Category Archives: #booknerdproblems

A man, a plan…

Last year I found myself reading nothing but genre fiction. It was all spaceships and murders. I was putting off the heavy lifting of my other interests in favor of flying through a lot of fiction. So, being a man who likes a schedule, I set up a routine. I now rotate through my interests, switching between topics and genres in order to have a more balanced reading diet. The schedule below gives a pretty clear view of where my interests are focused as of late. Sometime down the road, this will surely change, but for now here is the schedule I am using:

1. A work of classical or Jewish philosophy or history.
One of my long term intellectual projects is to get a handle on the classical world, especially as it relates to Judaism. My interest in classical philosophy started in undergrad, but it is only recently that I’ve begun to delve into the area mu seriously. While most of the books I’ve read so far are background introductory texts, I’ve dabbled in a bit of source material.

Why Judaism? I converted to Judaism two years ago and have been working on deepening my understanding of the religion. Most of my reading in this area is concerned with the time frame around the birth of Rabbinic Judaism and the foundations of the Christian faith. I think this is one of the most interesting intellectual times in Judaism, but I’ve also been known to dip into more modern works (i.e. Hescehel, Scholem) as well.

2. A Shakespeare Play
As I have written about here before, I am working my way through the complete works of Shakespeare in chronological order. A long term goal is to read and see performances of all the plays. So far it has been a slog, but things should pick up when we get to the Julius Caesar sometime this winter.

3. A book on economics or the law
I am by trade an attorney and keeping up on the law is part of my job. My undergraduate degree is in economics and philosophy and I try to keep somewhat abreast of the popular books in these fields, though my days of reading econometrics are probably behind me.
4. A work of fiction
Being whatever the hell I feel like. Lately I’ve been switching here between a work of “serious” fiction (i.e. Bolano) and a work of genre fiction (i.e. Sojwall and Wahloo).

E teases me terribly for scheduling my recreational reading, but what can I say, I’m a man who likes a plan. I don’t always stick exactly to the schedule, but by and large I’ve found it helpful for keeping me on track with my more serious reading while still allowing time for alien civilizations and crime bosses. Do you plan out your reading, or am I alone in this insanity?

-Sean

Advertisements

Better World, Same Grumpy and Cheap Me

I recently cashed in both a Barnes & Noble gift certificate and a recent Barnes & Noble Groupon. There was a short stack of books on the history of stage magic and memoirs of former cult members that I had wanted to get for a while, but didn’t have that burning “drive to the bookstore 40 minutes away to get a copy of it NOW” urge. I bought a total of six books from the vendor Better World Books, only to discover at the very end of the labyrinth-like checkout process that I had to pay shipping for each and every book coming from that one vendor. The books were $1 each, and the shipping was closer to $3 each.

Now for hardcover books only a year or two old, $4-5 a title is a great price to pay at a used bookstore, but for some reason the lack of combined shipping bothered me especially when all six titles showed up at my doorstep today in one damn box.

According to their website, Better World Books has recycled about 50 million used books and raised about $9 million for libraries and literacy programs. Maybe I should just shut up and consider it money well spent.

-The Filled Slip

Kessinger and the Public Domain

I would look like a fool (or a GOP presidential hopeful) if in the acknowledgments section of the book I am working on I thanked “the internet and the computers,” but  in some ways a thanks is in order. Much of what I discovered in my research could not have been found without online databases, OCR scans, keyword searches and GoogleBooks. Thanks to ProQuest and historical newspaper databases I was able to uncover the scummy quack/criminal backgrounds of figures that other researchers simply classified as “scientists” or “doctors.” Thanks to GoogleBooks, I was able to recreate a large part of my subject’s personal library (from 1900-1930), by tracing back the quotes he included in his own works.

Much of this is thanks to technology, but it is also thanks to works that have entered the public domain. The public domain works, now no longer encumbered by distance, price or print, almost seem to be part of a utopian, democratic free-flow of information. But, a funny thing happened on the way to free and open access to books that were written over 75 years ago… Kessinger stepped in.

What Kessinger has been doing is taking public domain works, thousands and thousands of them, mostly that have been up on archive.org/GoogleBooks/Hathi Trust, and not only reprinting them, but registering them for themselves, complete with ISBN numbers and sometimes copyrights  from 2007 or 2008! GoogleBooks, probably scared of infringing on anyone’s copyrights (and getting sued), has downgraded the ability to view these works hijacked by Kessinger and even though they are public domain, many are no longer viewable. (Kessinger used to be in Montana, but in recent years has retreated back into its shell. Their current website has no contact information, and it looks like all sales are now funneled through Amazon.com.)

Kessinger advertises themselves as “preserving rare books for the future” and although some titles have been acquired by libraries and made available to the public in that way, it seems more like a disingenuous shell game, making a quick buck of a process being done better and bigger by groups like Google and Archive.org.

Not only does this force people to buy books that were once free and in the public domain, but Kessinger has taken it a creepy step further. They also republish individual chapters from books and sell them as single titles. I was burned once before by this trick, paying $20 through an Amazon vendor for what I thought was a book that slipped past me in my research, only to have a 28 page “book” of zine-like quality show up at my door. (It needs to be said that their reprints are of the lowest quality imaginable, probably churned out assembly-line style. Small books are reprinted with each page on a dwarfing 8.5×11″ sheet, and the covers are uniform and generic, with only the title changing from one reprint to another).

Has anyone else had an encounter with Kessinger reprints or know anything more about them?

Updates:

  • “Poisoning the Public Domain” article from 2009 in The Register (UK), which also uses the great term “copyfraud”: here. (This article also suggests the awful possibility that by getting referral monies from Amazon for Kessinger books purchased on their site, GoogleBooks has little incentive in correcting the copyfraud of Kessinger.)
  • Link to a discussion on a Google forum about Kessinger: here.

-The Filled Slip