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Month: July 2007

Optimal Copyright

Rufus Pollock, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of Cambridge, has done a calculation that he says shows the optimum term of copyright is 14 years. He will present his paper, entitled Forever Minus a Day? Some Theory and Empirics of Optimal Copyright, at the 2007 SERCI Congress in Berlin this week.


Read a Book

director’s comments

via splodinvark

Colleagues Remembered

The images are of people who have been laid off from the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle. They come from a feature at the newspaper’s website called “Colleagues Remembered.”


Who are these people?

Or to put it another way, what do they have in common?

Make your best guess. Answer tomorrow.


Dharma Bummed

memory babeGerald Nicosia asserts that Viking Penguin and the estate of Jack Kerouac are “deliberately removing my name from books on the Beat generation and Jack Kerouac.” The Kerouac estate was passed to his third wife, but Nicosia had supported a failed claim to the estate by the author’s daughter, who argued that the will in question was forged. Nicosia also criticized the estate for selling off portions of Kerouac’s archives, such as the original On the Road typewriter scroll, which was sold for $2.4 million.

Nicosia published Memory Babe, his biography of Kerouac, with Grove Press in 1977 (the book was reprinted by University of California Press in 1994). He says that Viking Penguin is deliberately suppressing references to his book. “What Viking Penguin is doing,” he adds, “violates the spirit of the Beats, who stood for openness.”

The truth of the matter appears difficult to establish, but it does appear someone is lying. According to Nicosia, John Leland, author of Why Kerouac Matters, confessed to him in a phone call that Penguin editor Paul Slovak pressured him to remove or change citations to Nicosia. But Leland says that “No one at Viking Penguin ever asked me to remove his name,” Leland said. “I told Nicosia that there were several citations to his book in Why Kerouac Matters. There is one in the text and one in the bibliographical essay. That’s all there ever was.”

The fiftieth anniversary of On the Road‘s original publication will occur September 5.

Information in this post is via an article by Heidi Benson in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Categorizing Books

At Mercury House I used to have a weakness for books that did not fall into clear categories. The most interesting work is often done at the margins, at the borders (which is also where translators do their thing).  But books have to go somewhere in the bookstore, and publishers try to control there placement by inserting little category tags (usually placed near the price or bar code). There is an art to this, though a very imperfect one. On-line book sites face a similar problem. LibraryThing has compared their system of tagging to that of Amazon (guess whose they prefer) in an interesting post.

Faint Praise

faint praise: the plight of book reviewing in AmericaFaint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, by Gail Pool. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2007. 184 pages, 6 x 9 in., bibligraphy, index, $19.95 (paper).

Gail Pool sent me this book because she picked up a quote from Guy Davenport off this website. I once did a fair amount of reviewing — I was a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association — but, as I’ve mentioned before, I became disaffected with reviewing, and rarely review in print any more. I suppose I was worn down by the banality and mediocrity of most book reviews (a charge from which I do not necessarily exempt my own contributions).

Does it have to be that way? Gail Pool doesn’t think so, and it’s encouraging to hear that she still believes in reviews, thinks they matter, and imagines that significant industry-wide improvement are possible. I admire her attitude, and I’d like to think she is right. But I can’t fully share her optimism — not, at least, as concerns what she calls “traditional book reviews.”

Read More

Monolingualism and the Presidency

Few U.S. presidents have spoken foreign languages, and the current crop of candidates does not offer great hope of improving matters. But there are a few aspiring commanders-in-chief who have some command of other languages, such as Bill Richardson, who speaks not only English and Spanish but also French. The scariest of these is James Gilmore who learned German as a counterintelligence officer — can you picture a German-speaking Republican spy in the White House? The full list is at Language Log.

Is It Serious?

muck monsterAlthough BoingBoing has already copied the entire article (under the heading “Ursula LeGuin rips into Slate Magazine”), this post “on serious literature,” which appears on the Ansible website, is marked “copyright Ursula K. Le Guin, 2007.” So I will quote just an excerpt. It pertains to the issue of whether genre fiction is serious writing, which is not merely an abstract concern. My friend Rod Clark, editor of Rosebud magazine, has lost some sources of funding because of his refusal to exclude genre fiction from his journal.

Something woke her in the night. Was it steps she heard, coming up the stairs? … As she heard the click of heel bones that had broken through rotting flesh, she knew what it was. But it was dead, dead! God damn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it to save serious literature from its polluting touch, the horror of its blank, pustular face, the lifeless, meaningless glare of its decaying eyes! What did the fool think he was doing? Had he paid no attention at all to the endless rituals of the serious writers and their serious critics — the formal expulsion ceremonies, the repeated anathemata, the stakes driven over and over through the heart, the vitriolic sneers, the endless, solemn dances on the grave? … Could it be that that Chabon, just because some mad fools gave him a Pulitzer, had forgotten the sacred value of the word mainstream? …

Read the full post.

New Graphic Design

new graphic design

Alki1 has created a nice Flickr set of examples of the so-called new graphic design. If you’re interested in that modular Swiss look, it’s a good resource.


More posts on graphic design:

[catlist ID=32 numberposts=10]


Borges and the Maya Pyramids

borges by tom christensen

When Borges (1899-1986) was eighty he visited Mexico for a week of talks, conferences, and tributes. He decided to visit the Maya site of Uxmal, although his hosts warned him that it would be an arduous trip involving taxis, airplanes, jeeps, and who knows what. But he insisted and arrived at the site as the sun was setting. Borges — who was completely blind in his last decades — sat quietly in front of the pyramids for an hour or so. Then he rose and thanked his hosts for an unforgettable experience.

More on Uxmal at Buried Mirror
Based on a post at El Libro de Geno

The Sorted Books Project

relax, says the sorted books project

Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project involves rearranging the titles from a single collection in conceptual clusters.

The process is the same in every case: culling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom. The final results are shown either as photographs of the book clusters or as the actual stacks themselves, shown on the shelves of the library they were drawn from. Taken as a whole, the clusters from each sorting aim to examine that particular library’s focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies — a cross-section of that library’s holdings. At present, the Sorted Books project comprises more than 130 book clusters.

It’s a cool concept, but the actual results, to judge from the images online, are a little underwhelming. Also, the books are shown in shelf position, causing the familiar “book browser’s crick” in viewing (since more titles read horizontally than vertically). To save readers of this blog from chiropracter expenses, I’ve rotated the image above.

Via Namastenancy.

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