Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Virtual bookshelves

In 2006 I signed up to an application called Bibliophil to keep track of the books I had read, mostly with the book club I belonged to at the time, but also documenting past reading going back even to my childhood. I thought it was a neat idea and had a lot of potential, an online place for a community of book-lovers to share their experiences with books .
I have to admit I haven't accessed my library there much in the past couple of years, partly because I have less time to read and no longer belong to a book club but also probably because Bibliophil didn't live up to the potential I thought the idea had. I had forgotten all about it. I was reminded of it recently however, when I came across references to Shelfari, which describes itself as:

"a community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers."

It has a social networking aspect:

Create a virtual bookshelf, discover new books, connect with friends and learn more about your favorite books – all for free.

Intrigued I did a bit of digging and found out that there are a number of similar applications now- GoodRead and LibraryThing are a couple of others.

These applications seem to be what I envisioned, building on what Bibliophil began.

I was tempted to join one of these newer applications but then - what about my library in Bibliophil? Perhaps I should just pick that up again, I thought. I searched the site out again, found my user name and password (no small feat after a couple of years!) and got into it to look at my list and explore what the program offered now. It hasn't changed that much (sadly) and doesn't have the jazzy look of the other options. It doesn't connect to facebook or twitter. Its link to Project Gutenberg is dead. Although it has some recent added profiles and it still functions, it appears neglected, abandoned somewhat by its creator, as if he may have left it to run itself down.

So. Do I stick with Bibliophil (losing my list!) or switch to one of the other newer applications which have more bells and whistles?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A marginal post

Every once in a while I come across an article which inspires me to post here. (I just wished it happened more often!) This is from the National Post and talks about marginalia.

When a beam of sunlight fell on her mother-in-law’s red hymn book, Heather Jackson rose from the couch to fetch it from the bookshelf. She and her husband were planning the late woman’s funeral, struggling to decide upon the perfect hymn.

What she found was decisive. In the margins of All Things Bright and Beautiful, her centenarian mother-in-law had inked a request: “I want this hymn, all verses.”

“It was a message from the grave,” said Prof. Jackson, an English professor at the University of Toronto and author who, as it happens, spent two decades harvesting and analyzing marginalia — those notes, like the one scrawled in the hymn book, that we write in the margins of text.

“I’ve compared these notes to a message in a bottle: You send it out to the world, and it takes its chances, but it will reach somebody else,” said Prof. Jackson, who edited four out of six volumes of marginalia by prolific annotator Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet and philosopher credited with coining the Latin-derived term

I love this story for so many reasons. Those who know me will know my interest in churchy things, and will know also that I sing in a choir and might also know how much I love that particular hymn (it was one we wanted for my daughter's wedding service). And then, trained as a librarian, there is my interest in things bookish and also in the technological changes affecting books and libraries. All these topics are involved so it would be a surprise I suppose if I wasn't intrigued by this article!

How wonderful that this woman braved the relatively recent taboo about writing in books. Rarely now would you find a book with annotations unless it was a student's scrawl or underline in a textbook. (Don't you love the student's F___yew comment? Why Professor Jackson said he "shouldn’t have done that" baffles me. )

I thinks book used to be considered so valuable that it was not conceived of that they would be given away; it was thought they would be inherited. I have quite a collection of old books from not just my father's time but from generations before that and occasionally there are are few notes written in (usually in pencil) and so I know from experience the thrill one gets from that glimpse into the mind of someone long dead. The only thing that compares are old letters which I also have but there the literary connection is missing.

I have fallen into the political correctness of not writing in books, but in our book club, where we read books and discussed them, I made notes on what I read in a reading journal and these might count as a sort of marginalia as some of the comments were very specific. And I still make notes on some of the things I read occasionally - but not in the margins. Would some descendant find those scraps of interest if they came across them in the mass of material I leave behind? Are my blog posts somewhat similar?

I am excited by the thought that technology will allow us to annotate books again. I hadn't really thought of it but I can see how easy it could be done.

e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook allow owners to underline passages and write annotations in pop-up windows, it is unclear whether readers will ever be able to share those marginalia and whether those notes will be preserved for generations to come.

“The reality is that I’m not going to wait for them to do it,” said Bob Stein, a publishing pioneer who is working with a handful of others to launch an online reading platform called SocialBook, which he hopes will allow readers to swap, say, Warren Buffet’s annotations for Thomas Jefferson’s and so on.

Mr. Stein said he is committed to ensuring that marginalia are preserved and portable — and not just from the Kindle to the Nook today, but from the e-book reader to some device not yet imagined.

Looking forward to that. Which reminds me, I need to start by getting a Kindle or something similar.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Book buyer beware

I personally depend mostly on word of mouth recommendations for books, not website rankings or reviews, but I suppose that many readers do at least see these, and they may have some influence, so the following story is disturbing (but perhaps not surprising).

Authors, publishers and agents live and die inside — mostly die — by monitoring their product's position on the Amazon charts, which are adjusted hourly. Thomas, an author who penned the Kindle book Wealth Hazards, says literary types should take a step back because the system is easily corrupted. He says he's manipulated the system by buying his book 200 times and posting fake reviews hailing his self-described masterpiece.

Now he's peddling a new e-book, The Day the Kindle Died, in which he describes how he pulled off his ruse. ...Not once was a review or vote rejected by Amazon. It took about 45 days to move the book up to #1 ...

I expect that Chapters/Indigo is no better. No one cares enough to monitor these inputs, they are based on the honour system; like online polls and surveys they are, in the end, meaningless. So remember that next time you visit one of these bookseller websites to look up a book.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

How not to be a librarian

This is truly awful. It is supposed to be funny but as a librarian I find it almost offensive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Women who read

I've heard this before but came across it again. I found it funny even the second time ao I thought I would share it here:

Never Argue With A Woman Who Reads

A couple goes on vacation to a fishing resort. The husband likes to fish at the crack of dawn. The wife likes to read. One morning the husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a short nap. Although she isn't familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat. She motors out a short distance, anchors, and continues to read her book. Along comes the game warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside her and says,"Good morning, Ma'am, what are you doing?" "Reading my book," she replies, thinking isn't that obvious? "You're in a restricted fishing area," he informs her. "But officer, I'm not fishing. Can't you see that?" "Yes, but you have all the equipment. I'll have to take you in and write you up." "If you do that, I'll have to charge you with rape," says the woman. "But I haven't even touched you," says the game warden. "That's true, but you do have all the equipment." MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I haven't read the book The Sentimentalists which won the Giller, published by our highly esteemed and principled local press . I had to go to the Gaspereau Press website to find out what the book was about since this hasn't been the subject of much of recent the press I have seen The publisher says,

Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel connects the flooding of an Ontario town, the Vietnam War, a trailer in North Dakota and an unfinished boat in Maine. Parsing family history, worn childhood memories, and the palimpsest of old misunderstandings, Skibsrud’s narrator maps her father’s past. ... a daughter’s wrestling with a heady family mythology.

But before I read that blurb I imagined what a novel with that title might have to say. I wondered if it might discuss by way of fiction the Canadian psyche because most Canadians, let's face it, are sentimentalists. Emotion and feelings inform their beliefs and their political biases, not empirical evidence or even, it seems, bitter experience. Wishful thinking is so much more agreeable than rigorous thought, easier too.

Hmmm - "heady family mythology." Perhaps I am not far wrong; perhaps the author captures that in her novel after all. We'll have to try to find a copy - not an easy thing I guess - to see if I am right.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gaspereau Press has a decision to make

Johanna Skibsrud has won the Giller prize with her book The Sentimentalists. Her publisher is The Gaspereau Press a quality, small press just down the road from us in Kentville. They can manage only a tiny run. This has unlocked a whole Pandora's box of trouble for the author and for readers who are clamouring to read the book.

Skibsrud bit her lip when Gaspereau co-publishers Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield spurned offers from Toronto-based publishers to reprint and distribute The Sentimentalists widely after the Giller jury made it a finalist. Now she openly admits to being “concerned” about the partners’ decision to continue hand-printing her prize-winning first novel at the leisurely rate of 1,000 books a week.

Concerned? I guess. We have to ask ourselves, will another author choose Gaspereau Press if they know their choice of publisher could limit sales down the line if they win an award? I think Gaspereau Press will win only in the short run but not in the long run if they don't allow a partnership to allow the book to be more widely available NOW, when it is wanted. As it is I don't think I will be able to find a copy to give as a gift at Christmas.

There is not a single copy of The Sentimentalists available in any of the Indigo Books & Music stores, company president Joel Silver confirmed. “The Giller lights a match,” he said, “but you still need to feed the fire. … If people aren't reading about it and talking about it, then I think it'll fizzle out faster.”

We may have to get a copy from the British publishers if we want one. We love the Gaspereau Press and hope they resolve this issue. If they do the right thing by the author it can only enhance their reputation. If they don't well ...
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)