El libro que no puede esperar

Yesterday, I came across this Galley Cat post about El libro que no puede esperar (The Book That Can’t Wait), a new collection of Latin American fiction published by Eterna Cadencia which is printed with disappearing ink. Once the book is exposed to light and air (it’s sold in shrink-wrapped plastic pouches which have to be torn open), the ink will begin to fade. So it is only actually readable for about two months. After that, all you have is a blank book.

If this seems like a somewhat self-defeating, gimmicky concept, consider the rationale. Per the video embedded below:

“Books are very patient objects. We buy them and then they wait for us to read them–days, months, even years. That’s okay for books, but not for new authors. If people don’t read them, the authors don’t make it to a second book. That’s why Eterna Cadencia, an independent publisher and bookstore, decided to create something different, to launch their new authors into the market: The Book That Can’t Wait.”

Okay then. So now you’ve got an interesting concept, one which actually alters the relationship between the reader/book buyer and not only the purchased book, and also the book’s author. Additionally, given the limited time frame during which you can actually read it, this book challenges the expectations that most of us have for a reading experience. I’m not sure I’m totally in favor of it, honestly, but it’s worth parsing a bit.

On the reader/book relationship:

  • Part of the appeal of buying books, honestly, is owning the object itself. I freely admit this–I like being surrounded by books in my home and while I could just get everything from the library, there are a lot of books that I prefer to own rather than borrow. But it’s not like buying a painting–unless you are a collector of artist books, the object itself is still valuable and desirable because it’s functional, not solely because it has a beautiful cover. So if you buy a book which quickly loses its functionality, and isn’t in and of itself a beautiful, timeless object, what do you have, really? A conversation piece, I suppose, but not much else.

On the reading experience:

  • Part of owning a book is that you can always refer back to the text–can re-read and re-experience a story or novel. I’m not a chronic re-reader myself, but I do often find myself going back to specific passages in a book, or just as importantly, lending it to someone else who I think would enjoy it as well. By essentially restricting the reading experience to one person–the person who buys the book–you lose the communal, social possibilities–the shared experience of book lending. This is not so different from the ludicrous proprietary restrictions on a good many e-books right now which can only be read on one person’s device and can’t be easily or freely shared among readers. I understand that the intent is to encourage people to delve into a book quickly, but if the whole point is to boost new authors, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest if those authors could be exposed to more readers through book sharing?
  • Again, most readers expect that their reading experience is not finite, but that it can be repeated, at least in part, over and over again. You return to a favorite passage, re-read a memorable scene, share the book with someone else. Owning a book usually means that you can go back and if not have the exact same experience each time, at least have a very similar one. But if the text itself disappears and you can only really read the book once, then this reading experience becomes much more similar to that of watching a play on stage. As a theater-goer, you know and expect that you will see a play or performance only once. Even if you were to go back and see the same play a few days later, it would be a different experience–you’ll never replicate the first performance completely. El libro que no puede esperar necessitates an experience more like theater-going than reading, and I actually think that’s one of the most interesting, and possibly successful, aspects. You have to be much more present and attentive during the initial reading because you don’t really have the option of going back and revisiting it again in a few months.

On readers’ responsibility to authors:

  • This is where I think the logic gets fuzzy, or perhaps just more transparent. According to the video, if  “people don’t read [authors’ first books], the authors don’t make it to a second book.” I get what they are saying: if an author’s first book doesn’t sell enough copies, then they frequently aren’t deemed successful enough to have a second book contract. But there is a big difference between being read and selling books. And this essentially brings us to the same argument that is being staged about all kinds of media/cultural output (most frequently music).

    To rehash the basic point: People (consumers) have grown accustomed to being able to access cultural products for free, and therefore are not buying nearly as many of these products as they used to. As a result, not only do the (book/music) publishers and corporate entities suffer, but the artists do as well because they can’t make a living from the sale of their art.

    I understand and, to a point, support this argument and its parallel imperative: if you value an artist’s work and want to see more of it, then you should support it–basically, you should pay for it. (I’m not going to get into all the gray areas with copyright law, open access, etc. right now–just keeping it simple for now.) But it doesn’t necessarily follow here that it is my responsibility as a reader to support all new authors by buying expensive books that I can only read once. It doesn’t follow that just because I buy this anthology and read it right away that the publisher will put out all of the included authors’ second books, either. It may be arguable that as a reader who is interested in international fiction I should make an effort to become acquainted with (and purchase, even) the work of up-and-coming authors, but I’m not sure that it’s any more my responsibility to support work just because it is new than it is the responsibility of the publisher to create multi-book contracts with new authors who may not furnish them (the publishers) with immediate best-sellers.

    And it still is a pretty slippy slope to imply that new artistic talent can only be nurtured by the frequent purchase of hard-back, first-run books.

To conclude: this is an interesting concept for sure, and it has kept me thinking (and writing) for two days now, so at the very least, Eterna Cadencia can be pleased that its hope to bring attention to the project has worked out. Although, I have to say, what I’ve spent all this time thinking about is the book’s format, not its content. I don’t know a single author in this collection. So maybe this project was a bust after all?

Advertisements

Fun Reads for Friday: BTBA Finalists / 100 Great Books for Kids

25 Days of the BTBA (Three Percent)

As you may remember, Three Percent recently announced this year’s long list for the Best Translated Book Award (BTBA). Leading up to the announcement of the short list of ten titles on April 10, 3P is running a daily series of posts explaining why each of the 25 books on the long list should win the award. All of the posts are archived here, and many are rather compelling. (I’ll actually be writing one of these myself for the only book on the list that I’ve read–Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?) Chad Post’s pithy one-liners on why each book should win are also pretty fun. Some of the more amusing examples:

On Upstaged by Jacques Jouet, translated by Leland de la Durantaye:

Why This Book Should Win: Oulipians have the most fun.

On New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry [Ed: and this book sounds awesome]

Why This Book Should Win: Because Marani invented Europanto, a “mock international auxiliary language.”

On Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger, translated by Ross Benjamin

Why This Book Should Win: Two reasons: 1) during Thomas’s reading tour, three consecutive events were disrupted by a streaker, a woman passing out and smashing a glass table, and a massive pillow fight amid a Biblical thunderstorm; 2) the phone number. [Ed: Not sure about this reason…]

On Lightning by Jean Echenoz, translated by Linda Coverdale

Why This Book Should Win: Tesla, duh. And Linda Coverdale. But mostly Tesla.

Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine’s “100 Greatest Books for Children”

A friend who works at Scholastic brought this list–which actually includes Young Adult titles, as well as those for children–to my attention on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day. While drunken faux-Irish bar patrons sloshed about around us, we had quite a nice time of guessing books which were included on the list. I was happy to have guessed several in the top twenty, and was surprised at some of the omissions (Ed Young’s Lon Po Po; anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, but mostly The Hobbit). Since authors were only represented once on the list, some of the representative selections were also a bit suprising (Green Eggs and Ham over Cat in the Hat, even though I like the former better; Matilda for Roald Dahl over James and the Giant Peach or The Witches; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik instead of Wonderstruck; The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks over basically any other Magic School Bus book…)

Of course, the question of what makes something a “great” book for kids is a big and incredibly vague one. P&C attempts to clarify their selection process here, although I think there is still some ambiguity. But here’s the gist:

“To create our list, we asked several highly respected literacy experts, educators, and parents for suggestions. (See “Contributors” on our bookshelf.) They came through in a big way — nearly 500 books were in the running. We used a variety of criteria to narrow down to 100 and then rank our titles, including diversity of genre, topic, format, ages and stages, authorship, and cultural representation. Factors such as literary and/or illustration excellence, popularity, and longevity or innovative freshness were all qualities of books in the final round.

Along the way, a few familiar and well-loved titles made way for fresh, unique books that children today know and love. Some authors’ secondary works stepped aside to allow for a greater variety of names and faces who may be new to you. We also included nonfiction, a rarity among these kinds of lists, but a must, given the high demand for it in schools today and the great quality of these works. In the end, we came up with a diverse range of timeless titles, classic and new, that children of all ages will learn from, grow through, and enjoy.”

And here’s the top 10:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown / Illustrated by Clement Hurd
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  4. The Snowy Day written/ illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  5. Where the Wild Things Are written / illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling / Illustrated by Mary GrandPré
  7. Green Eggs and Ham written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
  8. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  9. The Giving Tree written / illustrated by Shel Silverstein
  10. Frog and Toad Are Friends written / illustrated by Arnold Lobel

See any glaring omissions/terrible choices? Especially happy about a selection? (I was thrilled that The Phantom Toll Booth and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH were included, myself.) Discuss…

Fun Reads for Friday: Rural Libraries (and Cake Pan Collections), NBCC Award Winners,Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in New York

A grab bag of events, award announcements, and more today:

Photo by Tina King at The Good Midwest Life

“Morality and Cake Pans: The Rural Library”
by Marcel LaFlamme, via The Daily Yonder

A very interesting review of a recently-published book by library historian Wayne A. Wiegand called Main Street Public Library: Community Places and Reading Spaces in the Rural Heartland, 1876-1956. (The review title, I should note, alludes to a “lending collection of cake and muffin pans at the public library in Atkinson, NE,” which is pictured with the review (and above) but not mentioned, so far as I can tell, in the book itself.)

Main Street Library sounds fascinating, as does some of the methodology that Wiegand employed in his research. From the review:

Wayne Wiegand’s new book delves into the histories of four small-town libraries in the American Midwest. Although 80% of public library systems today serve populations of less than 25,000, Wiegand argues that “we know little about the overall history of the small-town public library.” Each of the four libraries that Wiegand considers was established by transplants from the East, first on a subscription basis for the merchant and professional classes and then, with tax support, for the town at large. Three of them received funds from Andrew Carnegie to erect a library building. And each, despite the rhetoric that emerged later about libraries as “arsenals of democracy,” was first imagined as a source of moral uplift in a culturally barren region aspiring to respectability.

In addition to more conventional sources like meeting minutes and newspaper clippings, Wiegand makes imaginative use of the accession books in which his four libraries recorded the new titles they bought. (An army of work-study students entered the records into a database, which Wiegand has generously made available for other researchers to mine themselves.) Examining how the four collections changed over time leads Wiegand to some interesting comparisons and speculations: were summer tourists in Lexington, Michigan, the reason that the Charles H. Moore Library was the only one of the four to subscribe to Cosmopolitan? Why did the Bryant Library in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, collect Hardy Boys and Tom Swift novels, only to spurn the Bobbsey Twins?”

The review also included the supremely heartening factoid that “the United States presently has more public libraries in operation than it does McDonald’s restaurants,” which: who knew? (Yay!)

The NBCC Award Winners for Publishing Year 2011
via Critical Mass

At an award ceremony last night, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced this year’s award winners in fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry, autobiography, and criticism. I hadn’t read many of the nominees this year, but was rooting for either David Bellos’ Is That a Fish in Your Ear  or Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture in the criticism category. Neither won, but I have to admit that the Geoff Dyer book that took the prize is actually on my bookshelf at home, and seems an admirable winner. Both Dyer’s book and the fiction winner looked particularly interesting to me, so here’s a little info on both (descriptions from the publishers’ websites):

  • Fiction: Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision

    “…these 21 vintage selected stories and 13 scintillating new ones take us around the world, from Jerusalem to Central America, from tsarist Russia to London during the Blitz, from central Europe to Manhattan, and from the Maine coast to Godolphin, Massachusetts, a fictional suburb of Boston. These charged locales, and the lives of the endlessly varied characters within them, are evoked with a tenderness and incisiveness found in only our most observant seers.”

  • Criticism: Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews

 “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition collects twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures. Here he is pursuing the shadow of Camus in Algeria and remembering life on the dole in Brixton in the 1980s; reflecting on Richard Avedon and Ruth Orkin, on the sculptor Zadkine and the saxophonist David Murray (in the same essay), on his heroes Rebecca West and Ryszard Kapuscinski, on haute couture and sex in hotels. Whatever he writes about, his responses never fail to surprise. For Dyer there is no division between the reflective work of the critic and the novelist’s commitment to lived experience: they are mutually illuminating ways to sharpen our perceptions. His is the rare body of work that manages to both frame our world and enlarge it.”

Upcoming Event at Scandinavia House: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in Conversation with Elizabeth Hand

A good opportunity for New York-based Nordic crime aficionados, particularly because author conversations are, I find, often more ‘productive’ than a straight Q&A. Yrsa (Last Rituals; My Soul to Take) is in New York on March 27.

“Icelandic crime author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir joins American writer Elizabeth Hand in a conversation about their work, the current Scandinavian crime fiction renaissance, what drew them to the genre, and ideas for future Iceland-related crime stories.”

And lastly:

Chad Post over at Three Percent recently posted about a new transdisciplinary journal called Translation. The biannual journal is “published by St. Jerome Publishing in Manchester and Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura in Rome.” From the journal’s site:

With this publication, the editors present the new international peer-reviewed journal translation, which from January 2012 will be published twice a year. The journal—a collaborative initiative of the Nida School of Translation Studies—takes as its main mission the collection and representation of the ways in which translation as a fundamental element of culture transforms our contemporary world. Our ambition is to create a new forum for the discussion of translation, offering an open space for debate and reflection on what we call post-translation studies, moving beyond disciplinary boundaries towards wider transdisciplinary discourses on the translational nature of societies which are increasingly hybrid, diasporic, border-crossing, intercultural, multilingual, and global.

Fun Reads for Friday: Bookstore Wisdom, NBCC Nominees, and Historical Guides to Local ‘Linnen-Lifters’ and ‘She-Friends’

25 Things I Learned from Opening a Bookstore (open Salon)

A former lawyer turned used bookstore owner shares some nuggets of wisdom. Some of my favorites:

1.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.  Treat the money you budgeted for shelving as found money.  Go to garage sales and cruise the curbs.

2.  While you’re drafting that business plan, cut your projected profits in half.  People are getting rid of bookshelves.

23.  Everyone has a little Nancy Drew in them.  Stock up on the mysteries.

Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture is nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards

From Open Letter’s (the publisher’s) press release:

…we’re proud to announced that one of our titles—Karaoke Cultureby Dubravka Ugresic—is one of the five finalists in the “Criticism” category.

Since this is the first major American book award that Open Letter has a finalist in, we’re absolutely ecstatic. And it’s especially fitting that this is happening to Dubravka, since her last collection, Nobody’s Home, was the first book that Open Letter ever published.

I reviewed Karaoke Culture for The L last year–it’s a great collection, and I’d be delighted for it to win an award from NBCC this year. My previous post, with a link to the review is here. You can also read one of the collection’s more talked-about essays, “Assault on the Mini-Bar” on The Paris Review website here. (This actually wasn’t one of my favorites in the collection–but it’s gotten some really positive responses.)

I’m also pleased to see David Bellos’ Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything on the list of nominees for criticism, along with Ugresic. I’ve been meaning to read that book since it came out, and this gave me a little added encouragement. It’s fascinating so far.

Guidebooks to Babylon (Tony Perrottet for The New York Times)

Mr. Perrottet, author of The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe, takes a delightful look at the “guides to local harlots” that were produced for the benefit of gentlemen traveling from Paris, France to Kansas City, Missouri. His unnecessary first-line dig at librarians notwithstanding (after all, I know plenty of librarians who would be delighted with the premise of his research), here are some of the article’s more hilarious highlights:

To the uninitiated, these clandestine directories make the most dubious of all literary subgenres. They were created, of course, to provide practical information for gentlemen travelers venturing through a city’s demimonde, and so have titles that range from mildly risqué (“The Pretty Women of Paris,” “Directory to the Seraglios”) to unashamedly coarse (“A Catalogue of Jilts, Cracks and Prostitutes, Nightwalkers, Whores, She-Friends, Kind Women and Others of the Linnen-Lifting Tribe”).

The genre took a leap forward in the carnal free-for-all of 18th-century London with “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies,” a best-­selling annual published each Christmas season from 1757 to 1795 under the name of the era’s most notorious pimp, Jack Harris. Each edition offered Zagat-style reviews of London belles, including their figures, tastes, complexions and personal hygiene (and a pre-modern-dentistry obsession with the condition of their teeth).

When it comes to American guides, the available examples are far less colorful…An exception to the rule is “The Little Black Book,” produced in the 1890s in the “Paris of the Plains” — Kansas City, Mo. In between generic ads (Emma Williams, “Abundance of Beauty,” and Julia Lewis, “Fit for the Gods”) are pages of rhyming verse, poems that spell out naughty words and tales of lusty nuns.

Fun Reads for Friday: Dancing Books, Nancy Pearl’s Wishlist, New Libraries, and Library Phantoms

Happy Friday!

Stop-Motion Bookstore Dance-a-Thon

This stop-motion video, “The Joy of Books,” is making its way around the internet. The (unnamed?) couple who made the video staged this after-hours book dance-a-thon in Toronto’s Type bookstore, which gives me yet another reason to go back to Toronto.

Nancy Pearl Gets Her Own Book Line

The inimitable Nancy Pearl, librarian for the masses, is partnering with Amazon to kick off her own line of reissued books: Book Lust Rediscoveries. The line, which will release six of Pearl’s “favorite, presently out-of-print books” every year, has already announced its first two titles: A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller and After Life by Rhian Ellis. (The latter sounds particularly good to me.) Nancy has blogged about her “Reissues Wish List” before now–maybe we can guess what some of her future titles will be from this 2009 list. This is another example of Amazon using its new publishing power for good–I’m really looking forward to these (re)releases.

Canada Water Library — Review” (Rowan Moore, Guardian Architecture section, December 3, 2011)

Like libraries? Apparently, the Southwark neighborhood of London is the place for you. Not only have the    good people of Southwark decided to maintain all twelve of their existing libraries (it would be interesting to know what the size of the population that uses these libraries is), they upped the ante and decided to build a brand new one in the heart of a former shipping district, called Canada Water, within the old Surrey Commercial Docks area. “Ever since the 1980s, the intention has been to regenerate [the area], both to bring business and create something like a town centre.”

The article has a lot to say about this flagging process of regeneration and some of the features around the new Canada Water library, as well as about the building itself. Some highlights:

The best form for a reading room is wide and horizontal, but there was not enough space for this at ground level, squeezed between the tube exit and the waterside. So the reading room is at the top, with the building widening as it ascends to make space for it, with the added benefit that the most important part of the building is placed high up – if not in the clouds, at least sufficiently far from the ground to feel removed and a little dreamy, as a library should.

Raised, it makes occasion for the spiral staircase, which in turn makes the business of going somewhere for a book into a little event or ceremony, rather than a sideways drift such as you might make into a supermarket.

From a practical question – how to put a library on a site too small for it – comes the pleasure of the architecture. Within the ample volume of the reading room, zigzagging shelves create more intimate places in a way almost reminiscent of the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

But while it doesn’t, apparently, “achieve Scandinavian levels of craftsmanship,” says Moore, “…the important thing about the Canada Water library is that a new public place has been created, where the architecture contributes to and expands the experience of using it.”

The Library Phantom Returns!” (Robert Krulwich, NPR, November 30, 2011)

In September 2011, I posted about an anonymous book-loving book artist who was leaving incredibly intricate, beautiful sculpture tributes in libraries and literary organizations all over Scotland. After a bit of a hiatus, the artist left three more amazing creations in the Scottish Poetry Museum, the National Museum of Scotland, and the Robert Louis Stevenson Room at the Writer’s Museum. These will apparently be the last of the mystery sculptures (there have been ten in all). Said the artist (in a short, third-person statement): “It’s important that a story is not too long………does not become tedious……….”You need to know when to end a story,” she thought.”

The statement also indicates that the artist is not a professional–“this was the first time she had dissected books and used them simply because they seemed fitting.” Which makes these creations all the more fabulous. (I also just love her sense of humor–the T-Rex bursting out of The Lost World.) She called these sculptures “a tiny gesture.”

Fun Reads for Friday

One Book on the Shelf

After moving to London and discovering that the Travel Bookshop (of Notting Hill fame) had closed, a “new-Londoner and ex-bookseller” decided that she’d visit every bookstore in London (with a few caveats). As she explains:

“It’s a way for me to see more of London, spend more of my time around books and, perhaps, help the bookshops in some way.

I’m still working on my grand plan and questions seem to arise quicker than I can answer them, a nowhere-near-exhaustive list being:

What counts as a bookshop? (Not sure)   What counts as London? (Zones 1-3)   Will booksellers want to talk to me? (Hopefully!)   Will I have to visit the naughty bookshops of Soho? (Yes…)   Will I embarrass myself in some uber-cool comic bookshop? (Probably)   Does Waterstone’s count? (As an ex-W’stones, I think they may have to!)   Will I have to visit those super intimidating posh ones near St James’ Park? (Yes)”

She’s also got a Tumblr blog (that’s a photo-based blog for you uninitiated) on the same project, if you’re more visually inclined: http://onebookontheshelf.tumblr.com/

***

For those of you who routinely Win the Internet, you’ve probably already seen this fun feature from BuzzFeed:

Awesome Stacks of Books Found in Offices

This is exactly what it sounds like. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Our friends at The L:


And from NPR‘s “Fresh Air” Office:


A nicely thematic shot of the bookshelves at Archie Comics:

***

Library Thing Catalog for The People’s Library (created by librarians taking part in the Occupy Wall Street protest)

This continues to fascinate me. Not only did they create an outdoor, all-donation, volunteer-run, topically-relevant library on the fly, they created a catalog for it. When I bookmarked this link, they were just short of 1,000 books. Now, they have 1,185. Even if they don’t have a lot of details for each title, that’s a ton of books to catalog that fast. And honestly, Library Thing is a bit clunky: I was going to create a catalog for my home library and gave up because I found the interface unwieldy. So kudos to the librarians and catalogers of TPL. Even if the protesters had been evicted today as planned, I think that (aside/apart from the protest itself) these library volunteers would have accomplished a pretty impressive feat.

***

Free Samples of the National Book Award Finalists (via Galley Cat)

Free samples of nominated titles in all genres: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young people’s literature.

Fun Reads for Friday (And the Long Labor Day Weekend)

Although this first one is more dispiriting than fun:

Book Loving City Forgoes Free Ones for a Week.” William Yardley for the New York Times, August 31, 2011.

“The Seattle Public Library, a beloved civic trophy in a book-loving city, whose directors are plucked away for plum jobs by presidents and philanthropists and whose buildings are often beacons of design, is closed all week — yet again. The furlough, intended to save about $650,000 from the system’s $50 million budget, has become something of a late-summer tradition in recent years, hardly as welcome as the weather.

“It’s an unfortunate tradition,” said Marcellus Turner, who started as the city librarian on Aug. 15 and promptly got a few days off, unpaid.

“Library Closed Aug. 29 — Sept. 5 Due to Budget Cuts,” say the bold red signs on the doors at the central library, a jolt of glass and steel by the architect Rem Koolhaas.”

The article also touches on an interesting trend that I was unaware of: “In Seattle…being the city librarian has become something of a launching pad.” It seems that several of the Seattle Public Library directors have been plucked from their positions by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and President Obama for other high profile librarian gigs.

***

Is BookLamp’s ‘Book Genome Project’ the Future of Discovery?” by Edward Nawotka at Publishing Perspectives, August 24, 2011.

Hailed by some as the “Pandora for Books,” BookLamp aims to break a book down by its essential elements and use those to hyper-scientifically make recommendations to its readers. The program

“…breaks a book up into 100 scenes and measures the ‘DNA’ of each scene, looking for 132 different thematic ingredients, and another 2,000 variables.”

So say, for some bizarre reason, you really want to read a book that is just like The Da Vinci Code. Says BookLamp CEO Aaron Stanton:

“We have found that it contains 18.6% Religion and Religious Institutions, 9.4% Police & Murder Investigation, 8.2% Art and Art Galleries, and 6.7% Secret Societies & Communities, and other elements — we’ll pull out a book with similar elements, provided it is in our database.”

Now I actually really enjoy Pandora–not having a really fine-tuned ear or a lot of in-depth awareness of music composition (although I have some), I like being able to enter a song or artist or composer and have Pandora tell me that I’m responding to the key that the music is in, or the fact that there is a strong male vocalist, or that there is a repeating structural element that is standing out. For books, somehow–and I’m guessing that this is more a function of my own relationship to literature and my general faith in my ability to select books I’ll like–the project seems a little cynical. Perhaps I’d like to think that there isn’t some formula that a computer program can use to dissect a novel and what someone responds to in it.

But I’m inclined to ignore my gut reaction on this and consider that for someone who doesn’t have piles of “books to have read” strewn haphazardly around the house, this might be a great way to learn not only about new books, but also develop a better sense of what qualities she, the reader, is enjoying in a book. And what’s not to like about more self-aware, informed readers?

New assignment: I’m going to try out BookLamp in the next week and report back on the qualities considered in each book, and the types of recommendations yielded. Perhaps I’ll get some good book recommendations myself.

***

Jo Nesbø’s novel Headhunters (first published in 2008) will be released in English this month.

Lots of interest here. Firstly, this is not a Harry Hole book. (Nesbø has a number of non-Hole titles to his credit, including a variety of stand-alones and the “Doktor Proktor” series, which starts with the novel Doktor Proktor’s Fart Powder. These are for kids—see here.)

Secondly, it came out in 2008 and is only now being released in English here, even though it was apparently a big deal in Norway when it was first published–it won the Norwegian Book Club Prize for Novel of the Year in 2008. (The delay is also not that surprising, really. The Hole novels have been a hit here, so perhaps the publisher didn’t want to overflow the market with too many Nesbø books at once?)

But thirdly, and most interestingly, with the publication of Headhunters in 2008, Nesbø established the “Harry Hole Foundation” which will receive “[a]ll proceeds from Headhunters, in all editions and formats including the movie adaptation…” (The movie has already been made–it came out in Oslo last month.)

Nesbø talks about his decision to start the foundation here:

I also made a decision that was very important for me. But not until Greedy Jo had had a serious discussion with Decent Jo. The decision was that all the income from Headhunters, domestic and international, would go towards a plan I had been mulling over for a while: basic reading and writing classes for children in the third world. My motivation was principally twofold. I have been privileged enough to be able to travel all over the world, and what this traveling has taught me is that the ability to read is a basic prerequisite for citizens to find their bearings in society so that genuine democracy can exist and so that those same citizens can create a better life for themselves and their families. Besides, I had also realized that I did not have—and would never have—a lifestyle that matched what was gradually becoming a rather large amount of money in my bank account. And there were surely plenty of other very human motives there, too: feelings of guilt that things had gone absurdly well, the need to be liked, to buy myself karma, an indulgence, redemption, etc. But I do not imagine that self-analysis by an overpaid Norwegian writer is very important to an Indian girl who receives ten years of schooling and can return home to her village afterwards, perhaps as a teacher, and be a role model for other girls and mothers.

So we set up a foundation, the Harry Hole Foundation, which would award an annual prize called A Decent Guy or A Decent Lady, and a stipend that the prizewinner, with the help of a committee, would invest in literacy projects. And the following year, in 2009, we did just that. The Decent Guy prize went to a prison chaplain, Odd-Cato Kristiansen, and the stipend went to the Naandi Foundation that helps provide schooling for deprived girls in India.

So yeah. Jo Nesbø: Decent Guy. Read more about Headhunters on Nesbø’s website here and feel free to feel good about going out and buying a new book for yourself when it comes out.

Enjoy not working on Monday!