Archives for posts with tag: books

From the Guardian UK:

They are a long way from the iconic pop art for which he is best known but a set of illustrations for a children’s book series by Andy Warhol are set to go up for auction in New York next month.

Warhol’s pictures illustrate the story of the little red hen, a folk tale about the value of team work, and show a perky little red hen happily sowing her grains of wheat, as a lazy cat, mouse and dog – who is reading the paper – look on. They were drawn by Warhol early in his career, between 1957 and 1959, for the Doubleday Book Club’s popular series Best in Children’s Books.

The Warhol illustrations will be auctioned on 9 December as part of Bloomsbury Auctions’s sale of 365 original illustrations and books, alongside a host of pictures and letters from 19th-century fairytale illustrator Arthur Rackham, a privately printed edition of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester, rare Oz books by L Frank Baum and the artistic estate of award-winning African American children’s illustrator Tom Feelings.[source]

Cool, right? I love when artists chip in for children’s lit., even if it’s just for the cover. Anyways, here’s some info on the A. Warhol kid’s book opus.

Also, I’m jealous and want to break my watercolours out!

Last week, the National Post printed an interview with some Canadian independent booksellers to discuss the future of the indie bookstore in the eBook future. The overall consensus is this: as the bottlenecks in what books gets published online disappear, the new niche will be curating collections for buyers. And of course, community, community, community.

Here are some highlights:

Mark L: I think that the shift and trend toward digital positions independent booksellers as more important than ever. After all, it’s one thing to find something to read, it’s quite another to find something good to read. You can get to the world’s largest buffet, but you might need help determining which of the dishes to sample. What becomes important for booksellers is determining how they’ll be in that game (and for some, if they even want to be in that game). Bricks-and-mortar bookstores, while they can and will be part of making digital books available to their customers, are likely going to continue to see a good portion of their successes and a good portion of their business within the realm where they are already firmly established.
Alana: I’d take Mark’s point one step further. Not only do independent booksellers help you find something good to read from among their carefully curated collection, they help you find something you’ll like -they’re all about community, and if you’re a regular, the staff will know you and your tastes. They host events and plenty of social opportunities -I can’t walk into my local indie without running into at least three people I know. I’ve yet to find an e-tailer that offers such an opportunity.[full article]

Independent booksellers, small-press publishers, and libraries share a lot of the same woes right now. As eBooks take-off, it seems like everything is in the hands of big publishers who control the content.

I really believe, though, it’s not big money’s game to lose. The ePublishing economy presents for libraries and indie-press/booksellers the opportunity to carve out (or maybe reclaim or expand) niches as curators and portals to good, rare, and/or reliable content. For readers inundated by so much content, this sort of service will be valuable.

And heck, it’s something libraries have been doing since like always.

With all the news, hype, and buzz of the Internet, I haven’t yet written about books I like to read offline.

I’m into a lot of different genres and things, but I honestly find non-fiction histories the most relaxing and enjoyable. Especially, when they are compact overviews of a certain idea, period, or event. It results in an accumulation of facts and ideas that I’m sure makes me a maddening conversationalist sometimes. Whatever.

Anyways, books like Simon Shama’s Citizens are amazing, especially when followed by fictionalized accounts like Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety.

Right now, I’m reading Lavoisier in the Year One, by Madison Smartt Bell. The book is about Lavoisier, a French Revolution-era scientist who formulated our modern idea of chemistry. But really, it’s not so much about the science as how the person and his times make fertile ground for the discovery to happen.

This book is typical of the Great Discoveries Series, a series that collects novelists, essayists, critics, biographers, and historians (and some scientists) and then pairs them with important scientific breakthroughs.

The results are  eclectic, and this is a strength. Each author brings their own voice and style, which allows the books to evolve into a conversations the author  has with the subject. Because they are not experts, their own learning process comes through (particularly in William T. Vollmann’s Uncentering the Earth on Galileo).

This makes it easier to wade into what would otherwise be hard to swallow concepts (like early applications of calculus) and allows the reader to be OK with not getting all the hard details.  With maybe one exception I’ve found: the late David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More – a book on infinity that required another beginner’s book on infinity for me to get anywhere in it.

At any rate,  these are good reads for those of us who’d love to actually sit down and talk science with some of today’s great writers – or for anyone looking for a (sometimes) casual introduction to interesting periods in science history.


The Canadian Library Association has announced the 2011 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award Winner and Honour Books.

The winner is Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth! (Groundwood Press), written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Honour books are Book of Big Brothers (Groundwood Press), illustrated by Luc Melanson and written by Cary Fagan, and Owls See Clearly at Night: a Michif alphabet (Simply Read Books), written and illustrated by Julie Flett.

Roslyn’s exuberant and adventurous spirit comes in handy when she decides to dig her way to the South Pole. In Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth! Marie-Louise Gay uses expressive mixed-media illustrations that offer intriguing details, textures and perspectives. The reader is invited to share Roslyn excited determination and to spend time exploring each page. This is the third time that Gay has won the Amelia Award.

Honourable mention goes to Luc Melanson for Book of Big Brothers, a fun and affectionate story told from the point-of-view of the youngest of three brothers. With a touch of humour, nostalgia and joy, Melanson’s retro-style illustrations complement Fagan’s narrative perfectly and bring a fresh approach to the timeless story of growing up with siblings.

Honourable mention also goes to Julie Flett for Owls See Clearly at Night: a Michif alphabet This is a unique linguistic and visual treat. Flett’s striking illustrations are deceptively simple. The use of silhouettes with bright spots of colour, create compositions that are striking in their beauty and elegance. They convey a connection with the natural world and also a sense of loss and isolation. This book has a subtle, gripping power.[read the whole thing]

I’m on the committee (and helped write the press release). It was hard to exclude some books, but after long discussions and some secret ballots we came up with winners. All the illustrators and authors on the short and long lists were amazing, making this job both fun and hard.

The London Book Fair is happening this week. In the publishing world, it’s a pretty big deal.  Besides book deals, there’s a lot of talk that takes place. Bobbie Johnson from wrote an interesting post in response to a panel on the future of publishers:

At the event, there is plenty of evidence suggesting publishers are getting their heads around how digital content is changing their business. But in some ways, it still feels like a clash of civilizations. Publishers talking with each about what the next big thing might be, while Amazon and Google and the rest simply go and make the next big thing.This was no more obvious than when I stepped into a discussion over the future of publishing that really seemed to highlight the differences. It was framed as a traditional debate, with an appropriately argumentative motion at stake: “Authors and readers are all that matter. Publishers will become irrelevant.”…

Some publishers see that the market is getting bigger, and that profits are rising, and they think that means they’re doing a good job. But in fact, the growth in profits comes because they’re cutting back on what’s unique about them — the relationship with authors, the expertise in editing, design, typography, the quality of output, the nurturing side of the business. They’re being slashed in favor of streamlined processes that are guaranteed to produce a handful of blockbusters.[read the full post]

Johnson is leveling a fairly heavy indictment on the publishing industry. It’s not unwarranted.

The truth is that eBooks are opening doors for innovative and entrepreneurial  folk. Johnson points out that the role of self-publishing in the eBook market is burgeoning, yet large publishers are more or less circling their wagons.

Self-published eBooks offer opportunities for libraries frustrated by publishers’ DRM-heavy policies. Still, Johnson rightfully hints that this alternative is complicated by issues of quality and consistency. There are a lot of unknowns in how this sector will develop.

Right now, the growing pains of the self-published eBook industry aren’t necessarily cause for pessimism. Unless, of course, you’re committed to the failing status quo.

The anti-DRM site Defective by Design has declared Wednesday  May 4, 2011 as the third annual International Day Against DRM.

The Day Against DRM is an opportunity to unite a wide range of projects, public interest organizations, web sites and individuals in an effort to raise public awareness to the danger of technology that requires users to give-up control of their computers or that restricts access to digital data and media. This year, we’ll be helping individuals and groups work together to create local actions in their communities — actions will range from protesting an unfriendly hardware vendor to handing out informative fliers at local public libraries! wants to help you plan or get involved in local actions and then broadcast your stories globally. If you are interested in taking part in this year’s Day Against DRM:

It’s definitely something worth participating in, or at least looking into.

Defective by Design’s crew and libraries have shared the struggle before. As DbD says in that post,

Readers, librarians, and authors need to make their voices heard. DRM leaves readers and librarians helpless and divided. If we do not ban DRM from our libraries and our lives then we can and should expect publishers such as Harper Collins to strangle libraries so as to gain as much of a profit as possible.

We need to watch out for each other and make sure that people are not getting suckered into notions of “fair” DRM.

There’s no better way to do this than through collective action:  sign up, read up, and/or act up.

In February, the Globe and Mail ran an article proclaiming the pending demise of eBook piracy. The nails in the coffin were eBook lending sites like Lendle. It took just over a month from that article for to put the breaks on that.

Now, Amazon’s lending restrictions on Lendle basically make lending eBooks an activity for speed readers who prefer random, unpopular books. I suppose in light of those events, eBook piracy will live a little longer. Especially if borrowing eBooks and eAudiobooks  legitimately continues to be unfriendly to users.

My personal experience with OverDrive (the unchallenged content software for eBook excited libraries) via the Ottawa Public Library hasn’t made me (and a lot of other people) optimistic . To download to an audiobook, it required so much hoop jumping and the installation of  software that I gave up. eBooks work a little easier, but it’s still not a smooth process.

Out of curiosity, I found the same audiobook on a popular torrent site in about 30 seconds. It had enough people actively sharing the file that it could have probably downloaded in a few hours. After which, were I so inclined, I’d have unlimited use of the audio files for as long as I wanted and on any platform I wanted.

I imagine the process on a Kindle or Kobo or whatever must be strikingly easier than using OverDrive. Publishers have a clear interest in making lending more difficult for libraries or collaboration minded groups of  individuals. The Globe article had a fairly telling quote on that matter:

Not all publishers are assured [about eBook lending sites, including libraries/OverDrive], including Macmillan U.S., whose president Brian Napack recently defended his company’s go-slow policy at a conference in New York. “The fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again,” he said.

If you want to make money, sharing (legal or otherwise) is the worst possible business model. So of course publishers want a few roadblocks.

But, those roadblocks essentially treat would-be borrowers as would-be pirates.  The outcome for users being one of three things, paying for the eBook, putting up with  second class free service/access at dwindling levels of quality, or pursuing less “legitimate” means of access. (I guess you could use a mix of these three.)

If past experience with the music industry has shown anything, it’s that increasingly draconian attitudes do not translate into sales. It seems to me, that those who pay for eBook access were going to pay anyways. Everyone else? Well, there are three choices.

by Kaetlyn Wilcox (pic links to her blog)

The Library Journal recently posted a run-down of how libraries have responded to Harper Collins’ eBook policy. Here’s one example:

The Kansas State Library decided this month to suspend adding any HarperCollins ebooks to the statewide consortium platform, which services 330 public libraries in the state.

“We are not trying to punish HarperCollins,” Jo Buder, the state librarian, told LJ. “We are just trying to figure out a way to provide these titles without damaging customer service. What do we do for a person who is 27th in line and has a hold? What does it mean to catalogers? It’s just all very bad customer service decisions,” she said.

Buder is now heading a task force that has been formed by the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) that is debating a response to HarperCollins. The task force teleconferenced on March 9 with representatives from Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Alaska, Colorado, Ohio, Texas, and Tennessee participating.

“We decided that we really want to approach publishers [directly], HarperCollins in particular, because we want to understand the issues more,” Buder said. “The interest is really so high.”[read the full article]

It’s always impressive to see so many libraries taking a concerted stand.

Looking down the road, what will a solution look like? An article in the Atlantic puzzles on this, and points to the approach taken by the NYPL and OverDrive:

Potash, whose Cleveland-based company has thrived in the often contentious atmosphere of dynamic change, believes that the solution is to recognize that even the demand for most bestsellers eventually settles down, and the number of e-books that libraries would have to re-purchase will turn out to be relatively small in the broader scheme of activity. OverDrive’s largest customer, the New York Public Library, is floating an intriguing concept: a form of metering. Once purchased, a book would be available for an extended period, and thereafter a small charge would accrue for further loans. For example, the New York system now has 125 copies of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but in three years it may only need a handful, and the revenue impact of pay-per-use could turn out to be small. Moreover, “dog-eared printed books” as one senior librarian explained to me, have always been replaced, and e-books significantly reduce the time, trouble, and expense of returning books back onto shelves.[read the full article]

The pay-per-use model has cropped up in other ideas for a compromised solution. Like a variable rate mortgage, it’s entirely possible that a pay-per-use model could save money in the long run. It could also end up costing more. It’s difficult to say, and it’ll be important to watch how libraries that adopt the model fair.

Pay-per-use may not be the most ideal solution. But in some form, it might be the best deal libraries will get, since publishers have the content, our users want access, and libraries who don’t have it will be left by the wayside.

If some libraries feel over a barrel, it’s because they are.

the atwood machine at work

the Atwood Machine at work

Margret Atwood on the phenomenon of eBooks (via the Globe and Mail):

Every time there is a new medium, people get hypnotized by it: the printing press, radio, television, the Internet. It’s certainly a change in the world, which then somehow adapts. A whole section of society was very upset when zippers came in because they made it easier to seduce people in automobiles. You know, I think we’ve kind of adjusted to zippers by now. Just because you have a zipper doesn’t mean somebody has to unzip it … But you’re talking about e-books and e-readers and text in electronic form and the reading experience…

Well, it’s the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Everybody moves round a place. So the Book of the Month Club disappears and something else takes its share of the market. And then big publishers get in trouble and cut back, and that creates space for other publishers to acquire books they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.[read the whole interview]

It’s a bit of an odd interview. Atwood tries to take on the eBook issue from a writer’s perspective. The interviewer seems bent on getting her to declare eBooks and their kin to be a danger to society. Atwood doesn’t take the bait. Instead, she affirms eBooks as part of an ongoing evolution in communication technology.

I like how she ends the interview, responding to the question “Will the world be worse off if e-books fail?”:

Well, first let us picture what kind of event might lead to that: 1. Solar flares, which melt all the e-communication services. 2. Widespread plague, which is going to kill anyone running the companies that make them. So that being the case, I would say yes! That the world will be considerably worse off if, the next morning, you wake up and nobody’s reading anything on e-readers because the event that will have caused that is horrific!

There are people in the Library world who have adopted a sort of apocalyptic tone vis-a-vis eBooks. The full measure of what is lost and what is gained from technology shifts (c.f. the printing press ruined oral culture, but gave us the modern world, great books, etc. etc.) takes a while to shake down.

Atwood’s approach in this interview is a reminder that we don’t know what the full economic, cultural, and creative potential of the eBook will be. Or, how long that will take to come about.

***more on the Atwood Machine***

From the Independent UK:

Education Secretary Michael Gove says that children aged 11 should be reading 50 books a year to improve literacy standards.

We asked three of Britain’s leading children’s authors and two of our in-house book experts to each pick 10 books, suitable for Year 7 students.

The authors chose books that have brought them huge joy, while expressing their outrage at the “great big contradiction” of Mr Gove’s claim to wish to improve literacy while closing libraries across the country.[check out the list and the full article]

The Independent’s list is heavily weighted towards older books. Is it nostalgia? Likely it’s a nod towards those worn, well loved youth novels that are probably sitting in any (presently threatened) UK  public library.

I can’t say it’s a bad list. I also can’t say, having read constantly my whole childhood, that I’ve read half of what’s on there.

Actually, child of the 80s I am, I think I’ve seen more of them as movies (i.e. the Phantom Tollbooth, which i felt was fairly inscrutable).  I don’t see Watership Down there (another amazing movie and book, by the way). I’m sure there’s a lot that could be added. How would a list like this look in Canada?

That said, spring’s almost here. It’s time to start thinking about  summer reading lists.  I think I’ll slip a few of these classics on mine.