Category Archives: Books

1NT: You Too Can Smell Like Old Books

In a most imaginative act of product diversification an iconic independent bookstore in Portland is selling what it calls a “unisex fragrance” that allows you to smell like, well, old books. Here’s the description of Powell’s Unisex Fragrance:

Like the crimson rhododendrons in Rebecca, the heady fragrance of old paper creates an atmosphere ripe with mood and possibility. Invoking a labyrinth of books; secret libraries; ancient scrolls; and cognac swilled by philosopher-kings, Powell’s by Powell’s delivers the wearer to a place of wonder, discovery, and magic heretofore only known in literature.

It will be available on January 6, 2021 and a 1 ounce bottle will set you back $24.99.

North Carolina’s Literary Capital

It seems that Hillsborough, NC is where the writers want to be:

At Christmastime each year, Michael Malone, a longtime TV writer, and Allan Gurganus, a bestselling novelist, put on a production of “A Christmas Carol” at an Episcopal church in Hillsborough, N.C. Mr. Gurganus plays Scrooge, and Mr. Malone plays nearly all the other characters. Jill McCorkle, another bestselling novelist, holds the record for perfect attendance.

In fact, more than two dozen of their fellow writers live in Hillsborough, population 6,087, where government meetings are held in the “town barn,” and the Wooden Nickel serves up fried green tomatoes. “Under the Tuscan Sun” author Frances Mayes lives in a 4,500-square-foot Federalist farm house here, and David Payne, author of the Southern saga “Back to Wando Passo,” lives in a renovated former clubhouse for local businessmen in the town’s historic district…

So what is it that draws writers to this small Southern town? Mr. Malone says it speaks to the nature of a writer’s work. Hillsborough allows writers to be at once isolated and close to friends and peers; while intensely focused on their next book or script, they still belong to a community that hosts barbecue festivals and a cemetery walking tour.

“Writers can get very isolated,” said Mr. Malone. “This is a real community. This is a real town, and it’s been a real town since the mid-18th century. That is the stuff of fiction.”

This tight-knit feel is attracting others to Hillsborough, said local Coldwell Banker real-estate agent Tom Sievert, driving up home prices. The median sales price in Hillsborough was $238,000 in July, up 25% from five years earlier, according to Triangle Multiple Listing Services.

“While we have this mecca for the authors, you’ll see them in front of Cup A Joe just having a cup of coffee. They’re just members of the community,” said Mr. Sievert. “I think that’s what drives people here. It’s a real friendly town.”

By the way, I highly recommend you read any of Malone’s books. They are great, entertaining reads and I particularly enjoyed Handling Sin, Time’s Witness and Uncivil Seasons.

Slow Reading

The September 16, 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the “slow reading” movement:

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

What’s interesting is that slow reading isn’t just about relaxing, it’s also about better comprehension and learning because it seems that our digital-intense lives are turning us into a bunch of scatterbrained wrecks.

One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. 

In something of a side note there was this little tidbit about folks who read fiction:

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships.

Come to think of it this helps explain some of the people I know who only read “serious” stuff like biographies of obscure roman generals or 1,200 page studies of minor Civil War skirmishes.

How to Write a Book

Lately I've seen a rash of "Easy Ways to Write a Business Book and Make a Killing" type posts on the various social media channels I frequent. You'd be right to be suspicious of anyone shilling those programs because the truth of the matter is that any book worth reading likely had a great deal of blood, sweat and tears poured into it. Scott Adams, he of Dilbert fame, offers a glimpse into his writing process and reveals how hard writing a book really is:

Part of the problem is that writing a book is the loneliest job in the world, and an immense amount of work. It's hard to get started on a project so daunting. My new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, took two years to write. For most of that time, no one but me saw any part of it. My publisher and I have a long history, so he lets me run free after the general concept for the book is nailed down. I probably worked for 18 months without anyone else seeing a word of it…

For nearly two years I plugged away on a collection of ideas around my theme and I have to say that none of it worked until the next-to-last round of edits. With my layered writing process, success tends to be binary. The book is a lifeless bunch of ideas until the moment it isn't. As a writer, you hope that moment comes, but you can never know for sure. This is yet another case in which my natural inclination for optimism comes in handy. I tell myself I can smell a book before I can see it. I know it's in me; I just need to write until I find it. I'm not entirely sure if I am intuitive or irrational, or even if those things are different.

If you're planning to write a book, ask yourself if you are the type of person that can spend that much time completely alone, doing unpleasant work, while receiving nothing in the way of encouragement or positive feedback along the way. You won't even know if anyone will read your book when you're done. If you answered "Yes, I can do that," I recommend these steps:

He then goes on to detail the six major steps in his writing process and they are indeed daunting. As he points out, every writer has his own method but what the good ones have in common is that their methods all include a great deal of hard work.

Library of the Future? 3D Printing, Books on Demand, Oh My!

The Washington Post has an article about DC's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library that shows a glimpse of many public libraries' future:

…D.C. Public Library system, which today is opening theDigital Commons at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The new facility, in a renovated 11,000-square foot section of the library's ground floor, contains a 3-D printer, an Espresso Book Machine that churns out tomes on-demand, an array of tablet devices, rows of computer terminals, and several meeting spaces outfitted with some of the newest productivity technology…

Next to the 3-D printer is a countertop full of tablet computers and ebook readers, devices on which DCPL finds an increasing percentage of its membership. Every major brand is represented—Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Microsoft—in what Cooper bills as something of a test counter. More and more, library members are loaning volumes on their devices rather using software like Overdrive for books or Zinio for periodicals. (Cooper says over 5,000 library members are using Zinio for public magazine subscriptions; the most popular title is The Economist.)…

Then there is the Espresso Book Machine. Printing books or magazines is not an inexpensive venture, but for the hopeful self-publisher, or someone desperate to obtain a tactile version of an out-of-print volume (sorry,Dream City won't enter the public domain for many more decades), this small press is an affordable solution. Cooper envisions school classes printing books of essays, people compiling family recipe books, or just aspiring authors yearning to see themselves in print…

The Digital Commons' other major component is what DCPL calls the "Dream Lab." About one-third of the space is carved up into meeting spaces and cubicles outfitted with various devices for collaborative work. Cooper is expecting to attract a long list of startup companies and community organizations that might not have permanent offices of their own, but still need resources like wireless Internet access, DVD players, visual projectors, and Smart Boards, interactive whiteboards that feature speakers, projectors, and, niftiest of all, styluses that leave trails of digital ink the way one would use a dry-erase marker on an analog board.

It's this kind of service that will help libraries continue to fulfill their vital role in the community. We may not see this level of service in our smaller branches any time soon, but I could definitely see something like this at the central libraries of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point.


International Bank of Bob

If you want to buy me a book I'd like to recommend it be this one:

Hired by to review some of the most luxurious accommodations on Earth, and then inspired by a chance encounter in Dubai with the impoverished workers whose backbreaking jobs create such opulence, Bob Harris had an epiphany: He would turn his own good fortune into an effort to make lives like theirs better. Bob found his way to, the leading portal through which individuals make microloans all over the world: for as little as $25-50, businesses are financed and people are uplifted. Astonishingly, the repayment rate was nearly 99%, so he re-loaned the money to others over and over again. After making hundreds of microloans online, Bob wanted to see the results first-hand, and in The International Bank of Bob he travels from Peru and Bosnia to Rwanda and Cambodia, introducing us to some of the most inspiring and enterprising people we've ever met, while illuminating day-to-day life-political and emotional-in much of the world that Americans never see. Told with humor and compassion, The International Bank of Bob brings the world to our doorstep, and makes clear that each of us can, actually, make it better.

You can read an excerpt at Boing Boing.

£110, 200 Years and 20 Million Copies

Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice was published 2oo years ago – January 28, 1813 to be exact. As we learn from this Letters of Note post, Austen sold it for £110, which converted for inflation is roughly the same as selling it for £75,000 (there are various ways to calculate inflation and this one uses average earnings).  Since then over 20 million copies of the book have been sold, which works out to roughly 100,000 copies a year. That's a serious return on investment.