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January 27, 2006

The life expectancies of books
Posted by Teresa at 01:01 AM *

[Update, 8:32 a.m. EST: I’ve added new material to the bottom of this post.]

We talk about immortal literature, but the vast majority of books are as mortal as we are. Who here has read John Cleveland? He was the most popular poet of his era, with numerous editions of his work published during his lifetime and just after. Then his style went out of style, as did his Royalist sentiments. Bye-bye, Cleveland.

It happens. You wouldn’t believe how many authors were left gasping on the beach when the tide of 1920s experimentalism ebbed—not that you could tell, looking at a bestseller list, that they’d ever been in print in the first place. When I was young, paperback gothics and nurse novels and books of poetry by Rod McKuen were all over the racks, but they disappeared like the passenger pigeon. More recently, the collapse of the horror boom left a lot of authors with nowhere to go.

Let us consider the Cader Books website, where they’ve put up the bestseller lists from 1900 to 1995. Reading through the lists makes an interesting exercise:
Which books have you read, from what years? Did you read them for a class, or for fun?

Which books have you heard of but not read? If you’ve heard them referred to in the past, did you recognize the reference as the title of a book? Do you know the title only because it was reapplied to something else—a movie, a TV show, the name of a nightclub, miscellaneous other?

Which authors are you familiar with? Which authors have you heard of? Did you hear about them for something other than writing yon bestselling book?

Do you own any of these books? How many of them have you seen on a bookstore shelf within the last couple of years?

Tell me again how unjust it is that your own books are out of print?

(If you want to get a little more perspective on a given year, go to Wikipedia’s List of years in literature, though Wikipedia’s list of significant books for that year won’t match the bestseller list. You may also be able to find information on more recent bestsellers at the Bestsellers database.)
The literature taught in schools is that which has survived: a collection of gross statistical anomalies. This is misleading. Falling out of print is a book’s natural fate. We can belatedly train ourselves to believe that this will happen to other people’s books. What’s hard is for writers to believe it will happen to their own.

It’ll happen just the same. It happens faster in mainstream fiction than it does in Our Beloved Genre, more slowly for nonfiction history books, very fast indeed for computer manuals; but in the end, all but a very few titles will be forgotten. Just look at the authors in that collection of bestseller lists. You’re a literate bunch, but have you ever heard of Harold Bell Wright? How about Mazo de la Roche? Mary Roberts Rinehart, Lloyd Douglas, Irving Bacheller, Frank Yerby, Coningsby Dawson, Warwick Deeping? These were all notable authors in their day. Some of their books were no better than they should be, while others were genuinely praiseworthy; but all of them spent some time perched on top of the commercial heap.

All gone, now. We shall none of us escape obscurity.

Consider, then, the duration of copyrights. They’ve gone from 28 years renewable to 56, then 28 renewable to 95, to life of the author plus 70. Given the range of human lifespans and the extreme rarity of prepubescent authors, you can pretty much figure that by the time a 95-year copyright runs out, the author will be dead and gone, and any offspring will have reached their majority. You can’t exactly draw a line, but somewhere in there, copyright stops being about directly rewarding an author for his work. What’s left is an intangible time-travelling value: the hope of being read.

This is why it pains me to hear respectable minor authors going on about how the extension of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years is a victory for the little guy. It isn’t, unless by “little guy” you mean the heirs of the author’s ex-spouse’s step-grandchildren by her third marriage. The real push behind the last round of copyright extensions came from the big entertainment combines. They’re bitterly opposed to the idea that cash-cow properties like Winnie the Pooh might ever go out of copyright.

Hollywood’s real attitude toward copyright is that it’s one more useful tool for gaining control of intellectual property. When I was a sprat, and Martha Shwartz was explaining copyright to me in terms of things to watch out for when copyediting, she used the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes estate as real-world example.

Conan Doyle’s work was out of copyright, she said, but the estate was still combative about anyone using the works, characters, images, et cetera; and so they had to be tiptoed around. Furthermore, she said, images associated with Sherlock Holmes which originated in the movies, not the books—f.i., the deerstalker cap and the calabash pipe—belonged to whomever owned the rights to the 1940s Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies. She said she knew of a case where someone had written a novel in which there was a Victorian detective, not explicitly identified as Sherlock Holmes, who wore a deerstalker cap and smoked a calabash pipe. One of the studios had taken some kind of legal action, and required that the book be rewritten.

I dutifully remembered all that. Years later, I took great pleasure in letting Martha know that those traditional images of Holmes did not originate in the 1940s filmed versions. The deerstalker cap was bestowed on Holmes by Sidney Paget, one of his early illustrators. The deerstalker cap was perpetuated by actor William Gillette, who played Holmes onstage from 1899 to the 1930s, and also was responsible for giving Holmes his curved calabash pipe. I don’t know which studio it was that harassed the house where Martha’s friend was working, but they were asserting rights they manifestly didn’t own.

(“I’ve seen other cases like that,” Teresa said briefly, biting her tongue.)

But I nearly digress. Hollywood and Sherlock Holmes are the big guys. Very few of us are big guys. We’re minor and less-minor and respectable-in-our-day authors. Nobody’s going to contribute heavily to elected officials’ campaign funds in order to get laws passed that will enable them to retain control of our works. All we have to shoot for is the hope of being read.

Life of author plus 70 years does squat for your chances of being read. The knowledge of books and publishing possessed by the aforementioned heirs of the ex-spouse’s step-grandchildren by her third marriage usually boils down to, “No one would have thought Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats would be worth a lot, either.” They’ll turn down a proposal to do a nice little reprint project (not a lot of money in it, but everyone involved read the books when they were kids, so they’re fond of them) that would be just the thing to revive a little interest in your work. Why? Because if one publisher is interested, it must mean that some other publisher would be interested as well. There could be an auction! A movie! A theme park! Woo-hoo! Pots of money!

Only there isn’t another publisher. Time passes. The heirs-and-assigns and their ignoramus lawyers lose track of the project. Nothing happens. The moment is gone.

It could be worse. One of the heirs could have literary ambitions, and conceive the idea of finishing Grandpa’s abandoned partial-plus-outline. They could offer publishers a joint package of their short stories plus Great-Aunt Eleanor’s stories, take it or leave it, which effectively means Great-Aunt Eleanor’s stories can’t be reprinted. They may refuse to allow republication because they can’t get their own work published, and their literary nose is out of joint.

Here’s a completely hypothetical case: ownership of a popular body of commercial fiction starring a very recognizable central character passes to some collateral branch of the author’s relatives. These people don’t know recto from verso. The estate’s executor is very knowledgeable, and is doing a good job. Unfortunately, some thuggish, ignorant local lawyers convince the heirs that the executor is doing them wrong, and get themselves made executors instead. They then proceed to mishandle the estate for their own profit and amusement. After years of bad behavior, they cap all their previous exploits by scuttling what would have been an extremely profitable pair of media projects based on the work. Why? Because part of their price for letting the property be used is that they themselves should be given high-level jobs in the projects, for which they’re completely unqualified. This doesn’t happen. Instead, the projects get rewritten to star two similar-but-not-copyrighted characters. One’s a great success, the other’s a huge success, and both would have done the literary property a world of good.

Mind, that’s hypothetical.

If that’s too complicated, imagine an author’s entire body of work being kept out of print because the rights passed to the ex-spouse’s third husband after the ex-spouse died, and he hated the author.

Even if the heirs-and-assigns aren’t pulling flagrantly stupid stunts, those extra decades of copyright are a drag on the publishability of the work. David Hartwell and I were both doing big retrospective story collections in the wake of the last big copyright extension. That change did something which I’d been told in my youth would never happen: works that had gone out of copyright went back in. David got caught with “The Machine Stops” already in print in his collection, and had to pay the E.M. Forster estate some undisclosed sum he still growls about. I was luckier. It took Bob Cloud of SMP Production two or three memos to convince me that “Danny Deever” was a problem, but I was finally made to realize that it really had gone back into copyright, and had to be pulled from Eileen Gunn’s introduction to “The Affair at Lahore Cantonment.”

Right about now would be a natural time for people to be compiling anthologies of the early 20th C. writers of fantasy, horror, and proto-SF. It’s not happening. Look at Dunsany. His marvellous and seminal fantasy short stories were published in collections from 1905 to 1919, but the man himself lived to 1957. And think of that moldering forest-floor mulch of writers who sold who knows how many stories in the course of their careers, only one or two of which a modern reader might still find striking. Just finding the stories would be a heroic but imaginable tasks. Securing the rights is beyond imagination. The heirs would range from intransigent to unfindable; and those you could find would have to have the entirety of standard publishing practices explained to them, after which they’d consult their cousin the real-estate lawyer, who would give them dreadful advice. Best not to even try. Too bad, but it’s best not to even try.

Electronic piracy is a fight that’s still being waged. Like extended copyrights, proposed draconian laws prohibiting electronic piracy and other copyright infringement are being hailed as a defense of the rights of the little guy. You know what? They aren’t. They’re being pushed because the big entertainment combines are all twitchy at the thought of their content escaping into the wild.

We known that the biggest reason people buy a specific work of fiction is that they’ve read and enjoyed another work by that same author. For years now, Jim Baen has been making electronic versions of his books available online in advance of their hardcopy publication. As far as anyone in the industry can tell, it does their sales no harm at all, and may well help. Cory Doctorow made his first novel available online at no charge. His hardcopy sales were just fine. Further afield, I’ve noticed that when Patrick has the opportunity to listen to lots of unlicensed copies of recordings, his record purchases go way up.

I don’t approve of hardcopy piracy of hardcopy publications, or online piracy of online content. That’s a different thing. But so far, when it comes to scattered feral electronic versions of hardcopy publications, the rule seems to be that familiarity breeds audience.

***

For some time now I’ve been meaning to recommend Cader Books’ pithy and accurate Book Publishing FAQ. Everyone should read it. For example:

Q. Do I need an agent to sell my book to a publisher? A. Probably, but not necessarily.

(The real answers are longer than what I’m quoting. I’m just giving you the flavor of the thing.)

Q. How do I find the right agent or editor? A. Smart research—the same way you do anything else in life.

Q. Can you copyright a book idea, or a title?
A. No.

Q. So how do I keep my idea from getting stolen?
A. The best protection is to execute your idea as well as possible.

Q. How do I find the right publisher for my book?
A. The same way that you find an editor or agent—by research.

They also explain what a standard book deal looks like, how to put together a good proposal, and the three self-explanatory things to never say in a nonfiction book proposal:

1. “Who knows, it could be the next pet rock.” 2. “All my friends think this is a great idea.”
3. “I know we can make a million dollars with this one.”

Wise advice.

***

Addendum:

I knew there was something more I wanted to say about books going out of print. Julian Bond shook it loose by asking the right question in the comment thread:

Falling out of print is a book’s natural fate. It may be now, but does it have to be? Do we have the technology now (eg print on demand) to make sure that a book is always available even when it’s initial print run has been remaindered. This is classic long tail thinking. Even if the number of purchasers drops to zero for a few years can we make sure that the next potential purchaser can still buy it?

I said, we’re talking about two different kinds of “out of print.” One is where you can’t buy a new copy of a book you already know you want. POD may be the answer there.

The other sort is where, if you don’t already know you want to read the book, nothing in your environment is going to suggest it to you. Reviews are a significant cue, but the biggest one is the cover of the book itself.

Every book cover is an advertisement—for itself, for other books like itself, for the whole idea of literature; but mostly for itself. If it ceases to be displayed in places where people look at book covers, that’s a different kind of out of print. There’s only so much display space: a sort of collective physical mindspace.

(Incidentally: the loss of wire racks? A significant change in our culture. The chattering classes haven’t noticed it because they all go to bookstores. Books are still selling very well, but we’ve lost a lot of that collective display space that was an ongoing advertisement for the joys of literacy.)

POD technology can provide a copy of a book that you want, but it’s simply not the same thing as that larger and far more complex technology whereby a book finds new readers. The latter involves a sort of collective consciousness that the book exists. Historically we’ve instantiated that consciousness in a lot of ways: reviews, reading lists, library shelves, shop windows, book clubs, wire rack and bookstore displays, etc. New instantiations are evolving on the net.

No one knows all there is to know about the physics and geography of book-mindspace. There’ve always been people who’ve been intensely knowledgeable and familiar with the current physical forms and patterns of book-mindspace. What we’ll make of it electronically will be interesting to see.

I’m confident of one thing: the number of books we can hold suspended in book-mindspace will be smaller than the number of books whose text is stored in POD databases, ready to be printed out.

Comments on The life expectancies of books:
#1 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:09 AM:

Antony Lane of the New Yorker did an exercise - twice, I think - where he read the top ten bestselling books of a given year some decades before, and reported back. I don't think he felt there were any real undiscovered gems there, but I don't remember very well. Of course, that wasn't necessarily the point of the exercise (bestselling books being what they are), and it certainly doesn't detract from your point here.

The mention of Dunsany made me wonder where the example of H.P. Lovecraft would fit in here. It must have been close to fifty years after his death before his works began to bring in any money at all. Which is not to say that Arkham House did the best possible job with them (and I'm not sure where the money was going). But yeah, the Old Possum defence isn't especially useful in this debate.

Slightly unrelated (but, well, it feels related to me): didn't James Fenton get paid a vast amount to write lyrics to Les Miserables, which in the end were not used? He may even have got a percentage of the take. This annoys me, because *I* could have written unsatisfactory lyrics for that musical too. I just wasn't asked.

#2 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:09 AM:

Here's another example of what can go wrong with copyright: In the 1960s, Alexander Grothendieck (whose influence on 20th century mathematics puts him in the same league of thinker as Einstein & Freud) and his coworkers wrote a series of books titled Seminaire de Geometrie Algebrique". These books are literally the most important books in algebraic geometry, and they have been out of print for years. Grothendieck has retired from human society, and his permission can not be obtained. It seems quite likely that these books will remain out of print until well into the next century. (Mathematicians, being practical sorts, have simply resorted to passing it around in a fashion which is not strictly legal.)

#3 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:19 AM:

I don't approve of hardcopy piracy of hardcopy publications, or online piracy of online content. That's a different thing. But so far, when it comes to scattered feral electronic versions of hardcopy publications, the rule seems to be that familiarity breeds audience.

Yes. Hallelujah.

What I've been doing since my summer vacation: I've been buying short stories from authors, most of which were already published, and giving them away on a Creative Commons license that allows everyone else to give these particular audio readings of said stories away perpetually.

Buying things and giving them away sounds like a strange business model -- but in eight months we've made enough money doing it that we've been able to raise our payment rates, put two more people on paid staff, and we're finally forming a company for the thing. (We were going to do a 501(c)(3) initially, but it became clear that we could do less good that way.)

Meanwhile, we've had authors who keep contributing to us because they say their stories on Escape Pod get them more fan e-mail than the original print publications.

That's the new world. I love it. And as important as copyright is, I'm grateful that we have Creative Commons today as a balance for its excesses.

#4 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:28 AM:

What Lane did was slightly different: he read and reviewed the NYT fiction bestsellers for the (then) current week (15 May 1994), repeating an experiment conducted by Gore Vidal a little over twenty years earlier, and then did the same for the list of 1 July 1945 on its fiftieth anniversary. In both cases some of the books are on the Cader annualized lists as well. Both pieces, as "Bestsellers I" and "Bestsellers II," are in the collection Nobody's Perfect, which, being solid Anthony Lane, you ought to read.

The '94 list is:
10. Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
9. Disclosure, Michael Crichton
8. Lovers, Judith Krantz
7. The Alienist, Caleb Carr
6. The Day After Tomorrow, Allan Folsom (a thriller, but not the source of the later disaster film)
5. Inca Gold, Clive Cussler
4. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller
3. "K" is for Killer, Sue Grafton
2. Remember Me, Mary Higgins Clark
1. The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield

While the '45 books are:
10. Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor
9. Earth and High Heaven, Gwethalyn Graham
8. Dragon Harvest, Upton Sinclair
7. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, as if I needed to tell you
6. The Wide House, Taylor Caldwell
5. The Ballad and the Source, Rosamund Lehmann
4. Immortal Wife, Irving Stone
3. Commodore Hornblower, C. S. Forester
2. Captain from Castile, Samuel Shellabarger
1. A Lion is In the Streets, Adria Locke Langley

Both lists contain a fair amount of Commercial Product, Books That Got Filmed, and Books That Just Went Poof. Lane finds more to like in the Nineties list, and from the half of each list I've read, I would agree with him.

And I will admit to being aware of Mary Roberts Rinehart, but that's mainly due to the movie adaptations of The Spiral Staircase (there are four) and The Bat two filmings, one silent). But then, is anybody still reading Forever Amber?

#5 ::: Harald Korneliussen ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:32 AM:

I'd heard of Mazo de la Roche (author of the Jalna series, right?), but then again, I'm very interested in authors which are forgotten today, but helped shape public opinion in their time. Like Toyohiko Kagawa, the japanese christian labour activist and nobel prize nominee, who was read much by christians in the west.

Alexandra Rachmanova has a wiki page in German. Her diaries from the russian revolution were read by amongst others Knut Hamsun. Can we understand his time without knowing what he read? Her earlier work is in fact out of copyright, but you can't find it in Gutenberg...

#6 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:32 AM:

I have heard of Mary Roberts Rinehart; her book The Circular Staircase placed #40 on the Mystery Writers of America list of "the top 100 mystery novels of all time," and I might actually get around to reading it some time this year. I've also read Harold Bell Wright's first novel, Shepherd of the Hills.

(Yes, I did read the Wright novel for a class--a junior high class in Branson, Missouri, where an outdoor theater group performs it at dusk most nights (except Sunday) from early May to mid-October--really, they even have a website, which I was going to post here but the comment filter seems to have deemed it "questionable content." At least one classmate took part in these performances, and I think one of my teachers used to do so as well.)

Perhaps significantly, both of these novels date from before their respective authors dominated the bestseller lists. In other words, these are the books that made the authors famous (and are the basis for such fame as they enjoy today) rather than the bestsellers people bought in the hopes they'd be as good as the earlier books.

#7 ::: otherdeb ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:02 AM:

Thanks for giving me some more booklists to play with.

By the way, I will note that Frank Yerby was one of my favorite authors while I was in my teens, and I have heard of Mary Roberts Rinehart in passing.

And, yeah, books do come in, and go out of, style. And sometimes even books by the best known authors do. None of my contemporaries seems to have read Upton Sinclair's marvelous Lanny Budd series. And I fear that I am one of an increaingly shrinking number of people who actually know that Dumas continued his Musketeers saga until the day that D'Artagnan dies. (And, no, I will not say how. Spoilers stink.)

OTOH, I am running up against what you were talking about. Time recently published a list of "100 Top Novels from 1923 to the Present," and I have been working my way through that list. A lot of the books are mildly interesting, some are great and I an delighted to have now met them, and there are one or two -- Like Walker Percy's, The Moviegoer, which make me wonder how the list was compiled, and how that particular book won a National Book Award.

At any rate, thank you again for guiding me to the websites mentioned, since reading lists are one of my main forms of enjoyment.

#8 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:03 AM:

I adore Booth Tarkington and am so glad to see him well represented here. I've also read Gene Stratton Porter as a child, and note there was one Frances Hodgson Burnett book on the list (anyone remember Little Lord Fauntleroy setting a fashion of long hair for boys at the end of the 19th century?).

I'm surprised by all the Winston Churchill books in the early 20th century. Must check that out. And then, Rafael Sabatini. I am told that anyone who is a fan of Dorothy Dunnett must read Sabatini.

Thank you for a wonderful treasure trove of book information. Off to the library for me!

#9 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:08 AM:

I've got a collection of favorite dead authors on a personal website of mine. A large portion of it is probably legally fishy, but as present copyright law is totally broken, I'm just hoping it slips under the radar. Has so far. Haven't picked anyone with an active estate.

I'm wondering what publishers do with turn-of-the-century authors these days -- I mean, I know, f'rinstance, that there are a number of different editions on the market of The King In Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers. I seem to recall hearing that he had one son who went insane and his house, abandoned, was squatted by a bunch of partiers in the sixties before burning down. So I'm not sure what would be up with his literary estate, but I doubt anyone was taking care of it . . . ? So how are they dealing?

Is there an abandonware clause? Now I'm all curious.

In other news, I heard from a friend today that all Blackberrys may be deactivated shortly, due to a line of code in their operating system which is similar to another line of code in others', leading to a lawsuit and a cease-and-desist order. These devices are used in a lot of really tetchy lines of business which won't take well to a Microsoft replacement with lower security.

#10 ::: Craig McDonough ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:20 AM:
"... The knowledge of books and publishing possessed by the aforementioned heirs of the ex-spouse's step-grandchildren by her third marriage usually boils down to, “No one would have thought Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats would be worth a lot, either.” They'll turn down a proposal to do a nice little reprint project (not a lot of money in it, but everyone involved read the books when they were kids, so they're fond of them) that would be just the thing to revive a little interest in your work. Why? Because if one publisher is interested, it must mean that some other publisher would be interested as well. There could be an auction! A movie! A theme park! Woo-hoo! Pots of money!..."
I've been told that this scenario has happened with one of the NESFA Press projects
#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:34 AM:

I had an interesting "rediscovered author" experience last year, picking up a book called McLevy, the Edinburgh Detective at the airport. It's one of a set of three books issued by the Mercat Press, based here in Embra. (The other two are McLevy Returns and The McGovan Casebook)

James McLevy turns out to have been a police detective - a real one - in 1850's Edinburgh. He wrote several books based on his notes from real crimes. Nearly thirty years later (1878), a violin teacher named William Crawford Honeyman published a series of similar accounts, allegedly by a detective named James McGovan. They were enormously popular, selling 25,000 copies and being translated into French and German.

And then they were forgotten. And now they are republished, and they're not bad at all.

According to the cover notes, Arthur Conan Doyle was a medical student in Edinburgh when the McGovan books were published One of them, notably, includes a long discussion of violins, particluarly Cremona violins. Reading these things, one wonders whether Holmes' Cremona is a tribute.

#12 ::: Per C. Jorgensen ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:36 AM:

When I was a boy in the 70s the Western genre was still huge in Norway, with several long-running book series, a monthly magazine, etc. I remember that the magazine disappeared in the early 80s. One of the complaints of the editors, aside from lower sales, was that you couldn't get new short fiction and illustrations from the US anymore, and "imaginative recycling" and local talent could only go so far.

Concerning nurse novels, I remember those from the newspaper kiosks. Wonder if they became less popular when it became common for women to study to be a doctor, and not just marry them?

I've seen the claim that some genres disappear when the attitudes that gave birth to them mutated or disappeared. I've seen quite a lot of books for boys from my father's time that had a "Scandinavian goes to the Tropics, has adventures, teaches the natives how to get their act to gether" subtheme...

Per

#13 ::: Andrew Chapman ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:36 AM:

I'd like to see copyright expire 5 years after first publication, plain and simple.

Incidentally, I'm one of the people behind What Should I Read Next?. You may be passingly interested to see the 20 most popular books on the site:

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Great Gatsby - F.Scott Fitzgerald
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: Adult Edition - Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
Nineteen Eighty-four - George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling

The inevitable mixture of 'timeless classics' and recent hits, I guess.

#14 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:46 AM:

Poor old Pooh. Disney has Mickey and Donald captive, but at least Disney created them. Pooh was sold into servitude. His masters are very cruel. Compare these extracts, in which Pooh is fetching a pot of honey as bait for a Heffalump trap:

When Pooh got home, he opened his cupboard. "This pot is far too heavy to carry," he said. So Pooh decided to remove some of the honey. And since he did not have anywhere to put the honey, he put it in his mouth. The honey pot was still heavy. So, as he walked along, Pooh ate some more. Then he ate some more again. And again. And again. As Pooh walked to meet piglet, the pot felt much lighter, but for some reason, his stomach felt heavier!

When Pooh arrived, Piglet had nearly finished digging the hole. "Did you bring the honey?" Piglet asked. "Yes," answered Pooh. Pooh handed the honey pot to Piglet and together they placed it in the hole. The trap was all set.

And now, in stereo:

As soon as he got home, he went to the larder; and he stood on a chair, and took down a very large jar of honey from the top shelf. It had HUNNY written on it, but, just to make sure, he took off the paper cover and looked at it, and it looked just like honey. "But you never can tell," said Pooh. "I remember my uncle saying once that he had seen cheese just this colour." So he put his tongue in, and took a large lick. "Yes", he said, "it is. No doubt about that. And honey, I should say, right down to the bottom of the jar. Unless, of course," he said, "somebody put cheese in at the bottom just for a joke. Perhaps I had better go a little further...just in case...in case Heffalumps don't like cheese...same as me... Ah!" And he gave a deep sigh. "I was right. It is honey, right the way down."

Having made certain of this, he took the jar back to Piglet, and Piglet looked up from the bottom of his Very Deep Pit, and said, "Got it?" and Pooh said, "Yes, but it isn't quite a full jar," and he threw it down to Piglet, and Piglet said, "No, it isn't! Is that all you've got left?" and Pooh said, "Yes," because it was. So Piglet put the jar at the bottom of the pit, and they went off home together.

#15 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:11 AM:

Niall: I wasn't too keen on the rewrite of the extract, but it does sound like how Disney would handle a scene like that. -_-;

What worries me more is that Disney plan to do away with Christopher Robin in 2007, and replace him with a girl. To me, that would destroy the meaning of the original stories, and it'd cause confusion if kids went for the books looking for the girl and found Christopher Robin instead. ¬¬
(Some info on this here from USA Today: Disney lets Girl into Winnie's World)

#16 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:13 AM:

Copyright is, truly, b0rked. I think part of the problem is that it's the wrong right to use to protect creator's interests in their work in the first place; and furthermore, the interests of media giants like Disney and folks like us™ aren't aligned. However the greater part of the problem is the international standardization process conducted in the name of "free trade".

International committees on Foo and Bar are set up (where Foo might, for example, be database publishing, and Bar might be general copyright). Committee meetings are held in far-flung corners of the globe while junior diplomats try to hammer out a consensus on how everyone should implement Foo and Bar in their respective legal codes. Only large organizations can lobby for their interests in this process, because the costs of traipsing around the planet are not small -- so the big industries are represented, but not the folks like us™. And the big lobbyists can use these committees to push their agenda through the international treaty process.

For example (in simplified form): BigCorp sends a lobbyist to sidle up to the EU functionary and says "you'd better adopt policy X, because the USA is adopting policy X". The EU functionary thinks about this, thinks about an imminent trade war, and decides to go with the flow. Lobbyists from BigCo can then overtly sidle up to the US delegation and say "the EU is adopting policy X". The US delegation thinks about an imminent trade war, and decides to go with the flow. When they later compare notes with the EU delegation, the conversation goes like: "we gather you're adopting policy X." "Yup." "Us too." "What a coincidence!" ... and policy X gets turned into an international treaty and ratified even though nobody at ground level actually likes or wants policy X.

And this is how we ended up with life +70 for copyright.

Personally, I'd like to see a compromise: life, plus unlimited ten year extensions. If someone's interested enough in my work after I die to fill out some forms once a decade, then they're interested enough to retain some claim on the work. If not, it ought to lapse into the public domain so other people can see it. Ten year extensions would be no problem for Disney. And they'd save us the problem presented by orphan works. (Eric Flint tells of his headache in chasing the rights to a short story by C. M. Kornbluth -- eventually he managed, on the fourth attempt, to get a partner in a big literary agency to actually open the fricking filing cabinet and confirm that they had, indeed, inherited Kornbluth's estate from another agent when they'd died -- nobody at the agency had actually heard of Kornbluth before Eric went digging, which is why his work's been so thin on the ground of late.)

Sure it's not perfect -- but I'm half-tempted to say that tearing up the whole body of copyright law and abolishing it would be an improvement over the current mess. At least we'd know where we stand, and we'd be able to read stuff that's currently locked away.

#17 ::: Julian Bond ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:25 AM:

Two thoughts,

Falling out of print is a book's natural fate. It may be now, but does it have to be? Do we have the technology now (eg print on demand) to make sure that a book is always available even when it's initial print run has been remaindered. This is classic long tail thinking. Even if the number of purchasers drops to zero for a few years can we make sure that the next potential purchaser can still buy it?

Is there a parallel here with audio? Music gets deleted, moved to back catalogue, remaindered or whatever. There are thousads (perhaps millions) of albums that it is now simply impossible to buy. The masters probably still exist somewhere in music label libraries or recording studio cupboards. Is there a mechanism now to mke these available again? Perhaps CD production on demand, or digital storage for later digital download?

#18 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:52 AM:

I thought I had read John Cleveland, but Fanny Hill turned out to have been written by John Cleland...

#19 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:59 AM:

Charlie Stross,

Would a CC Founder's Copyright (http://creativecommons.org/projects/founderscopyright/) help, or do you think that's too restrictive?

#20 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 07:38 AM:

A. J. Luxton;
wrote: Is there an abandonware clause? Now I'm all curious.
No, more's the pity. "Fair Use" is said to be an "active defense", in other words, you can try to defend yourself with it in court after you've spend money on a lawyer, etc. Makes copyright rather dangerous to the poor and well intentioned.

In other news, I heard from a friend today that all Blackberrys may be deactivated shortly, due to a line of code in their operating system which is similar to another line of code in others', leading to a lawsuit and a cease-and-desist order.
I haven't seen primary sources on this, but apparently* it is an actual case of "inventor gets his ideas stolen, dies in poverty, of heartbreak/old age before getting his due". His old partners formed a company to keep litigating the Blackberry company out of a sense of justice. (Or greed?) Because of stupid, cruel, theft of ideas exactly like that we have some of the odd intellectual property laws we do.

Mind you, this is patent law in the Blackberry case, not copyright law. Different rules, tangential to the discussion, wot wot.

-r.
*I fully expect someone to correct me on the details of this, in other words.

#21 ::: Naomi Novik ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 07:49 AM:

BTW, Teresa, you have a coding error in the wikipedia link to "List of years in literature" -- it's missing the "=" after the href, which is making the essay show up garbled in the livejournal RSS feed.

On the topic, you all might also find interesting this essay from the Yale Law Review:

Copy This Essay: How Fair Use Doctrine Harms Free Speech and How Copying Serves It -- PDF file

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:07 AM:

Julian Bond: "Falling out of print is a book's natural fate. It may be now, but does it have to be? Do we have the technology now (eg print on demand) to make sure that a book is always available even when it's initial print run has been remaindered. This is classic long tail thinking. Even if the number of purchasers drops to zero for a few years can we make sure that the next potential purchaser can still buy it?"

We're talking about two different kinds of "out of print." One is where you can't buy a new copy of a book you already know you want. POD may be the answer there.

The other sort is where, if you don't already know you want to read the book, nothing in your environment is going to suggest it to you. Reviews are a significant cue, but the biggest one is the cover of the book itself.

Every book cover is an advertisement -- for itself, for other books like itself, for the whole idea of literature; but mostly for itself. If it ceases to be displayed in places where people look at book covers, that's a different kind of out of print. There's only so much display space: a sort of collective physical mindspace.

(Incidentally: the loss of wire racks? A significant change in our culture. The chattering classes haven't noticed it because they all go to bookstores. Books are still selling very well, but we've lost a lot of that collective display space that was an ongoing advertisement for the joys of literacy.)

POD technology can provide a copy of a book that you want, but it's simply not the same thing as that larger and far more complex technology whereby a book finds new readers. The latter involves a sort of collective consciousness that the book exists. Historically we've instantiated that consciousness in a lot of ways: reviews, reading lists, library shelves, shop windows, book clubs, wire rack and bookstore displays, etc. New instantiations are evolving on the net.

No one knows all there is to know about the physics and geography of book-mindspace. There've always been people who've been intensely knowledgeable and familiar with the current physical forms and patterns of book-mindspace. What we'll make of it electronically will be interesting to see.

I'm confident of one thing: the number of books we can hold suspended in book-mindspace will be smaller than the number of books whose text is stored in POD databases, ready to be printed out.

#23 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:11 AM:

I remember my first encounter with the problem of out of print. I was pretty young, and I was starting to realize how much I liked certain author's work. I was on a Barbara Hambly kick, so when I learned that her first novel was a historical mystery set in Ancient Rome (!) I was terribly excited. God Bless that mall-bookstore* clerk who patiently explained to me that even recently published books get listed as "out of print" really quickly, and once the print run's done, that's pretty much it.

I eventually found it a few years later when it was reprinted, ironically through one of those mall-bookstore's back orders.

Oh, right. The title is Search the Seven Hills, originally The Quirinal Hill Affair, which kind of suggest the countours of mystery publishing over time in and of itself. Note that Hambly originally wanted to call it The Baby Eaters, but for some reason the publisher talked her out of it. :) Apparently its still pretty popular; used on Amazon, it goes for between 21$ and 65$, which is awesome for something that originally sold for 3.95$

I've got a whole fistful of favorite authors/titles that have slipped out of print. Mercifully, some have wiggled their way back. P.C. Hodgell's God Stalk for instance, has slipped away, but one of the sequels has been printed up by Meisha Merlin. Susan Dexter (The Ring of Allaire and Elizabeth Boyer (The Wizard and the Warlord) also have pretty much vanished from sight; Google hasn't turned up very much on either for quite a while. Books going out of print is unnerving to fans as much as authors, I think. "Gee, I didn't realize I liked something so obscure. Is there something wrong with me?"

-r.

*for middleschoolers living in the suburbs, nifty used bookstores, or any bookstores that didn't begin with "walden" or "j dalton" didn't exist, except for summer vacation trips out west.

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:24 AM:

otherdeb writes: "I fear that I am one of an increasingly shrinking number of people who actually know that Dumas continued his Musketeers saga until the day that D'Artagnan dies."

From a discussion held a couple of months ago on Our Hosts's site about Milady's lousy treatment, I'd say there are quite a few of us who have actually read Dumas as opposed to being familiar with the movie adaptations.

Speaking of those, how many people actually still read H.G.Wells? His early stuff is good. Heck, just go back to the intro to War of the Worlds:

"Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us."

#25 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:26 AM:

I think Charlie's "life plus infinite ten year extensions if you bother to apply for them" would actually solve all the problems, including Disney's.

I was told by a UK lawyer that is doesn't appear to be possible to put your work into public domain on death, or anyway, in your will. I don't know if this is true, but it's what I was told.

On your specific examples, I thought The Robe was a classic for the ages, suitable for giving everyone who gets confirmed. How I cried over it when I was eleven! I'm surprised it isn't in print. (What do they sell in "Christian Bookshops"? If it isn't The Robe, they're not doing their job.) I thought Jalna sucked though, and Yerby too.

However, sometimes they do come back. Alfred Duggan (step-son of Lord Curzon, C.20 writer of Roman and Medieval historical fiction, best novel IMO Three's Company, about Lepidus) who I have sought for years second hand in ratty old editions, has been brought back into print in glorious attractive paperback. Josephine Tey is back in print, in Britain anyway. And a lot of Dunsany that's been impossible to find has been reprinted in the last five years -- in Gollantz Fantasy Masterworks and in gorgeous US small press editions. Dunsany's heirs are probably easier to find than most people's, him being a lord.

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:30 AM:

When I were a lad, back in the days when the 20th century still had years to run, library shelves were loaded down with the works of writers like Mazo de la Roche, Frank G. Slaughter, Lloyd C. Douglas, and A.J. Cronin. I managed to avoid reading most of them (having developed an addiction to SF&F early on, and being more interested in non-fiction when I wasn't reading SF&F -- and poetry and Anglo-Caribbean writing I'm compelled to add in honesty). The reason: I was put off either by the covers, or the subject matter (though this did not prevent me from reading the novels of Frank Yerby).

#27 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:44 AM:
for middleschoolers living in the suburbs, nifty used bookstores, or any bookstores that didn't begin with "walden" or "j dalton" didn't exist, except for summer vacation trips out west.
That was my experience growing up in the 80s in the relatively well-off Philadelphia suburbs too. However, now when I go back to visit my parents not only has a "Paperback Trader"-type store opened up within the closest thing you get to walking distance in that part of suburbia (i.e. a 5-10 minute car ride), but there are also two relatively good thrift/donation-driven stores, both of which sell books. (And one of which provided me with Terry Pratchet's "The Fifth Elephant")

The small bookstore with a knowledgeable proprietor may be banished from the suburbs, but apparently the mall bookstores are no longer your only choice. (Oh, and yes, there are the obligatory big huge box book stores at about the same distance away as the mall)

Now if only one of the various revitalization plans for Burlington would include a bookstore... we can apparently have 3 different beauty supply shops on the easily walkable downtown main drag, but nothing that even looks faintly like a bookstore.

#28 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:09 AM:

One other copyright issue that's come up recently is translations.

Apparently, the original English translation of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex was extremely poorly done, not only introducing errors but cutting about 150 pages. Qualified translators would love a crack at making a more-accurate more-complete English version. But the publisher refuses to pay for an updated translation and refuses to allow anybody else to publish one, either. [link, examples and online petition]

So even when you know the book exists, you may not be getting what the author intended...

#29 ::: Anthony Easton ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:19 AM:

out of print doesnt mean out of use--i see lots of those that are used not only by academics, but in personal histories as well (the cookbooks of course, but some of the jesus books from the 20s have been passed down in my family for years)

#30 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:21 AM:
I'm surprised by all the Winston Churchill books in the early 20th century.
I haven't looked at the lists myself, but I think you will find those are by Winston Churchill, the American author, rather than the one you are thinking of (who certainly wrote books, but not ones likely to figure on those lists).
#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:28 AM:

What the...? Do you realize that there is very little of Hammett's fiction in print?

#32 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:30 AM:

Confused by the 'wire racks' reference - anyone?

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:39 AM:

Well, with wire racks, the only way that a book could be displayed was with the cover facing outward, ajay. In today's bookstores, all you see are book spines, not exactly the best way to have you notice the book. Of course, some novels are so darn thick that they can display a miniature version of the cover. Still, spines don't do it for me.

#34 ::: Casey ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:40 AM:

In case anyone would like to follow the broken link:

(If you want to get a little more perspective on a given year, go to Wikipedia's List of years in literature, though Wikipedia's list of significant books for that year won't match the bestseller list...

#35 ::: Natalie ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:58 AM:

It isn't, unless by “little guy” you mean the heirs of the author's ex-spouse's step-grandchildren by her third marriage.

And this is precisely what's happened to the work of Dorothy L. Sayers. The current beneficiary of the Estate (as far as anyone on the LordPeter list has been able to determine) is Sayers's son's half-sister or her children/grandchildren. The rub here is that this half-sister knew about Anthony Fleming (Sayers's son) for years but never did anything about the connection until after his death. Sayers was very clear about not wanting any more Lord Peter books written, the fact that Thrones, Dominations was finished and a second novel was written goes directly counter to her wishes as the creator.

[rant about the sheer awfulness of the Paton-Walsh continuations redacted]

#36 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:04 AM:

[i]apparently the mall bookstores are no longer your only choice. [/i]

There's a mall without a bookstore by me [to be fair, it's a VERY upscale mall where they leave Bentleys around in the corridors. I don't care about fairness, I care about books. ] Over the last 10 years, it was a mall with a bookstore, then a mall without, then with, then without. . .

I boycott it when it doesn't have a bookstore in. I suspect they don't notice.

I was wondering about this very question [copyright, not Bentleys or whatnot] and thinking about putting it into an Open Thread. Thanks for mentioning it!

#37 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:06 AM:

Let's try that link again: Wikipedia's List of years in literature

#38 ::: Neil Rest ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:20 AM:

The remark about the lamented wire racks ties in to a question which occurred to me the other day. One of the great values of used book stores is serendipity. While I, like probably most of the people reading this, shop for a lot of books online, and I have loved the monumental agoric efficiency of the net (or "the web"), I wonder if there is a calculation in conventional economics to value what we're losing by not being able to have happy accidents shopping ABE or Bookfinder.

As to Julian Bond's plaint, "Falling out of print is a book's natural fate. It may be now, but does it have to be?" The answer is yes.
Simply compare the rate of growth of the total-of-everything-published to the rate of growth of the human lifespan . . .
I have been insisting that one of the real differences for potential neo-fans today versus a generaion or two ago is that the canon is exponentially larger (and out of print, closing the rhetorical circle).

#39 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:25 AM:

Copyright is the theme of Spider Robinson's "Melancholy Elephants", perhaps the only short story he has written that actually is a decent homage to Robert A. Heinlein. The tone and pacing of the story are perfect, and the logic behind it is -- very Heinleinesque. Recommended as an argument for going back to the 37 years' copyright term.

#40 ::: Sredni Vashtar ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:45 AM:

"Forever Amber" has checked out 65 times at my library since we bought the edition in 1993. Not bad considering someone would probably have to actually look for this book and not merely pick it up because it was ever on the new book shelf or on the bestseller list.

#41 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:46 AM:

Hmm, Yerby was one of my favorite library finds as a teen. (I love historical fiction.) There was even a country and western song that seems to have sprung from one of his books. ("I may have been born just plain white trash, but Fancy was my name...")

I've read _Forever Amber_, years and years ago. Can't say I remember much of the plot.

Found De la Roche when I was on a Galsworthy kick. That you can blame on Masterpiece Theater.

Read reams of Michener too.

#42 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:49 AM:

rhandir: so far as I know, God Stalk is in print as half of Dark Of The Gods (from Meisha Merlin, as you say). One of my most-cherished memories from Interaction was P.C. Hodgell reading a chapter from the upcoming "Jame goes to the citadel" book, and one of the most bitter ones is that I missed the impromptu kaffee klatsch thrown together with her and some of my friends who'd also attended the reading.

#43 ::: Scott Raun ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:51 AM:

rhandir, Meisha Merlin has all of P. C. Hodgell's books in print, and claims a new title is coming this year.

BY P. C. HODGELL:
Dark of the Gods, 2000
Includes God Stalk, “Bones” (short story), Dark of the Moon
Seeker’s Mask, 2001
Blood and Ivory: A Tapestry, 2002
To Ride a Rathorn (working title), coming 2006
#44 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:52 AM:

It'll all be the same in a couple of thousand years.

"Out of a very large output by the three tragic poets [Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles], only a small fraction remains.  Other authors, sufficiently valued in their day to have defeated these masters in dramatic contests, are now known only by name, their entire body of work having disappeared."
– Mary Renault, The Mask of Apollo, author's note

#45 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:59 AM:

A mouse can chew up your old books -- in more ways than one

#46 ::: George ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:06 AM:

If you just want to read the book, the used market on the internet will meet > 99% of your needs. Using bookfinder.com I researched the 1945 bestseller list. You can buy decent condition reading copies of each book in the list for a total of 15.00 + postage and handling (the P+h will probably cost you more than the books). Of course nonfiction would be more expensive and maybe harder to find but the results will astonish anyone who is accustomed to relying on brick and mortar stores alone. There is a little noise that suggests the corporations may be thinking about targeting the online used book market but so far it is only noise.

#47 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:19 AM:

Those were bestsellers- by definition, they're the things most likely to be in the used book stores.

I'm not saying your logic is wrong, but that it is unsupported.

#48 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:19 AM:

Woo hoo!

cd,
Thanks for the tip on God Stalk. I thought I remembered that, but I wasn't sure if I had gotten that mixed up with the book club omnibus of Hambly's Dark Tower / Silicon Mage Nifty that you got to hear Hodgell talk. I came across (link sadly lost) a video clip of her on a local access cable channel (or something like that) talking about her upcoming book (which was Seeker's Mask at the time.)

Scott Raun,
Hah! Thanks for the tip. Hodgell publishes rather infrequently, so I hadn't bothered to look. I think that may be yet another "visibility to the reader" things that is going to be increasingly important; the ability to track your authors without having to read press releases, (or their bastardized decendants, bookstore ads), obsessivel check fan sites (that may suddenly stop updating), or sifting Usenet.

This is quite the tagnent, but if there was a way to monitor all my favorite author's output via say, an RSS feed... I think that is a place where disintermediation could really come in handy. Clearly the tech is there (if you haven't tried google's personalized homepage, then do so; you can take your rss feeds with you everywhere you can get a net connection) but the execution is lacking. I mean, really, trying to figure out how to find all of my favorite author's books on Amazon with the default search is quite frustrating.* Less so than when the only way I knew was to find the most recent thing they had published, and check the list at the front of the book (and hope they had only one publisher in their lifetime.) I remember how delighted I was to find a hardbound bibliography of Tolkein's stuff in a university. A bibliography. How pre-internet can you get? But invaluable for figuring out that I hadn't actually found all of his short stories.

Sorry. Rambling.
Hem. Thanks folks.
-r.

*Yes, I know I should be using better tools. Bowker's database or something. Tips? Anyone?

#49 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:29 AM:

But then, is anybody still reading Forever Amber?

Apparently some folks are.

Our library is part of a consortium of 17 counties in northern West Virginia. I just looked it up (in "staff mode" I can look to see circulation counts). There are nine copies of the book and 2 of the video of the movie in the system. Two copies of the book have circulated (once each, from two different libraries) and the video has been out twice (again, once each from the two libraries that have it, one of which also had one of the books that went out. I can't see if it was the same patron, though).

Note that we only went online with this new system about seven months ago, in June, 2005; any figures before then are not retrievable (different software vendors, noncompatible programs). So these are *recent* figures.

I read the book a few years ago, after having seen the movie several times on TV. I liked the movie better, though that may be because of the leading men. (Richard Greene, drool, drool! And George Saunders was excellent as Charles II.)

#50 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:30 AM:

Counter-example on copyright:  J.M. Barrie died in 1937.  His will assigned the copyright of Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and the royalties have supported the hospital for nearly 70 years.  I think that is a Good Thing.

What's more, although Peter Pan itself is out of copyright next year, Great Ormond Street retains the rights to the characters (partly by commissioning a sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean, to be published this year), thus keeping them out of the grasp of Disney.  I think that is also a Good Thing.

#51 ::: Stephen Balbach ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:31 AM:

Another reason to extend copyright is to reduce competition. Copyright books can be stored away in "copyright prison" where they wont cannabalize new book sales. PD books can have unlimited numbers of publishers competing for a limited marketplace of book buyers. The fewer old books for sale, the more new books will sell.

#52 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:40 AM:

"Forever Amber" has checked out 65 times at my library since we bought the edition in 1993.

FWIW, I read Forever Amber (from a library) for the first time a few years ago. When the author died, the book got a fair bit of publicity as a former bestseller, once-scandalous, with comparisons to GWTW.

I got curious and decided to check it out.

#53 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:51 AM:

Three comments:

First, I looked at the lists for the 1910s and I was actually surprised how many of the authors' names I recognized. I've read only one listed book (The Montessori Method--still in print; I own a copy), but I've read other works by Gene Stratton Porter, H. G. Wells, and Kipling, for example.

Second, I too think copyright extension has gotten entirely out of hand. If not for Sonny Bono's work, early Gershwin would now be in the public domain and nonprofit orchestras could be having a field day. Great Ormond Street Hospital is a great counterexample, but perhaps J.K. Rowling could donate the rights to her next snippet (a la "Quidditch Through the Ages") to them. That could keep them going for a while.

Third, I really hope publishers will offer up their backlists for POD. There are a good many out-of-print books that I love to recommend to people, but I feel guilty recommending them because they're so hard to find (three examples: Ruth Stout's How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, B.J. Chute's Greenwillow, and Charlotte Armstrong's A Dram of Poison, which would make a terrific short film).

#54 ::: Loren Pechtel ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:22 PM:

The problem is we have competing demands here. The big guys want to protect a few things and the result is that everything gets protected for a huge period of time. Do the big guys actually care about all that other stuff? No--it's just a few things they are trying to protect. It seems to me that there's a solution that's fair for everyone:

Copyright shouldn't be based on time at all. Rather, it should be treated like trademarks--it lasts only as long as it's used. When something goes off the market for too long and isn't superceeded (you don't need to keep offering the first edition, offering the 20th edition still protects the first edition) the copyright lapses.

#55 ::: Booklad ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:27 PM:

I read your post with mixed feelings. Your commentary on copyright seemed to be spot on. However, your comments on books "falling out of print naturally" seemed forced and unconvincing. First, at the used bookstore where I work, we sell copies of "Forever Amber" at least once a week. Mary Roberts Rinehart, Frank Yerby, Mazo de la Roche, et. al., all have prominent places on our shelves. We haven't forgotten these authors, nor have our reading customers. Every year at least 60,000 books go out of print to make way for new books on a publishers front list. Of course, the new book business is always about "what's hot right now". Many of these books are badly written copies of bestselling books in a particular genre and probably deserve to be forgotten. But many older titles end up in used bookstores like ours (remember used bookstores?_ I'm always discussing and recommending older books to people. I sold a copy of Orie Hitt's "Pushover" only yesterday. I've read the book and I'll bet you the customer will be back for another book by this lurid pulp master. Nah, lots of the books you mention in your list are still being read and talked about. And as long as I am working in a bookstore, I'll pick up that "gasping author" on the beach, put him in my pocket and bring him back to the store to read myself and then pass it on to another. Not all of us have such short memories as you seem to suggest.

#56 ::: Glenn Fleishman ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:28 PM:

Your discussion of the inevitability of books going out of print, reminds me of the exhibit at the Museum of Jurassic Technology about the 19th century philosopher's theories about memory based on his recollection of Victoria Falls. (Because it's MJT, I don't know that any of it is "real," but it's meaningful.)

This philosopher wrote that memory is an unnatural state; that amnesia is the state of nature. Memory is always transitory and cannot persist.

#57 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:34 PM:

Thanks. Now, if anyone asks why I support Google Books, I can simply point them here. (And yes, I also support the right of authors or their heirs to opt out. Publishing houses, not so much. Especially on books out of print.)

#58 ::: Benet ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:40 PM:

I grew up in London, Ontario, where, for some bizarre reason, an entire subdivision was given Mazo de la Roche-themed names. It was called White Oaks, and the main street was Jalna Boulevard. I still can't see de la Roche titles like Variable Winds at Jalna in libraries or charity shops without picturing bland suburban streets at the edge of nowhere. Doubtless Extremely Inaccurate.

If not for that, though, I'd probably never have heard of her. Nor of Warwick Deeping, if Michael Moorcock hadn't unloaded on him in Wizardry and Wild Romance.

#59 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:42 PM:

rhandir asked about an RSS feed for favorite authors. You might check out your local library -- some library catalog systems are now capable of giving you an rss feed of new items added within certain categories -- I know mine does a new databases feed and a feed by broad LC number, but the capability is there for narrower feeds.

Way uptread A.J. Luxton asked about "abandonware." Canada is ahead of us on this, and when our copyright office was asking for comments I suggested we look at their "unlocatable copyright owner" license. If you make a good faith effort and cannot find the copyright owner, you can apply for a license that will let you use the work for five years. See http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/unlocatable/index-e.html.

#60 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:42 PM:

The thing about wire racks isn't just about the face-out presentation - it's also about distribution.

A free-standing wire rack would show up in a store in a town that could not by any stretch support a real bookstore. A distributor would come around once a month and top it off.

I grew up in a blue-collar suburb, four miles from the (comically inadequate...) downtown officesupply-slash-bookstore. But my town DID have a wire rack in the drugstore (and in the grocery stores, come to think of it).

And I can recall my ten-year-old self riding my bike over to the drugstore and finding a PKD Ace Double waiting for me. (Just sitting there, as quiet as a hand grenade.) It changed my life.

That's a part of the book experience that's now gone.

(P.S. I've actually read some Cleveland, back when I was doing the Metaphysicals. So there.)

#61 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:54 PM:

I rejoice that the wire racks are still in the drugstores and grocery stores of Nashville. In fact, in the stores Kroger is remodeling and updating here, the magazine/book sections are larger--perhaps because Publix has such large ones.

All hail the wire racks!!!!!!!

Also, used book stores/Friends of the Library book sales/and miscelleaneous retail establishments with second-hand paperback sections. Bless them all.

#62 ::: Margaret S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 12:55 PM:

Benet: "London, Ontario [...] an entire subdivision was given Mazo de la Roche-themed names. It was called White Oaks, and the main street was Jalna Boulevard. I still can't see de la Roche titles like Variable Winds at Jalna in libraries or charity shops without picturing bland suburban streets at the edge of nowhere. Doubtless Extremely Inaccurate."

Not inaccurate any more; I remember reading that Jalna has now been absorbed by the suburban fringes of the GTA. Indeed, Wikipedia confirms that it's in a Mississauga suburb.

#63 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 01:02 PM:

Margaret S. writes:
Not inaccurate any more; I remember reading that Jalna has now been absorbed by the suburban fringes of the GTA. Indeed, Wikipedia confirms that it's in a Mississauga suburb.
GTA = Grand Theft Auto?

Huh!

Wire racks are what got me started on Star Trek. Bored out of my mind while mom was waiting for something at the drugstore, I picked up Tears of the Singers* a middling quality Trek novel. I had always worried that Trek was too geeky for me. I ceased remembering to worry pretty fast.

-r.
*I originally misspelled that as "Teas of the Singers" which would probably be something by Douglas Adams or G.K. Chesterton.

#64 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 01:19 PM:

To slide across to a different medium . . .

I am a moderate level film nut (TCM and DVD's will keep me going for a while, like methadone, but sometimes I have to duck into a big city to find a decent art house) and it has been interesting to infuriating to see what has and has not made it to VCR/DVD. Prior to roughly 1950 it is no problem. Most movies were owned outright by the studios and the main problem is finding a decent copy that to restore and transfer. (Of course, if it is B+W pre 1951, there may be other risks. Check your local fire code.) The primary source is either the residual libraries from the studios themselves, or film archives like UCLA's. After roughly 1980, all production and performance contracts explicitly dealt with TV, video tape/disk, and other elecronic means of distribution. But in between is where the problems show up.

There have been films that people really would like to buy, that went for many years before becoing available because of rights problems. (Hitchcock's so-called "lost" films and The Manchurian Candidate are special cases of this). In a some cases, the residual rights were split among a variety of people, who could not get along with each other, or may have died since the film was released. In some cases it has been difficult to figure out just who can grant rights at all.

#65 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 01:45 PM:

Janet Croft, A.J. Luxton;

What about the idea of "royalties escrow"? Has anyone tried that? Something to go with the "unlocatable owner" concept? You get to license to use the abandonware, and pay a certain %, equivalent to the going rate* into an escrow account. If the copyright owner gets ahold of you, they can get the $ in escrow, otherwise it is held until the copyright would naturally expire, when it is given to, say, a charitable oranization. (Retirement fund for destitute authors?)

There's a definite downside for the copyright holder if the republished work turns into another Harry Potter, offset by the value of cash in hand, and the knowlege that the license expires within 5 years. Besides, if the work becomes truly popular, and needs a second printing, then its time to renegotiate. In any case it could inspire the intransigent to claim "free money", while limiting publisher liability.

I can see lots of ways such a system could be gamed, but I think it might work.

Any comments from people familiar with non-U.S. copyright regimes?

-r.

*that would be me concealing the hard part, kind of equivalent to saying "We'll just go up these beaches here, and bam! in two weeks we'll be in Berlin!" in 1942

p.s. thanks for the tip on RSS feeds from library catalogs. On a slightly related note, I've considered seeing if an open-source OPAC type catalog might be a good way to keep track of my stuff, and who I loan/give it to. If I can find one that works and has RSS, well, I'll...right...insert something funny here, I can't find the penny-arcade reference.

#66 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 01:50 PM:

Booklad: You're conflating Out of Print with "never available" in criticising Teresa's commentary.

It's entirely true that some books are surprisingly easy to find in used resources, online, thrift shops with a few bookshelves, and those wonderful havens called used bookstores. (Considering that Teresa insisted on recommending me at least one significantly out of print book at VP, I'm pretty sure she's aware of this.)

Out of print doesn't necessarily mean unread. However, it does mean, "No new supply. No advertising. Extremely low audience, growing at a rate that is significantly lower (With only a few exceptions) than replacement levels. And if it should happen that the last used copy is sold to someone who will never ever trade it in, that's it."

Which is a bit of a mouthful, thus "out of print". Fortunately, the last part (Selling the last copy, putting it out of commission forever) is unlikely. Even should all the books currently available be in the hands of people who won't sell them themselves -- People pass away, sometimes their estates sell the books rather than keep them. Unlikely things are found in attics or other storage spaces. But if the demand is too great meantime, the price escalates.

#67 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 01:50 PM:

The wire rack may be dead, but the equivalent still exists - bookshelves in grocery stores, most of which have the book's covers facing the buyer. The bulk of said books are ones I'd never consider buying, but that was true of the wire rack books, too.

My favorite out of print impossible to find authors are Nicholas Stuart Grey and Sally Watson. You can go seriously broke tracking their books down. If I had known as a young person that libraries actually deaccession books... *sigh*

#68 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 01:52 PM:

I've read several books recently that are out-of-print. It turns out they are easy to find at libraries, used bookstores, and online booksellers. These books don't seem particularly inaccessible to me. I don't see why we need new copies of currently out-of-print books if the material is still available. Just because there aren't 20 copies at your corner Borders store doesn't mean there's a problem.

#69 ::: Paeng ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:02 PM:

Here's something to consider:

There are likely hundreds of thousands of book titles to choose from covering thousands of years of recorded history and hundreds of countries.

Assume that one will live up to 70 and will read for only around 50 years. Given full-time work, one can only read around a book every two weeks, or 1,200 books during those 50 years. That's not even 1 percent of a million. And the same can probably apply to films, music, and other works of art.

#70 ::: Mr. Bill ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:04 PM:

FYI, Forever Amber is still in print, and available from Ingram...

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:06 PM:

There are OOP reference books I'd like to get hold of. I bought a non-fiction OOP book last year, on line, that had been de-accessioned from a university library, after waiting two years for the planned reprint that never happened. Yeah, I could have gotten a printed-from-microfilm maybe-legible copy, for about three times what the publisher was planning to charge for it. I'm glad I found the real thing on-line (and the author was still around and had a web-page, so I wrote and told him how much I liked it.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:31 PM:

Anybody knows where one can find the short fiction of Hammett? Yes, there is a hardcover out there titled Lost Stories, but I'm not sure if they're really worth reading if they were lost. I went to Powell Bookstore's web site hoping to find an old collection of his acknowledged-by-all-as-the-top stuff, but no such luck.

#73 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:42 PM:

Larry Lessig and the EFF designed the Eric Eldred Act, in which copyright lasts for 50 years and is then maintained by a tiny annual tax paid at least once every 3 years. Valenti et al. killed it last time, but USAians can keep the idea alive.

#74 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:44 PM:

GTA = "greater Toronto area".

Mazo de la Roche (originally, I understand, "Mazy Roach") is buried in the same graveyard as Stephen Leacock, about an hour's drive north of Toronto.

Her books seem to cycle in and out of print. I can't say as much for Winston Churchill. (N.B. although the American novelist is the one on the earlier bestseller lists, WSC's History of the Second World War was also on the bestseller lists for a very long time.)

I went over the 1940's and 1950's lists a while back (i.e. from before I was born; the 1960's and later correspond to periods in which I would have had some awareness of the books as new or reasonably recent). What struck me was how many books were ones that I knew but had not read -- that is, they were physically familiar to me from having sat on my parents' and grandparents' bookshelves, frequently in book club editions, but many to most of them were unread by me.

James Branch Cabell played a game with the popular authors of his day in books like Beyond Life and Straws and Prayer-Books, by having John Charteris refer casually to them but then footnoting them as if they were already in well-deserved oblivion. Thus:

"[I]t were folly to pretend that to us [Shakespeare and Milton were] as generally an intellectual influence, as Mr. Harold Bell Wright or Mrs. Gene Stratton Poter*. Of course, a century hence, there will still be a few readers for Hamlet, whereas Freckles -- which is regarded, I believe, as Mrs. Poter's masterpiece -- will conceivably be out of print.

* Charteris here refers to two very popular novelists of his day. "It is his almost clairvoyant power of reading the human soul which has made Mr. Wright's books among the most remarkable works of the present age." -- Oregon Journal, Portland. "It is difficult to speak of the work of Gene Stratton Porter and not to call upon all the superlatives of praise in the language." -- San Francisco Call."

I note, by the way, that Freckles is still in print, along with Girl of the Limberlost, and various books by Harold Bell Wright. Of course, we aren't a full century out yet, either.

Out of print is also not particularly helped by small press editions, because they are not things one normally "comes across". Thus, for example, various works by Cabell is still in print, but stumbling across his work in browsing anything but a second-hand bookstore is unlikely.

#75 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 02:50 PM:

Paeng: One can only read one book every two weeks? I went through the entirety of Gabaldon's "Outlander" series in about a week and a half, and that's (currently) six books, the shortest of which is about 400 pages. I know I'm a freak of nature for my reading speed, but I'm not that much of a freak. And I do work full time.

I think that "a book every two weeks" is vastly underestimating how fast people can read.

#76 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:03 PM:

Serge, try the Vintage Crime / Black Lizard crime fiction imprint. Here's their list of Hammett titles.

#77 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:04 PM:

I think that "a book every two weeks" is vastly underestimating how fast people can read.
Vehement agreement here. If you're a fast reader for whom books are like oxygen (i.e., can't stand to be totally without one, ever) it's not too hard to finish a book in a couple of days, depending on its complexity.

#78 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:06 PM:

"There have been films that people really would like to buy, that went for many years before becoing available because of rights problems. (Hitchcock's so-called "lost" films and The Manchurian Candidate are special cases of this). . ."

Is that what happened to The Hot Rock? I remember it very fondly, from a 20-year distance. . .

#79 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:11 PM:

it's not too hard to finish a book in a couple of days, depending on its complexity

Ah, you slow readers. I'm reading novels at about a page a minute. I read it two or three times in the first week, then set it aside for a while to percolate through the backroads of my mind. After that - probably every year or two. (Comes with visual memory: not eidetic, just really persistent.)

#80 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:26 PM:

As Eric pointed out, Vintage/Black Lizard has Hammett well in print. Hammett never put together a short story collection himself, but The Big Knockover and The Continental Op have the major ones.

For people interested in Hammett personally, I really liked Jo Hammett's Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers. It's not the most objective biography you can get, but that's why I like it.

And I finally find myself finding it natural to pronounce his name correctly. It felt so odd to say "da-SHEEL" at first, but now, when I typed that title above, even in my mind "da-SHEEL" just flowed out. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

#81 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:27 PM:

Is that what happened to The Hot Rock? I remember it very fondly, from a 20-year distance. . .

The Robert Redford as Dortmunder flick?
It's available on DVD, or was a couple of years ago, when Kate and I bought it.

It hasn't aged well, at least in the area of pacing-- it's glacially slow by the standards of modern caper flicks. It also include a lengthy "Look, Ma, we rented a helicopter" sequence in the middle, during which they fly several laps around the then-under-construction World Trade Center towers. That hasn't held up well for a different reason.

#82 ::: Adobe ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:29 PM:

I've always been ambivalent about copyright law, but this post cemented my distaste for the current system.

I wasn't aware that Mazo de la Roche had been a formerly-famous/currently-obscure author. My mother really likes her, and I read most of the Jalna books when I was twelve or thirteen (in the 1990s). I would probably hate Mary Wakefield if I read it today, but it was my first experience with a romance novel about a governess, so I thought it was pretty fabulous and innovative. (Somewhere, Jane Eyre weeps quietly.)

#83 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:33 PM:

P J Evans wrote:
>Lexica wrote:
>it's not too hard to finish a book in a couple of
>days, depending on its complexity

Ah, you slow readers. I'm reading novels at about a page a minute. I read it two or three times in the first week, then set it aside for a while to percolate through the backroads of my mind. After that - probably every year or two. (Comes with visual memory: not eidetic, just really persistent.)

To sum up: reading speed isn't a persuasive element in the arguement, Paeng. For this group (myself included) the idea that

There are likely hundreds of thousands of book titles to choose from covering thousands of years of recorded history and hundreds of countries.

is a challenge, an opportunity, a delight, not an obstacle.

The fact that we almost certainly cannot read all of the possible books isn't the problem; the idea that even some of them might be denied to us by circumstance, that is a problem!

-r.

#84 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:35 PM:

PJ: Only one page a minute? I clock in over 2. [/end gratuitous bragging]

Also, I started reading at 3 years old. I was reading Shakespeare when I was 9. By Paeng's estimate, at 30 years old, I have another thirty years left, which, I assume, means I will die at 60. I know this estimate of books read per lifetime is off for me, and onsidering that the average life expectancy for a woman is somewhere around 75 years, I suspect it may be off for other people too.

In fact, if you grant me the 100 books per summer I used to read, and just even spread them out across the 20 odd years I have been reading "grown-up" books, I've already read 2,000 books!

#85 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:35 PM:

I used to think I was a fast reader because I can finish a normal-sized mass-market in about 2 hours. Then I met somebody who can read 'em in one. I do slow down when it's a Very Special Book and I don't want it to end. Gives me fits when I need to know how it all comes out, but also need to make it last as long as possible. Speaking of which, is it August yet?

#86 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:36 PM:

I'm unsettled, as always, by what seems to me to be the assumption that a human-originated phenomenon has anything to do with "nature" and is therefore subject to Darwinian principles. It may *be* so, but it doesn't *have* to be so by the rules of the universe. I don't believe that "falling out of print is a book's natural state." A book's "natural state" is to be there, in your hands. Falling out of print happens because of money and/or the lack of it. There is nothing more Darwinistic, or less natural. Again with the alleged philosopher someone quoted: amnesia may indeed be our natural state, but that doesn't mean it's good or necessary. We transcend it daily, and maybe one day we'll beat it completely.

We have the technology to make "out of print" a meaningless collection of syllables for any book that still, as of this moment, exists in any form. What will prevent that, for a while, is money and the lack of it. But it won't prevent it indefinitely.

Meanwhile, it looks as if the best way for me to make sure that anyone can see my stuff after I'm dead is never to be published at all. (Um, hang on a minute...)

#87 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:39 PM:

Reading speed: GWTW in 3 hours cover to cover.

I go through a book about every 2-3 days -- which means I do a lot of re-reading if none of my favorite authors has something new when I finish the latest.

I could finish books faster if I didn't have to work or sleep.

And I re-read a series when a new book is coming out.

#88 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Lori, I know what you mean by re-reading. At one point I was re-reading the entire Wheel of Time series whenever a new one came out. I stopped around the 7th book, because the series sucked, and it was way too much to slog through to read what I considered the next boring book.

Michelle West, on the other hand, writes thick, okay/fun books. Thickness is a virtue; 700 pages of decent material will hold me 2 or 3 days!

My current beef is Alice Starmore's Fair Isle knitting book. I want it, it's out of print, and $100 is way too much for me to spend right now.

#89 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:53 PM:

Nancy C: ooh, don't get me started on the knitting books. Constance Hieatt's Principles of Knitting regularly goes for upwards of $300 on eBay, or so I'm told. I want some of Elsebeth Lavold's stuff, too. Fortunately we have libraries! Just be sure you check out the good ancient gems regularly, so they don't sell 'em off.

#90 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:57 PM:

(Belatedly, thanks John M. Ford for the correction about Anthony Lane. I do have Nobody's Perfect - $5 in a used book store a year ago - but I didn't have it to hand or remember the details.)

Anyway, all this talk has reminded me that there is a Friends of the Library sale going on about 100 yards from my office, so I shall go over and buy Forever Amber.

(It's a University library, so probably not, sadly.)

#91 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:59 PM:

One of my Best Jobs Ever was an RA gig that involved 20 hours a week reading and then briefly summarizing (maybe 500 words, tops) all the novels on a particular best seller list published between 1900 and 1989.

It was began as a copyright gig for a particular case for a five year span, and the law firm liked what I did so much they hired again to do it for the larger sequence.

It was a lot of fun--even tracking down the books was fun. A number were hard to find.

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 03:59 PM:

I have the Fair Isle book, somewhere in one of my boxes. My beef is (well, are, because there's two) Starmore's Celtic Knitting calls for yarns that aren't available any more; and Rutt's History of Hand Knitting, as reprinted, doesn't have the color plates (I'd pay for a CD with scanned copies). I also have far too many projects on needles: the yarn to finish the cable afghan is somewhere in one of the boxes; so is the sweatshirt jacket; I just started the Uarn Harlots Snowdrop, in laceweight alpaca, for my-niece-the-budding-lawyer; and there's the scarves for giving away.

#93 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:00 PM:

(Eric Flint tells of his headache in chasing the rights to a short story by C. M. Kornbluth -- eventually he managed, on the fourth attempt, to get a partner in a big literary agency to actually open the fricking filing cabinet and confirm that they had, indeed, inherited Kornbluth's estate from another agent when they'd died -- nobody at the agency had actually heard of Kornbluth before Eric went digging, which is why his work's been so thin on the ground of late.)

Charlie, I'm mildly curious as to when this might have been, considering that NESFA has had all of Kornbluth's solo short fiction in print since 1997, and last summer a call to the agency to inquire about two of his novels fairly quickly put me in touch with the responsible agent.

If you know that you want to find Kornbluth's stories, typing his name into Amazon.com will pull up quite a few in-print and out-of-print possibilities. It's not the stuff you already know about that's the problem; in or out of print, you can probably find it. It's the stuff you don't know about, and are unlikely to stumble across accidentally. If the heirs don't understand what a standard publishing contract looks like, and don't understand that any money from old, out-of-print fiction is found money, the hassles involved in getting it back into print can exceed any possible reward.

#94 ::: Tom D. ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:14 PM:

In other news, I heard from a friend today that all Blackberrys may be deactivated shortly, due to a line of code in their operating system which is similar to another line of code in others', leading to a lawsuit and a cease-and-desist order.

I haven't seen primary sources on this, but apparently* it is an actual case of "inventor gets his ideas stolen, dies in poverty, of heartbreak/old age before getting his due". His old partners formed a company to keep litigating the Blackberry company out of a sense of justice. (Or greed?) Because of stupid, cruel, theft of ideas exactly like that we have some of the odd intellectual property laws we do.

Mind you, this is patent law in the Blackberry case, not copyright law. Different rules, tangential to the discussion, wot wot.

Both descriptions of the case are incorrect. The suit was filed by NTP, a patent holding company, against RIM, the company that produces and operates Blackberries. The supposed inventor of the patents in question, Thomas Campana, did die, but not "in poverty, of heartbreak/old age"; he died of esophageal cancer, and apparently was a chainsmoker. Also note (in the story that I linked to) that the USPTO has preliminarily rejected NTP's patents on review.

I supposed that the relevance is that his heirs stand to make out like bandits if his holding company wins the case.

#95 ::: bud landry ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 04:43 PM:

Wire racks are/were primarily the domain for mass market paperbacks (pocket paperbacks) which isn't quite the market it used to be, for good or ill. Sure there were larger such racks for larger hardcover books, but historically they are linked with Mass Market distribution.

Beyond the extended distribution as mentioned above (covers being stripped and returned for credit rather than whole copies), there has also been a change as to WHAT makes it to that particular market. For instance Mad magazine paperbacks, comic strip reprints, many such heavily illustrated humor titles of that ilk, don't go to MM anymore, but to a larger trade paperback, if published at all. But that also means, that same content, may not be available via your local grocer or drugstore anymore either.

What helped kill that sort of content for mass markets, was marketing, books such as B. Klibans cats selling well as point of purchase odd shaped trade paperbacks at point of purchase.

Wire racks don't hold that sort of material anymore. Fiction mostly. Genre Fiction in particular, such as Romance Mystery and Science Fiction Fantasy.

#96 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:05 PM:

Ooooo P J- if you ever want to get rid of Alice Starmore, can I have dibs? I'm willing to pay- just not $100. And I hear you on the projects started and bought for; I have an entire room in my house devoted to fiber- equipment, books and supplies.

TexAnne: Thanks for the word of wisdom on the libraries. Our central branch here has quite a collection; I'll have to plan to go down once every 6 mos. or so and take stuff out to make sure it isn't let go.

I'm lucky though, because not only do I have a very nice central branch library within a reasonable distance, my knitting guild has a very nice library of its own, and dues are all of $15 a year.

#97 ::: togolosh ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:07 PM:

I'll have to return to go over the previous comments in detail, but I in my quick skim I didn't notice mention one very important problem with long copyright duration: If the duration of copyright significantly exceeds the lifetime of the medium used to store the work the probability of the work being lost is quite high. Film certainly won't last 95 years without special care and magnetic media decay on a timescale of a few decades unless special effort is made to preserve them. I'm willing to bet that DVDs are only good for a few decades, too. As the amount of material on perishable media increases, the cost of maintaining it will increase to the point where libraries are forced to winnow their collections. It's one thing to provide an environment in which decent quality paper will survive for centuries, but an entirely different matter to provide a suitable environment for long term storage of more delicate media.

#98 ::: bonniers ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:29 PM:

I grew up on Frank Yerby, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Louis L'Amour and Frank Shorter, Mary Roberts Reinhart, Mary Renault, plus a whole lot of other authors who probably don't deserve to be remembered. But they were fun.

#99 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:34 PM:

Constance Hieatt's Principles of Knitting regularly goes for upwards of $300 on eBay

June Hemmons Hiatt, I believe.

And I remember hearing, a couple of years ago, that Principles of Knitting was going to be republished. Guess nothing has come of that (yet, she said optimistically).

#100 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:41 PM:

I see that the actual fate of Kornbluth stories seems to have been predicted in one of my favorites, "MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie."

#101 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:45 PM:

Nancy C, if I can find out which box Fair Isle is hiding in (may take a while, so don't hold your breath), I'd ask for postage only.

#102 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:49 PM:

TNH: Schwartz, not Shwartz. Apparently you're confusing her with Susan.

#103 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 05:57 PM:

P J:

OOOOOOOOO!

Much bouncing and joy at even the possibility!

Thank you!

#104 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:24 PM:

My many thanks to Eric Sadoyama and to Jeffrey Smith for pointing me to a modern publisher of Hammett. I first read him many years ago, when I had very little fluency in the English language, and even then the intensity came thru, whether in Red Harvest or in The Maltese Falcon. So much so that I thought that Huston's adaptation of the latter was almost a lark. A most excellent lark, mind you, and certainly better than what little I saw of the Warren Steven version, but I digress...

#105 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:29 PM:

I used to think of myself as a fast reader, but then again I was comparing myself to a population where reading is almost an unusual activity. No matter what, I think I have slowed down. Must be old age, and my now having a tendency to nod off after 9pm. But I don't mind because, after all, why would I want the reading experience to be a fast one if it's a good story I'm dealing with?

#106 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:52 PM:

Once upon a time there were enough non-fiction (e.g. Mentor) /great literature books in the wire racks to do a respectable high school/college freshman paper from scratch with research from the bus station.

With sympathy for Spider Robinson I'd still rather live in a world where perfectly good old books amount to an almost free good - 10 cents apiece at a paperback exchange or take one leave one at community centers - than see relative shortages like the days after WWII in Europe.

Looking at names and Amazon rankings - setting aside Arslan which I suspect will forever hold my record for lowest Amazon rank by a book with the highest possible cover blurbs and editorial reviews - I was struck by how unforgotten Vardis Fisher and James Gould Cozzens are to pick 2 more names with some (if distinctly inferior to MJ) claim to critical acclaim for only a few years each.

Any suggestions for greatest fall (one hit wonders aside)? I'd start with Melville Davidson Post.

#107 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 06:57 PM:

Connie Willis fans follow her own example and recirculate library books just as Heinlein fans do blood drives.

#108 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 07:02 PM:

Spider Robinson, Melancholy Elephants notwithstanding, is actually a copyright maximalist. He's in favor of non-expiring copyrights, and for retroactive extensions.

#109 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 07:08 PM:

My pet peeve is Collin's New Naturalist series. These had the misfortune to be published with numbers on the spine. As a result 'collectors' want the whole set, so they can see a row of sequential numbers on their bookshelves. Since only 1,500 copies were printed of some of the more specialised volumes and there are estimated to be about 2,000 collectors of the set, copies fetch up to 1,000UKP. The chances of a humble naturalist ever reading "The Hebrides" (1992, yours for 850UKP) is zilch, while the collectors will never open the damn book.

And they won't reprint ever, because the collectors want the 1st edition or nothing and the number of potential readers for the book is under 100.

(and because the first editions are so valuable, those libraries which do have copies won't lend em out, you have to sit and read em there.)

#110 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:05 PM:

paeng mused:
Assume that one will live up to 70 and will read for only around 50 years. Given full-time work, one can only read around a book every two weeks, or 1,200 books during those 50 years. That's not even 1 percent of a million. And the same can probably apply to films, music, and other works of art.

Using your figures, 50 years of reading time, at a book a day would be 18,250 books - and I'm sure that I'm not the only reader here that's been known to consume 6-or-8 books in a days binge, here and there.

Like many others here I read at an absurd speed. My budget for books certainly can't withstand my reading speed (and in the smaller city library where I grew up, neither could the number books that had the slightest appeal).

Further, while people may read faster or slower, presuming that everybody wants to read the same subset of books renders the argument of reading speed as grounds for copyright an entertaining red herring[0].

[0] ... and I wish I could figure out how exactly I've massacred that sentance, but apparently the demons of tormented grammar are with me tonight, and I'm at a loss.

#111 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 08:08 PM:

I picked up Jhereg off a wire rack in a convenience store. I have since proceeded to buy everything Brust has written since, in hardback when I could afford it, and multiple copies of some I lent out and never got back.

(Thanks for the Dzur tip, TexAnne; I just preordered it.)

#112 ::: jrochest ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:01 PM:

Can't speak to copyright, I'm afraid. But the list is fascinating: I'm surprised by the number of authors/titles that rang bells: I think it was being an awkward only child with access to a number of elderly libraries that hadn't yet been culled.

I recognise Frank Yerby (read him, found him uninteresting, as with many of the old historical fiction writers) De La Roche (almost every library I went to had a complete collection of the Jalna novels, in matching faded-red hardcovers). And Reinhart (read a surprising amount of her) and Jeffery Farnol, and Sabatini (who I adored at 14 -- the books are wonderful swashbuckling nonsense, and are in no way historically accurate). I had friends who were addicted to Zane Grey and Verne: oddly, we seemed to be more likely to read the books of the teens and twenties than the fifties and sixties.

I read my way through dozens of forgettable suspense novels, romances (although Heyer is still readable, and still in print) and murder mysteries, by the simple expedient of browsing through interesting covers. That's one element of the used bookstore experience I wish ABE and Bookfinder and Labryrinth would duplicate -- the ability to browse by subject or genre without having to hunt through 3,0000 copies of "The Chamber". If there are 637 copies of one title and 1 copy each of three additional titles, I'd like them to give me FOUR LISTINGS, not 640. My choice among the 637 will be based on proximity, shipping, the quality of the copy and the price, but first I have to find the sodding thing.

#113 ::: jrochest ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:04 PM:

Oh, and there has to be a special seat in Hell reserved for the morons who butchered Pooh.

Milne's original may be cloying and more than a little twee ("Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up") but at least it's intricate and interesting and implies that the kid can recognize the pleasures of words.

Which most of them can, in fact.

#114 ::: Lisajulie ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:14 PM:

Oooh! Clark E Myers! You mentioned Melville Davidson Post!

Uncle Abner! I have a Dover reprint (no longer available, alas). It is still in print but for the princely sum of $30 or so. This collection of stories gobsmacked me. Now I must venture forth into the realms of used book land (and Library of Congress catalog) to see what else is available.

#115 ::: Lynn Calvin ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 09:47 PM:

First, the lists. I am a fast reader who is the daughter, granddaughter, and great granddaughter of readers.

Skimming those lists I'd estimate I currently own either my own copy or a purloined copy from my parents/grandfather of at least one best seller from any given year, and I'd estimate I've read another 2 or 3 from most years.

I may fool around with that in more detail on my own LJ.

Second, another note on the number of books read. In my family I'd say we start reading at five and live to be 85 (both my parents are still living) or 90 (age of my grandfather at his death, and 92 great grandfather.) Assuming we don't start H. Rider Haggard until 8 or 9 that's still 80 years.

Even working full time, I know I consume more than a dozen books a week (commuting both ways on the train helps, plus lunch.) Not counting binges - I recently succumbed to the Sharpe books by Cornwell and went through all of them in less than a week. So maybe 600 a year times 80 years? 48,000 books lifetime? Sounds about right. even 300 a year...

I own about 12,000 books and stand to inherit another 10,000. It's a little alarming, and the other 10,000 include a lot of those best sellers, including a bunch I haven't read.

#116 ::: Ian Burrell ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:01 PM:

I wonder if we should treat the ownership of copyright like other property and make people pay for it. Big companies want to treat intellectual property like real estate. Property taxes probably wouldn't work since copyright is hard to value. Instead, fixed regular registration fees would work.

When somebody goes to register a copyright, they would need to pay a small fee. Every ten years, they would need to renew the copyright and pay the fee. This guarantees that somebody is interested in the copyright and thinks it has value. The fee would be small, say $10 to $100. I would also think that transferring the copyright upon inheiritance requires paying the free or at least changing the registration.

The Copyright Office would have an up-to-date database of all the registered copyrights. This would make it possible to find the copyright holders. This scheme has the downside that to find out of work is still copyrighted a database would need to be checked but at least there would be a central database.

#117 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:05 PM:

Lexica: *facepalm* Of course POK is by June Hiatt. Constance Hieatt is a food historian. Thanks.

#118 ::: Niels Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:27 PM:

I second those who pointed out that modern wire racks are present in grocery stores, etc. My local Wal-Mart has several wire racks of top-selling books, as do two chains of grocery stores. A lot of schlock, of course, but were the old wire racks selling Dostoevsky?

#119 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:30 PM:

Someone mentioned keeping the Peter Pan characters in copyright by putting out new stories. As far as I'm aware, the copyright of characters can't be lengthened by producing new "official" works, though if those "official" works introduce new elements, and they get accepted by the public, then it prolongs "official" control, since other people's stories based on the characters can't use the new elements.

Sherlock Holmes was already mentioned as an example (at least insofar as new "official" elements were introduced in the movies). This may also be part of Disney's strategy in introducing new characters for Pooh (like Lumpy and the new Christopher Robin replacement), seeing that the copyright to Winnie-the-Pooh as a literary character will expire in some countries at the end of this year. Of course, if Lumpy et al don't take, then other people's new stories can safely ignore their supposed existence.

There are actually a number of familiar imagined worlds where there are characters in the public domain with fairly well-established accompanying characters or elements that aren't. Examples include Santa Claus (public domain) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (not); Snow White (public domain) and Happy, Dopey, Sleepy, etc. (not, though more generic seven dwarfs are public domain); Lord Peter Wimsey (public domain in the US) and Harriet Vane (not). When Winnie-the-Pooh the character goes into the public domain in some countries next year, Winnie-the-Pooh the iconic image (as drawn by either Shepard or Disney) won't.

Of course, new "unauthorized" creators can often work around these limitations. In some cases, it may be a bit awkward (like starting a new season of a TV series when some of the old actors are no longer available). But it's often not that hard to deal with. There are lots of "official" Oz books still in copyright, for instance, but it hasn't created much difficulty for other "unofficial" adapations, including some fairly well-known ones, because nowadays most people only remember the characters in the early (public domain) Baum books, and many only know the ones in the first one.

#120 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 10:55 PM:

When somebody goes to register a copyright, they would need to pay a small fee.

Which they do now. (For most of us, our publishers do the registration, but there's still a fee.)

#121 ::: Shawn M Bilodeau ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:19 PM:

I, very fondly, remember the wire book rack at the local pharmacy. For part of my 11th birthday presents, my parents bought me two books off that rack: "The Hot Rock" (tying two threads together here :) and "2001: A Space Odyssey". Loved both books, and got seriously hooked on SF (I'd been a serious bibliography reader up until that point.) So I bought another two books from that rack: "Isle of the Dead" and "Dune".

And have been buying books, particularly SF, ever since... :)

#122 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:38 PM:

Wire racks (thoughts go swirling into the past).

Ballentine made a release of the Tarzan books when I was at the 'right' age to be entranced and not find them offensive, probably 10-11 (mid-60s). Even though I was reading more advanced, complex novels, they attracted my attention because they had Africa, wild animals and aventures.

And our local Crown drugstore stocked the newest releases in their wire racks. I'd get my allowance Saturday morning and weather permitting, ride my bike down 103rd St. to State Line and buy any new ones that came out.

Mom THOUGHT I was going down a smaller, less traveled street, but 103rd is a long hill with a small uphill/downhill 'bump' before you get to the really busy (even then) State Line. My goal was to get enough steam not to have to pump up that second hill. Even then, she'd have whipped my arse if she caught me riding out on 103rd St. Nowadays it would be suicidal.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2006, 11:42 PM:

Did they let you read Burroughs's Mars novels, Paula? If memory serves me right, everybody went around naked on the fourth planet from the Sun. (And they never got a major case of goosebumps in spite of that.)

#124 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 12:08 AM:

rhandir, Janet Croft:

I very much like the escrow idea, and I'm not surprised that someone's come up with the unlocatable copyright holder license: even less surprised that it's Canada, God bless 'em.

I am surprised that anyone knows about P.C. Hodgell, and not so surprised that the people who know about Hodgell hang out here. I've only read the first of her series so far, but it plays into a very sweet piece of family history: my partners met each other because one of them saw that the other had the author listed as an interest in her profile, on a pen-pal fan club, and went "Oh! Someone else has heard of her!" (They have continued reading everything she's published.)

TexAnne:

I know what you mean about trying to finish/trying to make it last. It's gotten so, when I get towards the end of something smashingly good, I'll get up and make myself a cup of coffee and have some chocolate and generally find pause-points to draw things out. I even sometimes do this for re-reads: it'll be a while 'til the next Rosemary Kirstein book, and I'm the sort of reader who gets a truly enjoyable do-over every year or two.

#125 ::: Ivan Minic ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 01:13 AM:

Very interesing text, and this last update is great ;)

#126 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 02:24 AM:

There was a story in our newspaper a while back about Hard Case Crime, a new imprint which says

Hard Case Crime brings you the best in hardboiled crime fiction, ranging from lost noir masterpieces to new novels by today's most powerful writers, featuring stunning original cover art in the grand pulp style.

I wonder what/how the company is dealing with copyright for those "lost noir masterpieces."

(This is the publisher of the Steven King book "The Colorado Kid," with the sexy brunette or redhead (she's backlit) on the cover.)

#127 ::: Kat Allen ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 02:28 AM:

I wonder how comfortable I will be with the tales of "Winnie the Paedophile" or "Winnie the Porn" when they're on the Christmas Humour shelves at WHSmith?

Given how uncomfortable I am about Chris Robin's sex change... probably truly, deeply, and madly.

#128 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 02:57 AM:

I wonder if we should treat the ownership of copyright like other property and make people pay for it. Big companies want to treat intellectual property like real estate. Property taxes probably wouldn't work since copyright is hard to value. Instead, fixed regular registration fees would work.

When somebody goes to register a copyright, they would need to pay a small fee. Every ten years, they would need to renew the copyright and pay the fee. This guarantees that somebody is interested in the copyright and thinks it has value. The fee would be small, say $10 to $100....

I'd go one step further, and make the fee an escalating one.

In Alaska they do (or did) this with mining claims on state land. You could stake a prospecting claim for a nominal fee -- say, $100. Next year, if you renew, it's $200. Third year, $300. The idea being, if you're actively prospecting/developing the claim, the growing fee is no problem, but if you're just squatting on it for spec, it will grow too expensive and you'll let the claim expire so somebody more ambitious can have a go.

This way the big companies could pay a bit for the privilege of having hundred-year-monopolies on hugely profitable properties, and less profitable works would be released by heirs when they become effectively non-commercial.

Perhaps too complicated, though; I think the Lessig proposal with a fixed tiny annual registration fee to maintain copyrights after fifty years would solve 98% of the problem.

#129 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 03:05 AM:

While we are on the subject of put of print, books, maybe someone around here will recognize a book I remember from about 20 years ago, that I think may be out of print since I haven't run across it in any libraries or school book shelves. Googling has been futile.

I don't remember the title or author, but the main character of the book was a somewhat outcast girl with a delicate younger step brother. The girl had a tendancy to lie and exagerrate, and pretended to go into a trance like a Greek oracle, and cast a spell on her step-brother. He believed her and became sick with worry, so she had to find a way to convince him that everything was really all right, before their parents found out and she got into major trouble for scaring him. She was also cast in the school play at Tituba, and did very well in the part. Finally makes some friends in the end.

The story was geared towards 3rd-5h grade readers. I remember it being a softcover book with an orangey-yellow cover and a color illustration on the front.

I suppose that couldn't be much vaguer, but if anyone knows what I'm talking about, I'd love to hear the name of the book.

#130 ::: Epacris suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 04:15 AM:

I am deeply suspicious of "Ivan Minic ::: January 28, 2006, 01:13 AM:"

#131 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 05:18 AM:

TexAnne writes:

Is it August yet?

No.

#132 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 05:43 AM:

The UK Parliament is holding an inquiry into DRM and copyright law at the moment. While preparing my response to one of their topics ("The role of the UK Parliament in influencing the global agenda for this type of technical issue.") I went and re-read both the Statute of Anne (the ur-copyright law behind all modern ones) and Macauley's speeches to Parliament on term extension, which predict the consequences you derive above.
I think restoring the Statute of Anne would be a fine idea; reading it and the DMCA together is most depressing.

#133 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:10 AM:

Serge,
wrote:
Did they let you read Burroughs's Mars novels, Paula? If memory serves me right, everybody went around naked on the fourth planet from the Sun.

I noticed that in the text, though not in the illustrations. I first read Burroughs last year when my library picked up these editions (copies of the original ones?) that were illustrated in the 20's by someone called "J. Allen St. John".

His illustrations are waaay cool, and apparently were considered canonical by the fans. (Doesn't explain the clothes thing, does it? See this link from Quiet Vision Press for examples nifty 20's style illustrations.

Frankly, I thought these illustrations made the books waaaay cooler and more plausible than everyone wandering around naked, but I'm a sucker for wish fulfillment stories mixed with some kinds of " orientalism".

Is it less objectionable to use someone else's distorted and exotified vision of another culture recast as native to another world, than to maintain your own false vision of a culture that only exists 6 or 7 thousand miles away in some kind of provisional way? I'm not sure. Is Burroughs worse than, say, "Ninja High School?"

Hmm. I wonder. Was the enthusisasm for a faux-middle east in the 20's equivalent of the faux-japan found in Manga today?*

-r.

*You don't suppose this explains the existence of Shriners do you?

#134 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:27 AM:

Daniel Boone

Quoted someone else:

>I wonder if we should treat the ownership of
>copyright like other property and make people pay
>for it.
And then Daniel Boone went on:
I'd go one step further, and make the fee an
scalating one.

I disagree with taxing copyrights. Intellectual property is something that can be produced in large quantity and good quality by even the destitute. Small fees over and over again for worthwhile work that doesn't have a large audience punishes creators. Escalating fees punish them even more.

The whole point of not having fee-for-extension stuff is so that when a writer falls on hard times, they can still retain their property instead of having to do a fire sale. Example would be Louis L'Amour losing copyright to some of his early short stories because he didn't (or couldn't) pay the renewal fees. I don't cry tears over his heir's financial situation by any means, but the fairness of that kind of "taking" I think is pretty iffy.

I think it only makes sense to tax work of known value, and the easiest way to do this would be to tax income instead.

Remember, we've gone from "how can we publish orphan works" to "how can we tax people for telling stories and use the failure to pay the tax to take their stories away from them.

I'll admit my suggestion involves a taking, in the form of a manditory contract. But the flow of the money is toward the author!

-R.

#135 ::: Lukas ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:46 AM:

"My pet peeve is Collin's New Naturalist series."

I couldn't agree more, they are such good books but even the more common volumes are (mostly) out of my price range. Although the fontana paperback versions can be picked up quite cheaply.

My local library (stourbridge) has 'the hebrides' volume available for loan and for a small fee you can order it from any other UK library.

#136 ::: Bill Tozier ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:56 AM:

This (or maybe higher up, where it might get seen) would be a good place to mention the all volunteer Distributed Proofreaders project, at http://pgdp.net, which is attempting to release accurate free electronic editions of public domain works. These works end up in Project Gutenberg, but they've had the benefit of thorough proofreading and accuracy checks that many other Gutenberg editions lack.

In a real sense, we at DP are bringing these works out of the shadows, but also back into the economy. A number of for-profit publishers have arisen with a business model exclusively repackage and republish DP and PG works, and an increasing number of their new editions are remarkably professional-looking and useful (though way not all of them). For-profit republication of our efforts is fine and dandy; we did the work to preserve and redistributed, not to keep them under lock and key again.

On Dunsany and dates: all books with US publication dates before 1923 are in the public domain in the US, full stop, regardless of the author's death date. Thus, Dunsany's work is still copyrighted in the UK, but not in the US. In addition, many works published between 1922 and 1958 (or so; I forget the date) had to apply explicitly for copyright renewal, a matter of public record; books that did not apply for copyright renewal in that period also fall in the public domain under Rule 6 of the code.

The latter is a big pile of material, but because of the vast quantity of pre-1923 material on hand and the legal work that needs to be done (as you mention) to check Rule 6 works, the DP system has mainly focused on earlier books, plays and stories. Some inroads are being made in the mid-20th Century, though.

That said, I suspect DP and Project Gutenberg have a lower bar for republication than a for-profit publishing concern: We can demonstrate we've made a reasonable effort to identify copyright renewal and dates, and that there is no profit being made from the republication of these works (both true in all cases, BTW).

But I have a strong feeling that works by famous authors published in the US in that gray period of the 20s-50s are starting to get people's attention. One of the most important works already released into Project Gutenberg (one which required months of effort in the Distributed Proofreaders system) is U.S. Copyright Renewals 1950 - 1977 by U.S. Copyright Office. It gets a lot of attention, these days, because it lists all renewals granted in that period: in other words, the works published after 1922 that are not in the public domain. Works that do not appear on that list are no longer, by Rule 6, copyrighted in this country.

And as for Harold Bell Wright, I can see you that and raise you an Alan Dale [the pseudonymous critic, whose work appeared in Ainslee's Magazine], a John Treat Irving [Washington's nephew, whose serialized novels appeared in the Knickerbocker], and a W. A. Clouston [folklorist and orientalist]: All authors whose works I've scanned and gotten back out into the world.

As could any of the readers of this comment, if they had a few minutes to spare.

#137 ::: Bill Tozier ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:59 AM:

[I am told that the name "Rule 6" is a Project Gutenberg rule number, not the number used in the copyright code. It refers to a list of criteria that PG uses to determine inclusion in their system; that a work is in the public domain. Sorry about the confusion.]

#138 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 10:28 AM:

I'm a catalog librarian for a certain southern art school. For the last month or so, I've been cataloguing eBooks from Project Guttenberg. (why catalog eBooks? Oh, it's all about statistics. The honchos can take the stats to admin and say, "Look! We've catalogued an extra 3000 titles this quarter!")

One thing I've noticed about the eBooks is that, because they are all public domain, they very widely in quality and usefulness (from a Library science standpoint, a resource's usefulness can be quantified, albeit subjectively). The short of it is, we have a complete e-collection of Aristotle, All the Oz books, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare and Tom Swift.

Yeah, Tom Swift. Because the kids can't get enough turn of the century boys own adventure stories.

eBooks make lingering ghosts out of some things that probably should quietly go away. They also provide, quick easy reference to the classics. It's a toss up.

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 10:40 AM:

randhir wrote: "Is it less objectionable to use someone else's distorted and exotified vision of another culture recast as native to another world, than to maintain your own false vision of a culture that only exists 6 or 7 thousand miles away in some kind of provisional way?" Maybe slightly so.

I've often wondered if Burroughs's reference to Martians going around naked meant something different in the early 20th Century. In other words, were they really going around in their birthday suit, or were they really in a great state of undress that wouldn't raise much of an eyebrow today, but would have qualified as naked back then. I'm curious to see how Jon Favreau, director of elf will deal with that in his movie A Princess of Mars...

#140 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:05 AM:

With regard to reading speed, I might as well give one book reviewer's perspective. I'm not as quick as many of you, but five books a month was easy even back when I was working full-time at Locus. What I'm unable to do is remember much of anything about things I've read beyond a month or so. (Over-50 = "memory lace" for me!) Old reviews do help as mnemonics, and I type and print out my review index with yearly updates. (The full Locus review index, available online, is humongous!)

Incidentally, I did Hodgell's God Stalk (9/82) and Dark of the Moon (9/85) very early in my reviewing career.

I suspect I'm not alone in being even more omnivorous about magazines -- nothing fancy, just Discover, Smithsonian, my Mom's New Yorkers, and now a gift sub to National Geographic. They still run out way too soon, of course, so then it's time for more cryptic crosswords. (Araucaria rules!)

Apologies for that last off-topic paragraph.

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:16 AM:

Five books a month, Faren? I don't suppose that many of them had the heft of Neal Stephenson's recent opi. (Or is 'opuses' the plural of 'opus'?)

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:22 AM:

A question for literary historians... Nancy Drew's first story was in 1930. Before she came out, were there other series about girl detectives?

(As for her 'coming out', yes, I do remember the fracas a few years ago by someone with way too much time on his hands who suggested that Nancy Drew was a disciple of the Love that dares not speak its name. An article about the whole silliness mentionned a parody called 'Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys'...)

#143 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:41 AM:

Serge: The plural of "opus" is "opera."

#144 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:44 AM:

Serge, from our hero's first glimpse of the incomparable Dejah Thoris:

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed save for her highly wrought adornments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure".

It always seemed to me that a culture so violent would at least have invented the jock strap, but apparently not.

#145 ::: Bill Tozier ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:45 AM:
One thing I've noticed about the eBooks is that, because they are all public domain, they very widely in quality and usefulness (from a Library science standpoint, a resource's usefulness can be quantified, albeit subjectively). The short of it is, we have a complete e-collection of Aristotle, All the Oz books, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare and Tom Swift.

Of course those ghosts are already there in the actual world, still in print, or nobody would have been able to preserve them as eBooks. But is it true that actual quality is correlated with popularity at the time of publication, or among contemporary or even our "more advanced" modern literary critics? Consider the recent fascinating essay in Believer magazine about the weird lost southern novel Don Miff. And compare to this contemporary review ofWuthering Heights.

eBooks make lingering ghosts out of some things that probably should quietly go away. They also provide, quick easy reference to the classics. It's a toss up.

How do books become classics, exactly? By virtue of their innate advantages over their contemporary peers? Rational and deterministic selection, in other words?

I'm not so sure.

But it is interesting that these works, good or bad, for social reasons need to be in both the Web's inbuilt catalog and your library's. I agree that perhaps the works should be forgotten: from the library catalog. In what sense are they "there", in the library, that they should be in your catalog and not merely wandering out in the world wide web?

#146 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:48 AM:

A bit off topic but still about literature... If I may bring up blurbs... For our 20th anniversary, my wife gave me the novel Forbidden Planet, written by one W.J.Stuart who, from another discussion on this site, really is Jack Williamson. Here's an excerpt from the blurb:

...Commander Adams and the crew of Spaceship C-57-D are confronted by Dr. Morbius, a strange scientist who plots to become Master of the Universe...

The rest of the blurb is even more cheesy than that. Now, one can expect (and hope) that there'll be differences between a movie and the novel inspired by it. One such example would be 2001 - A Space Odyssey. But usually the novel is more sophisticated than the movie, especially if written by someone who knows quite a bit about SF - and I think that Jack Williamson qualifies. Something tells me that the blurb is total BS. A blurb that lies? I am shocked, shocked!

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:52 AM:

Yes, Niall, one does wonder about the absence of jock straps on Mars...

#148 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:53 AM:

Mazo de la Roche! I read the Jalna books in my teens (I'm 53 now) and I absolutely loved them. My father gave them to me: old, used copies. I never met a single other person who had read them. I looked for them in bookstores for years and never found them.

#149 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:54 AM:

"Opera"? Thanks, Robert L. It's been a long time since my Latin classes in high school.

#150 ::: Margaret S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 04:15 PM:

Back to the topic of how many books we read and how long a book lasts us, are you a serially monobiblous reader or do you have several going at once? E.g. the literary book, the light book, the non-English book, and the non-fiction book.

#151 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 05:21 PM:

The plural of "opus" is "opera."

Insert your own bad joke here - I'm afraid to use the one that came to my mind.

#152 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 06:04 PM:

Bill Tozier, I usually think of a different Rule 6.

I read about five or six books a month, plus a couple of magazines, and generally, I only read one book at a time.

#153 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 06:21 PM:

Bill Tozier: Fascinating article, that about Virginius Dabney. Since there seems to be only a $75 POD edition and no used copies available (and if one turned up, it'd presumably be quite expensive), and since it is P.D., this seems like a work ripe for a free online edition...

#154 ::: Lynn Calvin ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 06:23 PM:

Serge asked "A question for literary historians... Nancy Drew's first story was in 1930. Before she came out, were there other series about girl detectives?"

There were a number of girls adventure books, similar in spirit to the Nancy Drew books.

My personal favorites were the Outdoor Girls, which I loved.

Gutenberg has so far:
The Outdoor Girls at Rainbow Lake
Or, the stirring cruise of the motor boat Gem
The Outdoor Girls at the Hostess House
Or, doing their best for the soldiers
The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge
or, the Hermit of Moonlight Falls
The Outdoor Girls in Army Service
Or, doing their bit for the soldier boys
The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale
Or, camping and tramping for fun and health

But there were lots more Outdoor Girls, and there was ususally some sort of mystery involved.

And there were many many others along the same lines, and many of them, to my eye have at least some protofeminist leanings.

#155 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 07:12 PM:

The Outdoor Girls at the Hostess House
Or, doing their best for the soldiers

Some things never change.

And referring an earlier comment, not all the "nursing" books, even in the glorious Harding era, were about marrying Dr. Right (something you'd have to be darn innocent of nursing to think of as a primary goal*). Cherry Ames was much too busy to worry about warming somebody's chilly speculum. (Joanna Russ did once express a worry that, as the line blurred between SF and Books Ordinary Real Folks Read, we'd get Interstellar Nurse. Hmm. I think Boskone is very happy I didn't think of that four months ago.)

*Nobody suggests that guys go into nursing because they want to pick up babes who wear Betadine on their pulse points.

#156 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 07:20 PM:

Mary Roberts Reinhart is still worth a read. Harold Bell Wright isn't, though I admit to owning a few of his books.
Reinhart's Circular Staircase is a fun read. I loved the Nurse Pinkerton stories when I was young. Some of her stories repeated plot elements. There is little difference between some of them.
If I recall correctly, her sons started the Reinhart Company way back when. I think they were absorbed by Henry Holt company.
Oh, The Kidnaping of Jenny Brice was another I enjoyed.
Harold Bell Wright is just boring. Sorry, you fans of his, but he puts me to sleep.

#157 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 07:41 PM:

Laura Dent Crane wrote the Automobile Girl's Series. There were five titles in the series, all published between 1910 and 1913. The series had some mystery elements.

Before Nancy Drew, the Stratemeyer Syndicate issued The Barton Books for Girls under the name Mary Hollis Barton. At least two of these were mysteries. They also issued the Betty Gordon books. There are at least 14 titles in that series, all issued between 1920-1932. Much more to the point here was their Billie Bradely Series (nine titles, 1920-1932) Billie Bradley and Her Classmates; or The Secret of the Locked Tower (1921)is a title reminiscent of any Nancy Drew book.

#158 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 07:43 PM:

Thanks for the tip about the Outdoor Girls, Lynn. Who was the author? Or were there different authors for each book? Well, I can find out on Google. (Hopefully the Justice Dept won't think I'm up to no good with that search string.)

#159 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 07:45 PM:

Thanks, Rachael.

#160 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 08:07 PM:

I found this list of Girl's series (1840-) compiled by the Univeristy of Minnesota:

http://special.lib.umn.edu/clrc/girlsseriesbook.html

You will find many of the titles available on bookfinder.com or ebay.

I really enjoy the old children's series. Most of them are not well written, but they are fun.

#161 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 09:25 PM:

Rachael-thank you! I grew up reading all kinds of girl's series-the Ruby books, the Maida's Little...books, Carolyn Wells' Marjorie and Two Little Women books. I'm off to check out that link!

#162 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 09:36 PM:

Keith: "eBooks make lingering ghosts out of some things that probably should quietly go away. They also provide, quick easy reference to the classics."

I think this is probably a good thing, as long as disagreement remains about which is which. (Not everyone would agree with the implication that your list contains only one lingering ghost.)

#163 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 10:47 PM:

Howard Pease?

#164 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:08 PM:

Sorry if someone mentioned this above...

One thing that might be a ray of hope is the recent news of a music label starting an effort to sell MP3s of a whole lot of their backlist which they haven't been selling because they thought it uneconomical to press CDs.

If that works out well for them, print publishers may realize that they can monetize all kinds of older copyrighted works that they are sitting on, if they can only figure out how to do the electronic distribution.

#165 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:13 PM:

Bill Tozier said:

But is it true that actual quality is correlated with popularity at the time of publication, or among contemporary or even our "more advanced" modern literary critics?

It's a bit more subjective. It's basically an equation: historical value + availability divided by cost = n. If n is equal to institutional need, then a library will make every available effort to acquire a copy of the resource.

most of the eBooks have high availability (they are infinite and have zero cost) but are of moderate historical value (except the classics. Every institution should have a hard copy of the basics but doesn't. We fill in the holes with cheep editions and eBooks). The others, the ones that have little to no value as historical documents we add to the collection because, again, zero cost + inflated stats.

The great thing about the historically agreed upon classics is that they're usually kept in print, and for reasonable price. A whole set of paperback Sherlock holmes might run you $30.

A first edition, on the other hand, might end up in our Special Collection room. (the acquisition guidelines for which are nonsensical. We just blew 5 grand on an edition of the Satyricon, in French and Italian when we don't even have an English copy on hand. But it has pretty drawings by a semi-famous Fauvist. meanwhile, our regular circulating collection doesn't even have a single edition of Lovecraft.)

#166 ::: Janet ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2006, 11:59 PM:

The true Reading Speed Queen is a college student named Crystal Farnsworth. She's the latest winner of Steve Duin's annual reading contest -- she read 555 books for a total of 181,000 pages in 2005. That's a bit more than 10 books per week, or 496 pages per day.

If you scroll to the bottom of her list, you'll find a lovely short essay by another contestant about what she learned in her year's reading.

Duin's article about the recent contest, in The Oregonian.

Alas, I barely read more that 2 books per week in 2005. Must unplug the Tivo! Of course, I did read Diana Gabaldon's latest in just 2 days, and it's 980 pages long...

#167 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 12:55 AM:

Any prospect of Thor Power Tools expanding to POD? Given the impact of Thor on books going out of print should there be a relationship between Thor revenue issues and copyright? That is should tangible and intellectual property lines blur or must they in any event?

If the distinction between tangible and intangible blurs, and I think it must, I'd expect more taxes on intellectual property.

#168 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 01:15 AM:

Serge ----

I think the reason that the "Forbidden Planet" novel you mentioned a few entries up is so dopey (if the blurb can be believed) is that it's --- according to its listing on Amazon --- a novelization of the movie, rather than the book the movie is based on. Good authors will do terrible things for money, although at least Jack Willamson had the decency to do it under a pen name.

#169 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 03:07 AM:

I think the reason that the "Forbidden Planet" novel you mentioned a few entries up is so dopey (if the blurb can be believed)

Judging Fifties paperback SF by the cover blurbs is like complaining that Apollo 11 didn't live up to Cyrano de Bergerac's description of a voyage dans la lune.

I haven't read the book -- and it certainly wasn't the source for the movie, the source being some play by that Shakespeare guy, along with the idea of a monster that was invisible, and therefore wouldn't cost anything (MGM changed its mind about this, and brought in Joshua Meador for animation).
But there was a discussion of it in the Cinefantastique double issue (which I unfortunately no longer own), and one of their comments was that it contains a scene in which Doc Ostrow does an autopsy on Altaira's pet monkey (which has been killed somehow or other), and finds that it has nothing inside, no internal organs, just a kind of organic lattice "no more use than a stuffing of cotton." The implication is that Morbius made the animal as an early experiment with the Krell Machine. That's a perfectly valid SF notion -- but it does contradict Morbius's claim that he can't consciously use the device, and the story-as-told seriously breaks down if he's lying about that.

And, in actual fact, good authors very often do the best they can when working for money, but run into external demands (particularly when turning screenplays into novels) that can't be ignored. Reading Isaac's novelization of Fantastic Voyage is an exercise in watching a scientifically acute writer try to handwave past the gaps in the plot, the most notorious being the eensy surgeons refill their air supply from the normal-sized molecules in the lung* and their abandoning the wrecked submarine (and a dead guy) inside the patient's frontal lobe. By that point, of course, the hands have reached relativistic speeds.

Though he did try something interesting, even though it mostly passes unnoticed. Early on, there's a discussion between Grant the Spy and one of his bosses about the possibilty that a double agent could be under sufficient hypnosis and drugs that he wouldn't know he was a Bad Guy until events triggered him to act. This actually makes the plot make a little more sense (though it doesn't explain how a saboteur manages to break equipment unseen by four other people in a boat the size of an SUV).

*"There isn't by chance a little bitty miniaturizer aboard, is there?" "Why, it just so happens that there is."

#170 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 08:28 AM:

Assume that one will live up to 70 and will read for only around 50 years. Given full-time work, one can only read around a book every two weeks, or 1,200 books during those 50 years.

I also disagree strongly with this on every count. I started reading at 4. Despite working full time and going to school part time, I read 150 books last year. My grandmother is 88, and unless she's visiting, reads an average of a book every day or two.

That gives me at least 80 years of reading (if all goes well) with my number of books read increasing after I finish my Master's degree and eventually retire.

HOWEVER

There are also a lot of non-readers out there. There are people I work with who don't read *at all* or read only one or two books a year or take months to read a book because they're slow readers.

So if you average us (I would think that anyone commenting on Making Light would by definition an avid reader) with all the people out there who don't read at all (my grandmother's sister only watches TV, so her yearly average is zero) that average might not be so far off. Especially if the numbers of non readers equal or significantly outnumbers the number of readers.

Just my two cents.

#171 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:23 AM:

Way, way, way back, Paeng writes: There are likely hundreds of thousands of book titles to choose from covering thousands of years of recorded history and hundreds of countries.

Assume that one will live up to 70 and will read for only around 50 years. Given full-time work, one can only read around a book every two weeks, or 1,200 books during those 50 years. That's not even 1 percent of a million. And the same can probably apply to films, music, and other works of art.

To which numerous people have responded with variants of "I can read much faster than that!" While I'm sure this is fascinating to those who are fascinated by such things, it sort of misses the point.

I mean, let's grant that you can read, say, five books a day every day for eighty years as a back-of-the-envelope number for the total number of books an exceptional reader might read in a lifetime.

Five books a day for eighty years is 146,000 books. So, even if you could read five books a day, every day, for eighty years, you wouldn't get within an order of magnitude of the number of books available on Amazon right now, let alone all the additional books that will be published between now and 2086.

(I don't know how many distinct books are available on Amazon, but taking the sales rank of an arcane physics book as an estimate of the bottom of the list, it goes into the millions (sales rank of 1,089,082 at time of posting). Many of those will be duplicate editions, of course, but I doubt that changes the number by more than a factor of 2, if even that.)

A book every two weeks is a very conservative estimate, to be sure, but it doesn't significantly change the conclusion: no matter how fast you read, you'll never read everything.

#172 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:44 AM:

Joanna Russ did once express a worry that, as the line blurred between SF and Books Ordinary Real Folks Read, we'd get Interstellar Nurse.

We already have: Countdown for Cindy

The true Reading Speed Queen is a college student named Crystal Farnsworth. She's the latest winner of Steve Duin's annual reading contest -- she read 555 books for a total of 181,000 pages in 2005. That's a bit more than 10 books per week, or 496 pages per day.

I used to average around 10 books a week, while working full time, but I've slacked off lately for health reasons.

Chad has a point.

--Mary Aileen

#173 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:58 AM:

"(Joanna Russ did once express a worry that, as the line blurred between SF and Books Ordinary Real Folks Read, we'd get Interstellar Nurse. Hmm. I think Boskone is very happy I didn't think of that four months ago.) "

I did read an Interstellar Dentist book once; details are unavailable at present.

#174 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 10:13 AM:

About Forbidden Planet... Didn't this site have a discussion about the movie's origins not so long ago? It started when I asked if anybody knew who the novel's author, W.J.Stuart, was because a google search had yielded very little and I smelled a nom de plume in there. Various posts indicated that the 'W.J.' stood for Jack Williamson who, if I remember correctly (*), had published a story called Fatal Planet that basically was used as the original outline for the movie. Were those posts - not corrected at the time - wrong? I am confoosed. Well, it's next on my reading list, after a few issues of Science News.

(*) Yes, these words are oft used by yours truly because he sometimes compresses memories of different origins. One example is that review of the novel, which I thought had been in Algol/Starship, but which John M. Ford says had been in that double issue of Cinefantastique, which I have somewhere in my garage.

#175 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 10:19 AM:

Subjective reading speed is weird and hard to assess.

I know I'm a lot slower at words-per-minute than I was 20 years ago (before my left retina decided to go on the fritz). And I know I'm reading so slowly that I'm building up a prodigious backlog of books I want to catch up with.

Nevertheless, in the past five weeks I've read at least fourteen novels, four issues of New Scientist, two issues of Scientific American, and a goodly chunk of "The Victorians" by A. N. Wilson (and don't get me started on Livejournal/Metafilter/online news sources.) I'm not reading a book a day, no, not on paper -- but I'm beginning to suspect that if you abolished the internet tomorrow I would be doing so within a week.

Books compete with other textual media these days, and I'm not sure we aren't actually reading more, overall, than ever before.

#176 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Sandy B: That wouth be "Prostho Plus" by Piers Anthony, I suspect. (Bad, but by no means memorably so.)

#177 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 12:53 PM:

[N]o matter how fast you read, you'll never read everything.

Chad has a point, but what saves us is, of course, Sturgeon's Law.

Not everything is worth reading.

#178 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 01:37 PM:

Tom D. and A. J. Luxton,
about the Blackberry / NTP patent thingy. Right now the Globe and Mail is being slashdotted over their coverage of this patent fiasco. Mirrordot has a mirrored copy of the article here.

-r.

#180 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Hey, Prostho Plus! Dentists loved that book. Tor was getting several letters a week from them for a while after it was published. I got to listen to a peroration about it from my own dentist when I was in the chair with my mouth full of Dentist Stuff. Apparently Piers Anthony got a lot of the details right.

#181 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 04:11 PM:

I read a lot faster before I had the big stroke. I had to learn to read again, and I don't do it as fast anymore. Now I read about a minute a page.

#182 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 04:24 PM:

how many people in a concerted effort reading 5 books a day can manage to read all the books ever written (and currently accessible) in 80 years. Is there any way to divide the task so as to get meaningful knowledge division between the group? Can one be allowed to drop a book as worthless? I think so, I once read one of the executioner books because it was the only reading matter I had access to for a day, but I would have definitely dropped it after no more than 20 pages in any other situation. So dropping stuff of a quality matching that of bubble gum wrappers should decrease the effort required.

#183 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 04:44 PM:

bryan asks: "Can one be allowed to drop a book as worthless?"

That, bryan, is something I never used to allow myself. There were exceptions, such as Delany's Dhlagren, but overall I'd finish a book no matter what. As I got older though, I decided that life is too short to waste on something I won't enjoy. I don't know how many people have adopted that same attitude in their 'older' age.

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 04:47 PM:

Interstellar nurses and space dentists... Did James White ever have those show up in his Sector General stories?

#185 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 04:47 PM:

"That, bryan, is something I never used to allow myself."

No, but then you don't start out reading all books! You preselect, which is useful. If preselection is not allowed then surely a running assessment of the quality increases in utility.

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 04:55 PM:

That's true, bryan. Preselection is also something I didn't use to do. For one thing, when I graduated from comics (anybody remembers Brick Bradford?) and Gerry Anderson's shows, there wasn't that much SF available where I was hailing from. And it was all new and appetizing to my younger self. But today, even with preselection, some things make it thru that - often because my own yearnings make me see in blurbs and in reviews a story other than what I'm told is in there. But, once I find myself fidgeting while reading, out the book goes into the giveaway bin.

#187 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Serge - now that you're older you might want to give Dhalgren another try. It's difficult, but worth it. IMO.

(I've read it about 6 or 7 times. Each time I find something new.)

#188 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:25 PM:

You almost tempt me out of my gafiation from here with this thread.

There's a long essay to complement your screed, on the role of the independent bookseller. Look, this is the flip side of the argument about what happens when all we have is the chains.

Neither argument actually makes any difference to the bean counters, or the invisible hand of the marketplace. Some of us put in many years being economically stupid trying to get some of what we love into the hands of people who might like it. I guess we're just crazy.

(And I'd heard of many of the authors you mention, and read a few...)

#189 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:57 PM:

bryan asks: how many people in a concerted effort reading 5 books a day can manage to read all the books ever written (and currently accessible) in 80 years. Is there any way to divide the task so as to get meaningful knowledge division between the group?

A millenium ago, it was still possible to read everything there was. "Dividing the task up between people" gave us colleges.

When you think about the problem, you immediately confront the question "What is a book?" Does every self-published memoir count? every 'how-to' ? every textbook?

Back before the internets, I think I recall that Books In Print typically listed around 50,000 books. Depending on your assumptions about how fast the book trade has been growing, the estimate we've been bandying about here (a million books, total) is either somewhat high, or - just in the last generation - the total has actually gone to several million.

I'm not sure if Amazon's "sales rank" - which goes over a million, but which by definition is limited not just to books currently available for sale, but is also limited to the unique titles being requested by buyers - is just for their books, or whether they're counting every item they sell. (Anybody know the answer?)

Even within the SF/F genre, it's no longer practical for one person to read everything, as (in recent decades) the new titles have been coming out at one-or-two per day. Fifty years ago, maybe even twenty-five years ago, it was possible to have read everything in the field. That's no longer true.

(Thinking about some of the stuff I read as a kid simply because that was all that was available, it's actually good to be forced to be selective.)

One useful filter is Emerson's advice: "Never read any book that is not a year old." Which I have found to be a tactic that actually works for genre stuff: it keeps me out of the cutting edge conversation, but falling a year behind in my reading really does filter out some of the ephemera.

#190 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 05:57 PM:

Interstellar nurses and space dentists... Did James White ever have those show up in his Sector General stories?

There are people who think that a hospital could be run without a nursing staff. James White wasn't one of them.

Many of those who do are creating programming for the Sci-Fi Channel.

To clarify, what Russ was talking about wasn't the presence of nurses in sf, but the introduction of nurse-as-stereotype; formula fiction with an sf veneer (or, since veneering is a skilled craft, a patchy coat of cheap polyurethane).

#191 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 07:53 PM:

John M... When you say that the Skiffy Channel has people who believe an hospital can be run without nurses, are you thinking of something specific?

Back to your comments about Fantastic Voyage... Yeah, I had noticed the rather problematic areas of the story, but it didn't bother me unduly for a few reasons. One is that nobody expects cinema's SF to be like the real thing. The other reason is that the movie has Raquel Welch in it, which in itself is enough to forgive a few sins. (No, I wouldn't extend that forgiveness to Five Million Years B.C.)

#192 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 07:58 PM:

You think I should try Dhalgren again, Xopher? I do have a few things already lined up, but I'll keep your recommendation in mind. Maybe my initial reaction was that I had read it not long after his Nova, which I had thoroughly enjoyed. Well, that was 30 years ago so my perception now would be different.

#193 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:06 PM:

My own dentist, the bloke who wears the Hawaiian shirts and has Sousa marches as background music because it's about drilling, once complained to me that nobody writes a story in which a dentist was a romantic figure. I pointed him to "Prostho Plus", and the next time I got to see him he first surveyed the ruins and then spent forty-five timeless minutes telling me what a great story it was and wondering aloud where Anthony got his qualifications.

Dentists have an unfair advantage in literary discussions with their patients, I always think.

#194 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:07 PM:

I've mentioned on my LiveJournal that Betty MacDonald's sister Mary Bard wrote a series of books for adults that were as funny as the ones Betty wrote--I have the first one thanks to good luck at a used bookstore but can't afford the rest, since a "reading copy" of the one about her adventures as a Den Mother is +$90.00. She also wrote a series of books for (I think) teen girls called "Best Friends" that go for obscene amounts online--+$350.00 the last I checked.

And on the theme of fighting between relatives, any fan of European Fantasy films can give you a three-word ugly example: "The Apple War." Came out in '71 or '72, praised by everyone who ever saw it, and then the man who wrote the novel it was based on died and the resulting family fight has stopped it from ever being released again unless they all die off. I think of this once and awhile--usually when something brings to mind "Jews Without Jehovah" by Gerald Kersh. Now *there's* a book that's got little chance of coming back into print: first you'd need the heirs who sued to have all copies destroyed give a go-ahead, and then you'd need to find a copy...

#195 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2006, 09:48 PM:

When you say that the Skiffy Channel has people who believe an hospital can be run without nurses, are you thinking of something specific?

Staggering incompetence? Absolute ignorance of story values, believable dialogue, or characterization? Eight movies a week about giant carnivorous bugs, with a collective budget that might buy two Big Macs and a Coke? A central assumption that "sci-fi" is to be interpreted in its most toxic 1950s fashion?

I don't think that everything they show is terrible, but something's wrong when you're in the middle of an action thriller about dinosaurs and wonder what's on The O'Reilly Factor.

#196 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 12:48 AM:

My church here in Tucson is next door to the Harold Bell Wright Estates. I believe the author once owned the land on the east side of Wilmot between 5th and Speedway. Alas, that's all I know about him.

But in looking at the 1950s list, I recognized nearly every author name, and in a few cases the title but not the author name. Aside from the Hemingway titles and Rachel Carson, there were an awful lot of books listed that still pile up on tables at charity book sales. That is certainly where I learned the name Frank Yerby. Also, many of the religious and inspirational titles are still around.

Re: the pending Peter Pan sequel, what does this accomplish that the recent one by Dave Barry and I-forget-who-else did not? Is it a question of assigned royalties on that specific title?

And finally, on the subject of wire racks, I looked over the paperbacks on a jobber's rack a Safeway tonight and came away with a Meg Cabot bit of fluff. Two feet above that and a foot over, highly pulpish book cover caught my eye. This turned out to be Night Walker by Donald Hamilton, from the aforementioned Hard Case Crime imprint. Just looking the thing over was a bit of a time warp experience, because the blurbs were 1950s ones by the likes of Mickey Spillane and Anthony Boucher.

#197 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:41 AM:

I don't think that everything they show is terrible, but something's wrong when you're in the middle of an action thriller about dinosaurs and wonder what's on The O'Reilly Factor.

So Dinosaurs - Sodomy = an urge for The O'Reilly Factor. I find a terribly snide comment about Mr. O'Reilly's show fighting to get out, but I Will Be Strong...

#198 ::: Per C. Jorgensen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:48 AM:

I believe I've read some books by AJ Cronin. I remember one about a struggling young doctor in Wales, and another about a struggling young artist in France and Spain. Looking back, they both seem a bit 'The Fountainhead light' to me.

#199 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 05:57 AM:

So, John, nothing specific about the Skiffy Channel had prompted that comment about hospitals without nurses? I thought that maybe they had aired something about a starship-cum-hospital that was even worse than everything else they've shown before. I've posted a few things here about their Saturday night movies, and about this year looks like it's going to be yet more giant creatures that view humans as lunch. The ads have usually been enough for me not to bother seeing the rest, the exception being their rendition (and I mean rendition as currently used by the White House) of War of the Worlds, which I did watch - for about 5 minutes. Not enough for me to start drifting into O'Reilly fantasies, thank goodness.

At last year's NASFiC, there was a panel wher someone sort of defended those Skiffy movies as being the modern equivalent of the Fifties ones that people get nostalgic about. I don't know about that. The Fifties produced real bad crap, but sometimes I came across some that, for all their cheesiness, I could appreciate because the plunge-into-the-unknown atmosphere came thru. I don't usually get that feeling when something has Dean Cain in it.

#200 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 08:45 AM:

Nancy, PJ: I've got Tudor Roses, which also calls for discontinued yarns, but you can get a decent substituion by googling for it. I want to make the Henry VIII sweater for Liam.

And PJ, I am just about to start picking up for the edging on the Snowdrop Shawl! And I'm doing it in Knit Picks's laceweight alpaca. Which one of us is redundant, here? (Though unlike you, I have no idea what I'm gonna do with the darn thing when it's done; I don't wear shawls...)

Niall: There's that bit in The Number of the Beast (you can all hiss and throw things now) in which Jacob wonders the exact same thing. "With clash of blades and flash of steel, a man doesn't want his family jewels swingin' in the breeze 'n bangin' his knees".

I read A Princess of Mars, and was bored stiff. Never bothered going any further. It makes me wary of trying the Lensman books.

#201 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 09:42 AM:

Serge said: I do remember the fracas a few years ago by someone with way too much time on his hands who suggested that Nancy Drew was a disciple of the Love that dares not speak its name. An article about the whole silliness mentionned a parody called 'Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys'...

That particular parody (there are three books in the series, I think) is actually quite funny, if you're into that sort of thing. I like The Ghost in the Closet best.

#202 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:15 AM:

Laura, I betcha that the bozo who went after Nancy Drew probably made some kids discover Miss Drew and Miss Clue.

#203 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:17 AM:

Carrie S... Those Burroughs stories were written a long time after all. It takes a readjustment of one's attitudes when getting into old stuff.

#204 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:46 AM:

Serge: I read Dorothy Sayers and Robert Howard with great enjoyment; it can't just be the age of the writing.

#205 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 10:59 AM:

Well, Carrie, it does depend on when the book was written AND who wrote it. Burroughs wasn't exactly known as someone who would ever get a Literature Prize.

#206 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 11:00 AM:

There is a little noise that suggests the corporations may be thinking about targeting the online used book market but so far it is only noise.

Wot?!

I don't see what they're complaining about. If it's used, then by definition someone has already paid the royalties, so the author/estate has had all the money they're entitled to. And if the book's impossible to get in WH Smith, then you'd think they'd be glad of any attention/publicity.

What's next, banning second-hand bookshops?

#207 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 11:24 AM:

Serge: Exactly my point. The fact that A Princess of Mars was first published in 1912 is insufficient to explain my dislike of it; it's not enough to "readjust my attitudes", or I'd like it just as much as I like Peter Wimsey (first appearance, 1923).

I am therefore hesitant to try the Lensman books, which seem from available evidence to be of similar quality to the Mars ones.

#208 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 11:40 AM:

True, true, Carrie. Of course, Burroughs was a pulp writer while Dorothy Sayer aimed a bit higher fromt he word go.

#209 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 12:05 PM:

I did not remember it as being Piers Anthony- I got the impression it was much stronger on the dentistry than the SF. Which doesn't, I realize now, disqualify P.A.

At some point it seemed like I read a lot of "[unlikely job] in space/fantasy" books, written by people who had a lot of real life experience with that job. They were probably widely separated in time and space, but I've formed them into a category, mentally.

There was a dentist-in-space book, there was an entire series [Rick Cook's "Wiz" books] based on magic that obeys programming rules. . . I think I read the Terra Tarkington book mentioned above [was there a sequel?] as well.

I may have drawn a graph through too few data points; I thought there were others, but I can't recall specific cases now.


On the Amazon "zillions of books" note: sales rank includes every instance of that book separately.

I checked: The Family Trade has different sales ranks for the paperback and hardcover versions. And there are a couple thousand different listed Holy Bibles. (and while I was there, yes, I checked the release date on book 3.)

#210 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 12:50 PM:

Carrie S: I'm using the Misti baby alpaca (50g = 400m). And size 5/3.75mm needles (the 6/4.25mm were just a little too large, IMO; the stitches kept trying to get away). Of course, I have a long way to go: I'm only just to 9 snowdrops across.

#211 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 12:53 PM:

Sandy B.:
And there are a couple thousand different listed Holy Bibles. (and while I was there, yes, I checked the release date on book 3.)

The New New Testament?

#212 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 12:55 PM:

On the Amazon "zillions of books" note: sales rank includes every instance of that book separately.

Well, yes, that's how it works. Amazon is registering their sales of each separate item they stock. Combining multiple editions would require that someone merge that data, and that's not particularly of value to Amazon; combining, say, all the Bibles is even less so.

#213 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 01:45 PM:

I thought the Lensmen were a better quality of pulp, actually. And Virgil Samms' visit to Rigel in First Lensmen remains one of my favorite scenes of all time, probably because for me it was an introduction to the concept of thinking through the implications of a different physiology. Not that Smith was necessarily accurate in his conclusions, but at least he tried to make the Rigellians something other than humans in make-up.

And I'll still call someone a fontema if I get incoherantly angry enough.

#214 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 02:59 PM:

mmMMmm, topic drift. :) Late to the party, as usual.

I'm confident that there are a couple people woven into this thread who've reprinted more stories than I have, but 700+ is still a decent number, I think. Alexandria Digital Literature is currently in suspended animation (but not dead; we still have a fair-to-middlin' chance of re-animation), but while we were more active, I had quite a few people wax enthusiastic about me going out and getting fill-in-some-dead-or-missing-author's-works-here and making them available electronically.

[cue rueful laughter] "Oh, no," I'd explain. "We only pursue works by living authors. Because I can find a living author much more easily, and they generally have a very realistic idea of the actual value of their work. They think it's worth enough to bother answering the mail, but not that it's a True Classic About To Be Worth Millions. Estates are rarely so enlightened. To bring a text back into print, even electronically, costs me a couple thousand dollars at least. Editors and production staff and probably conversion from paper to bits and all. And the single biggest line item is...dealing with the author. Staff time preparing contracts, answering questions, prodding them into shipping us the works. If an estate makes that twice as hard, it roughly triples our cost for that work. No thanks."

We have a tiny number of public domain items in the catalog. It wasn't worth doing Frankenstein, for example. Plenty of other e-book editions of that. But we made a small profit on The Man Who Was Thursday. For a few years, we had the only edition available for the Palm.

**

In the late 1990's, when I was giving presentations at e-book conferences, one of my slides was related to in-print-edness. According to Bowker (and my research), at that time there were about 1.5 million books in print. Since 1972 (when Bowker's records started) there were 17 million that weren't listed as "in print."

Make of that what you will.

**

"While I ... shop for a lot of books online, and I have loved the ... efficiency of the net ..., I wonder... what we're losing by not being able to have happy accidents shopping ABE or Bookfinder."

Happy Accidents 'R Us at Hypatia, the collaborative filter reading recommending engine at AlexLit.com.

#215 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Notice to all: I am notNotNOT ever going to write a pharmacist-in-space novel. Ever. So there.

#216 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 03:07 PM:

Why not, Charlie?

#217 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 03:37 PM:

Rick Raphael had future emts (Code Three) and space mailmen ("The Mailman Cometh") in Analog in the mid-60s. I liked them then; no idea how good they really were.

#218 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 03:57 PM:

Above, Mike Ford wrote:
"And, in actual fact, good authors very often do the best they can when working for money,...."

Another case in point: Theodore Sturgeon wrote the novelization of the "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" movie. It's been a few years since I read it, but IIRC he put in a solipsistic subplot, in which the menacing Belt of Fire around the world came to be because Lee Crane bragged to himself and the Universe was punishing him for it.

And to Bruce Durocher: I had no idea that's what happened to "The Apple War." I saw it almost thirty years ago at a college showing, and have looked for it ever since. The spit-in-the-shoe extended scene was absolutely brilliant.

JBWoodford

#219 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 04:11 PM:

JBwoodford writes that ...the menacing Belt of Fire around the world came to be because Lee Crane bragged to himself and the Universe was punishing him for it...

I have come to believe that those Irwin Allen shows actually are his philosophical proposition that the Universe is a Loony House.

#220 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 07:22 PM:

John Stanning, and others, Wikipedia has the story on Peter Pan's copyright.

Basically, it's specifically mentioned in UK copyright law (ignore the date of 1987 there -- later amendments to EU law changed that to 2007).

This is quite bizarre, of course -- how many other books can you think of that are mentioned by name in national laws?

GOSH still tries to stop small authors from publishing Peter Pan books even outside the UK -- but they're not prepared to take on Disney.

Do royalties from Peter Pan help GOSH greatly? Undoubtedly. Is the best way to fund children's hospitals to tie them to the commercial fate of some arbitrary work of literature? Surely not. If we had to choose a children's hospital to fund with an arbitrary work of literature, would it be GOSH? Probably not; it could be easily funded through taxes, like the rest of the UK's NHS[1]. One would get more utils for one's buck in the third world.


[1] Note: I don't necessarily think NHS is a particularly good way to do healthcare compared to most of the rest of Europe, but it sure beats the US.

#221 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2006, 08:07 PM:

Carrie S., I give a lot of my crocheting to the local charity. They'll either give it away or sell it at their thrift store (with sliding scales for clients). But this time of year, a shawl might be useful for one of those prom programs where girls get to pick from donated dresses, accessories, etc.

#222 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 08:10 AM:

Marilee: Good point.

And it occurs to me that Alice Starmore is more relevant to this discussion than I had at first realized. Her copyright issues are covered in detail on the Girl from Auntie, under "Chronicles".

#223 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 01:21 PM:

Carrie: you could always send it to Steph as a TSF prize.

#224 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 02:44 PM:

TexAnne: If it were perfect, I would. :) But I've made a couple of mistakes, most notably centering the plain triangle badly, and I had to go back and fix it.

#225 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Charlie: Having said that, you know the idea is going to start growing on you, and growing on you...

Yes, the idea grows like a fungus, and not your common Terran ringworm or athlete's foot. No, it's more like the Rigellian smother-fungus that can only be safely treated with americium tetra-zorromate.

Ow! OK, I'll stop.

#226 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 04:09 PM:

Carrie: oh, well, in that case just send it to me.

#227 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2006, 06:35 PM:

There's an excerpt from a Woodrow Wilson commentary (written in 1891) in the January/February issue of The Atlantic that seems pertinent:

Who can help wondering, concerning the modern multitude of books, where all these companions of his reading hours will be buried when they die; which will have monuments erected to them; which escape the envy of time and live. It is pathetic to think of the number that must be forgotten, after being removed from the good places to make room for their betters.

Regrettably, it's subscriber-only. If you're near someplace that has a copy, it's a good read.

#228 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2006, 11:55 PM:

Carrie S: It looks to me like the picking-up for the edging on the snowdrop is about 10 of 11 stitches. I'm not there - I took two days off this week due to headcold - and the instructions have one repeat less than the picture, so it's a bit fuzzy, but I'm coming up with somewhere in the area of 235-245 rows total. A nice math exercise for falling asleep with.

#229 ::: afigbee ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2006, 08:44 PM:

"the three most common humorous book proposals. . .

3. Books about roaches."


There are a lot of people out there who want to write books about roaches? I am really just so out of touch. Is there scientific literature on this?

#230 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2006, 02:47 AM:

"
There are a lot of people out there who want to write books about roaches? "

most common humorous books is the key I guess.

People who saw Joe's apartment and think, hey I could write a better story than that?

#231 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2006, 03:01 AM:

"It was obvious [to the scam agent] that, all across America, people had thrown novels across the room or gotten up from in front of the television and said, I could write better than that. It was amazing how many of them were wrong."

--Donald Westlake, Dancing Aztecs (quote approximate)

#232 ::: Chomiji ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2006, 06:02 PM:

For Ailsa, who couldn't find Sally Watson's books except at ridiculous prices: a publisher called Image Cascade started reprinting these in paperback a couple of years ago, with the author's agreement (she wrote new intros for the books, in fact). The quality is good and I have enjoyed buying them for both myself and my young teen daughter.

- Chomiji

#233 ::: oliviacw sees commercial spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 01:26 AM:

lalala

#234 ::: vincent ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2007, 10:44 AM:

why contemporary life expectancy is short compared to the ancint generation?

#235 ::: David Goldfarb notices something odd ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2007, 04:19 AM:

A comment in broken English unrelated to the topic at hand. Not spam: no web site or obvious commercial link. Perhaps a student looking for homework help, who googled the phrase "life expectancy" and arrived here?

#236 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2010, 12:24 AM:

Boring.

#237 ::: Raphael sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2010, 01:17 PM:

Just in case the mods should accidentially miss this one.

#238 ::: Serge sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 11:47 PM:

Harpy blogging?

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