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Helpful Traffic Sign Nevertheless Has a Foul Mouth

I really wanted to post about the downtown Los Angeles traffic sign that someone hacked. However, the hacker, while clearly of the literary sort and probably someone I’d like to grab a beer with, also seems to have a penchant for the swearsies, so I thought better of it. Basically what happened is that some prankster got into the back-end workings of one of those computerized big signs that give redirection and delay instructions (the ones that kind of look like a giant Lite Brite), and updated the message to something more general, more literary, more bossy, and more profane. Here is a cleverly photoshopped approximation of the message:


If you think you can stomach the real thing, taken by journalist Daina Beth Solomon, you can see it on Buzzfeed.

American Novelist Robert Stone Dies at 77

dog-soldiers-robert-stoneLoss for the literary world today – American novelist Robert Stone has died of COPD.

The New York City-born writer was best known for his second novel, Dog Soldiers, which earned him a National Book Award in 1975. However his career spanned nearly five decades, with his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors, published in 1966, and his most recent, Death of the Black-Haired Girl released in 2013.

Further to his National Book Award, Stone was also twice shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and once for a PEN/Faulkner, among numerous other honors. If you’ve never read any of Robert Stone’s work, think darkly funny, fast-paced adventure, often with political, wartime or nautical bents to the stories. Detractors have criticized Stone’s works for being too bleak and hopeless, but fans are able to find and focus on humor and warmth in the words.

Stone died in his winter home of Key West, Florida, which is a good place to go, if you have to go. He had been an active and important member of the literary community there. He was 77 years old.

Science Survey Says….Screens Bad, Books Good.

A few weeks ago I came across the dramatically-titled article “Reading On A Screen Before Bed Might Be Killing You” (ever the subtle wordsmiths, HuffPo). Understandably alarmed, I wanted to click through for more information, but since it was bedtime, I instead hurled my phone from my shaking hands, not to pick it up again until it was safely morning. When I finally did click through, I was relieved to see that the title had been a bit misleading. While it does provide some rather troubling insights into the effect of screen time on our body’s circadian rhythms and ability to regulate melatonin, you’re not likely to drop dead if you indulge in an occasional Youtube-fest at bedtime (keyword here is occasional). I also question one aspect of the study, which states:

The study ran for two weeks and included 12 participants who read on an iPad for four hours before bed for five days straight, a process that was repeated with printed books. For some, the order was reversed: They started with printed books and moved to iPads.

No mention is made of whether the iPad users, like the print users (presumably), read one continuous piece, such as a novel. On an iPad, there is certainly an opportunity and tendency to jump around from article to article, social media to social media, video to slideshow to words and back. Given the nature of our attention spans, unless the four hours of reading was one continual piece of media in each case, I’m unconvinced it’s comparable.

And Kindle lovers were likely relieved to see that the article specifically pointed to light-emitting devices as the sleep thieves, and many e-readers still aren’t backlit, and require adequate ambient light to read, just like a book. That is, however, where e-reader fans can stop rejoicing. According to this article, our brains will thank us for reading actual, ink-on-paper print books.

A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

It also makes reference to tactile, sensory experience of turning pages, feeling the weight of the book, the thickness of the paper, the roughness, wrinkles and possible dog-ears under our fingers as another factor in furthering stress reduction and helping our brains to understand the progression of the words. I don’t know about all that. but it sure is pleasant. And how about that smell? Mmm, mm, mm. Books.

All I know is everything in this article rings true for me in a very primitive, fundamental way. I feel better when I read a book, when I concentrate, ignore the world around me and abandon myself to words on a page and a story. I feel worse when I stare at my phone or laptop, refreshing glowing screens and absorbing tiny, lightning-fast and largely irrelevant micro-bites of information, that my brain doesn’t need or want. Funny, to think about my life’s greatest passion and indulgence, my lifelong hobby and habit, being relegated to necessary self-care. Fortunately, it should be an easier habit than say, flossing or exercising, to keep up regularly.

This sums it up nicely, in a sentiment that I, as a reader, along with many of you I’m sure, find entirely unsurprising:

Reading in a slow, focused, undistracted way is good for your brain.

Slow-reading advocates recommend at least 30 to 45 minutes of daily reading away from the distractions of modern technology. By doing so, the brain can reengage with linear reading. The benefits of making slow reading a regular habit are numerous, reducing stress and improving your ability to concentrate.

So, the science is in. stock those shelves, smell that paper, visit those libraries and bookshops. Curl up with a good book and improve your quality – and maybe even your quantity, a little – of life.

Canada Reads 2015: The Longlist

monkey-beach-eden-robinsonIt’s time for the annual Canadian book battle wherein five well-known Canadians each pick a literary work to champion, and verbally spar on the airwaves. A brainchild of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), Canada Reads first aired in 2002 and has been going strong ever since. The debates take place in front of a live audience and are broadcast on CBC Radio One for the English-language edition, and on Première Chaîne for the French.

First, a theme is selected. This year’s theme is “One Book to Break Barriers”. Last year’s theme was “A Novel to Change Our Nation”. Once a theme is confirmed, a longlist of 15 books is chosen – three for each member of the panel (we don’t know who’s on the panel at this point). Titles must be Canadian, but can be open to fiction, plays or poetry. Once the 15 book-longlist is confirmed, the panel members will then select one title each to bring forth to the debates and fight for. This year, the panelists and their respective selected titles will be announced on January 20th. The debates will occur over March 16th-19th, with one book being knocked out per debate, until one champion book remains. The winning books is announced, and the publisher of the winner donates part of the sales profits to a literacy-based charity. Lovely! Books benefiting books.

I had to cringe a little bit when seeing this year’s longlist, as I have read only one of the selected books – Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson (which I loved).

Here’s the longlist:

Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World by Doug Saunders
Ru by Kim Thúy; Sheila Fischman, translator
What We All Long For by Dionne Brand
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
The Door is Open: A Memoir of a Soup Kitchen Volunteer by Bart Campbell
Celia’s Song by Lee Maracle
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee
Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz
When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid
(You) Set Me on Fire by Mariko Tamaki
For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier; Rhonda Mullins, translator
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg launches his book club with The End of Power by Moisés Naím

The End of Power, Mark Zuckerberg’s latest read

Mark Zuckerberg’s latest status update is that he’s reading books and in a relationship with literature. The Facebook boss appears to have launched his own book club as his New Year resolution. The man, who redefined the word ‘like’, wrote:

My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.

I’m excited for my reading challenge. I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.

His first book is The End of Power by Moisés Naím. It appears to be about the shifting of political and economic power, a subject he knows well. The blurb goes like this….

Naím illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micropowers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. Drawing on provocative, original research, Naím shows how the antiestablishment drive of micropowers can topple tyrants, dislodge monopolies, and open remarkable new opportunities, but it can also lead to chaos and paralysis. Naím deftly covers the seismic changes underway in business, religion, education, within families, and in all matters of war and peace. Examples abound in all walks of life: In 1977, 89 countries were ruled by autocrats while today more than half the world’s population lives in democracies. CEO’s are more constrained and have shorter tenures than their predecessors. Modern tools of war, cheaper and more accessible, make it possible for groups like Hezbollah to afford their own drones. In the second half of 2010, the top ten hedge funds earned more than the world’s largest six banks combined.

Zuckerberg has created a page, A Year of Books, where he’ll post his selection. Let’s hope he goes into dystopian fiction – I like the idea of him recommending 1984. Zuckerberg has some way to go to match the feats of this book club which has read 146 books in 20 years.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Reading The Night Before Christmas (or, A Visit from St. Nicholas) on Christmas Eve is a longstanding tradition in my family, as it is for countless others. Even as adults, we gather around my dad to hear his booming voice announce the arrival of Father Christmas. The iconic poem made its debut in 1823, the author anonymous at the time. Over a decade later, Clement Clarke Moore admitted authorship. Here is a glimpse at some of the incredible vintage copies of this beloved tale available on AbeBooks, beginning with this beautiful edition illustrated by E.F. Manning.

A Visit From St. Nicholas

Complete with five full-page illustrations, this British edition published by F. Hildeschimer and Co. includes a special gift inscription dated ‘Christmas, 1889′.

Night Before Christmas

A picture book published by Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine, Wisconsin in 1954. A price of 15 cents is printed on the cover.

The Night Before Christmas

A 1938 edition published by Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine, Wisconsin featuring the jolly old elf on the cover, as illustrated by Elizabeth Tedder

The Night Before Christmas

This 1944 edition published by Crown Publishers is illustrated by Meg Wohlberg.

The Night Before Christmas

Published in 1888 by the McLoughlin Bros., this collectible copy features 12 full page chromolithographs.

The Night Before Christmas

With colorful drawings by Margaret Evans Price, this edition was published by Stecher Lithograph Co. of Rochester, New York in 1917.

The Night Before Christmas

Published by the Saalfield Publishing Company of Akron, Ohio in 1927, this vintage copy is illustrated by Frances Brundage.

Night Before Christmas

Another edition published by Whitman Publishing Co. of Racine, Wisconsin, this one is dated 1947 and is colorfully illustrated by Hilda Miloche and Wilma Kane.

Night Before ChristmasHappy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

2014′s most expensive sales on AbeBooks – Hemingway, Joyce, Rowling, Tolkien, Twain & many more

A poster from Les Maîtres de L’Affiche

Lewis Carroll, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Harper Lee, Salman Rushdie, JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, William Wordsworth, and Voltaire – they are all on this year’s list of the most expensive sales on AbeBooks.com.

Art features prominently, with books illustrated by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. Two copies of David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups – one of the quintessential photography books of the 1960s – are featured.

A collection of books displaying Art Nouveau posters from the turn of the century topped our list. Les Maîtres de L’Affiche was a French art magazine that reproduced the finest posters at the height of the Art Nouveau movement. More than 100 artists were featured including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, William Nicholson and Maxfield Parrish. This is also the only list that places Karl Marx’s Das Kapital alongside a postcard from Mohandras Gandhi and the works of Winston Churchill.

See the list

Kolbe and Fanning Numismatic Booksellers

Numizmatichar AR Nos 1-20 by the Belgrade and Serbian Numismatic Society

Numizmatichar AR Nos 1-20 by the Belgrade and Serbian Numismatic Society

We were recently introduced to one of our booksellers, located in Gahanna, Ohio. We love to meet and learn about all of our sellers and this was no exception. Their store is called Kolbe and Fanning Numismatic Booksellers. For your information, “numismatic” does not refer to a new-fangled type of exercise, as I thought, or an automated breathing machine, as I also thought. Rather, the term numismatics refers to the practice of studying and collecting currencies such as coins, tokens, paper money, medals, but most often refers specifically to the collection of coins.

And of course, like any hobby or area of interest, there are bound to be books on the subject – price guides, collecting tips, information of all kinds, and guides to numismatic events across the globe, past and future. This is where the love of books meets the love of coins, and Kolbe and Fanning just so happen to be the largest and longest currently active rare numismatic literature in the world.

I’ll let the experts tell you more – this is David Fanning of Kolbe and Fanning, who graciously agreed to answer some of our questions.

Celtic Coinage of Britain by R.D. Arsdell

Celtic Coinage of Britain by R.D. Arsdell

AbeBooks: How do the worlds of coin collecting and book collecting cross-over? Do they naturally go hand-in-hand? I guess research is a key aspect of coin collecting.

David Fanning: You answer the question best when you say that research is key to successful coin collecting. The coins can only tell us so much. To learn more about them, we need to delve into their history. This can involve reading primary documentation (royal edicts, reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, mint reports, etc.) or the voluminous secondary literature (well over 100,000 books have been published in the field of numismatics). Most of our customers are “coin people” rather than “book people,” though there is some cross-over. And there are occasional antiquarian numismatic titles of interest to bibliophiles with no particular interest in numismatics.

Abe: For how long have coins been written about in literature?

DF: Numismatics developed as an area of study during the Renaissance. Guillaume Budé’s 1514 De asse et partibus eius is considered the first book devoted wholly to the serious study of coins.

Abe: What subjects are covered in numismatic literature? History, catalogs, regional coin lists, photography?

Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Family Coins Belonging to The Duke of Northumberland

Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Family Coins Belonging to The Duke of Northumberland

DF: All this and much more. Serious numismatics involves the interplay of economics, history, art, metrology, iconography, geography and so on. Good photographic-quality illustrations are highly desirable, especially given the need to establish provenance for specific examples of (usually high-end) coins.

Abe: Are books about coins from certain eras (ie Roman or Elizabethan) more popular than others?

DF: Books about ancient Greek and Roman coins are very popular, as are works on U.S. coins. We cover all languages and all periods. The popularity of the books usually reflects the popularity of the coins, and can be affected by the current coin market. For instance, pre-Soviet Russian numismatic books have been very hot for a few years now, reflecting the active coin market in that area.

Abe: How many other booksellers around the world specialize in books about coins?

DF: There are probably only half a dozen full-time numismatic booksellers, all told. It’s a nice niche market, but a small one requiring specialized knowledge not only of the books but (to some extent) the coins.

Smaug and Friends: Dragons in Literature


russian-hobbit It’s been over a decade since Peter Jackson released his blockbuster film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Then in 2012, the first installment of Jackson’s three-film treatment of The Hobbit, called An Unexpected Journey, hit the theaters, followed last year by part two, The Desolation of Smaug. And now, at long last, the third and final piece of the puzzle is here. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings Bilbo’s big screen story to an end next week. Which means we get to hear more of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice through the throat of Smaug.

Everyone always mentions Bilbo Baggins of course, but there’s no denying to me that Smaug was the true star of The Hobbit.eragon-paolini
Dragons are often portrayed in literature as charming, charismatic – and dangerous. Smaug is no exception. Hardened (both emotionally and physically!) from centuries spent sleeping atop a pile of treasure, Smaug is a formidable foe for Bilbo, Thorin and company, and even survives a dip in a pool of molten gold.

Not all dragons in literature are the enemy, however. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy features Saphira, a wise, loyal dragon, who while capable of great violence, is entirely devoted to her human companion. There are all kinds of dragons. Not all breathe fire. Some talk. Some have four legs, other, earlier incarnations like wyverns have two, or none. It’s wonderful that a creature borne of human imagination has earned such a place in our stories and hearts. Read here about more dragons in literature.

The 5 Best Books Bill Gates Read In 2014

gatesAnd now for a list as different as possible from Beth’s Best Reads of 2014, I give you The 5 Best Books Bill Gates Read In 2014. I was surprised to see there was a novel included. I’m curious to see what kind of fiction Bill Gates reads.

I also think Making the Modern World sounds very interesting in its exploration of our global dependence on everything under the sun. How much farther should the current generation of privileged, wealthy people be able to stretch the world’s resources with its rabid consumption? Food for frightening thought.

Here is the list of Bill Gates’ top 5 reads of 2014:

1. Business Adventures by John Brooks
From Wall Street to Main Street, John Brooks, longtime contributor to the New Yorker, brings to life in vivid fashion twelve classic and timeless tales of corporate and financial life in America. Out of print since 1971, now reprinted in 2014. As you can see, first editions of the original print run are very collectible.

2. Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns.

3. How Asia Works by Joe Studwell
Joe Studwell has spent two decades as a reporter in the region, and The Financial Times said he “should be named chief myth-buster for Asian business.” In How Asia Works, Studwell distills his extensive research into the economies of nine countries-Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China-into an accessible, readable narrative that debunks Western misconceptions, shows what really happened in Asia and why, and for once makes clear why some countries have boomed while others have languished.

4. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge: Rosie is pregnant. Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie. As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

5. Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization by Vaclav Smil
Over the course of time, the modern world has become dependent on unprecedented flows of materials. Now even the most efficient production processes and the highest practical rates of recycling may not be enough to result in dematerialization rates that would be high enough to negate the rising demand for materials generated by continuing population growth and rising standards of living. This book explores the costs of this dependence and the potential for substantial dematerialization of modern economies.

Making the Modern World considers the principal materials used throughout history, from wood and stone, through to metals, alloys, plastics and silicon, describing their extraction and production as well as their dominant applications. The evolving productivities of material extraction, processing, synthesis, finishing and distribution, and the energy costs and environmental impact of rising material consumption are examined in detail. The book concludes with an outlook for the future, discussing the prospects for dematerialization and potential constrains on materials.

It’s been said that you are what you read, and if that’s the case, I wonder whether Bill Gates might not be onto something. Perhaps it’s worth investigating.

Here is Gates’ video recap of the list:

via BusinessInsider.