Archive for February, 2012

Friday, February 24th, 2012

February Author Interviews: Matthew Pearl and Leah Price

This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, is on its way to your inbox. You can also read it online.

For our author interviews this month, I talked to Matthew Pearl about his new book The Technologists, published this week by Random House. The novel focuses on the early years of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as students in its first graduating class face down a mysterious force bent on destroying their school and their city.

Which part of The Technologists came to you first?

The first scene I envisioned was one that appears early in the novel, when a group of the original MIT students are bullied by a Harvard crew team as both groups row the Charles River. It’s still an important scene for me when I think about the book and especially the main character. The early MIT students were ultimate underdogs and this moment captures that, plus introduces the Boston backdrop.

Your previous books have put major literary characters at the center of the action; what made you decide to use college students this time around?

For many if not most people, college is a formative and unique experience in their lives. Different from any time before or after. “The best four years of your life”? Maybe, though probably not. But certainly among the most interesting. I really loved releasing my characters into that context.

Did you find it easier to write using fictional protagonists rather than historical characters?

The Technologists has a mix of fictional and historical characters. The central protagonist, Marcus Mansfield, is fictional, though based on my research into many of the original MIT students. It’s hard to say what ends up making writing “easier,” at least for me, because the long process of writing the novel inevitably complicates every task. Still, I can’t deny there’s a liberating quality when working with fictional characters after spending time on historical figures with more established profiles!

Read the rest of our interview with Matthew Pearl.

I also talked to Leah Price, the editor of Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, published late last year by Yale University Press. The book includes interviews with thirteen contemporary writers about their libraries, plus some wonderful pictures of their books.

Were there any responses to the interview questions that surprised you?

I was surprised—even touched—by how intimate some of the answers were.  Questions about a writer’s relation to his books somehow yielded answers about a writer’s relation to his father, his lovers, even his exes. Junot Diaz told me that “When I was still with my ex, I drove back and forth between New York and Cambridge seven to eight times a month, and that’s how I got into audiobooks. I liked reading to my ex. Never read to anyone else. Never had anyone read to me, really.” Just as poignantly, Lev Grossman pointed to a bookshelf custom-built for the apartment he used to share with his ex-wife. “Funny how libraries retain ghostly impressions of the past,” he reflected: “those bookshelves retain the dimensions of those old rooms, not of the rooms they’re currently in, so they’re slightly ill-fitting.” Both writers think of books as something shared with other people, or tainted by memories of the people with whom they were once shared – which helps makes sense, in a way, of the success of LibraryThing in building social relationships via books and circulating books by forging virtual networks.

I also asked Leah to tell us about her personal library and how she organizes her own books (and she sent along a picture of her shelves, too):

I alphabetize my books by author, because I’m the kind of obsessive-compulsive who also alphabetizes the spices and color-codes the socks. My books are divided between home and office, but paradoxically the ones that are most on display, in my office on campus, are the least revealing, because when I’m at work I rarely have time to read anything longer than an e-mail or a memo, and so that’s where I keep the books that I don’t have any intention of rereading.

At home, we segregate the cookbooks (though, inconsistently, I have a beautiful 1880s edition of Mrs Beeton’s Household Manual filed under B, because I don’t have any intention of cooking suet pudding), and there are a few straggler sections dating back to the days before my library started to flirt with my partner’s. When we moved in together he started pulling books out of boxes and plopping them down on the shelves without regard to which were mine and which were his. I panicked, because I had assumed that we wouldn’t interfile our books, just as blithely as he had assumed that we would. A family therapist would probably add interfiling to the list of things to negotiate in advance: blended families are nothing to merged libraries. Now that our books are promiscuously mingled, we’re getting married next month, but that feels like a formality compared to the day when we steeled ourselves to put duplicates out on the curb. Once you’ve ditched somebody’s copy of Middlemarch, you might as well have signed up for a covenant marriage.

Read the rest of our interview with Leah Price.

Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

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Labels: author interview, authors, state of the thing

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Flash-mob catalog: Frederick Douglass’ library!

Starting at noon EST today, we’re going to flash-mob catalog the library of Frederick Douglass, working from the National Park Service’s inventory of Douglass’ library at his home, Cedar Hill.

Douglass (1818-1895), a leading abolitionist, social reformer, noted orator, and author, collected quite an impressive number of books and pamphlets, including a very significant body of abolitionist literature as well as many history texts, religious literature, and U.S. Government publications.

We’d love to have your help! See the Talk thread or jump right to the project wiki page to get started and claim your section of the library list. No worries if you haven’t worked on a Legacy Libraries project before – this is definitely a good introduction to them! I’ll be helping out too, and will answer any questions you have on the Talk thread.

Labels: flash mob, flash-mob cataloging, legacies, legacy libraries

Monday, February 6th, 2012

New feature: Filter by Kindle and audiobooks

I’ve released a new feature, allowing you to look at certain pages—tags, tagmashes, authors and three types of personal recommendations—filtering to see only item available in select media. At present these are: (1) Kindle, (2) Audiobook from Audible (basically what’s on iTunes too), (3) audiobooks available on Amazon as audio CDs, (4) audiobooks by CD or Audible.

Whether you like it or not, I’m going to love this feature! Most of my reading these days is in audiobook. Although I don’t use Audible, I do use iTunes, and almost everything Audible sells is also available there. iTunes in particular has a terrible search interface. I’ve spent hours looking for interesting things to read. This makes finding audiobooks on iTunes (ie., on Audible) much easier. I’ve already found quite a few.

You can see the options here when you click on “edit” or “filter”:

The same options are available on your “Quick Links,” so you can tell at a glance whether a given book is available in those formats or not. If you’ve never played with your “Quick Links” they’ll be there already. If you have, you can add them by editing them. A convenient reminder notice also appears on every members home page.

Media information should be pretty up-to-date, with almost a million alternate versions tracked.

Filtering is a powerful idea. There were a couple ways it could have been implemented, and there are many other categories of thinks that could be filtered. I’m anxious to hear what members think.

Come comment on Talk here.

Labels: new feature, new features

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

February Early Reviewers Batch is up!

The February 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 112 books this month, and a grand total of 2,771 copies to give out, including books by Scott Westerfeld, Naomi Novik, and Anna Quindlen!

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Wednesday, February 29th at 6 p.m. EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, and a whole bunch more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Taylor Trade Publishing Hyperion and Voice Riverhead Books
Putnam Books McFarland Tundra Books
Akashic Books Upper Rubber Boot Books Kregel Publications
Prufrock Press Random House William Morrow
Kayelle Press Elephant Rock Books Henry Holt and Company
Ballantine Books Chin Music Press The Pantheon Collective
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books PublicAffairs February Partners
Kane Miller Books Del Rey Spectra
And Then Press The Permanent Press BookViewCafe
Candlemark & Gleam DiaMedica Rovira i Virgili University Press
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Human Kinetics
St. Martin’s Griffin Open Road Dutton
Avery Bethany House ArbeitenZeit Media
A & N Publishing Sourcebooks Demos Health
Chosen Books Unbridled Books Maupin House Publishing
Orca Book Publishers Gotham Books CarTech Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

ReadaThing Reminder!

Just a quick reminder: the February ReadaThing begins tomorrow! See the earlier blog post for full details, or head right over to the ReadaThing wiki to sign up!

Labels: readathon, reading