Sunday, May 24, 2009

RR Bowker reports that print-on-demand titles outnumbered convetional titles last year as traditional publishers retrench

Kelly Jane Torrance has a an interesting piece in the Show section of the May 22, 2009 section of The Washington Times about self-publishing, “Don’t call it ‘vanity’ press: self-publishing finds commercial niche in digital edge,” link.

On May 19, R.R. Bowker (“Books in Print”) released a report indicating that in 2008, for the first time in history, more titles were released by “print on demand” publishers than by traditional trade publishers. The report is here and has the long title “Bowker Reports U.S. Book Production Declines 3% in 2008, but "On Demand" Publishing More than Doubles: Traditional publishing faces pivotal year of retrenching, while emergence of new technologies leads to soaring growth in short-run book publishing”.

The article discusses a service called Lulu (curiously named after the Berg opera), and noted that sometimes self-published books do get picked up by trade publishers, and that Penguin has some self-published titles in its catalogue.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sales of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" increase; remember a mammoth novel

Scott Galupo has an interesting retrospect on Ayn Rand in the Books Section of the Friday, May 15, 2009 Washington Times, “Edge: Conservatives and ‘Atlas Shrugged’: Together on Fantasy Island”, link here.

The Ayn Rand Institute (url) has reported that sales of her giant behemoth novel tripled in the early part of 2009.

I remember reading the novel ("Atlas Shrugged") while in the Army, while stationed at Fort Eustis in 1969. I did have a lot of time to read in the barracks in the evening, and I would read it on the bus home for DC on weekends. It took me about three weeks then, in March as I recall. I was quite captivated by the epic sweep of the novel. In the opening pages, there is a longing for better times, as the world is already sinking into collectivism. To someone following all of this year’s bailouts, it sounds familiar.

The novel had great names for characters, like Eddie Willers and Wesley Mouch.

The Washington Times article indicates that Ayn Rand preached objectivism, not libertarianism as we understand it today (as David Boaz describes it in his two volumes from the 1990s). However Boaz, in his “The Libertarian Reader” (Free Press, 1996) included an essay “AYN RAND ON RIGHTS AND CAPITALISM” Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen.

I had read “The Fountainhead” earlier, while in graduate school, and I recall a McCollum Hall dorm cafeteria discussion group on Ayn Rand that met during the school year 1966-1967. I also remember a similar group opposing the Vietnam era draft. My roommate, from western Kansas, during my last semester was an Ayn Rand fan, to ideological extreme. I had at once admired Peter Keating as like some previous friends, and came to like Keating less as I got educated.

Ayn Rand preached obligatory heterosexuality in a couple of long speeches, but nevertheless her ideas have some popularity in some parts of the gay community, particularly Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty and to some extent Log Cabin Republicans. John Galt is portrayed as almost the perfect fantasy hero. The novel gets mentioned in the script of the play and movie "The Boys in the Band" by Mart Crowley.

On the other hand, some critics claim that the novel encourages "power worship" that was a curse for world history in the 1930s.

The Baldwin Group and Lionsgate have a film project for “Atlas Shrugged,” due in 2011, with Randall Wallace as the screenwriter.

Picture: McCollum Hall, University of Kansas, 2005 (I stayed in room 907 1966-1968).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

E-readers raise concerns about book piracy (believe it or not!)

Mokoto Rich has a story on the front page of the Tuesday May 12 New York Times about potential piracy problems in the print world, based on e-books. The title is “New Target for Digital Pirates: The Printed Word,” link here.

Rich starts his story with the experience of science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin (“The Left Hand of Darkness”) who found illegitimate copies of her work on Scribd. (I already have a hardcopy paperback of the Scribd featured book by Virginia Morris, “How to Care for Aging Parents, A Complete Guide", Workman Publishing, 1996, ISBN 1-56305-453-3, written well before the issue was understood to become the exploding demographic problem that it is today.)

Another site discussed in the article is Wattpad.

The problem seems small compared to music and movies, but book publishers and some authors are becoming concerned. “Harry Potter” or particularly the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer, stories by Stephen King, and other books of great popularity sometimes make attractive targets for ebook “piracy”. The “for Dummies” series (of Wiley – a real trademark) has often been illegally copied (perhaps the “Idiot’s Guide” series would be too).

Company policies would forbid uploading of copyrighted material, but enforcing the policies probably is difficult, and starts with receipt of a complaint.

Self-publishing services could conceivably be compromised, as all offer publishing contracts requiring authors to warrant that their work is their own and requiring indemnification in case if litigation and judgment. But the experience with self-publishing is that the overwhelming majority comes from authors who want to see their own work published, or want to reissue books out of print.

Amazon’s Kindle product does not seem to be directly involved, although it may serve as “inspiration.” Back in 1999, one of the COPA (Child Online Protection Act) plaintiffs had copinvested in an ebook technology called “SoftLock” which was thought to be covered by the Act. There were other ebooks (as from Barnes and Noble) in the late 90s that were not that successful commercially. It’s still nice to have a Nevil Shute paperback when on the beach (pun intended).

Picture: "UFO interior" in the passageway at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Update: May 18, 2009

The New York Times reports, in the Business Section, on p B6, in a story by Brad Stone, "Site Lets Writers Sell Digital Copies," link here. It's about Scribd.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

"Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal": important anthology on destructive strip mining

Editors: Silas House and Jason Howard, with Lee Smith as author of Foreword;
Title: Something's Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal.
Publication and description: 2009, University Press of Kentucky. 306 pages, hardcover, indexed. ISBN 978-0-8131-2546-6.
Contributions by Jean Ritchie, Denise Giardina, Bev May, Carl Shoupe, Kathy Mattea, Judy Bonds, Pat Hudson, Jack Spadaro, Nathan Hall, Anne Shelby and Jessie Lynne Keltner, Larry Bush.

Anyone remotely literate with New World geography knows that, in general, there are mountain chains near each coast (on both continents) and a great “Midwestern” breadbasket plain in between. The mountains in the East are much older and lower, and perhaps more easily damaged (if you exclude Cascade volcanoes, that is).

The East also has its continental divide. Much of it rises along the Virginia-West Virginia border. East of the divide, the mountains are steeper: there is the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah Valley, and the “Ridge and Valley Province”. But, west of the divide lies the Allegheny Plateau, which generally looks mountainous because of its ravines cut by streams and rivers. Slowly the plateau descends into the Midwest. And, not so slowly, the Plateau, in many areas, is being flattened as if it were part of the Midwest. As it says in Isaiah, “the mountains will be laid low.”

Of course, I’m talking about strip mining for coal. Brought up in the East, I started hearing about it as soon as my working life started. Magazine articles even around 1971 talked about draglines and “Big Muskie” mining machines. It seemed that coal companies were willing remove a couple hundred feet of ridge to get at a six foot seam of coal, whereas out west, in Wyoming, the seams were a couple hundred feet thick; but utilities in the East seemed to want Appalachian coal. US Geological survey topographical maps used by hikers showed strip mines that went back to the early 1950s. Most of the strip mining then consisted of “box cuts” on ridges, and augering, not wholesale destruction.

On July 31, 1971, I drove out to the Mount Storm area and hiked around, taking pictures of moderate destruction, when a coal company truck came by and security tried to detain me. I finally got a smoke-filled cabin tour of the entire mine. I got to keep the camera and pictures. In 2004, or earlier, I returned to the area, and to be honest, much of it had been reterraced and replanted.

In May 1972 I met with a former graduate school roommate in Prestonburg KY and we traveled around the Virginia-Kentucky border, especially the “Trial of the Lonesome Pine”, in fog and stationary-front-associated rain. In some places, we saw mass destruction and moonscapes. I would write in an unpublished short story (“Expedition”) “war lurked everywhere.” But I would return to the area in 1990 and find much of it restored.

In August 1999, I tried to visit the notorious and enormous strip mine in Boone County, W Va, south of Charleston. But I found there was no observation point from any public road, even though I had seen some of the strip mines from the prop airplane coming into Charleston.

Judging from the personal contributions, sometime in the 1980s, coal companies became even more aggressive, using explosives to blast away whole ridges, plowing them into stream beds, and ruining the water table and environment for surrounding homes. The book never mentions the largest amount of overburden ever removed, but apparently it can be as much as 1000 feet (according to Wikipedia), just to get at a six foot seam of coal. The process is known as MTM/VF, or “mountaintop-removal mouning/ valley fill”.

I don’t know where coal companies decide that it is more economical to blast and strip than to maintain underground mines, but certainly the “creative destruction” process (negative pun intended) would result in fewer jobs, although some would be very highly skilled. But underground mining (as in my film reviews of “Harlan County” “Matawan” and “Bonecrusher” on my movies blog) is one of the world’s most dangerous occupations.

The introduction discusses the attempts by the Bush administration to weaken reclamation requirements.

The last piece, by Larry Bush, talks about how Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky, was spared, but the nearby areas in Virginia near the town of Appalachia were decimated. Other pieces talk about removals of specific ridges and knobs and the shock of returning to a homeland area and finding it destroyed. The contributors find the practice of mountaintop removal morally repugnant and sometimes talk about it in religious terms.

Picture attribution link (public domain release).

Here is a good reference with slides from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, with pictures of Kayford Mountain.

Or "try/catch" this.

On further looking, it seems as though I was near Kayford Mountain in 1999 myself, but I never quite stumbled on these scenes. This next one is from the "I Love Mountains" site. It seems like the western Appalachia is undergoing a total body shave.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Dr. Laura's "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms" (and a visit to "The Ultimate Frontier")

Author: Laura Schlessinger:
Title: In "Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms".
Publication and Description: 2009, Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-169029-7, 208 pages, hardcover; eight chapters with Introduction, Post-Script and even a “post-post-script”.

Well, Dr. Laura Schlessinger earned some gentle notoriety in the 1990s with her common sense morality on radio talk shows, and her books, including “How Could You Do That” and “The Stupid Things” that both women and men do to ruin their lives. She would talk about stupid conception, and note that, after divorce, kids were often better off with the remaining single moms than in new families with step-parents.

And she would also open with the tautology, “I am my kids’ mom.”

And she used to punt back to God’s law, although in recent years that has become much less politically acceptable. She has made gays made, with her use of the phrase “biological error” (here is an account from "Outraged Richard", also on Wikipedia) and then her preference to Richard Cohen’s “Coming out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality.”

But, more recently, she appeared on Larry King Live to discuss her book, and said that committed gay relationships were a good thing; it’s always good to encourage commitment.

But let’s get to the book itself. The copy from Amazon came with her autograph, in red. That’s unusual with Amazon orders in my experience. The book is written in simple language and has many letters and notes, some of which are not always written with perfect clarity.

In her introduction, Schlessinger insists that she is not trying to re-ignite the culture wars; she is writing mainly for the benefit of kids, who really do benefit from a full-time mom. She coins an acronym, SAHM (that reminds me of a not-so-nice acronym from troubled times of my young manhood, “shim”). But it’s impossible to resist going down some existential paths, and she hints at some important conclusions even for people who don’t have their own kids: this is your business, too.

I interrupt myself here: on NBC Nightly News on May 4, 2009 there was a report on a study, claiming that a stay-at-home mom’s compensation would be $123,000 a year on the corporate marketplace if women were to be paid fairly. And the number thrown around for women who work full time and follow Betty Friedan’s lead, by way of comparison, was $76000 a year. And, I must add (by the way, in fairness) that Schlessinger mentions that working mothers often lean on stay-at-home moms (because they had “so much time”) to help with the dirty work (p 163).

One of the trickiest points, at which Dr. Laura digresses from Ayn Rand’s “non-contradiction” policy, concerns how to get hubby to go along. At one point she seems to say, if your fiancĂ©e won’t agree to become the sole support, then find someone who will. But later, she deals with the immediacy of pregnancy (she talks about hers early on, at 35) and says, woman, make up your mind and go tell your husband you will stay home with the kids.

I divert again for a moment. Back in the 1980s, I investigated the “Stelle Group” of Richard Kieninger (Eklal Kueshana), with the book “The Ultimate Frontier,” and the planned communities he set up, one of which was to be Stelle, IL (near Kankakee) which, at the time of its establishment around 1970, had as part of its homeowners’ bylaws a requirement that the husband be the sole breadwinner in the family. It later dropped the requirement. But Kieninger’s book went into some long discussions about why it is mandatory for a man to marry and have children, and I’ll come back to that. I remember those Sunday sessions at the Unitarian Church in University Park (Dallas), Texas in the 1980s.

Dr. Laura takes the position (on p 47 and following) that wives can demand that their husbands be “man enough” to become a sole breadwinner. Okay, I get it, and I’ll say that when I was growing up, particularly through my tween years in the 1950s, I had good reason to wonder if I would ever become “competitive” enough as a “male” to provide for and protect women and children (by way of comparison to the families of others, as seen by the values of the 1950s). That certainly affected my thinking. On p 201, in her “post-post script” (I don’t mean a printer), Laura gives, in italics, “Mother Laura’s Top Five Things a Dad Needs to Do to Help His Wife Be the Best SAHM She Can Be” (and she’s not an Army of One).

In fact, let’s project on to male psychology. I’ll venture from political correctness and say that, if I really got into the idea that I would “live forever” through my progeny if my own life came to nothing in terms of individual cultural accomplishments, then I might find “providing for and protecting” a woman and family could be “exciting” (I could be more explicit). I didn’t. Even by the 1950s it was becoming apparent that a technological world (IGY was coming, with Sputnik) would offer different strokes for different folks, and would need its future incarnations of Alan Turing. But I can imagine that if I “invested” in progeny, I would have wanted to be pampered as a parent and would have become intolerant of those not “brave” enough to take the dive – which I didn’t.

She gets warmer on p 74 when she writes: “Life is just not always fulfilling. Callers who have to care for the elderly in their families when they already have their own marriages, children, and mortgages to deal with are not necessarily feeling very fulfilled by changing adult diapers and listening to the same stories time and time again. Yet it is in these efforts that we perfect the world.” The last sentence is peculiar. The world is not perfect, so we have karma – even group karma. We have community as well as justice.

On p 109 she prints a letter (not that precisely written) about a childless woman, visiting a grocery store for routine shopping, who found herself suddenly being hugged by two loose children from the nearby(?) day care center. You start to put the pieces of this together. I’ll add that when I was substitute teaching, I was “ambushed” by a couple of “child care” situations for which I am totally unprepared and which I found humiliating (including one request to borrow some swim shorts and man the deep end of the pool, at age 61). My problem wasn’t “stupid conception”, it was anti-conception; I still had to become involved in other people’s conception.

On p 135, she becomes critical of men who feel attracted to women that can pretend to “have it all” or “do it all” (which is partly why some are attracted instead to other men). She says that men realize they have fallen into a “trap” and “regret once they are married that they don’t have a giving ‘mother earth’ type wife to make the house and home and make her family a loving priority.” Right afterwards, she reiterates her sermons (familiar to radio audience) critical of society that maximizes “self-centeredness” and minimizes “choice” (I think she meant to say “maximizes choice and minimizes accepting obligations”).

So, in a community, some of us wind up being affected very much by the “choices” others make. We rarely fully understand our interdependencies. I think that Dr. Laura would have done well to include an extra chapter (not just a few "hints") on just how people who don’t “choose” to marry and have children should be affected by her ideas. Ok, life happens. It’s not perfect. But the insinuation is that every man should prove that he can be the sole support for a woman and family before he “enters the world.” Is that what she wants?

Back in the mid 1990s, I worked with a man married to a stay-at-home mom with four kids – and they wanted to move further to the exurbs where there were more stay-at-home moms. We took corporate transfers, for very different reasons, at the same time to Minneapolis in 1997. We were moved on the same van. I thought I had a lot of household good, but his family took 80% of the space on the van. I was loaded last and unloaded first. Single people often come at a discount.