Monday, August 30, 2010

What need have we for books?

In the face of an increasingly puissant electronic/digital technology what will be the fate of books? Word is out that the new Oxford Dictionary (the venerable OED) will not be physically printed, but only birthed into the bowels of the machine, and from there to be retrieved only virtually when needed. One can - still - encompass all the learning that is worth learning within the confines of a library made up of physical books. But for how long? What the future may hold in store for literature and knowledge is of no concern of mine ... (you may believe or disbelieve that as you will). In fact ... I think it possible that words will no longer be written - fashioned from the meat of the heart and mind; texts will be misconstrued and strewn about by committee; these corporate products will be constructed of contrived, soulless words, bereft of any literary style or merit - fashioned to suit the base needs of soulless machines, which will then fit neatly into the commercial schemata dictated by faceless corporate entities, that are fast taking over the world .... a schemata irrelevant to the heart, or the soul ... and certainly irrelevant to literature. In fact, one can encompass all the learning that need be known within the glance that passes between two loving souls - between a mother and nuzzling baby - between two lovers embraced in the wonder of life. So what need have we for books at all?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sorry Saleman's Sample

My twin aunts, T'batha and S'mantha, husband-hunters of a tenacious nature, ordered a salesman's sample from a local publishing house, which sample the house promised to deliver to them at their residence. When the man from the publisher knocked on their door, they were mightily disappointed at seeing only a single rather seedy-looking individual of short stature and less hair. "That's a singularly poor sample", said S'mantha. "Really", replied T'batha, "they could have at least sent a few more to choose from".

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I was listening in on a discussion about electronic books - a thing which , despite my participation in this electronic medium, is not close to my heart. Someone mentioned the as-yet indeterminate LIFE-SPAN of data stored on such devices. Electronic pulses were broached as a grave danger. Once I am in the grave maybe I shall find out if this is true. Someone then mentioned that anyone who so desired could alter a text with which they disagreed, before saving it electronically. The idea! The idea , indeed. Such a thing has always happened. Alteration of texts was happening in medieval scriptoriums. There have always been and will always be texts with which some will disagree. What better way to disagree with something than to just disappear it. Expunge it! Expurgate the offending passage! So easy. POOF! GONE! Idea? What idea? Opinion? What opinion? These literary depilations have always been going on. It is not just confined to scriptoriums or weird electronic/energy pulses. I have have noticed the mutability of books themselves - as they sit on the shelves! One takes a book down off the shelf and sits, perusing this passage or that - reading for pleasure or knowledge - and why should those two be separate, eh? The acquisition of knowledge should be pleasurable. Anyway ... one takes a book down and reads a passage. Then one puts the book back in its proper place on the shelf. Later, wishing to revisit the passage - refresh ones familiarity with sentiments expressed therein - one takes the book down and opens it to the page whereon that passage lives, only to find that the passage has changed.! It is no longer recognizable as the words one had previously read! The book has changed. Such things point to the mutability of quotidian reality. I do not think mischievous book gremlins are sneaking into my library and thus altering books - rewriting passages ... How could they, short of magickal intervention? But it is not magic. I posit a dimensional intervention - a dimensional interpenetration into my world that is acting as supplicant on behalf of ideas not yet realised! The passage had changed . Wait - you say - could it be my memory at fault? A misreading or misremembering of the passage. Not so! I have my notes - I have copied the passage out. I can compare my copied passage with the changeling passage. They are different. The book has changed! But wait ... changeling .... changelings ... such things are commonly reported in Irish folklore .... is it indeed the work of some otherworldly Gremlins? Is it possible that my book is a changeling? That the original book was spirited away by leprechauns or some other mischievous imp and replaced with this faux book .. not a faux book, for it is real enough ... but it is not the same book ... This is disturbing. I am now looking at the shelves of my library -- all of them crammed with books, top to bottom. Favorite books with favorite passages ... beloved companions .... dare I think they are still the same? Or are they changelings, substituted and filled with strange passages that I will have no ken of ... ? I have now set myself the task of retrieving each book down and reading for altered passages. My books. My beloved beauties ... companions through dark nights, salving my anxieties with consoling passage through the wee hours. So far I have examined 23 volumes and have found changeling passages in every one of them.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Best Seller Numbers from 1,000 to 1,000,000 ...

In 1947 Frank Luther Mott wrote a most excellent book, Golden Multitudes, the Story of Best Sellers in the United States. The following is gleaned from his book,. need I reiterate the book is a fascinating read, with much worthwhile information concerning , not only authors, but publishers as well ...and, of course, public taste through the centuries. For a book published in the U.S. in 1662 to be a Best Seller it had to sell at least 1,000 copies. For 1662 it was Michael Wigglesworth's The Day of Doom - (Those Puritans - always obsessed with ... well ... Doom!) By 1710 the required number of sales to be considered a best seller was 4,000. In 1719 Mother Goose's Melodies for Children published by Thomas Fleet took numbers far past 10 little piggies. It shared the honors with Isaac Watts's Divine and Moral Songs for the Use of Children. Mother Goose was a sure antidote to The Day of Doom and Watts was a decided improvement. By 1800 the number of required sales had jumped to 50,000! In 1800 Mason Weems's famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) book, Life of Washington was the best seller. Weems was an itinerate book peddler who roamed the eastern sea board selling the printed word. Lay a little axe at his feet, for it was he who promulgated this pretty little myth. By 1820 the number has doubled - to 100,000. Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was the best seller. Consider that 1820 heralded James Fenimore Cooper as an author with his Precaution (2 volumes). Precaution was an abject failure, complete with the publisher's printed warning against Cooper's word-sense. No doubting the greatness of Ivanhoe - a most delicious read!.... But reading Cooper's first effort would have led one to doubt the wisdom of his venturing further as an author. Cooper wrote Precaution because he had read Jane Austen and vowed that he could do better. He could, but not in her "baliwick". However, in 1821 Cooper hit the 100,000 mark with The Spy. By 1850 the required number was 225,000. Seven authors shared the honor: Giovanni Boccaccio for The Decameron; Robert Browning for his simply titled Poems; Charles Dickens, with David Copperfield; Nathaniel Hawthorne for The Scarlet Letter; Donald G. Mitchell (Ik Marvel) for Reveries of a Bachelor; William Makepeace Thackeray for Pendennis (is this still read?); and Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World. The Scarlet Letter was not the bane of schoolboys but the latest hot read! Warners book was not the Prequel to "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"; nor was it the inspiration for the multifarious Wide Awake Stories thrust upon toddlers. Not surprising the inclusion of The Decameron - it passed for racy in 1850 and the reading public, despite the efforts of Mrs. Grundy, has always been favorable to a little spice ... and all the better that it took place far across the ocean and far, far long ago - why, it's an ancient classic, Mrs. Grundy ... hmmm it still can match any modern work for spiciness. Another 50 years and the number required for a book to be a best seller was 750,000. Irving Bacheller's Eban Holden and Winston Churchill's The Crisis shared the take. Both are endemic at FOL sales, but bear up to reading. Churchill was extremely popular in his day. Winston was no relation to Winston. It was in 1920 that the required power number reached One Million (1,000,000). E. Phillips Oppenheim made it with The Great Impersonation (who impersonates whom?), and H. G. Wells with Outline of History - another FOL favorite as well as the darling of the book clubs, where it was transformed from a big fat book into two smaller and cheesily made volumes.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

An Exciting Book

My friend Tyler came barging in the other day with excitement written all over his face ... "Perfessor , Perfessor" he cried .. I found a real old book!" "What did you find, Tyler?" I asked. He carefully extracted the object shown below from a shopping bag. "Lookie here! Ain't she a beaut?! It ain't got it cover onto it, but lookie she ain't got no date so I know its the first one!" You can imagine my reaction. No manner of explanation would move Tyler from his conviction that he had found an ancient, rare and valuable book. No amount of argument could budge him. I pointed out the execrable condition ... proof of its age ... I pointed out the lack of covers .... proof of its rarity! "Must be one of them gallery examinations! I pointed out the general flaky condition of the paper ... more proof of venerable age! "Lookie there - it still has the printing on the paper." "I'm leaving it with you Perfessor, cause I know that you know jest what do to with it." I tried one last time ... to no avail as Tyler bounced out the door - his parting words have settled in and remain a haunting refrain in my mind. The blasted thing lays there on my desk. Yes, indeed, it does indeed still have print on its pages .... I know just what I'm going to do with it.