concept to publication

Month: August 2007 Page 1 of 3

Edward Seidensticker, 1921-2007

edward seidensticker and donald ritchie

Edward Sedensticker, who died at 86 on Sunday in Tokyo, was one of the greatest translators of Japanese literature. He had been in a coma for months following a head injury. Among his books were The Tale of Genji, Snow Country and Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature; The Makioka Sisters and “Some Prefer Nettles” by Junichiro Tanizaki and The Decay of the Angel by Yukio Mishima.

He first studied Japanese at the Navy’s Japanese Language School. After serving in the Pacific during WW2, he traveled to Japan. Later he taught at Sophia University in Tokyo and at Stanford, Columbia, and the University of Michigan. Recently he wrote a two-volume history of Tokyo (Edo).

Archer Returns

ross macdonald, by thomas christensenThe entire series of Ross Macdonald Lew Archer novels is returning to print from Vintage Books. The early Archer novels are derivative of Chandler — some would say the entire series is — but as Macdonald’s career progressed he became more interested in the buried roots of violence than its turbulent theatricality. Archer would often trace the sources of crime back through generations as he explored the psychological development of relationships and situations that turned abusive. Chandler was a great innovator, but his alcohol-infused narratives are ultimately misogynistic; Archer, though in the “hard-boiled” mode of Chandler’s Marlowe, moved away from such attitudes. Macdonald created complicated plots, but his quest was ultimately ontological, as he sought to lay bare the hidden nature of reality behind its public facade.

Back online

The server for this site was down for more than two days with “massive corruption to the operating system.” It felt like forever.

Previously scheduled posts should start to appear momentarily (below this one).

Come in

ford madox ford, james joyce, and ezra poundA story often repeated is that Joyce’s sometime amanuensis, Samuel Beckett, inserted the words “come in” into Finnegans Wake, unaware that Joyce was answering a knock at the door. This story originates, I think, with Richard Ellman’s biography, James Joyce; at any rate it appears there. I think that Beckett himself may have promoted the anecdote, which may be more pertinent to him than to Joyce.

But where in the text does this phrase appear?

Dutch Type

Publisher 010 Uitgeverij has made what I think is probably a smart decision to put their 2004 title Dutch Type by Jan Middendorp in Google Book Search. Of course we have seen public domain books in GBS for some time (by the way, it is absurd for Google to claim any proprietary rights at all on those titles just because they scanned them), but recently more publishers have been moving toward allowing their copyrighted materials into the program as a strategy for book marketing and promotion.

dutch type: cover

Voldemort conjures a preposition

volemort on language

In an article entitled “Prepositional Anxiety and Voldemort’s Wand” Language Log takes J. K. Rowling to task for this sentence, spoken by her evil wizard, Mr. Riddle:

My wand of yew did everything of which I asked it, Severus, except to kill Harry Potter.

The article maintains that the “of which” construction is the result of a “superstition” against ending a clause with a preposition; the origin of the prepophobia is attributed to Dryden.

Well, fine. The article goes on to assert that “the normal way to render this in Standard English would be one of these”:

My wand did everything which I asked of it.
My wand did everything that I asked of it.
My wand did everything I asked of it.

Supposedly, Voldemort has transposed the “of” from its penultimate position and placed it in front of the word “which” (a relative pronoun according to traditional grammatical parsing). The result is a sentence that sounds just a little contorted, a bit twisted, and … hey, wait a second, this is dialogue, right? Spoken by Mr. Twisted himself? Hmmmm.

By the way, where I come from from where I whence I to my ear the “normal way” to render this would be

My wand did everything I asked

(a sentence that in most cases is better thought than uttered aloud).

Related posts

It’s easy to be seduced by software. But just because you can do some cool things doesn’t mean you should. It took quite a while for it to dawn on me that my main blog pages are better without showing the related posts generated by the Aizatto software (related posts still appear on individual post pages). Since turning off that plug-in I find the main page more readable. I hope readers will agree that this an improvement.

UPDATE: I see related posts still appear in the feeds. I guess that’s okay …

How to repair books

The Darmouth libraries have an excellent tutorial on how to repair books. Among the topics covered are cleaning, tipping in pages, repairing tears, and repairing spines and hinges. Here’s a sample:

Torn pages–Two Approaches to Repair

Suggested Equipment & Supplies

  • Archival document repair tape
  • Adhesive (methyl cellulose paste)
  • Scalpel
  • Micro-spatula
  • Japanese paper
  • Tweezers
  • Press board
  • Wax paper
  • Weights
  • Small brush
  • Q-tip
  • Covered bricks
  • Mylar


Using Archival Repair Tape:

  1. All paper has a grain. Usually the grain runs opposite to how the type sits on a page. When mending a tear, first determine the correct position for the two sides of the tear to overlap. If the tear is long and changes direction, mend only one direction at a time.
  2. Small tears and those that must be mended quickly may be repaired with archival document repair tape. Use only as much as is necessary to cover the tear. While using the archival document repair tape is quick, a major disadvantage is that it often does not adhere well. You may need to use a warm tacking iron covered by a light blotter paper to set the repair tape. Paper tears mended with archival repair tape will never be as strong or last as long as those repaired with Japanese paper and methyl cellulose paste.

Using Japanese paper and a starch paste:

  1. On a small place in the book test the ink solubility by lightly brushing text with a wet Q-tip. Let it soak in very briefly, then blot. If the ink runs or fades, do not use this method to mend a tear. See Using Archival Repair Tape. If the ink appears stable proceed with the mend.
  2. Support the book by opening it to the page needing repair and resting the remaining part of the book against two covered bricks. The book will form an L with the repair page parallel to the work surface. Put a piece of wax paper between the page to be repaired and the next page in the book.
  3. Tear a strip of Japanese paper, along its grain, approximately 1/2 inch wide and slightly longer than the tear. Lay the strip on a sheet of mylar and paste, running your brush in one direction–from bottom to top. Using tweezers gently lift the strip and center it over the tear. Use the micro-spatula to gently work the strip into the correct position. Place a piece of wax paper over the mend.
  4. Leaving the wax paper in place, put a piece of press board and a small weight on top of the repair and let dry for at least one hour. If the tear extends to the edge of the page, the mending strip should be trimmed to 1/8 inch over the page edge. Add paste to the extended mend strip edge and fold it over the other side of the page. Repeat drying procedure.

Certificate in literary translation

The University of Rochester has begun offering an undergraduate certificate in literary translation. This is a great idea.

Meanwhile the department of comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where I studied) is fighting threats to close the department.

UPDATE, 26 August 07: “Outrageous ignorance” at the University of Wisconsin.

Kontrapunkt typeface

Most free typefaces are worth about what you pay for them. But the Danish design firm Kontrapunkt (I think the word means “counterpoint”) has released its fine corporate typeface in type 1 format as a free download. Designed by Bo Linneman, it was awarded the Danish Design Prize for best typeface in 2004. Kontrapunkt is a square slab serif available in light and bold versions. It’s a highly legible face reminiscent of Eurostile. On the Kontrapunkt website it is used in headers in all caps, which further accentuates its squareness (maybe a little too much). Because it has been offered as a free download for a few years now, it might be starting to look a bit familiar, but it’s still a good, functional face. Here’s what it looks like with a variety of text faces.

kontrapunkt free typeface

For something similar, see Cholla Slab.

Google book search

Looks like Google is starting to throw some weight behind their book search.

Judging the Booker by Its Covers

Snap judgments from Sam Jordison at the Guardian.

Little Planets

little planets: an experiment in photography

Quoting from the site:

A peculiar sort of remapping for spherical panoramas that makes everything look like an illustration out of The Little Prince.

Basically, to make these, you have to make an equirectangular first. Your best resources for learning how are panomundo and panoguide. It’s not easy and is rarely cheap.

From there, you remap the equirectangular in one of two ways. You can resize it to a square and convert from Cartesian to polar coordinates (you can even get away with non-360 panos) or you can do a Stereographic remapping using the open-source Hugin, the GIMP Mathmap plugin, or the Photoshop shareware plugin, Flexify, then crop.

On the Road

graphic design: covers of jack kerouac's on the road

Click the image above for an extensive collection of covers of Kerouac’s On the Road. How interesting to see all the different takes on the book! The Italians generally do a pretty good job.

RELATED: Why Kerouac Matters

Above all, On the Road matters for its music: its plaintive, restless hum. In it, Kerouac perfected a melancholy optimism and a yearning for solace a thousand times richer and subtler than the mournful sap that drips down from so many contemporary American films and novels….

Standards of Journalism

Print journalists criticizing bloggers is nothing new. So when Michael Skube, a journalism professor at Elon University, wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, in which he asserted that bloggers do no real reporting, it was difficult to suppress a yawn.

To bolster its argument — or to give it the appearance of specificity — Skube’s article mentioned four blogs by name. One of those was Talking Point Memo. TPM found that odd and sent Skube an e-mail, to which he responded

I didn’t put your name into the piece and haven’t spent any time on your site. So to that extent I’m happy to give you benefit of the doubt …

Gosh that’s generous! To that extent! The benefit of the doubt!

TPM followed up, pointing out that his article — which had appeared that very day — had in fact mentioned the site by name. And got another response:

I said I did not refer to you in the original. Your name was inserted late by an editor who perhaps thought I needed to cite more examples.

In short, the esteemed journalism professor, in an article criticizing online reporting, allowed an opinion to go to print under his byline about a subject he never researched and admits knowing nothing about.

There is just so much still to learn from print journalists.


A proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution

I’ve been thinking about how our system of appointing Supreme Court justices is flawed. Life expectancy is increasing and presidents are appointing younger justices now, who might serve thirty or forty years. If several positions open up during the same term, a single president has the ability to determine the course of the court for a generation.

Here’s the refinement I suggest: allow only one justice to be appointed during a particular presidential term. If another slot needs to be filled, appoint a temporary justice to serve until the next presidential term.

As we know from our history, many U.S. presidents are dimwits who should not be entrusted with this kind of legacy. This would spread the appointment of justices over more presidential terms, balancing things out a bit. It would not favor any particular position, such as liberal or conservative, but it would moderate the present randomness of the appointment process.

Someone help me get this enacted, okay?

Weinberger on Sontag

sontag: at the same timeSusan Sontag has positive associations for me for a personal and I suppose fairly trivial reason — she sent a generous letter to me when I was director of Mercury House saying she admired our publishing program. You might be surprised how rare that kind of gesture is.

Eliot Weinberger appears to put personal considerations behind him in his review of Sontag’s At the Same Time, which was originally published in the New York Review of Books and has now been published online by Powell’s. It is a remarkably evenhanded review (which takes the occasion of the book’s publication to survey Sontag’s whole body of work). Weinberger sees Sontag as a flawed figure whose production never quite equalled the conception, or perception, of it.

He does not hesitate to fault Sontag for such things as a lack of humor, a disinterest in contemporary poetry, a tendency to favor male writers. At the same time, he gives credit where it is due.

In the end, there are three Sontag books to read: On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, and a third, invented volume, drawn from the other books, of her selected portraits (Artaud, Benjamin, Barthes, Canetti, Cioran, Godard, Leiris, Lévi-Strauss, Pavese, Riefenstahl, Sebald, Serge, Tsypkin), for, as an idolizer, she wrote her best essays on single figures, rather than larger tropes. Three good books is a lot, more than most writers achieve, though perhaps not what she imagined of herself, or for herself. In 1967, she had written in her journal:

My image of myself since age 3 or 4 — the genius-schmuck. . . . Sartre (cf. “Les Mots”) the only other person I know of who had this “certainty” of genius.

(By “schmuck” she meant her personality flaws, and her inability, at the time, to form long-lasting relationships.) It is a Hollywood cliché that a beautiful actress needs an element of ugliness to become a great star, and one might say that a genius needs an element of stupidity, or something wrong, to become a great imaginative writer. Sartre certainly had his. But Sontag seems to have had nothing stupid about her at all. Arguably the most important American literary figure or force of the last forty years, she may ultimately belong more to literary history than to literature.

I don’t think there’s any need for me to argue particular points or to review his review. Instead, just go check it out — it’s well worth reading.

Who has been editing Wikipedia?

The new ability created by Wikipedia Scanner to track Wikipedia edits by IP address has brought some folks hours of entertainment. Where have the collaborative encyclopedia’s edits been coming from?

No doubt more revelations will be forthcoming.

Update, 32 Aug. The Dutch royal family admits scrubbing an entry.

You didn’t think you had any privacy online, did you?

(The wikipedia scanner link, at this writing, is down .)

Morphing symmetry

Reader Raymond Brown has written in with another approach to looking at facial asymmetry. (This follows up on my left face/right face experiments.) He explains his technique this way:

Your experiments with facial asymmetry reminded me of some experiments of my own. What I did was impose an averaging symmetry on asymmetrical faces using a morphing program and a single photo with its mirrored version (see attachment). I find the results a little creepy, the celebrity instantly recognizable, but . . . a sort of hyper-idealized version of reality. De Niro’s rumpled face is symmetrically rumpled! And he’s staring you down as well! Anyway, hope you enjoy it!

I’ve quoted from his e-mail with his generous permission. Here is an example of his work (I’ve adjusted the tones slightly and reduced the size to fit my window).

averaged morphed image of de niro

I like this approach. Whereas my approach spun new versions off from the center, emphasizing (and exaggerating) the differences between the two sides of a face, this technique elides the differences to produce a new middle out of bookends created by mirroring the initial image.

LINK: more examples

Ghost signs


I love ghost signs. I’ve been meaning to take some pictures in SF. Now I find (via Book of Joe) that Sam Roberts has an entire blog devoted to them.

Page 1 of 3

Some rights reserved 2021 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via