpillar, hip “take care”, ankle cheshire, back nonsense, leg dodo, forearm “we’re all mad here”, shoulder cheshire, feet rabbit and hatter.

Alice has inspired the most varied collection of tattoos of any book. Its wide cast of characters, quotes and images are all represented: the Cheshire Cat, the Dodo, the White Rabbit, and the Caterpillar all have fans out there. Out of the quotes, “We’re all mad here” was the most commonly occurring. Credit Alice‘s popularity among the tattooed to the fully-realized world Carroll created, and for tone specific to its story. More than any other book on this list, you’d be likely to get an Alice tattoo because it simply looks great and is hyper-intricate. Tim, who has an image of the Cheshire Cat on his shoulder blade, said on Contrariwise: “The Cheshire Cat is the only creature in Wonderland who uses logic. Though his words often seem mocking and bizarre, his process is always logical. To me the Cheshire Cat symbolizes the fragility of the border between genius and insanity.”

1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Evidence: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), “So it goes” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Alice may have a higher volume of tattoos, but the single most popular book-inspired tattoo is, by far, “So it goes,” the mantra from Vonnegut’s most famous book. You’ll find the phrase on wrists (the most common location), forearms, upper backs, lower backs, shins, and feet. And that’s not all: the book’s other legendary phrase, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,” cropped up almost as much as “So it goes,” giving Slaughterhouse-Five two of the most-tattooed book phrases, along with “To die would be an awfully big adventure” and “i carry your heart.” In the stories that owners of the “So it goes” tattoos have posted, the saying often represents the owner’s coping with worry or loss, including Aaron, who, in remembrance of her cat Jello Biafra, had some of its ashes mixed into the “So it goes” tattoo next to an image of a cat. Some have had the tattoo done after breakups, and others have gotten the tattoo to remind them of life’s cycles. But for whatever the reason, the phrase’s broad appeal makes it king of the literary tattoos.

Photo credit: Rate My Ink

Libraries borked by ebook forks

Peter Brantley -- January 23rd, 2012

Less than a week ago, Apple delivered a groundbreaking announcement with the release of iBooks Author. A drag-and-drop authoring environment, Author makes it easy to build media-rich, interactive books in a simple-to-use tool. Positioned by its i-name as a sibling to the iWork app family, versus separate high-end design products like GarageBand, Author democratizes the production of complex structured books, notably including textbooks.

But for libraries, at a time when they are increasingly struggling to provide access to ebooks as publishers pull back from lending support, Apple has provided a rib-crunching blow by delivering proprietary output tied to the iPad. And, in Apple’s license terms, any iBook created by Author can be distributed freely, but commercial sales must run through the iBookstore. This has generated a great deal of disappointment from those who wished to see Apple release a general purpose ebook creation tool.

One of the most carefully examined attributes of the Author application is its output format. Apple has been an integral player in the development of the EPUB3 format, which takes great advantage of HTML5. It has also been a principal developer of the webkit HTML rendering engine which supports a great portion of advanced HTML5 features, and webkit’s relative ubiquity as a rendering engine means that HTML5 has spread much further, and much faster, than might otherwise be the case.

However, it is now apparent that the .ibooks format generated by Author is not straightforward EPUB3. Although the contents file could probably pass EPUB file validation with few warnings, there is significant use of new proprietary CSS language to build the ebook layout. As Baldur Bjarnason wrote, “It is one thing to deliver a format that is ePub3 in all but name. The differences between the iBooks 2.0 format and ePub3 seem all but trivial. But when that format is built around non-standard extensions to the CSS rendering model … the file is likely to forever be useless and unreadable in other reading systems.”

Apple had a clear choice to make as they were building out iBooks Author. They could either remain fully EPUB3 compliant – a standard that they helped to construct – or they could throw in a dash of proprietary display language that would provide the best possible ebook experience to the user on their tablet devices. They chose the latter. From Apple’s perspective as a competitive technology company, it’s hard to imagine them making any other decision. As Baldur notes, this is a striking choice: “One of the [EPUB3] format’s biggest proponents and supporters has forked ePub3.”

This has all sorts of ramifications. It means that if a publishers wants to create an enhanced ebook, it must either make myriad formats available (iBooks, EPUB3, KF8, and various other possible iterations), or it must pick a dominant development platform. An increasing number of new startup publishing companies will choose the latter, in the same way that mobile application developers focus first on iOS, with Android as a secondary (and non-trivial) addition. It also screws libraries.

Any library fighting to preserve access to digital books faces an nearly impossible task when confronted with Author’s new ibooks. There’s no independent platform capable of hosting these books beyond the iBookstore, and no way to drive lending. Readers wishing to take advantage of ibooks must be Apple iPad users, and no library will be maintaining an inventory of iPad bling until iPad pricing drops far lower than it is now. Even then, the tying of the ibooks format to the iPad device interferes with the library’s mission to provide as broad access to published literature as possible. It also prevents libraries, whether public or national, from preserving ibooks files in a way that ensures continual access by future generations.

Libraries can’t benefit from forked ebook standards, and they can’t benefit from proprietary platform silos, whether they’re Apple’s or Amazon’s. Should Amazon respond with its own KF8 format authoring development, the race is on to a rich universe of compelling, interactive, visually rich ebook content. But that race leaves libraries stuck at the starting post. Only if an independent rich authoring environment that generates EPUB3-compliant files emerges – which I think it will – will the library market benefit. Whether or not there will be attractive neutral distribution channels for vanilla EPUB3 files, however, remains to be seen.

Digital media: can’t give it away

Peter Brantley -- January 22nd, 2012

There’s an interesting court case about to erupt into much greater visibility that could ultimately have a big impact on digital book publishing. At its heart are issues involving digital First Sale, Fair Use, and an old friend before the courts, whether copying in RAM constitutes a copyright-infringing reproduction.

The case involves a company called ReDigi, which has created an online marketplace for pre-owned digital music. The premise is that people buy a lot of music that they never listen to – or get tired of – and would like to sell to others. ReDigi allows users to upload music tracks, verifies they came from an authorized source such as iTunes or Amazon, and then places them for sale, usually at a price of $0.79 per track. ReDigi requires the user to download software that both deletes the uploaded track from their computer and monitors the machine to ensure they do not later re-load the track. The company also returns a gratuity back to the artists and their labels.

In early January of this year, Capitol Records, a division of EMI, sued ReDigi for copyright infringement, claiming direct violations of reproduction, distribution, public performance, and public display under the Copyright Act; they also allege secondary liability for inducing (vicarious and contributory infringement). Capitol further filed for a preliminary injunction. In response, seeking a summary judgment, ReDigi asserts that Fair Use and Section 117 of the Copyright Act, which permits the personal copying of digital material such as computer programs, make its service legal.

ReDigi also asserts that their service is legal under the First Sale Doctrine, which is a limitation of copyright that stipulates that once a copyrighted item is sold, the copyright owner’s interests in the further distribution of the content are exhausted. That does not mean that the new content owner can infringe the copyright in other ways, but it does mean that they have the right to dispose of the product as they wish. First Sale is the copyright fuel that makes libraries run: they buy books, and then lend them out repeatedly. When books get worn out, they can be disposed of. (Unfortunately, there are now conflicting rulings that will ultimately have to be resolved at the Supreme Court as to whether or not First Sale’s jurisdiction includes works manufactured abroad and imported into the United States.)

The question of whether First Sale applies to digital goods has never been clearly determined. There is even baseline uncertainty whether the language governing content “distribution” as the term pertains in U.S. copyright law even encompasses digital content, vs. “material” objects such as books and CDs. Another challenge raised by digital first sale is that a distribution of content implies the creation of at least a temporary copy, and whether or not such copying constitutes copyright infringement has received no final determination. Finally, EMI’s claim of secondary liability raises an issue in copyright more familiar in peer to peer cases such as MGM v. Grokster, and is an area of intense legal discussion.

The case is on a very rapid timeline, so we will begin to hear more of the arguments around these fundamental issues in short order, with the preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for February 6. In the world of copyright and digital media policy, there’s never a dull moment.

Linked data is not for books

Peter Brantley -- January 21st, 2012

I just spent my first day at ALA Midwinter in Dallas, locked in a room with far greater experts than I on a ALCTS session on linked data. Linked data, in a nutshell, is the use of RDF to characterize metadata as sets of ordered relationships. This permits data from disparate sources to be combined in useful ways via machine processing. My counterparts: Eric Miller, Ross Singer, Corey Harper, and Karen Coyle, are all linked data enthusiasts, and have done much to advance the concepts both in the U.S. and abroad. The hope is that exposing datasets in linked data format will enable users to combine data and make new associations in innovative ways.

I think linked data is an appealing concept, but I’m not sold on it as billed, because I do not see how linked data actually assists the discovery process in meaningful ways. As I describe in my talk, I suspect linked data approaches are most attractive as linked closed data, in large aggregations of content where the owning platform can control the descriptions, tools, and associations to best meet their own needs. I could readily imagine Amazon having a tremendous linked data system, just not available at the data layer for external use. Using linked data in closed systems also obviates some of the very tricky rights issues that might emerge through CC-SA or copyleft licenses, or mandatory inclusion of commercial derivatives on cultural data, that would otherwise hinder downstream data use.

More than anything else, I think the best user experiences in the discovery of well-characterized content, for now, come through aggregations of content rather than through distributed searching. This is in contrast to open-ended discovery, where web search remains paramount; to some extent my issue with linked data reprises the battle between metasearch library systems versus centralized databases of 10 years ago. Linked data can’t do a good job with discovery because it doesn’t know the intent of the general user; the only way to guess at that effectively is by observing a great deal of search activity and user behavior, and you don’t see it by sitting on one small corner of a network. That’s why Amazon, Apple, and Facebook can provide compelling user experiences.

The corollary of this arises through the observation that both cataloging of books and their digital delivery are moving to platforms removed entirely from libraries, via the Library of Congress, OCLC, Bowker, Overdrive, 3M, and maybe DPLA in the future. In other words, library cataloguing departments are not likely to be touching linked data for books in any direct way, although they may manipulate it and use it through other interfaces. Eric Miller of Zepheira really crystallized this when he (paraphrasing) said, “This is not about linked data for libraries, but linked data for the web.” I think that’s mostly right, although I think it is probably more about linked data for archives and museums, which have the complex objects that arguably most benefit from linked data.

What did make more sense to me, and emerged at the end of our day, is envisioning how linked data might well be invisibly integrated into the workflow of libraries. In the same way that a blogger need not know HTML (or much of it) to write a web page, a library documenting upcoming community lectures, educational outings, author talks, and literacy programs might well be describing these events in a linked data format through software tools that remove the intricacy of the RDF syntax. In that way, I could envision libraries building webs of data that really would be useful, creating living calendars and information resources that spring directly out of the community well.

In other words, linked data might be one of the tools that libraries use to enter the data-driven age, at the same time they leave the world of print books they’ve historically known; an unexpected but wonderful path.

Lazy Friday Quiz: Can You Guess the Book From These Character Names?

Gabe Habash -- January 20th, 2012

It’s time to get formal. How many of these characters do you know on a full name basis?

Below, we’ve taken 10 books, each with part of a character’s name in the title, and given you in the question the part of the name left out of the title. For example, we’d say “Miss Woodhouse,” and the answer would be Emma. To reveal the answers, just highlight the white space between the questions. Got it? How many can you get? A heartfelt handshake will be given to all those who get 10/10.

1. Lady Constance

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

2. Dr. Yuri

Dr. Zhivago

3. Mr. Jay

The Great Gatsby

4. Mrs. Clarissa

Mrs. Dalloway

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The Alternate Titles of Famous Books: Who’s Afraid of Franz Kafka?

Gabe Habash -- January 19th, 2012

In his correspondence with his editor Max Perkins, F. Scott Fitzgerald waffled between Trimalchio, Trimalchio’s Banquet, Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires, The High-Bouncing Lover, Gold-Hatted Gatsby, Gatsby, On the Road to West Egg, Incident at West Egg, and Trimalchio in West Egg, before finally settling on The Great Gatsby. What’s so fascinating about these working titles is to speculate about how the legacy of Gatsby (and Fitzgerald) would be different if it had a different name. Just imagine how different the world would be if every high school sophomore in America had essays titled “The Ennui of the Upper Class in Fitzgerald’s High-Bouncing Lover.” Okay. Maybe it wouldn’t be that different. But it is fun to see how bad (and how good) some of these briefly entertained titles are.

Of Mice and Men was originally known as Something That Happened, but was scrapped when Steinbeck read Robert Burns’ To a Mouse.

Peter Benchley originally conceived Jaws as a comedy, until he started writing it and realized how badly that would turn out. If Benchley had seen his shark comedy through, perhaps the title his father suggested during its writing, What’s That Noshin’ on My Laig?, would’ve been more appropriate. Over 200 titles were considered, many of them soundly dismissed by Doubleday’s editor Thomas Congdon, including: The Jaw of Leviathan, Great White, A Silence in the Water, A Stillness in the Water, The Summer of the Shark, and The Terror of the Monster.

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Speaking with silence

Peter Brantley -- January 18th, 2012

The first computer network that I ever used was PLATO, in the mid-1970s. PLATO was pre-internet; an early mesh of computers supported by the Control Data Corporation (which used to make supercomputers) and the University of Illinois. PLATO was famous for a number of firsts, most of which revolved around pathbreaking developments in social computing. It was intended, at my school, to teach us math. In addition, well, mostly, we used it to play multi-player dungeons and dragons (Avatar) and a space game called Empire with other students around the country. That’s the key to computing: it’s most fun when we use it to share, communicate, and work with one another.

On January 18, the website of the organization that I work for – the Internet Archive – will be dark, along with the websites of Wikipedia, Mozilla, Global Voices, Benetech, O’Reilly Media, and a whole lot of other places. What we’re doing is choosing to speak. We are speaking with silence. We are speaking as a community, with our reputations, through our services, and on behalf of our users.

What all of us are saying together is that it is not right, and we cannot acquiesce, when Congress considers legislation that would curtail freedom of speech, innovation, and impose censorship. Libraries, like the Internet Archive, have a responsibility to advocate for access to knowledge and information, and to further the opportunities for people to learn and express themselves in ways that are self-realizing and socially useful. These bills – SOPA and PIPA – stand in the way of our responsibility. Continue reading

Hunger Games, Hobbits & Gatsby: The 10 Most Anticipated Book Adaptations of 2012

Gabe Habash -- January 17th, 2012

2011 was a mixed year for adaptations, ranging from bad (One Day) to okay (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to great (Drive). 2012 looks to have more sterling book-to-film adaptations on the slate, ranging from massive YA sensations to smaller, prestige pictures, and everything in between. We’ve narrowed down the year in adaptations to 10 to look out for.

10. Great Expectations (TBA 2012)

Another year, another Great Expectations adaptation, this time with Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, and Jeremy Irvine (the emoting boy in War Horse) as Pip. This version is directed by Mike Newell, owner of the weirdest filmography ever: Harry Potter 4, Mona Lisa Smile, Donnie Brasco, Prince of Persia, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. We’re not sure how necessary this is, and there are no indications that there will be anything new and different done with Dickens, and that’s why it’s likely it’ll probably be a perfectly competent  adaptation and not much more. Still, Dickens done average is better than most anything done well.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (TBA 2012)

Stephen Chbosky’s beloved book about a teenage outsider dealing with love and his best friend’s suicide finally comes to the screen. What’s most interesting is Chbosky is directing the film, and has adapted the screenplay. Whether it catches on with the teenage crowd will make or break the film. Look for Wallflower to hit around the end of the year.

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