gloss

gloss

March 3rd 2013

Reblogged from nharst|52 notes |#

nharst:

HOW TO TRAIN GOLDFISH USING DOLPHIN TRAINING TECHNIQUES

Goldfish, patiently coaxed, can be trained to perform tricks, retrieve rings, even play basketball. And this slim but clearly written and informative book will tell you how. The author, a retired nuclear physicist, US Navy scientist and scuba diver clearly brought his work home for this eccentric and unexpected hobby. 

The book is self published by Vantage, the oldest vanity press in the US. Though self published and self edited, this particular example of vanity publishing has all the polish of a professionally edited book. And though printed nearly 30 years ago, “How to Train Goldfish” enjoys a brisk trade on the used book market. There is simply nothing else like it available.

Most self published authors are not so lucky. Self published also means self edited and self marketed. Succeeding in all three does not come easy. And then there is the self funding. 

Vanity publishing has a stigma. Traditional outfits such as Vantage have been sued in class action lawsuits as being little more than scams, preying on the ambitious but ill informed. Lightning print disrupters such as Lulu have also seen lawsuits.

The current moment of blogs and personal websites should have usurped the vanity publishing model. In the age of the internet who needs a printer, a bound copy, the name and logo of a publisher stamped on the the spine? 

More people than ever apparently. The self published slice of the overall book universe, as legitimized by an ISBN, is larger today than ever before. And with Amazon, the elephant of all booksellers getting into the racket, the number of self published will only grow.

And perhaps it should. No one to my knowledge has even attempted to supplant C. Scott Johnson’s classic. Who knows what other subjects are awaiting their text.

Or as Amazon reviewer  “A Customer” states with succinct enthusiasm. “Yes! This book exists!”

ISBN 0533112923

Posted at 10:55am.

HELP YOURSELF

The recent publication in English of Mao Yan’s novel, “Pow!”, has refreshed a debate in the Western media about the Nobel Prize winners’s questionable political allegiances.  Over the past months English-language forums have embraced dissident Chinese vociferations about what writer Yu Jie called “the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize for literature.”  Responsible media outlets will also pay lip service to countervailing claimsthat Western characterizations are predicated on misunderstandings or are inherently flawed.  An insightful and well-publicized conversation articulated in a recent essay by the academic Perry Link exposes some intractable problems with both sides of this debate. 

Mr. Link, as a perennial critic of Chinese policies in the United States, is reasonably uneasywith Mr. Yan’s staid - if vaguely articulated - support of the Communist Party.  Thanks in part to its predictability, such criticism has earned the scorn of intellectuals such as Pankaj Mishra, who dismiss “hypocritical” - Western - criticism of cultural and political events in the emerging world.  From a strictly literary premise, the absurdity of this formulation speaks for itself. (As Edward Said reminisces in his “Reflections on Exile”, Erich Auerbach’s generation of a-national, polyglottic literary criticsm died out with the emergence of post-colonial identities sometime in the mid-twentieth century.) 

Nevertheless Mishra’s conclusions, however reactionarily formulated, are true:  Western criticism of Mr. Mao as distilled in the North American media originate in an environment of shocking ignorance.  With the exception of English-language prize winners it seems incumbent on media coverage of the literature prizes to mention the obscurity of recent winners: le Clézio, Müller, Tranströmer.  Although this rhetoric partially stems from an indignation that no US-American writer has won since 1988 (a topic I hope to address in a future post), there is no avoiding North America’s deplorably thin appetite for translated literature.  Which brings me back to the benefit of Mr. Link’s more recent blog post:  Regardless of the (very defensible) merit of Mr. Link’s analysis, his expertise valuably recommends further reading in contemporary Chinese fiction; whether or not one perceives any literary merit in “dick”-shaped radishes, Mr. Link’s argument against this past year’s Nobel Prize award impores us to read on:  

For authenticity and control of language, I would rate Zhong Acheng, Jia Pingwa, Wang Anyi, Liao Yiwu, and Wang Shuo more highly; for mastery of the craft of fiction, Pai Hsien-yung and Ha Jin are clearly superior to Mo Yan; for breadth of spiritual vision, Zheng Yi is one of my favorites. I would also have put Yu Hua or Jin Yong[…] above Mo Yan. But those are only my views. Please help yourself to your own.

An admonishment which we in the West would do well to heed. 

Posted at 12:57pm and tagged with: mo yan, pow, china, nobel prize 2012, nobel prize,.

HELP YOURSELF



The recent publication in English of Mao Yan’s novel, “Pow!”, has refreshed a debate in the Western media about the Nobel Prize winners’s questionable political allegiances.  Over the past months English-language forums have embraced dissident Chinese vociferations about what writer Yu Jie called “the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize for literature.”  Responsible media outlets will also pay lip service to countervailing claimsthat Western characterizations are predicated on misunderstandings or are inherently flawed.  An insightful and well-publicized conversation articulated in a recent essay by the academic Perry Link exposes some intractable problems with both sides of this debate. 



Mr. Link, as a perennial critic of Chinese policies in the United States, is reasonably uneasywith Mr. Yan’s staid - if vaguely articulated - support of the Communist Party.  Thanks in part to its predictability, such criticism has earned the scorn of intellectuals such as Pankaj Mishra, who dismiss “hypocritical” - Western - criticism of cultural and political events in the emerging world.  From a strictly literary premise, the absurdity of this formulation speaks for itself. (As Edward Said reminisces in his “Reflections on Exile”, Erich Auerbach’s generation of a-national, polyglottic literary criticsm died out with the emergence of post-colonial identities sometime in the mid-twentieth century.) 



Nevertheless Mishra’s conclusions, however reactionarily formulated, are true:  Western criticism of Mr. Mao as distilled in the North American media originate in an environment of shocking ignorance.  With the exception of English-language prize winners it seems incumbent on media coverage of the literature prizes to mention the obscurity of recent winners: le Clézio, Müller, Tranströmer.  Although this rhetoric partially stems from an indignation that no US-American writer has won since 1988 (a topic I hope to address in a future post), there is no avoiding North America’s deplorably thin appetite for translated literature.  Which brings me back to the benefit of Mr. Link’s more recent blog post:  Regardless of the (very defensible) merit of Mr. Link’s analysis, his expertise valuably recommends further reading in contemporary Chinese fiction; whether or not one perceives any literary merit in “dick”-shaped radishes, Mr. Link’s argument against this past year’s Nobel Prize award impores us to read on:  



For authenticity and control of language, I would rate Zhong Acheng, Jia Pingwa, Wang Anyi, Liao Yiwu, and Wang Shuo more highly; for mastery of the craft of fiction, Pai Hsien-yung and Ha Jin are clearly superior to Mo Yan; for breadth of spiritual vision, Zheng Yi is one of my favorites. I would also have put Yu Hua or Jin Yong[…] above Mo Yan. But those are only my views. Please help yourself to your own.



An admonishment which we in the West would do well to heed. 

Our basic idea for entry into the 2012 “Rails Rumble" was simple; build an API that reads and writes ISBNs, creating a basic catalog of associated bibliographic information in the process. There’s a lot of sources of ISBNs and bibliographic data out there. Our idea was to poll these sources and offer a simple, streamlined API that was based mostly on the ISBN rather than the idea of the book itself. A clean and clear data stream, ambitiously targeted on every ISBN in the world. 

But like any simple idea, complexity lurked just below the surface.

Though ISBNs are issued by a central agency, the “meaning” of these numerical strings is not particularly organized. The process begins, at least in the US, with a publisher purchasing a block of ISBNs. The publisher assigns these ISBNs to their products. Though primarily “books” a publisher’s products might also include associated supplemental material such as a CDROM accompanying a biology textbook - or a plastic wand bundled with a Harry Potter book. Books are products first and books second, if at all.

The ISBN encodes a few facts about the product. The 13 digit string checks out as an EAN— European Article Number — an international standard despite its provincial name. The opening string 978 tells us this product comes from “bookland.” 979 also signifies bookland, but no ISBNs have yet been assigned to this expansionary prefix. 

A following string identifies a designated country or language region. Following this string, the publisher can be named. Big publishers, such as Random House or Penguin or Oxford University Press, purchase big blocks at a time. Smaller publishers purchase purchase small blocks of ISBNs or even a single number and thus have longer identifying strings. Finally, a check digit at the end of the ISBN can be calculated against the full number to verify that the EAN is in fact in a valid format. 

And that’d the limit of what an ISBN can reveal, more or less. The remainder of the bibliography is paratextual to the ISBN; alien.

Which brings us back to our 2012 Rails Rumble project. Building records of and about ISBNs  is a cataloging task. Every catalog is built with degrees of bias and blindness. The literature of Library Science revolves around catalogs and cataloging. As a discipline, Library Science began as the Computer Science of the predigital information age. When paper was the primary machinery of information, the catalog was (and remains) paper’s database.

Seymour Lubetzky was a metaphysician of data circa mid twentieth century library science. His essays, though devoted to obsolete technologies such as the card catalog, remain relevant for their ability to get to the essence of information storage, organization and retrieval. For Lubetzky, the library begins with its catalog, without a catalog the library is an inaccessible collection of material. The start of cataloging though is the opening of prejudice:

The book (i.e. the material record) and the work (i.e. the intellectual product embodied in it) are not coterminous; that, in cataloging, the medium is not to be taken as synonymous with the message; that the book is actually only one representation of a certain work which may be found in a given library or system of libraries in different media (as books, manuscripts, films, phonorecords, punched and magnetic tape, braille), different forms (as editions, translations, versions), and even under different titles.

Lubetzky continues to anticipate and describe the problems of building a library that best serves the user, a library of works rather than objects. 

For the Rail Rumble project, we took Lubetsky’s warning as an invitation to simplification. Rather than attempt to build bodies of work from an ISBN’s metadata, we took the ISBN as proof of object itself. The finished project, ISBN.IO is just that; a solid known fact, the ISBN along with place holders for such trailing incidentals as Title, Author, Page Count.

The API allows trusted users to write ISBNs and submit paratext. Conflicted paratext is checked against previous entries; we attempt to establish the most correct information. For example, if two of three writers to the API prefer William Shakespeare to Wm Shakespeare, we keep the more popular expression.

As an thought exercise, the Rails Rumble forced us to consider a key area of our business, the ISBN, as both an abstract and material entity. As a practical product, it deserves a prize as least front facing entry in this years rumble. But its humble function is open source, public and, given some time, could touch upon every ISBN, the citizens of bookland. And who know’s perhaps it will appear as backend for an interesting project for Rails Rumble 2013 such as fellow entry “Ideal Copy,” a user of our related Ruby Gem, Vacuum

Posted at 7:09pm and tagged with: ISBN, Rails Rumble, books,.

Old Book Textures

The loveliness of images of old books is not the loveliness of old books.

fuckyeahbookarts:

Free Hi-Res Old Book Textures (For both personal and commercial projects!)

Posted at 8:57pm.

Screened books

An image of a book on a screen contradicts itself; the book itself is an unopened archive of information, shown but untouchable. The screen is a screen, technically, physically, figuratively. It screens the information in the book, concealing, filtering, sheltering and partitioning an object designed for the storage of information. The book on the screen is remains something of a book, but a book projected, a book out of reach.

Some books contain raw coded data and no images. Novels, essays, histories, most books, are dense textual files written to store information more efficiently than a thousand pictures. Leaving aside the nostalgia of the medium, the book’s tactile paper machinery, the readers of such books ought to be indifferent to its storage. Leather bound volumes decorating a wealthy person’s library are as readable as a paperback or a PDF. 

Other books contain images. These books are themselves images; each book object is a unique manifestation of both assertion and storage. Art books reach beyond their bookishness; these objects are actual statements of art that also store criticisms and comments about their subject.

Printed books are one medium of image storage; the digital internet is another. Each is both more and less than they claim. An image of a book on a screen is transmutable, abundant. The actual book? A single object, an artifact, at best, a delivery of art.

Images by Adam David Brown and Mark Bentley.

Posted at 11:47am and tagged with: books, ebooks, adam david brown, framed space, mark bentley,.