Monthly Archives: January 2013

The 10 Most Notorious Parts of Famous Books

Gabe Habash -- January 31st, 2013

A little controversy goes a long way in the book world, where tweets from prestigious publishers resembling Kanye West lyrics cause people to flip out. In the case of the books below, notoriety and controversy have added an extra facet to their reputations, propelling discussion and (in some instances) fierce debate that involved censorship. Here are our picks for the most infamous passages of famous books. Some spoilers follow.

1. The talking poo in The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

If you read The Corrections a long time ago and forgot all about its industrial-to-tech themes, the particulars of its familial strife, or even the characters’ names, you probably remember Alfred, as he descends further and further into insanity, hallucinating that his poop is out to get him, hanging from the ceiling and marching on him. It’s hard to find a review of Franzen’s book without a take on the scene. Some examples:

“The passage is amusing, but it reduces Alfred to something of a ventriloquist’s doll.” – Yale Review of Books

“Alfred’s hallucinations of turds were grimly funny, too, though Franzen is well aware that humour like this carries a risk.” – The Guardian

“Franzen manages to take it to the point where we don’t worry about his mental state, because he is simply providing us with comedy gold.” – A Novel Approach

Nearly a decade after the book’s publication, people were still talking about it: Ron Charles of The Washington Post hinged the opening of his review of Freedom on Franzen’s scatology.

2. Leslie’s death in Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson has been challenging adolescent emotional stability for over 30 years with Bridge to Terabithia, a nice tale of friendship in which Jess and Leslie pal around in made-up sanctuary Terabithia, which is actually better than their real lives. Thing is, Terabithia is only reachable by this rope swing, and this rope swing hangs over a pretty dangerous creek. And, one day, while trying to get to Terabithia, let’s just say Leslie doesn’t make it all the way across. Hey, kids, here’s your lesson: everybody dies!

3. The part with the prostitute in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Antsy kids can surely find more titillating outlets for their hormones today, but for decades you could find them under beds and in closets, hiding from their parents and reading The Catcher in the Rye for its juicier bits, which they heard from all their friends were juicy indeed. Holed up in the Edmont Hotel in New York City, Holden spends an ultimately unfulfilling evening out with older women, before inviting Sunny up to his room. Never mind that his invitation also goes unfulfilled, The Catcher in the Rye has experienced more censorship and controversy than just about every other book published in the last century. Continue reading

At ALA, ReadersFirst Moves Forward A Notch

Peter Brantley -- January 31st, 2013

ReadersFirst meeting at ALA MWReadersFirst, the international coalition of libraries seeking to reassert control of user discovery and access for digital content, turned out on a rainy, cold afternoon at Seattle Public Library during ALA Midwinter to discuss their goals with the library vendor community. Members of the ReadersFirst (RF) steering committee ran over the organization’s history and mission, and then elicited engagement with senior representatives from the companies selling services that often, at present, conflict with the goals of RF.

RF seeks a common, cross-content discovery layer in the library catalog so that users only experience the library’s own web services. RF’s goal is for content providers and platforms, such as Overdrive, to provide APIs that enable users to request and retrieve materials without additional vendor interaction. For example, ebooks could retrieved “under the hood” from Overdrive without the user needing to re-authenticate or encounter systems beyond the library catalog. Currently, because libraries are forced to subscribe to services from multiple vendors, the user’s experience of digital media use is fractured with multiple vendor accounts, and ebooks are then accessed through different paths ranging from download to cloud-based access. As steering committee member Christina de Castell of the Vancouver Public Library said, “We don’t need the reader to know where the library bought the ebook from.”

Tom Galante of Queens Public Library reinforced, “The reader should be able to look at their library account and see what they have borrowed regardless of the vendor that supplied the ebook.” Continue reading

Who is the Greatest American Writer? (POLL)

Gabe Habash -- January 24th, 2013

Cool map by Geoff Sawers and Bridget Hannigan.

The other day, my friend asked me who I thought was the best American writer to ever live, and coming up with an answer was more difficult than I thought it would be. But after a moment I settled on an answer and asked my girlfriend, who not only came up with a different writer–she came up with a writer I never even would’ve considered.

Which leads to the poll below. Who is the greatest American writer? In order to make this as incendiary as possible, we’re limiting you to ONE pick. And for the pranksters who want to put Shakespeare we’ve even added an “Other” field to let you pencil your pick in if you don’t see him/her in the field–but let us know what writer you added in the comments!

Note: the map above is available to purchase here.

A Maverick Library

Peter Brantley -- January 21st, 2013

Judge Nelson WolffSan Antonio, Texas has a history of supporting mavericks; in fact, the word originates from a signer of Texas Independence, Samuel Maverick, whose grandson, Maury, also held true to his surname. Now that Bexar (pronounced “Bear”) County, San Antonio’s home, is committed to building a new public library, BiblioTech, that will be devoid of all printed books, County Judge Nelson W. Wolff stands to follow in hallowed South Texas footsteps. Judge Wolff is a progressive politician who was also the founder of Sun Harvest Farms, a natural foods grocery store chain. As an elected County official, the Judge is something of an overlord along with the County Commission over many essential County-wide functions and services, including taxes and infrastructure investments.

“BiblioTech,” a play on the Spanish word for library, biblioteca, will open up on the south side of the county as a test of the proposition that providing a mix of services centered on Internet access and access to e-books is a cost effective strategy for providing information resources and library services to far-suburban and rural communities. Although the city has been providing library services to the county, it recently upped the tab from $3.7MM to $6.7MM – the highest city-county bill in the nation. As growth in unincorporated areas outside the city limits continues, the city has found it increasingly expensive to provide library services to areas without much in the way of their own tax base.

BiblioTech fits into Judge Wolff’s pattern of encouraging the long-term development of San Antonio. The vision anticipates a multi-location facility providing community information needs, with the first site serving as a model; it would be open into evening hours, available to registered County residents, and would provide access to up to an anticipated 10,000 ebook titles, supported with a pool of up to 100 e-readers. On January 15, 2013 the County gave its permission to release an RFP for an e-reader provider, a RFQ for an architect to remodel some existing underutilized County space, initial budgetary capital and operations (for computers and ebooks, among other things), and the creation of an advisory board.

Taking advantage of a visit to San Antonio, I was able to sit down with the Judge to talk about this new initiative and its longer term goals. In a wide ranging interview that included senior staff, I was impressed with his awareness of the overall public library environment. Partly inspired from the local UTSA engineering library, which went bookless in 2010, and Stanford’s engineering library, Wolff is alert to the dramatic shifts in digital access. I raised the most obvious objection from other library directors – that no digital library can be comprehensive today because of publisher reluctance to license their books – and he readily acknowledged that not all literature could be presented to county residents through an ebook platform. Yet, he was hopeful that forward-looking demonstrations of community libraries such as BiblioTech would encourage publishers to enlarge their offerings, reaching readers that lacked any bookstore.

Judge Wolff sees BiblioTech as not just a model for Bexar County, but far beyond it. With great enthusiasm, the County’s staff is rapidly gathering information about e-book vendors and licensing models; educating itself about national initiatives such as ReadersFirst; and has contacted innovative libraries ranging from New York Public to Chattanooga. BiblioTech will have a strong children’s area, with dedicated technology support and a concentration on children’s e-literature. More broadly, as expected from a leader long engaged in State and local politics, Wolff is beginning to consider what mix of community information needs can be presented through its facility; citizen education is considered an important element. And, perhaps because of its newness and innocence, it seems everyone has leapt to provide assistance. Even praise on the layout, size, and staffing of Apple stores has brought offers of help from unexpected places.

The serious grappling with what future libraries will embrace extends well beyond how they will address books. The BiblioTech team is also considering digital access to music and movies. Although the Judge’s staff had little exposure to maker spaces and some of the other forms of technology engagement and education, they were eager to learn about the range of opportunities. Wolff has been instrumental in bringing large concerns into San Antonio, such as Toyota’s newest truck manufacturing facility – on the same side of the city as BiblioTech – and has formed strong ties to Rackspace, a native San Antonio startup. and powerful cloud storage and computing provider. The opportunity to reshape libraries in San Antonio is significant, and with it there is an opportunity to inform what libraries look like across the globe.

The 10 Most Anticipated Book Adaptations of 2013

Gabe Habash -- January 17th, 2013

In our 2012 Most Anticipated Book Adaptations article, we picked The Great Gatsby for the #4 slot. Since the writing of that article, the calendar has changed to 2013 and The Great Gatsby still hasn’t come out. And even though it’s supposed to release in May of this year, we’re going to give its spot this year to a new movie, because we don’t do repeats at PWxyz. It’s just a rule, plus we needed to make room for all of the YAey adaptations this year, because you can never have too much teens-in-peril with supernatural garnish. So here are the 10 movies from books we hope are at least somewhat sort of partially worth the hype.

10. Winter’s Tale (TBA)

Though it’s probably a long shot to be released before 2014 (filming was delayed in Red Hook because of Hurricane Sandy), a lot of people will be very happy when Winter’s Tale, the adaptation of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, comes out. The cast includes Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Connelly. Set in a mythic, Victorian-style New York City and involving fantasy and time-bending elements, hopefully the adaptation will be more successful than the lackluster Cloud Atlas, another epic fantasy with time-bending elements.

9. A Most Wanted Man (TBA)

Another John le Carré adaptation comes to the big screen, following 2010′s stellar Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy–this time, in A Most Wanted Man, the plot follows a Chechan Muslim who gets caught up in the international war on terror after illegally immigrating to Hamburg, where questions of his true identity lead to white-knuckle le Carré-esque intrigue. Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Robin Wright star.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street (TBA)

Based on Jordan Belfort’s tell-all about his Wall Street deeds that resulted in a criminal conviction, The Wolf of Wall Street is directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Terence Winter of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. Scorsese’s favorite actor Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort, a Long Island penny stockbroker who served 20 months in prison for refusing to cooperate in a 1990s securities fraud case involving Wall Street corruption and mob infiltration. The movie also stars Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, and Jean Dujardin.

7. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (August 16)

The first Percy made over $225 million when it came out in 2010, and since then, children’s/YA book-to-film franchises have only gotten hotter at the box office, and author Rick Riordan’s books have likewise grown in popularity. The story here centers on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Continue reading

Reading a Story, Taking a Trip

Peter Brantley -- January 14th, 2013

Consulting a mapThanks to a suggestion from David Riordan of the New York Public Library Labs, I got a quick introduction to Field Trip, a new augmented reality (AR) Android app that emerged out of Google last autumn. Field Trip comes out of an internal startup called Niantic Labs at Google headed by John Hanke, who created an early online mapping application called Keyhole. Keyhole was acquired by Google and turned into Google Maps under Hanke’s leadership. I think Field Trip points toward a new generation of geolocal story telling, enabling us to find stories and interact with narratives wherever we happen to be. Continue reading

Can You Guess These Classic Books From Their Phantom Covers (Round 4)?

Gabe Habash -- January 10th, 2013

If you missed PWxyz’s “trademark” quiz game, Phantom Book Covers (rounds one, two, and three), here’s how it works: we make the words from a book cover vanish, and you guess what that word-free cover is. It’s simple. If you can get all 10 books below, you win an oversized stuffed animal, just like at the carnival. We have panda, kangaroo, and lizard.

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Digital Lending, In Agreement

Peter Brantley -- January 6th, 2013

Two book loving little one!This last week, the Douglas County Library (DCL) system announced that they had acquired 10,000 ebook titles from the leading self- and independently-published e-book distributor, Smashwords. At an average of $4.00, this required an expenditure of $40,000 to purchase, not merely license, a large number of ebooks for the readers of Douglas County, nearly doubling the number of titles that DCL owns to 21,000. The deal was culminated through the legal equivalent of a sketch on a cocktail napkin, not a 330 page contract with multiple addenda.

This purchase is an example of the Smashwords Library Direct program, which allows libraries and library consortia to purchase large numbers of self-published titles in a streamlined and automated fashion using whatever selection criteria they see fit; additional large library consortia, such as California’s Califa, are expected to follow DCL’s suit. Smashwords permits its authors and publishers to set their own library prices using a web-based pricing tool; the majority of its participating authors have opted for library prices at below-market levels, reflecting the premium value they place on library exposure and promotion.

The most promising aspect of the deal – and one that I hope will set a precedent – is that it was concluded through Smashwords’ acceptance of a simple document [pdf], “Statement of Common Understanding for Purchasing Electronic Content.” The keystone clause underpinning the Common Understanding’s resolutions is: “The Library affirms that it will comply with U.S. Copyright Law.” It subsequently specifies in clean and commonsense language what that means: i.e., purchase is not a transfer of copyright; the library will loan one copy for each ebook copy purchased; and it will not make derivative works such as films or translations. It affirms DCL’s right to make archival or preservation copies (Copyright Section 108(c)), and the ability to make accessible copies available to the reading impaired (Section 121). The whole document does not cover two pages. There is also a handshake agreement that should an author or publisher publish material through Smashwords without necessary rights and the library owns that title, then Smashwords will issue a request for the library to remove that title from its collection. The library will receive a refund for its purchase.

This is a model for a straightforward and civil agreement between publishers and libraries that rests solidly on current copyright, without the need for confining and restrictive licensing agreements that add complexity, increase user frustration, and diminish access without providing significant additional protection for rightsholders. I hope more publishers will be willing to take the Common Understanding, and its premise, as a template for building stronger and more trusting relationships.

15 Great Vintage Book Covers

Gabe Habash -- January 3rd, 2013

Over the holidays, I made a stop at Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, OH, one of the best places in America to lose a few hours. December 21 was customer appreciation day, which meant 10% off and coffee and cookies as you browsed the bookstore’s 50,000 books–some of which were worn, vintage editions that smelled exactly like books should smell. Here are some of the best I found.

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Design for Communites: United Steps, Big Impact

Peter Brantley -- January 2nd, 2013

Child climbing stairsAs we start a new year, it might appear that the hurdles facing public libraries have never been greater. With financially burdened communities; ebooks, movies, and music increasingly delivered through walled gardens by technology companies that have no resonance with free-to-all service; and rapidly evolving modes of publishing, it would appear that libraries are in a tight corner. That may all be true, but there are signs of rescue, signs of hope.

One of the best things coming is the growing awareness that public libraries need to solve their own problems. That is not an easy proposition; public libraries come in all shapes and sizes, from Boston and New York research libraries to small town libraries in the American west. However, the internet bridges both vast distances and town/gown differences, and we are starting to see a whole new community of libraries emerge. A portion of this effort is being negotiated through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), but the greater and more important aspect is being developed peer to peer.

A current example is the ReadersFirst initiative, a growing collaboration of libraries that has endorsed a straightforward set of propositions that seek to provide more seamless access to digital resources. ReadersFirst seeks simple but high impact goals: make content like ebooks more portable between providers, and more available to patrons; simplify integration into library discovery systems to ease access by patrons; and make content available in any useful format, whether EPUB, Mobi, or a website. And in this effort, amazingly, they may succeed.

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