Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Cover Deja Vu

It's been a while since my last post, but this entry has been simmering on the back burner for a long time as a followup to my last cover art post. I figured it was finally time to put finger to keyboard and write it.

The first time I experienced a feeling of deja vu when looking at the cover art on a book was when I saw this book sitting on the front table at Barnes and Noble:

The reason for my startled reaction was that I had just finished reading this book:

Looks very familiar, doesn't it?  After some digging around, I found out that the use of stock images for covers is a fairly common occurrence. The ability for a publisher to buy exclusive rights for life for a photograph or other form of illustration is often simply too costly for many a small press. Even large publishing houses, which might have the resources to buy all rights for more expensive stock art pieces, are also feeling the pinch right now, so those exclusive rights to an image might make the difference between the book going to print, or not..What made the example above so obvious was the fact the books were published within a few months of each other. But how many other examples of this are there that I've never noticed?

As it turns out, the amount of lookalike book covers is amazingly high. I don't want to hog too much bandwidth to display all the images here, so I'll merely provide the links and you'll have to do your own clicking to see the copycat book covers.

A triple header:

Next Thing on My List, by Jill Smolinkski
Falling Apart in One Piece, by Stacy Morrison
The Decoding of Lana Morris, by Laura and Tom McNeal

Here's an example of the same image on not just three, but five book covers:

On War, by Bernard Shaw
Beaufort, by Ron Leshem
War; Stories of Conflict, by Michael Morpurgo
In Country, by Bobbie Ann Mason
Hiroshima Joe, by Martin Booth

You think that's a lot of deja vu? The following piece of cover art is on so many books I'm only going to list some of them:

Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian
Lives of the Saints, by Nino Ricci
Blaming, by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not THAT Elizabeth Taylor)
Verbena, by Nanci Kincaid
Eventide, by Kent Haruf (Australian edition) What happened to the scarf???
Oh My Stars, by Lorna Landvik
River's Edge, by Marie Bostwick

The same painting is often used on a variety of historical novels:

Here Be Dragons, by Sharon Kay Penman
The Illuminator, by Brenda Vantrease
Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer 

Or how about these?

October Horse, by Colleen McCullough
Lady of the Reeds, by Pauline Gedge
The Memoirs of Cleopatra, by Margaret George

And these?

In Our strange Gardens, by Michel Quint
Facts of Life, by Graham Joyce
German Boy, by Wolfgang Samuel

Here are two examples that are not identical photos, but they might as well be! The first is a very popular book that most people will recognize by sight:

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer 
Now look at this copycat cover:
Words to Live By, by C.S. Lewis

A couple more:
Fantasy Made Flesh, by Deborah Addison
The Awakening, by Angela Hunt

Seen enough? I could go on and on with examples of similar or identical cover art, but your mouse-clicking finger would tire. Keep your eyes open the next time you browse a bookstore. I'll bet you can find plenty more.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bulwer-Lytton lives on!

Most people have never heard of Victorian author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. Even of the most avid readers, most have never read one of his books. Yet the first words of his novel "Paul Clifford," written in 1830, are familiar to almost everyone. Why?  Because they were immortalized by Snoopy in the comic strip "Peanuts." These first words are: "It was a dark and stormy night..."

See?  I knew you'd recognize them. But what you might not realize is that those are only the first few words of the sentence which begins the novel:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
This sentence has spawned an interesting literary contest called, appropriately enough, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. It was begun in 1982 by the English department of San Jose State University. The challenge was to create a badly-written opening sentence for the worst of imaginary novels, while keeping the tone and style of the opening sentence from "Paul Clifford." While the original sentence was a little awkward and contained a shift in perspective, I never found it that bad an opening sentence. But nevertheless, thanks to the contest, it has been the inspiration for some of the most awful and funny opening sentences ever penned.

The contest has been going strong since then. The 2011 contest results have just been announced. See them here:

The grand prize-winning sentence is:
Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.
To me, this is not representative of the best (worst?) efforts of years gone by, since it is short by contest standards (only 26 words) and not that rambling. My favorite grand prize winner was this one, awarded in 2002:
On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.
Here's the complete list of past grand prize winners:
Let me know which you think is the best/worst.

Although Bulwer-Lytton's name is now synonymous with bad writing, I think the author has gotten a bad rap. He was a very popular novelist, poet, and playwright of his time, and also a politician. Besides being the originator of that famous dark and stormy night, he was also the creator of a few other memorable phrases such as "the pen is mightier than the sword" (from his play "Richelieu") and "pursuit of the almighty dollar" (from his novel "The Coming Race"). So here's to Lord Bulwer-Lytton, a baron and minor Victorian author who has created several memorable literary phrases and provided the inspiration for thousands of dreadful ones.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cover story

You can't tell a book by its cover. At least that's how the saying goes. But publishers are betting on the fact that book cover design is an important factor in increasing book sales. Is it true?

In a 2007 issue of "Entertainment Weekly," actor and director Sean Penn said that he was browsing in a bookstore, was attracted to a book because of its cover, bought it, and read it twice through in one day. He liked it so much that, the next day, he inquired whether the movie rights were available. That's how the movie of Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild" came to be. Okay, so maybe that's an extreme case of how a book cover can make a difference. But still, a good book cover can draw in potential readers and affect follow-up sales.

Authors don't usually have a say in the cover art used on their books. Instead, this is marketing decision made by a publisher based on the costs of the cover, including image rights and hiring a designer, and on other marketing factors.

There are many organizations and web sites that create lists of the best book covers and cover art, often on a year-by-year basis. Examples of these include the website, the Covey Awards (which present awards for both cover art and video book trailers), and lists by Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and Amazon. The New York Times also ran an article entitled "Book Covers that got Away," showing some covers that didn't make the cut for one reason or another. See it here:
I have to admit that some of them are strange or unappealing.

I "uncovered" (sorry for the pun) an interesting story about the cover art used on the British and American editions of the bestselling book "The Help." Look at UK cover art for "The Help":
The American publisher, Putnam, didn't like the look of the cover, and felt it was politically incorrect. So the American edition was published with this cover:
The American cover gave no clue to the book's theme, but at least it wasn't offensive to anyone!

When an American publisher decided to reprint Terry Pratchett's Discworld series as mass market paperbacks, it used new, more contemporary and stylistic covers that are very different from the detailed cover artwork created by Josh Kirby. Take a look at the first book of the series, "The Color of Magic":
UK edition:
US edition:
Even though I tend to prefer less cluttered artwork, I think the UK covers are better, not only because they are works of art, but because they better illustrate the characters of Discworld. Of course Discworld fans are as obsessed as Star Trek fans, so they created an entire wiki for Discworld book covers around the world:
This wiki actually started in Polish, but switched to English.

AbeBooks produced a list of 50 iconic book covers. Take a look:
A lot of them look old-fashioned by today's standards and would not draw the interest of the contemporary book browser. However, that's not true for some of them, which are still used today on reprints of those books. For example, look at the covers on "The Godfather," "To Kill A mockingbird," and "Catcher in the Rye." Even the jumping man on the cover of "Catch 22" shows up now and then on a Joseph Heller book.

Another way publishers try to gain the attention of potential readers is by issuing a book under several different covers. I've seen this occasionally, including different colored covers for "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Terrell." For many books, the paperback cover is different than that of the hardback, and the trade and mass market paperback covers are also often different. I don't know why this is the case. I would think that once a publisher has "branded" a book with a carefully selected cover, they would stick with it. But I suppose that consumer tastes change in the year or so between editions, and therefore the covers do too. Let's not forget that once a book is made into a movie, a new paperback edition is usually issued with a scene from the movie and the words "Now a major motion picture" on the cover. For an example of this, look at the latest trade paperback reissue of "The Help," which was mentioned above:,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg

When all is said and done, the packaging for a book is no different than that of breakfast cereal or canned soup: the publisher tries to attract the consumer's attention. There is one interesting quirk about book covers that I still haven't mentioned, but it would make this blog post far too long. So I'm saving it for my next post. Until next time...

UPDATE:  I just saw a list of the best book covers of 2011:
Best book jackets of 2011
I agree with the list for the most part, but the cover for "West of Here" reminded me of an old poster and was not particularly attractive. I agree that the cover of "1Q84"  (as well as its interior design) is a stunning work of art. However, the jacket is made of stiffened tissue paper, and when I hold this weighty book (almost 1000 pages long!), the cover flaps have a tendency to slip out. As a result, I have removed the jacket while reading, and will replace it when I have finished. Even with the jacket off, though, the cover, both front and back, is a work of art. It's also a perfect cover and jacket for the weird world of Haruki Murakami.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Novels and poems and word play, oh my! (Continued)

Continuing from my last post on unusual uses of word play in literature, I want to start off with several novels that would be very difficult to put down... not because they are so suspenseful or riveting (which they might very well be), but because there's simply not a break in the narrative in which to do so.

The first of these is the one-paragraph novel "Leeches" by Serbian author David Albahari, published in 2011. Although it consists of a single 300-page paragraph, the author claims that it has dialog and chapters all contained within that one paragraph. I've actually browsed through this one at the book store, and although I do indeed see dialog in it, I was unable to delineate chapter breaks in it merely by scanning the pages.

If a one paragraph novel isn't hard enough to read (or should I say stop reading), try "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age" by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal. It's a novel written in a single 130 page sentence. I don't know the exact word count. Nor do I know whether the word count of the English translation is greater or less than that of the original. But whatever it is, it can't top the sentence length in "The Gates of Paradise," a novel by Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski. The novel is comprised of 40,000 words in two sentences... and the second sentence is only 5 words long. That means the first sentence runs on for 39,995 words, and it contains very little punctuation. This takes the run-on sentence to new levels. As for the world record for long sentences in English-language literature, that distinction currently belongs to Jonathan Coe for the 13,955 sentence in his novel "The Rotters Club," published in 2001. Coe claims that Bohumil Hrabal's run-on opus inspired his own long sentence. Take that, James Joyce! Your infamous sentence in "Ulysses" that clocks in at 4,391 words is mere child's play!

It's time to segue from the longest to the shortest: the six word story. The craze for this literary form started with the unverified legend that Ernest Hemingway made a $10 bar bet that he could write a six word novel. The result, scribbled on a napkin, was: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." True or not, this legend inspired a rash of six word stories and memoirs. Larry Smith, founder and editor of the storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers and some noted authors to come up with six word memoirs, which he placed on his website. In 2006, he published a book of website contributions called "Not quite what I was planning." Several sequels followed. You can view contributions to the Six Word Memoir project on Smith's website:
I've written my own six-word memoir. It was fun. Try one of your own. If you're brave enough, you can submit it to SMITH and it might wind up in a future book.

Now for something completely different (and I don't think there's even a term for this wordplay form): Jonathan Safran Foer's "Tree of Codes." It's literally a novel cut out of another novel. It features die-cut pages from the novel "The Street of Crocodiles" by Polish author Bruno Schulz. Thus the title "Tree of Codes" derives from "T[he st]ree[t] of C[r]o[co]d[il]es"  (where the letters in brackets are cut out of the original title page). Similarly, the rest of the novel is created by cutting away letters and words in a layered fashion from the original novel. It's an example of a book as sculpture, and it's a true work of art. It's hard to describe how the book actually looks. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, see a few of the book's pages for yourself, by going to
The pages of this book are very delicate, so you're not going to find it on the shelves of a chain bookstore. In fact, I think you can only buy it from resellers these days.

Another artistic form of word play can be found in the books of Mark Z. Danielewski. His 2000 novel "House of Leaves" not only tells a strange story about a weird house, but it includes strange word typography as well. There are lines placed any which way on the page to mirror the events they're describing, backwards sentences, crossed out sentences, and other odd experimental forms. His 2006 novel "Only Revolutions" is presented as a flip book with two stories printed side by side and upside down from each other, with font sizes that shrink as each story progresses. Each page also contains a side bar with a time line of world events. Reading this novel is like watching a three-ring circus.

Next comes a poetic form of word play called anagrammatic poetry, where the each line of the poem is a rearrangement of the same set of letters. An example is David Shulman's 1936 sonnet "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Here is the start of the 14-line sonnet, each line of which is an an anagram of the title:
A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
Not bad, considering the letter constraint. The complete sonnet can be found on the Internet and is included in the book "Making the Alphabet Dance: Recreational Wordplay" by Ross Eckler. Even our old friend Georges Perec tried his hand at anagrammatic poetry along with all his other literary word play. In his French poem "Ulcerations," every line is an anagram of the title. I doubt it was as difficult to write as Shulman's sonnet, though, because the eleven letters of the title are also the eleven most commonly used letters in the French language.

Finally, there's the literary output of the Oulipo group (of which the word play guru Georges Perec is, not surprisingly, a member). "Oulipo" stands for "Ouvroir de littérature potentielle" (roughly translated as "workshop of potential literature"). Formed in 1960, its members spend their time creating constrained writing, mostly in French. The more constrained, the better.

Oulipo experiments with many techniques beyond the lipograms, palindromes, and anagrams I've already mentioned. Others include univocalism (where a poem's words all contain the same vowel), N+7 (where every noun in a text is replaced with a noun seven entries after it in a dictionary. Or instead, every verb is replaced in the same fashion. Of course, each dictionary could produce different results), and preverbs (formed by joining the front half of one proverb to the back half of another, producing such proverbs as "A rolling stone gets the worm").

Some of the Oulipo creations are truly bizarre. Member Luc Etienne made a Moebius poem by writing a different poem on each side of a strip of paper (with each poem written upside down with respect to the one on the other side), twisting the strip, and fastening the two ends together. The result was two interwoven poems on a Moebius strip. These literary experiments might be avant garde and a challenge to create, but I doubt that many of them have true literary merit.

Of course there are plenty of common word play devices used in literature that I haven't mentioned, such as puns, alliteration, invented words, and so on. But I've covered all the off-the-wall ones I could think of. If you can come up with any others, feel free to add them as comments to this post.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Novels and poems and word play, oh my!

There are lots of ways in which books can be creative. Authors can use unique writing styles, innovative plot, unusual characters, and so on. I'd like to concentrate here on literature that uses unusual forms of word play, resulting in books that are tough to write and interesting, although at times a real challenge, to read.

First up: the lipogramatic book. A lipogram is a work that eliminates a particular letter of the alphabet from use. The most famous example of such a book, and the first such work in English, is "Gadsby" by Ernest Vincent Wright, a 50,000 word novel written in 1939. It avoids all use of the letter 'e'. In fact, to make certain that he didn't inadvertently use a word with an 'e' in it, Wright taped over the letter on his keyboard. Another example of an 'e'-less novel is the 300-page "La Disparition" (The Disappearance"), written in French by Georges Perec in 1969 and translated into English in 1994 by Gilbert Adair with the title "A Void."  Perec also wrote a novel in 1972 that contained ONLY the vowel 'e' called "Les Revenentes" .

It's a difficult feat to write a novel without using a single 'e', since it's the most frequently used letter, found in 12.7% of all English words, and in about 35% of the most common English words. Imagine trying to write a novel without using words such as "the" and "are" or verbs ending in "ed," and you can imagine not only how difficult it would be to create, but also how awkward the resultant phrasing would be. I've never read either of the above-mentioned English books, but I'd be interested to read the first few pages.

As a side note, Wikipedia mentions a review of Perec's novel in The Times (of London) by Philip Howard, which is itself written as a lipogram: "This is a story chock-full of plots and sub-plots, of loops within loops, of trails in pursuit of trails, all of which allow its author an opportunity to display his customary virtuosity as an avant-gardist magician, acrobat and clown." Interesting! Oops... that word has an 'e'. I mean fascinating!

A similar, but less constrained book that I have actually read is "Ella Minnow Pea; a Progressively Lipogramatic Epistolary Fable" by Mark Dunn. It's a political satire about a government that bans usage of letters of the alphabet, one by one, and recommends substitute words and spellings. The story is told through letters (the epistolary kind rather than the alphabetic kind) written between Ella and her family and friends as they try to adhere to the changing letter ban, with humorous results. Incidentally, say the name of the title character out loud. Her name should suggest something familiar to you.

The last letter in the story, where Ella imagines the banning of almost all the letters that are left in the skimpy alphabet, looks like this:
Letter to me
Onlee 24 owers remain.
Tiles plop, 8 tiles plomp, plomp all in one nite.
Tee ent is near.
So lon A!
So lon E! (Nise to no ewe.)
So lon I!
So lon R! (Are ewe lonesome tonite?)
So lon S!
So lon T!
So lon W!
So lon O twin. (Remnant-twin is all alone now)
Now onlee 5 remain at 12 o'time. Onlee 5. Onlee 5 remain.
Wear is tat paint?
Not only is this book a lipogram, but the plot also concerns the hunt for the shortest sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. We all know the old standby "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" (containing 35 letters), but this story goes three letters better: "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs" (which contains only 32 letters). Besides this clever novel, Mark Dunn also wrote "Ibid," a novel written entirely in footnotes for a document that the reader cannot see. While I didn't feel it had the impact of "Ella Minnow Pea," it was still an interesting read. I can't wait to see what innovative form of novel Dunn will come up with next.

The second unusual form is the palindromic novel. A palindrome is a phrase that reads the same backwards and forwards. A few famous examples are "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama" and "Madam, I'm Adam." As hard as it is for me to imagine an entire novel written as one huge palindrome, it has actually been done. One of the most famous is "Dr Awkward & Olson in Oslo" by Lawrence Levine, written in 1986. It consists of an amazing 167 pages and 31,954 words. Note that the title is a pair of palindromes. The novel starts with "Tacit, I hate gas (aroma of evil)," and ends with "live foam or a sage Tahiti cat." Yuck. I think I'll pass on that one!

Our prolific Georges Perec (see lipogramatic novels above) has also written a palindromic novel in French. It's called "Grand Palindrome,"  is 5,556 letters in length, and was written in 1969. Not as impressive as the efforts of Levine, but I have to give him credit for accepting so many writing challenges.

Next we come to stories and poems written in homophonic tranformation, where words translated into phonetically similar alternatives (which appear to be meaningless jibberish) can be pronounced out loud to produce meaningful sentences out of thin air. In 1940, Howard L. Chace wrote a nursery rhyme collection called "Anguish Languish" ("English Language"), which rewrote familiar children's verse in homophonic transformation. An example is "Marry Hatter Ladle Limb" which translates to "Mary Had a Little Lamb."  Another example is the story of "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut" (Little Red Riding Hood), which begins:
Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.
Read it out loud a few times and it should become fairly clear what it says. Whew!

In a similar vein, I remember reading the children's book "CDB" ("See the Bee") by Caldecott-winning author William Steig not long after it was republished in 2000. Simply by using individual letters to be read out loud, along with helpful illustrations, Steig creates meaningful sentences. Examples include I N-V U (illustrated by one boy watching another licking a lollipop), "I M A U-M B-N," (where a boy talks to a dog), and the tougher "O-L H" (picturing a decrepit elderly man sagging in a chair). Kids can have X-L-N fun figuring these sentences out.

Enough for today. I'll continue in a day or two with more unusual uses of word play in books. Stay tuned...


Monday, June 20, 2011


The last "Oprah Winfrey Show" aired on May 25, 2011. The fact that the highly-rated talk show is no longer on the air doesn't sadden me. I never watched a single program. It's not the kind of show I would ever have considered watching. Nor, avid reader that I am, would I ever read Oprah's "O" magazine. Although the end of Oprah's talk show did not cause me to shed a single tear, I feel this is a good time to pay homage to Oprah for something for which I admire her: her book club. The televised book club began as a segment of her talk show in 1996 with Jacquelyn Mitchard's "The Deep End of the Ocean." The club took a one-year hiatus in 2002, and resumed in 2003. The club underwent a few changes over the years as Oprah tweaked the frequency and types of selections. In total, her club discussed seventy books in fifteen years.

Throughout the years, Oprah has been a powerful force in many arenas, not the least of which is literature. When she selected a book for her club, it became an instant best-seller. Many critics have maligned Oprah for her selection of titles. I agree that her club featured too many novels about downtrodden women who eventually found the strength to overcome their adversities and arrive at happiness (I surmise that Oprah's own past prompted her to select those stories). But in spite of that flaw, Oprah has also chosen many fine titles for her club, including classic and literary novels that richly deserved some time in the limelight. She brought many fine authors out of obscurity and their books off of the backlist.

Oprah's book club also caused some controversies. The first involved author Jonathan Franzen, who publicly decried her selection of his book "The Corrections" in September of 2001. He did not want to have his literary efforts thrown into the same category as some of the "schmaltzy, one-dimensional books" featured on her show. He also felt his books were too difficult for the average reader, and I found this snobby attitude a bit off-putting. Although he later apologized to Oprah for his comments, he was uninvited from his scheduled appearance on her show. Eventually, though, Oprah let bygones be bygones. In 2011, she selected yet another of Franzen's books, "Freedom," for her book club. That time, Franzen was smart enough to realize that if it were not for Oprah, he never would have achieved the readership (and the big bucks) that are every writer's dream. He gratefully accepted the honor.

The second controversy occurred when James Frey's memoir "A Million Little Pieces" was selected for her club in September 2005. Although the original book club discussion went smoothly, critics began to question the truth of some elements of his life story. Frey admitted that he had embellished some of the facts in the book, and eventually he and Oprah went head-to-head in a televised interview. Oprah got Frey to admit to the lies he told. She then preceded to take Frey's publisher, Nan Talese, to task for not verifying the facts before publishing the book as a memoir. Not only did this make for a juicy literary controversy, but it brought to the forefront the issue of what it means to call a story a "memoir." To what extent can the truth be embroidered before a memoir becomes a work of fiction?

In recognition for her efforts at promoting books and reading, Oprah has won numerous awards from the publishing industry and the book world. She received the National Book Foundation's 50th Anniversary Gold Medal in 1999. She was presented with the Association of American Publishers AAP Honors Award in 2003 for her impact on book publishing. She was given the New York Public Library's "Library Lion" award in 2006, which placed her in the same league as Jonathan Franzen (ironically enough), Salman Rushdie, Elie Wiesel, former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, Orhan Pamuk, Philip Roth, literary critic Harold Bloom, and many other literary stars.

There's no doubt about it. Oprah got America reading. Who but Oprah could have gotten books by John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Leo Tolstoy, and Pearl Buck (even Charles Dickens, to a lesser extent) onto the bestseller list? Who but Oprah could induce bookstores to order a half a million copies of a book, title unknown, merely because it was to be the next club selection? Who but Oprah could generate sales of over 55 million for her own branded edition of books? Although "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and its famous book club are now off the air, Oprah has pledged that she will produce a program about books and authors for her new OWN cable network. For all this, I thank her.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An endangered species

I wrote the following editorial for a newspaper column at the beginning of this year. Although the editor assured me it would be published, it never was. I don't know why. Perhaps it was nixed because someone felt it would arouse too much controversy. Or maybe it was simply too long compared to the editorials they usually print.

In any case, I am reproducing it below. One thing to note is that it was written months before Borders declared bankruptcy and began closing many of its brick-and-mortar stores. Every Borders store in Broward County has now closed down. I and many fellow book lovers (even those who are proponents of ebooks) sorely miss them. I read recently that an additional fifty Borders stores around the country will close as part of the terms of the bankruptcy. Will the closing of Barnes & Noble stores be far behind? The issue was (and still is) a very real concern for all of us. I don't think we have thoroughly considered the impact that digital media will have on us in the long run.

Here it is:
You sit your grandson on your lap and read him a story from a large, brightly-colored picture book, letting him turn the pages and touch the illustrations. You watch a folk dancing performance at the public library, and while you’re there, you pick up the mystery novel you’ve been meaning to read. During a leisurely Sunday breakfast, you peruse the morning paper, work the crossword puzzle, and clip out some grocery coupons or a recipe that sounds perfect for your next dinner party. You visit your local bookstore, browse the stacks, have coffee in the cafĂ©, and buy a magazine on your way out. You page through an old photo album, viewing your grandparents when they were your age, or your first apartment, or your dated hairdo in an old class photo.
What do all these things have in common? They’re endangered activities. They involve media and institutions that are slowly disappearing from our world, to be replaced by electronic versions that have lost the substance and permanence of their physical counterparts.
No, I’m not a technophobe. I worked for years as a communications software developer, and still use a computer regularly. I own a smart phone. I use a GPS navigation system in my car. But would I buy an e-book, or put photos up on a web-based album?  Never!
Before you buy a Kindle or Nook, think carefully about it. Electronic books are merely vaporware, yet the cost per book is not as low as you might think. Bestsellers in physical form are routinely on sale for between a third and a half off the cover price. E-books are not on sale very often, and they usually wind up costing only a few dollars less than their paper counterparts. And those same books, plus many more, are available from the public library for free!  It doesn’t matter if an e-reader can hold 500 books. How many can you really read while on vacation? What if you drop the reader and break its delicate electronics?  What if the battery runs down while you’re reading at the beach? Can you give e-books to friends, or sell them at a garage sale, or photocopy a page? What happens when today’s e-reader becomes tomorrow’s dinosaur? Where will all your purchased e-books be then? Don’t say that you’d convert them from one format to another. If you’ve already read them, you wouldn’t bother to go though the hassle of uploading them to a PC, converting them, and downloading them to a new reader. And that's making the assumption that there will actually be a way to convert from a 2015 KindlePad to a 2025 SuperNook.
The same holds true for digital photos. Will Picasa still be online years from now? Will electronic photos on CD or in a digital album still be viewable then? Would a home-burned CD last as long as photos in an album?  I doubt it. How will our great-great grandchildren learn that they resemble us?
If books are made obsolete by their digital counterparts, brick-and-mortar bookstores and public libraries will most likely disappear. Could you browse through stacks of e-titles, scanning through the contents to get a feel for the writing style or contents, as you can at a bookstore?  Would there still be paper coloring books, pop-up books, road maps, or oversized art books? If so, where would they be sold? If libraries turn into electronic, Internet-based entities, what would become of their community-outreach and cultural programs?
I have a book-lined study. Seeing my books on the shelves gives me almost as much joy as reading them. There is a physical and aesthetic pleasure associated with opening a book, turning its deckle-edge pages, and smelling the paper and ink, that can never be duplicated with an e-reader. Books, photo albums, and scrapbooks can sit on a shelf for fifty years, or even a hundred, and still be paged through and enjoyed. They are memories and gifts to bestow to future generations. Don’t let electronic media destroy them.

Monday, June 13, 2011


To me there's nothing like a book (and I'm referring to the physical variety here. I abhor ebooks!) I love feeling their heft in my hands, smelling the paper and ink, turning the pages. I'm one of those rare readers who actually reads author dedications, introductions, acknowledgments and postscripts. I even read the colophon (publisher's description of the font) if there is one.

A book is an inexpensive form of entertainment that educates me, captivates my attention, and makes my imagination soar. As a former librarian, I am interested in all facets of books, including their publishing, authorship, sales, and readership. I have reviewed books on the Internet and for authors. I have facilitated several book discussion groups and am a member of many myself. I hope some day to write books myself.

My book collection is presently around 4000 volumes, although I've never actually counted them. There are books everywhere in my house, and I'm running out of places to keep them. Don't get me wrong - I'm not a hoarder. I regularly donate books to the library or give them away to others who would enjoy them. But if I truly enjoyed a book, I will keep it in my collection, even if I never have time to reread it. Every time I see that book on a shelf, it reminds me of how much and why I enjoyed it, which is almost as good as actually rereading it.

I hope you enjoy my ramblings as much as I enjoy writing them.