Archive for August, 2012

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

LibraryThing is Seven: Summon the AllThing!

LibraryThing’s employees (from left): Chris Catalfo, Abby, Jeremy, Kate, Brian, Tim, Mike, Chris Holland

LibraryThing turned seven today.(1) Seven years! It’s been a blink of time in my life, but it’s a long time, and positively an eternity online. Where so many of our 2005 web 2.0 cohort died, sold out or burned out, LibraryThing somehow survived. We’re stable, profitable and growing, with over 1.5 million members using LibraryThing.com and the other language sites, and over 400 library systems around the world using our library services.

Chris and Abby win.

Jeremy and Tim lose.

Chief praise goes to our members, the best book people I’ve met online. When LibraryThing went up I wasn’t sure that more than a few hundred people would ever want it. I’m happy I was wrong! After the members, LibraryThing was created by its employees. We’ve had many fine employees before, but I feel (and Abby and Chris H. agree) that we’ve got the best team we’ve ever had right now—a harmonious and balanced mix of talented people. Our most recent project, BookPsychic, solidified my feeling that we had it right. We know we’ve got a lot to do. I look forward to working with them. (You can see the team above.)

To talk about the future, the LibraryThing staff (minus one) came to Portland last week for what we’ve been calling AllThing12—a week of strategic discussions, user-interface arguing, employee scheduling, and lots of eating and drinking.(2) Families and friends came at the end, so we branched off into barbecue and sandcastles.

Some of our pictures can be seen here, at the AllThing12 gallery.

A few main points emerged, especially about LibraryThing.com development:

  • LibraryThing will live and prosper. It’s been rough at times, but we’re bullish on the future.
  • Taking the time for BookPsychic and another near-complete feature for libraries was worth it. They are models for future development, and potentially explosive products.
  • LibraryThing.com needs significant work, especially in fixing bugs and making good features better. Our design needs small but significant updates.
  • Our plans for mobile did not work out—the path we were going down is dead. Finding a new path must be a priority.
  • We crafted a new schedule whereby LibraryThing.com development is ramped up, with Tim recommitting his time and at least one of the other three programmers working with him at all times. Tim’s happy about this (so is Jeremy).
  • We have the development schedule through February plotted out. The two stand-out projects for LibraryThing.com will be in revising how members search for and add books, and getting it together on mobile.

All told, it was a great meeting. We made some strategic decisions, hammered out parts of the interfaces and planned for the future. And we reconnected socially—a vital task for a company that’s almost entirely virtual. We drank and made off-color jokes. We heedlessly mixed business and family. And when our director of HR fell off her chair, we laughed our heads off and took pictures—and we still have our jobs!


1. Or maybe yesterday. It’s not entirely clear.
2. Our sysadmin, Brian, in Kansas, had classes and wasn’t able to join us—so we video Skyped him in. Next time!

Labels: allthing, birthday, fun

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

August Author Interviews: Stott and Thomason

This month’s State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, should have made its way to your inbox by now. You can also read it online. It includes author interviews with Rebecca Stott and Dustin Thomason.

I talked to Rebecca Stott about her latest book, Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, published by Spiegel & Grau. Some excerpts:

Tell us about Darwin’s Ghosts—how did the idea for the book come about, and how did you select which subjects to profile?

When I wrote Darwin and the Barnacle back in 2003 I was struck once again by the dangerousness of the work Darwin was doing. I knew there had been others who had entertained ideas about the evolution of species before him and I became curious about the risks they might have undertaken. I started with Darwin’s own list of his predecessors—there were 38 men on Darwin’s list—and began to assemble as many more names as I could find. My book begins with Aristotle, even though Darwin was mistaken to call him an evolutionist, because the questions he was asking and the empirical methods he used would shape the long history of evolution in important ways. My aim was to try to understand these people as human beings not just as vehicles for ideas. I wanted to know what vexed them, what woke them up at night, what drove them.

What was it that persuaded Darwin to add his “Historical Sketch” to the third edition of Origin (and to expand it in the fourth edition)? Was there any contemporary reaction to the essay itself (distinct from reaction to the book as a whole)?

There was a kind of protocol in Darwin’s time that if you published a groundbreaking book of science you would begin by paying tribute to all the thinkers who had walked that path before you. Darwin failed to do this with Origin partly because he was rushed into print and partly because he was unsure just who his predecessors were. In 1860, when he was chastised for not including such a preface, he resolved to write one. The project took him six years to complete and was a source of enormous anxiety to him; he was never quite sure who had said or written what and when. Because he kept finding new people the historical sketch was always to some degree a work-in-progress.

You write in the preface about growing up in a household where the Darwin entry was literally razored out of the encyclopedia. Do you think that contributed to your interest in Darwin and his ideas?

Undoubtedly—as far as one can know about these things. I was a curious child, and I remember the intense frisson of curiosity I felt about Darwin and his ideas, because they were regarded with such derision and horror by all the important men in the religious community I lived in. Prohibition acts in mysterious ways.

Which of Darwin’s predecessors were you most surprised to learn about as you researched for this book?

Probably the eighteenth-century French intellectual Diderot. I lingered longer over that chapter than any of the others. I think I fell in love with him a little. Diderot was intellectually restless, a rule-breaker, a risk-taker, clearly also fascinating and charismatic in conversation. I think he might well be the most original thinker I have encountered. Because he was forced to hide his ideas—he was under surveillance from the Paris police—he developed a series of rhetorical strategies for evading responsibility often by using devices from the theatre. The results are often surreal and highly inventive.

Read the rest of our interview with Rebecca Stott.

I had the chance to talk with Dustin Thomason about his new thriller 12.21, published by The Dial Press.

Do you recall what first made you think about combining prions and Mayan prophecies for the plot of 12.21?

That was actually what brought the entire book together for me and is one of the key secrets of the book! The connection is deeply rooted in the culture of the ancient Maya, and closely connected to the original way that prions were discovered. But to really find out, you’ll have to read on …

Your book features a fictional Mayan codex, but there are a few of these that actually exist. Tell us about the codices and their importance in our understanding of Mayan civilization and culture.

Four ancient Maya books still exist of the thousands of screen-folded codices that probably once filled the royal libraries. You can find images of several of them online and see the wondrous work of the ancient scribes that served as the jumping off point for the codex in 12.21. The scribes were meticulous bookkeepers, and in these codices they kept close records of rituals and astronomical matters, all dated according to the all-important cyclical calendars responsible for the 2012 phenomenon. Amazing naked-eye astronomers, many Maya books were almanacs that tracked the movement of Mars and Venus, solstices and equinox, as well constellations eerily similar to our own zodiac. Over the last century, Mayanists have been able to use these four remaining books—named the Dresden, Madrid, Paris and Grolier codices—to bring the most advanced civilization in the pre-Columbian new world back to life.

What’s your library like today? What sorts of books would we find on your shelves?

A very eclectic mix. On the fiction side, you’d see Stephen King and Michael Crichton and Richard Russo, plus Dan Brown and Dickens and Philip Roth and Delillo and Lehane and Michael Cunningham, to name a few. Many shelves I’m looking at now are taken up by books about the ancient Maya, some of them out of print. In order to write in the voice of a ninth century scribe, I had to immerse myself in most everything that’s been written about them. You’d also find dozens of medical textbooks, and a weird assortment of other things on random topics that most people would find absurd. As I glance higher, I see And the Band Played On sandwiched between The Professional Handbook of the Donkey and The White Album. Plus, for Christmas every year, my father used to give us The World Almanac, so there’s almost two entire shelves taken up by those alone.

Which books have you read recently that you enjoyed?

Michael Olson’s Strange Flesh recently enchanted me with its weird and wonderful mix of hacker noir and depraved hearts, and I just finished William Landay’s Defending Jacob, which sucks you in with its compelling voice from page one and takes you on a ride of twists and turns as good as any since Presumed Innocent. I also just went to the Middle East for the first time, and while I was there I read Exodus, which seemed as fresh now as it must have to readers fifty years ago.

Read the rest of our interview with Dustin Thomason.


Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

If you don’t get State of the Thing, you can add it in your email preferences. You also have to have an email address listed.

Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Book Spine Poetry Contest!

August feels like a good time for a contest, right? We’ve decided to try a new twist on our usual bookpiles contest: book spine poetry (here’s a previous example, from our 2007 “downpile” contest).

We’ve thrilled to announce that we’ve arranged for a special guest judge to help us pick the winners of this contest: Nina Katchadourian, who’s been working in this field since 1993 with her Sorted Books project (credited with inspiring many subsequent projects of this type). In 2013 Chronicle Books will be publishing a book of Nina’s works, so look forward to that!

How to participate:

1. Create a poem using book spines. The poem can incorporate any element of the spine you like (color, text, whatever). Theme/length/format is entirely up to you (bonus points if it’s about books, reading, or LibraryThing, though!). If you need some inspiration, there are some great examples here, or here (the latter are the works of our guest judge).

2. Take some photos of your poem.

3. Upload the photo to your LT member gallery. Sign in, then go here and click the “Add another picture” link to add the image.*

4. When adding the image, tag it “SpinePoetry2012″. This will add your image to the contest gallery, and counts as your entry into the contest. If your photo doesn’t have the tag, we won’t know that you’ve entered. You’ll be able to see all the entries here.

5. Tell us about it in the “Title/description” box. You can include a list of the books you used, a transcription of the poem if you want, any explanation, &c.

Deadline: Add your photos by 4 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 7.

What we’ll do:

Based on all the images in the “SpinePoetry2012″ photo gallery, guest judge Nina Katchadourian and LibraryThing staff will choose the following winners:

Grand Prize (1)

  • An LT t-shirt (size/color of your choice)
  • An LT library stamp
  • A CueCat
  • An LT sticker
  • Three lifetime gift memberships
  • Great honor

Runners Up (2)

  • Your choice of one LT t-shirt, stamp, or CueCat
  • Two lifetime gift memberships

We may also pick a few Honorable Mentions—final number will depend on the number of entries received—and they’ll receive a lifetime gift membership.

Have fun!

Fine Print: You can enter as many times as you like, but you can only win one prize. By entering the contest you certify your images and the poems are your own creations. All decisions as to winners will be made by LibraryThing staff and our guest judge, and our decisions are final. LibraryThing staff and family can enter, but can only be honored as prize-less runners-up. Any images you load stay yours, or you can release them under a copyleft license, but we get a standard “non-exclusive, perpetual” right to use them.

Questions? Feel free to post questions/discussion/etc. here.

Labels: book pile, contest, contests

Monday, August 6th, 2012

August LTER batch is up!

The August 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up, and it’s a whopper! We’ve got 134 books this month, and a grand total of 3,334 copies to give out.

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:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, August 27th at 6PM EDT.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, and 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 Tundra Books Knockabout Comics
Monarch Books Pintail Riverhead Books
Mulholland Books Kensington Publishing Dafina
Zest Books Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Penguin
Quirk Books Orca Book Publishers Soaring Penguin Press
Crown Publishing Plume Algonquin Books
William Morrow McFarland Signet
Quid Pro Books White Wave Penguin Young Readers Group
Spirit Scope Publishing WaterBrook Press Maupin House Publishing
Charlesbridge Information Today, Inc. Greyhart Press
Gray & Company, Publishers Pale Fire Press Random House Trade Paperbacks
Human Kinetics Doubleday Books Random House
Prufrock Press Oxford University Press Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Fantastic Books Gray Rabbit Publications Leafwood Publishers
Palgrave Macmillan Prospect Park Media Humanist Press
OR Books Kane Miller Books JournalStone
Exterminating Angel Press Gotham Books White Whisker Books
Top Five Books Ashland Creek Press Pineapple Press
Glagoslav Publications Ltd. The Permanent Press Spiegel & Grau
B&H Publishing Group Sakura Publishing Henry Holt and Company

Labels: early reviewers, LTER