Monthly Archives: July 2012

Dashiell Hammett’s Heirs On the Town in Hollywood

Wendy Werris -- July 30th, 2012

It was lovely to chat with Dashiel Hammett’s daughter Jo Hammett Marshall last week at the legendary literary haunt Musso &Frank’s in Hollywood. Hammett Marshall was one of about 100 people on hand for a Los Angeles Visionaries Association event. The theme of the evening was vintage antiquarian Hollywood bookstores of the 1930s and 40s, long since gone but cherished as symbols of the golden age of bookselling in Los Angeles. She was joined by her daughter, Julie Rivett.

Various speakers, including Howard Prouty, acquisitions archivist for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences library, discussed the historical significance of bookstores owned by Jake Zeitlin, Stanley Rose, and Ernest Dawson.

“My father hated Hollywood,” Hammett Marshall said, “because it showed little respect for hard-working intellectuals and literary writers like him and his friends. He and F. Scott Fitzgerald were drinking buddies, and often came here to Musso’s to have cocktails. Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman were regulars, too.”

LAVA, founded by Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, exists to bring together some of the most intriguing artists, writers, and thinkers in Los Angeles to provide cultural programming that speaks to the urban experience. The Musso & Frank Salon series meets quarterly at the famed restaurant, and the previous program featured an L.A. Noir theme. Dashiell Hammett, of course, was one of the writers discussed.

Who speaks for publishing policy?

Peter Brantley -- July 26th, 2012

The Chronicle of Higher Education has released its first ebook, appropriately enough an expanded version of its Rebooting the Academy series, which examines changes in the practice of research, teaching, and institutional management in the midst of technological change. Nearly simultaneously, on the occasion of John Siracusa’s exhaustive review of the new Apple operating system Mountain Lion, Condé Nast’s Ars Technica will soon make available a Kindle ebook for those wishing to absorb all 26,000 words in a digestible format. And, in September, the New York Review of Books will release their first title in their new ebook only imprint, NYRB-Lit.

That digitally facile publishers such as the Chronicle and Condé Nast are able to quickly produce and sell ebooks is simultaneously exceptional, and increasingly mundane. Ten years ago, publishing an ebook from a lengthy periodical series would have taken months of preparation; today, as the tools for publishing on the internet enter the mainstream book trade, anyone who can run a blog can produce an ebook. That’s not necessarily terrific news if you are an established publisher; with each news release about self- and independently-published ebooks, the value proposition of large, integrated publishing firms seems less obvious. When Los Angeles media entrepreneurs like Barry Diller and Scott Rudin see the virtue of starting up their own high-brow literary publishing endeavors, midtown real estate in Manhattan starts looking particularly expensive.

The presence of active tumult in a prominent economic sector makes it especially troubling when government agencies listen uncritically to entrenched publishing multinationals for advisement and consultation in areas of high-impact policy formulation. For example, there has been significant worldwide interest in negotiating a WIPO treaty that would make require countries to allow published, in-copyright print works to be converted into an accessible format for the blind and others with reading disabilities, and permit accessible works to be shared around the world without permission from the copyright holder. However, the United States has wavered in its support for a binding treaty, and is instead seeking softer, non-binding recommendations or guidelines.

This U.S. reluctance to finalize treaty language echos the concerns of the American Association of Publishers, as evidenced in a videotaped interview with the AAP’s vice president of policy, Alan Adler. Adler voices concerns that a binding international treaty will introduce a precedent that will make negotiations over copyright exceptions and limitations more likely for educational, library, and archival uses. Adler, and by extension the AAP, seem to forget that copyright is itself a set of specially codified grants that are carved out from public access for a limited duration, and that exceptions and limitations simply return to the public the access to creative works that is society’s baseline.

However, the rapid influx of Internet-based publishing tools, and the blossoming of a rich diversity of new self- and independent publisher services, along with new mixed media entrants taking advantage of mobile content platforms from companies like Google and Apple force us to raise a more fundamental issue: who can speak for publishing-related policy issues? Surely today we must listen not only to the large publishing combines, but also to new companies like Smashwords, Aerbook, Vook, Byliner, and The Atavist in order to understand the perspective of publishers. And equally, as publishing becomes an integral part of the firmament of the internet, the government must consult and evaluate the competing aims of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.

The time in which the AAP can speak authoritatively for publishing is over. Formulating policy over intellectual property issues that heretofore was considered the domain of a few specific industry and interest groups is instead the domain of all internet users, including readers and authors, as well as a wide range of new publisher entrants. Ours is a economy undergoing network industrialization, and if the federal government wants industry consultation, it will need to listen to the wider array of people and firms who are engineering and empowering the future of expression, instead of a handful of companies fighting the U.S. Justice Department after colluding to maximise their interests at the expense of consumers.

What Book Could You Not Finish? Readers’ Picks

Gabe Habash -- July 26th, 2012

Yesterday we took to Twitter and asked you, our dear readers, what book you couldn’t finish, using the hashtag #bookattrition. Books receiving multiple votes: Moby-Dick, The Lord of the Rings, The Passage, Eat, Pray, Love, 50 Shades of Grey, The Lacuna and A Discovery of Witches. That list is the only time you’ll ever see Moby-Dick and 50 Shades of Grey together. Hats off to you all for your clever bitterness (which is why we love you) and to Milkweed Editions (see last tweet).

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Dark Corners of the Book-Related Internet

Gabe Habash -- July 23rd, 2012

Welcome to Dark Corners of the Book-Related Internet, where we distill hours of book-related internet searching into 5 little tidbits we think you’ll love. Have a good week, everyone.

1. This Tumblr, because it’s like finding the log of a ship that went down.

2. This video:

3. Frank Delany’s RE:JOYCE, a 22-year project parsing Joyce’s Ulysses.

4. Underground New York Public Library, because every time you see someone reading a book you loved, you get excited on their behalf.

5. This Nabokov interview, if only because of the quote, “My characters are galley slaves.”

At play in fields of tablets

Peter Brantley -- July 22nd, 2012

One of the interesting trends this summer has been the ramp-up of interest in Google’s new tablet, the Nexus 7. Its launch portends far greater fireworks to come. Google has already sold out of its initial stock of the 16 GB version, and is shipping its remaining 8 GB tablets at a fast clip. The tablet, released with the newest version of the Android operating system called Jelly Bean, has received almost unanimously positive reviews for its functionality and responsiveness. Its 7″ screen size seems to hit a hand-holdable sweet spot between Apple’s 10″ iPad and large “phablets” like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which sport 5″ or 5.5″ screens.

The Nexus tablet was released as a portal device to Google Play, Google’s media catalog roughly comparable to Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s more chaotic we-sell-everything online store. Early write-ups of the Nexus 7 almost inevitably describe the Google tablet as everything the first generation Kindle Fire tablet should have been – it has better construction, a more fluid user experience, a more open store, and more impressive technical specifications. The comparisons are fitting; Google is not releasing this tablet simply as a Jelly Bean showcase. This is an arms race of dreadnoughts among emerging technology superpowers. Continue reading

Ugly Covers for Great Books

Gabe Habash -- July 19th, 2012

Scribner just released this gorgeous new edition of A Farewell to Arms, complete with all of Hemingway’s alternate endings. If you ask most people with eyes, they’ll tell you the cover is a significant upgrade from the other two most common editions (here and here). So–what other books need saving from their old jackets? Here are six great books with spotty cover histories and solutions for those…ahem…aesthetically challenged titles.

Click any of the jackets below for higher-res.

1. Evelyn Waugh

These unappealing cartoon drawings could be trying to convey the prodding and farcical elements of Waugh’s novels, illustrated representations of Waugh’s playful personality, which, as Nancy Mitford stated, was as follows: “What nobody remembers about Evelyn is that everything with him was jokes. Everything.”

But I’m not buying it. The style (which was also used, among others, for Scoop and Vile Bodies) don’t make me want to read any of them–the fonts are all over the place and nothing about the color or composition is particularly pleasing. It’s also curious that the green-shirted, tweed-suited figure seems to appear on both the Brideshead cover and the Handful of Dust cover.

Though I’m not wild about the Dust cover, let’s take these two instead:


2. William Faulkner

Ah, yes. Those distinguished gold-bronze editions with spines the glare out from across the room. I’m not sure Faulkner’s had a good cover printed since he was alive. The photos aren’t bad, and I’m actually pretty fond of the red sky, but goldbronze doesn’t look good with anything.

Worse for Faulkner: his books were published with a new look recently and look like this:

The background and title on the bottom half clashes with the top-half photo (the purple/photo of the ground combo for Sound is particularly bad), but the real issue here is the cheap frame box around Faulkner’s name. I think that box was a menu button option on the first version of iDVD. Even the goldenbronze of the older editions is better than the box.

It would be nice to see Sound get rereleased with its original cover (like the Hemingway rerelease), but instead I’ll go with the pulpier covers, which contrast nicely with Faulkner’s serious Biblical-gothic operas.

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If books were chips

Peter Brantley -- July 17th, 2012

I (belatedly) read the notes from an “Emergency eBook Meeting” that was held on June 8 in Columbus, Ohio by a small group of 17 senior librarians. They discussed the crisis resulting from publishers withholding ebooks from libraries, with the result that “… public libraries are losing their ability to provide local communities with the material they want and in the formats they use. If trends continue, the general public may lose hard-won rights to enrich lives through self-education and enlightenment.” The group concluded the meeting with an urgent call for advocacy, sensing that “without a focused strategy, we may well lose our ability to meet the reading and information needs of U.S. residents in the digital age.”

I appreciate the need for vibrant advocacy, but the report’s language seems particularly stark. For one thing, ebooks do not contain the entire sum of knowledge available to U.S. residents, and arguably more information is available to people with fewer restrictions than ever before, courtesy of Wikipedia, YouTube, and other Internet sites. The assumption that libraries exist to satisfy the reading and information needs of U.S. residents in the digital age is both quaint and hubristic. Certainly, libraries are a critical means of ensuring equal access to information and entertainment, but their vital roles include providing a gamut of social services, assistance, and outward facing publishing functions for their patrons. We must not lose sight of our future engagements. Continue reading

5 Perfect Sentences

Gabe Habash -- July 16th, 2012

To get your week going on the right foot, here are 5 beautiful sentences.


When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters.

-This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

He was beginning to see her as a locked garden that he could sneak into and sit in for days, tearing the heads off the flowers.

-”A Romantic Weekend” by Mary Gaitskill

Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water—peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking.

-Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

He knew he was going to die but he thought this little thing might provide him with a nothing stool way off in the corner of heaven that nobody cared about.

-The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Solemnly I weighed in my hand what I was carrying under my left armpit, and for a moment I found myself enriched with an indescribable amazement as if informed that fireflies were making decodable signals on behalf of stranded spirits, or that a bat was writing a legible tale of torture in the bruised and branded sky.

-Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

The Best Stephen King Book: Readers’ Picks

Gabe Habash -- July 13th, 2012

Earlier this week, we asked you, our adored xyzists, to tell us your favorite Stephen King book using the #bestking hashtag, and boy, did you deliver. We were curious to see which book would top them all. Did you agree with NY Mag’s recent ranking of his books and put The Stand #1?

Yes, you did. With its elephantine weight, The Stand crushed all other books, receiving more than double the votes received by the #2 book, clown epic It (Jen Zeman, who picked It, said the book changed how she felt about sewer grates). In total, nearly 1 out of 4 of you Kingnuts chose The Stand. And you were adamant, too–responses included Felicia GeekyBlogger who has read The Stand 10 times and Jack W Perry who says the book “transcends genre.”

Old favorites like On Writing and The Shining also stuffed the ballot box, but newcomer 11/22/63 already has a number of fans, receiving more votes than Carrie, Pet Sematary, and any of the Dark Tower books.

Let us know on Twitter or in the comments which author which should do next!

*The following books received 4 or fewer votes:

4 votes: Under the Dome, Different Seasons, Carrie, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass

3 votes: The Long Walk, The Green Mile, Duma Key, Pet Sematary

2 votes: The Dark Half, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Tailsman

1 vote: Dark Tower III: The Waste Land, Hearts in Atlantis, Insomnia, Cujo, Rose Madder, Danse Macabre, The Wind Through the Keyhole, Christine, Bag of Bones, Lisey’s Story, Night Shift, Cell, Gerald’s Game

This is the World’s Smallest Book

Gabe Habash -- July 10th, 2012

It’s a fact that book people are superficial. There are a few books in my library that I love just a bit more because of how they look: my row of new Nabokov editions (which Vintage still hasn’t completed!), the shimmery Fitzgerald editions designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith (that have perforated bookmarks on the reverse flap that, of course, I’ll never, ever rip out), and every single Melville House novella.

I’m very gentle with my books, and just a little bit more gentle with the books in the aesthetically-pleasing camp. But there’s no more practical beautiful book I own than the two minibook poetry collections I have: The Branch Will Not Break by James Wright and Silence in the Snowy Fields by Robert Bly.

The books, published by Wesleyan University Press, are so small you can put them in your back pocket, your shirt pocket, or maybe even that little vestigial pocket inside the pocket of your jeans. They’re so small that I’ve used them as temporary bookmarks for other, regular-size books.

Here are some stats. For comparison, I’ll use hardcover leviathan 1Q84:


1Q84: 6.4 x 1.8. 9.4 inches

The Branch Will Not Break: 2.2 x 0.4 x 3 inches


1Q84: 2.8 pounds

The Branch Will Not Break: 1.4 ounces

Wright’s collection (which is better than Bly’s, but let’s not get into that) was published as a special 50th anniversary edition. I wouldn’t recommend it for people who have any sort of eye problem, but for my two years in grad school I kept it in the front pocket of my backpack and took it out to read on subway rides a few dozen times. There’s something comforting in waiting for the L train and realizing that the best poem of all time was on my person. And because the tiny Wright book has probably traveled (literally) with me more than any other book, it’s one of the most beat-up books I own, and also one of my favorites.

Now, if we could only get Wesleyan to do some more of these…