concept to publication

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Nerfy Po

nerf hoop

nerf hoop

Nerf ball stuck at the net. In the early to mid 1990s I often engaged in epic nerfball contests with Po Brons0n., Who had the upper hand? I can’t say, but Po was ever a formidable opponent, that’s for sure.



Mailbag: Bellemeade Books and Jonathan Williams

Mark Bromberg of Bellemeade Books writes on the subject of Jonathan Williams, author and publisher of the Jargon Society (we published his The Magpie’s Bagpipe at North Point Press) and generously includes the above scan of a Jargon Society publication, which I take the liberty of sharing.

… I have been a long-time reader and admirer of the late Jonathan Williams and his Jargon Society Press, the website here now run by his friend and collaborator, Thomas Meyer (A selection of 1960s correspondence between Davenport and Williams about publishing, art, and life can be found here).

I thought you might enjoy this cover image of “Elite/Elate Poems” (Jargon, 1975) — with authentic-era coffee stains! — and a BellemeadeBooks post about Mr. Williams from the archives. You will be able to access the entire blog with more timely posts once you are there.

Thanks, Mark!

Mailbag: Electric Literature 2 (and party)

Andy Hunter, Editor in Chief of Electric Literature, writes:

I wanted to let you know we just released our 2nd issue, featuring work by Colson Whitehead, Lydia Davis, Stephen O’Connor, Pasha Malla, and Marisa Silver….

We made a trailer for Colson’s story: – we are always extremely grateful when you feature our videos on your site.

Sure, why not?

Will Powers (1946-2009) and “The Printer’s Error”

A friend and colleague, Will Powers, died suddenly of a heart attack on August 25. I had worked with Will when I was at North Point Press, employing him as a free-lance copy editor and proofreader. He had worked previously as a typographer at Stinehour Press, and he brought a craftsman’s eye to the projects he worked on. About twenty years ago, Will moved to the twin cities, and for the past eleven years he worked as design and production manager for the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Above, where I mentioned his work as a proofreader, I initially typed “proofreading” instead, and I was sorely tempted to retain that error, for reasons that will become apparent. Sometime in the past year or two Will e-mailed me the following poem, entitled “The Printer’s Error,” by Aaron Fogel. It seems a fitting memorial, and I hope the author will not mind me running it here in Will’s memory.

100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs; Or, Link-building Made Easy

The blog of the museum for which I do publications recently appeared on a list of “100 best curator and museum blogs.” The list was attributed to someone named Emily Thomas at That was nice, but there was no explanation who Emily Thomas is or how the list was arrived at, and a visit to the onlineuniversities site raised as many questions as it answered.

Some days later the museum received an e-mail from Emily Thomas suggesting that she guest blog for us and pointing to the list to establish her bona fides.

Why are you here?

I’m curious what topics readers of this blog are most interested in. If you’ve visited before you probably realize that this blog deals with all sorts of book issues, and some other things as well.

Order of answers is randomized. Select as many answers as you like.

[polldaddy poll=1850262]


Image from hugovk’s photostream


Amazon’s appalling policy

Many authors, among them C. Dale Young, report that Amazon is censoring books with sexual, and especially GLBT, content by removing them from their rankings, apparently in an effort to make the titles less visible to the general public.

Edward Campion, saying the Amazon policy “represents the greatest insult to consumers and the most severe commercial threat to free expression that we’re likely to see in some time,” is among those calling for a boycott of the company.

Here’s more from Campion:

To add insult to injury, such anti-Semitic texts as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion remain within the ranking system while the less offensive books named above [D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill] are considered too “adult.” In other words, if you’re a writer who has written openly about sex, Amazon considers you worse than an anti-Semitic writer who helped initiate pogroms and concentration camps.

Amazon’s side of the story? Publisher Mark Probst received this communication from Amazon:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

For more on this issue, including links and contact information, see Campion’s post.

I have removed the Amazon link from my right sidebar. The Powell’s link remains, and I encourage readers to buy from their local independent bookstore, or else to order from Powell’s.


Writers reading Right Reading

links to tom's glossary of publishing termsThe image at right is a selection from my inlinks tag in Google Reader. It shows websites that have been linking to mine (these are all via Google Blog Search). This is less than a single day’s sample. As you can see, all of a sudden many people are posting links on their blogs to my glossary of book publishing terms.

I’m sure the number of links is not staggering compared to pages that go viral on places like Digg. Still, the glossary has gotten about 5,000 views over the past five days.

Rethinking twitter

follow me on twitter

In recent weeks I’ve gradually been turning twitter into something somewhat useful. To do so I had to undo my foolish initial approach to it.

Mutanabbi Street reading

make books not war

There will be a reading from the Mutanabbi Street anthology that Red Hen Press recently published, tomorrow, March 11, at 7:30 at Overland Books in San Francisco. The book (which I haven’t seen yet) collects writing that commemorates the bombing of Baghdad’s booksellers’ row and celebrates freedom of expression. I have an essay in the anthology. Tomorrow’s reading, however, will be entirely of works by the Iraqi authors who are in the book, and I will be the proxy reader for “Escape from al-Mutanabbi Street” by Muhammad al-Hamrani.


Broadside “Make Books Not War” by Sarah Bodman. Text translated into Arabic by Nejat Chalabi and handwritten by Nadia Chalabi. More info here.


Should publishing be open?

Tim O’Reilly makes some points in its favor.


Charles Montgomery Burns Blogging Award

charles montgomery burns award

Almost a year ago, the excellent India Ink was tagged for excellence in blogging, an award she rebranded as the Charles Montgomery Burns Award. Mr. Burns is the owner of the Springfield nuclear power plant on the Simpsons. Well, India’s blog is hot.


The Writers Center is looking for a Business and Operations Manager, “overseeing day-to-day business functions and facility upkeep and maintenance.” The job pays $35-40K. They are located in the DC area.


The kindness of strangers

Here’s a cool thing. I received an e-mail yesterday from Dave Kellam, someone I didn’t know. An excerpt:

Just found your blog today, via India Amos. I’m an aspiring book designer, and it’s been fun poking through your site. One of the posts linked to another post ( about wanting a WP plugin. I’ve created a few WordPress plugins, and might be able help you out with you with a custom plugin.

Literary Prizes

booker prize collageHaving served on several literary award committees, ranging from local ones like the Northern California Book Awards to national gigs like serving as an NEA panelist, I recognized something of the process revealed in forty years of recollections of Booker Prize judges, as reported in the Guardian recently.

If you are going to participate in this sort of thing you have to focus on the promotional benefits, the advantages to the winning and shortlisted authors, and the value to readers of having good books brought to their attention. Because if you focus on the process or the fairness of the results, you will go mad. As one of the judges, Hillary Mantel, says, “I’m glad I was a Booker judge relatively early in my career. It stopped me thinking that literary prizes are about literary value. Even the most correct jury goes in for horsetrading and gamesmanship, and what emerges is a compromise.”

James Wood adds: “The absurdity of the process was soon apparent: it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins.”

Ah, the horse trading. “The choice of PH Newby’s Something to Answer For, Frank Kermode reports about the 1963 prize, “was the result of a compromise. Dame Rebecca [West] didn’t dislike it as much as nearly all the others.” Beryle Bainbridge recalls of the 1997 process: “All I can remember of the final meeting is that I got terribly tired, I literally sank lower and lower under the table. Brendan Gill, who I thought was American, went towards the balcony saying he was going to throw himself off, he was so fed up. Philip Larkin was completely silent most of the time. Nobody dared say a word to him and he never said a word back.”

Of course there were judges such as Saul Bellow who dealt with the process with aplomb. Antonia Fraser says, “I shared a taxi back with fellow judge Saul Bellow on a long, long ride from somewhere in the City: he was nattily dressed in a pale green shantung suit, blue shirt, green tie with large blue dots on it; his silver hair and slanting, large dark eyes made him look like a 30s film star playing a refined gangster. Suddenly he leaned forward and asked: ‘Has anyone ever told you that you’re a very handsome woman?’ I pondered on a suitable reply, modest yet encouraging. But having spoken, the Great Man closed his eyes and remained apparently asleep for the rest of the journey.” And George Steiner seems pleased with his experience, humbly noting of the panel of which he was a part, “It was the most illustrious panel in the Booker’s history.”

But on the whole the process appears remarkably random. As Jonathan Coe says, “How very arbitrary it seems, in retrospect. There was nothing wrong with our shortlist, and nothing wrong with our winner (Last Orders, by Graham Swift), but at 12 years’ distance, it feels as though we could easily have chosen another six novels altogether.” Which leads Paul Bailey to conclude, “There are many things I regret doing, and being a judge for the Booker prize is one of them. For some years after I was associated with two novels I absolutely loathed and would not have even started reading in other circumstances.”

David Lodge’s judgment is worth giving the final word to: “the overtly competitive nature of these prizes, heightened by the publication of longlists and shortlists, takes its psychological toll on writers; and, given the large element of chance in the composition and operation of judging panels, the importance now attached to prizes in our literary culture seems excessive. A committee is a blunt instrument of literary criticism.”


Image via the Guardian


Seen at BEA

A few sightings from this year’s book publishing trade convention:

  • Dan Halpern of Ecco Press among a group of people hoping to win Sex and the City tickets.
  • Dale Pendell (Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brown) strolling between halls at 9:29, headed for his autographing session scheduled for 9:30.
  • Numerous booksellers strangely still lining up for signed books from Jackie Collins
  • Desperate Scientology boothers practically kidnapping weary passersby whose attention was flagging
  • Project Runway’s Daniel Vosovic in a conservative suit, with sneakers
  • Leonard Nimoy’s publisher delivering only 15 books 0f his The Full Body Project (“interpretive nude photographic studies of full-bodied women”) for his signing (disappointing a long line of fans)
  • Like Water for Chocolate translators in a line for a book of sheet music called Mariachi for Gringos, then threatening to perform the songs on a ukulele.

ukulele rocky

Photo of some guy from Hawaii holding a uke
via Pieces and Bits.


Literary dealbreakers

bookshelfThat’s what Rachel Donadio, in an article in the New York Times, calls this sort of situation: You’re in the getting-to-know-you stages of a relationship, and you encounter for the first time the other person’s bookshelf. Could what you see there cause you to break up the relationship then and there? How appalling would the book list have to be?

A shelf full of Any Rand would give me pause. At Donadio’s blog, readers offer their own nominations, which include such books as The Da Vinci Code and The Alchemist and such authors as Rand, Tom Peters, and even Umberto Eco.

The premise has something of a Nick Hornbyish High Fidelity quality to it. A commenter named Dante remarks on Donadio’s blog “Only a completely pretentious jackass would use a book as a measure of someone’s worth.” But another, with the handle of Oscar Wilde, says that “Only superficial people don’t judge by appearances.”

I suppose that blogs would have deal breakers as well. What kind of topic would incline you unsubscribe from a bookish blog?


Image (detail) from Nikita Kashner’s photostream


Community building

For 7 Junipers, my new website on Asian Art and Culture, I am looking to make a few connections with other bloggers pursuing similar interests. If anyone knows of any good sites, resources, directories, etc., please let me know. Thanks! — Tom

Your shelves

rachel and dan's library at is a project of kimbooktu, who explains:

I collect pictures of libraries of ordinary people. People who love to read – and collect – books from all over the world. Every time I get a new ‘library’ I am amazed at how book lover’s keep their possessions. The fun part is; all the libraries have something in common. It is impossible to say who owns which library. All the shelves are loved. And most of the time there is too little space.

Gender, country, religion, color. It is said that one’s books say a lot about a person. But all the libraries on Your Shelves! just scream one thing at me. Passion for books. The rest does not matter. It is really about the things in what we are alike. Books.

It’s interesting, from an interior decorating and livestyle point of view, to see the diversity in the libraries. Every one of which is more orderly and less sprawling than mine, which desperately needs editing.

Shown is the library of Rachel and Dan from Schuylerville, New York (Kimbooktu is based in the Netherlands). They “love all kinds of books, but particularly love books about natural history, books about books, historical mysteries, jazz books, and fiction by Michael Ondaatje, George Macdonald Fraser, Sarah Bird, Charles Dickens, Russell Banks, Robertson Davies, Patrick O’Brian and Ian Rankin.”

Policy statement

It has become necessary for me to articulate policies that will be posted on my blogs.

Outright spam is straightforward to deal with, but here and elsewhere I am increasingly receiving marginal, opportunistic comments that, while they may appear to contribute faintly, are mainly intended to benefit the commenter through their links and anchor text. I have struggled with how to respond to comments that fall into this gray area.

I don’t believe in the default WordPress nofollow function that is intended to prevent search engines from following links in comments. If you contribute you should receive benefit, and I am sticking with that position. But maintaining site quality is paramount — otherwise the time I devote to my websites would not be well spent and the visitor experience would be diluted.

Because I am posting them now does not mean that I did not also reserve these rights previously. I will be going back and cleaning up comments on older posts.

A link to the following statement will appear on all my blog pages (it’s in the left sidebar on this site).


  • Comment moderation: Comments on this blog are moderated. I reserve the right to edit or remove any post or element of a post for any reason. That said, I do try to be as hands off as possible.
  • Do follow: Links on this site have the nofollow function turned off. If people are contributing to the site’s content they should benefit from its links. (You can show appreciation by linking back or bookmarking.)
  • No keywords in author names: Either a real name or a handle is okay, but if I think you are using an author name simply to target keywords, I may edit or delete your name, website link, or comment.
  • External linking: Relevant links are encouraged, but comments and links intended mainly for site promotion risk being edited or deleted.
  • Detente: If I suspect your posts of being spammy or mainly self-promoting I might remove your links. If you keep posting and stay on topic I am likely to reconsider and allow the links.
  • Civility: This site supports free speech, but it also values civility. Abusive or offensive comments may be edited or removed.
  • Range of opinion: Comments reflect the viewpoints of those commenting and do not necessarily express my opinions or the views of the website.
  • E-mail: I answer most nonspam e-mail, often promptly but sometimes more slowly. Occasionally I might e-mail someone who leaves a comment.
  • Privacy: I do not share user information.

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Some rights reserved 2022 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