Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Join the 75 Books Challenge for 2013!

Looking for a fun way to get more involved with LibraryThing? Join the 75 Books Challenge for 2013, one of the site’s most active (and entertaining) groups. Members take a stab at reading 75 books over the course of the year (although, as the group description notes, “It turns out we care less about the numbers than we do about the exchange of book info and the community of readers”). Your mileage will vary.

Participants are invited to start a thread and list/discuss what they’re reading (here’s the full list so far), but the group goes way beyond that, with monthly Take It Or Leave It (TIOLI) challenges, monthly themes, group reads, meetups, and more.

This is the sixth year of the LT 75 Books Challenge, and it gets more and more interesting every time. I’ve joined the fray for the second time this year (you can see my reading thread here): I had a great deal of fun last year, and am excited to be back in the game for 2013!

The activity level is fairly high, but there’s a handy wiki to help you keep things straight, and of course the members of the group are always helpful to new members. Most importantly, it’s a fun way to meet other LibraryThing members and discuss what you’re reading (also, be warned, your wishlist is very likely to grow by leaps and bounds!).

To participate, just jump right in by visiting the group page. And have fun!

Labels: groups, reading

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

January LTER Batch is up!

The January 2013 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 84 books this month, and a grand total of 2,750 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, January 28th 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, 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!

Bethany House WaterBrook Press Quirk Books
Algonquin Books Henry Holt and Company Penguin Young Readers Group
Tundra Books Hudson Whitman/ Excelsior College Press The Permanent Press
Taylor Trade Publishing HarperCollins Ballantine Books
Human Kinetics Crown Publishing Dragonfairy Press
Scribner Books Palgrave Macmillan Greenleaf Book Group
Chronicle Books Random House Apex Publications
Leafwood Publishers Universal Technical Systems Hunter House
Sakura Publishing Orbit Books CarTech Books
Simon & Schuster Grey Gecko Press Riverhead Books
Random House Trade Paperbacks Chin Music Press BookViewCafe
Signet Lion Fiction Gotham Books
Orca Book Publishers Open Books JournalStone
Nonstop Press Prufrock Press Dragonwell Publishing
Winged Victory Press William Morrow B&H Publishing Group
Safkhet Soul

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Friday, January 4th, 2013

December SOTT & Author Interviews

December’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 interviews with authors Simon Garfield and Douglas Hunter.

I talked to Simon Garfileld about his new book On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks , published by Gotham Books last month. Some excerpts:

I’m going to begin by asking you the first question I asked Ken Jennings when I talked to him about his book Maphead: so what is it about maps, anyway? Why are so many people so fascinated by them?

Maps have helped define what makes us human. Maps were one of the earliest forms of communication, almost certainly existing before language and speech. I’m inclined to agree with Richard Dawkins when he suggests that our ability to draw maps—to show fellow hunters where the juicy elk were—was a key factor in expanding the size of our brains, enabling the leap from apes to homo-sapiens. Beyond all this, maps are frequently beautiful artifacts, telling the best stories in a direct way. The idea of the book was to retell the best of these stories. And occasionally, of course, maps just help us get from A to B.

What first got you interested in maps, and when?

I first got hooked as a boy travelling on the London Underground at the age of 10. The famous Harry Beck tube map—now copied all over the world—was in every carriage and platform. I didn’t realize its significance (geographically it’s incredibly inaccurate, but as a diagram it’s a great piece of information engineering), but I was entranced by the names on it and its possibilities. The prospect of travelling to the end of any of the lines—Amersham at the end of the Metropolitan line, say—seemed as exotic and far away as Antarctica. I’ve collected tube maps ever since, and now framed copies line my hallway at home.

What have you read and enjoyed recently?

Two books I’ve loved of late: Walking Home by Simon Armitage, a funny account of a soggy walk across the Pennine Way from Derbyshire to Scotland, reading poetry at some unlikely venues en route to pay his way. And an oldie but goodie: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, the classic epistolary account of a tough American lady’s relationship with a London bookshop and its staff (and its books).

Read the rest of our interview with Simon Garfield.

I also had the chance to talk with Douglas Hunter about his recent book The Race to the New World: Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and a Lost History of Discovery (Palgrave Macmillan).

Christopher Columbus is, of course, a household name, but John Cabot may not be known to many readers. Who was this man, and what did he do?

John Cabot (as he was known in England) was a Venetian citizen who persuaded England’s Henry VII in 1496 to grant him some fairly generous rights to prove a westward route across the Atlantic to Asia’s riches. His first try in 1496 was a failure, but his second voyage in 1497 made the first known landfall since the Vikings somewhere in northeastern North America, probably in southern Labrador or the coast of Newfoundland. At the time, Columbus hadn’t moved beyond Caribbean islands in his own discovery efforts.

Cabot was a bit of an odd duck. He wasn’t a seasoned mariner. He was a hide trader who dabbled in property renovation and fled creditors in Venice in the 1480s for Spain. Reinventing himself as a marine construction engineer, Cabot pitched the king, Fernando, on an artificial harbor scheme for Valencia in 1491-92. Fernando and Cabot couldn’t line up the money for that project, and Cabot next surfaced in the historical record in 1494 in Seville, the headquarters of the Columbus scheme, overseeing an important bridge project. But Cabot appears not to have done any work on it, and by December 1494 he was essentially being run out of town by displeased nobles. Reinvented himself yet again, Cabot surfaced at the court of Henry VII in England, in January 1946, with his Asia voyage scheme. And so this considerable rival to Columbus emerged from within Columbus’s own milieu.

You suggest that Cabot may have accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, in 1493. Lay out the evidence for us, and explain what this finding might mean for our understanding of the history of exploration (or for Cabot and Columbus themselves).

What’s really puzzling about Cabot’s career is how he managed to persuade Henry VII to grant him such generous rights for an Asia voyage in 1496 when he had no apparent track record as an expert mariner, let alone as an exploration promoter.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that English mariners out of Bristol already may have reached the New World, perhaps earlier than 1470. Cabot could have tapped into this lost knowledge in proposing his voyage to Henry VII. But if that awareness was circulating, why didn’t Henry give the job and its many privileges to an Englishman? Henry was a shrewd and tight-fisted ruler. Something about Cabot’s pitch persuaded him that this Venetian deserved the rights handed over to him.

There is more to this than I can explain here, but the most compelling case Cabot could have made for the rights he secured was that he had already been to Asia, and so he knew how to get there. Cabot was a bit of a confidence man. I think either he claimed something he hadn’t done, or he had actually already had been to Asia, or the New World, rather, with Columbus. There are a couple bits of circumstantial evidence to support the distinct possibility that Cabot had been on the second Columbus voyage, which departed Spain in September 1493.

One of the bits of evidence I use is a really opaque letter written by the Spanish monarchs to their ambassador in London in early 1496. I engaged the help of an academic expert in early Spanish, and the letter seems to refer to Cabot as “the one from the Indies.” Anyone interested in the tough slogging of historical translation should visit my website, follow the link for this book, and read the essay about “lo de las yndias.”

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

As I’m in the middle of doctoral studies, not surprisingly my shelves are groaning with works of history. My main doctoral fields, Canadian history and Aboriginal history, account for a lot of what’s at hand. There are also a couple shelves full of works dedicated to exploration. A lot of those are reference books, from the Hakluyt Society and Repertorium Columbianum for example, with annotated transcriptions of key sources. I do read for pleasure, both fiction and nonfiction, though.

Read the rest of our interview with Douglas Hunter.


Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

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Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Welcome KJ!

We are very pleased to welcome KJ Gormley (LT member kjgormley) to the LibraryThing team. KJ will be assisting Abby and Kate by providing technical and customer support for our LibraryThing for Libraries products (see the job post).

KJ grew up on the coast of Maine and earned her BA in Cultural Anthropology from Smith College. After school, she went to work for the Skidompha Public Library in Damariscotta, Maine, where she worked in the Development department and did technology assistance. She moved to Portland in September, and enjoys watching the sun set over Back Bay from her window. KJ will be joining Tim and Jeremy in working most of the time at LibraryThing HQ in Portland.

When not reading, KJ enjoys writing fiction, making a fool of herself at dance classes, playing ukulele, and sampling the Portland food culture. She is currently reading and watching her way through the collected works of Shakespeare. Her favorite authors are Robertson Davies, Ruth Ozeki, Neil Gaiman, and John Irving.

You can follow KJ on Twitter at @kjgormley.

Labels: employees, LTFL

Monday, December 17th, 2012

LT Staff’s Favorite 2012 Reads

I asked everyone on the LT staff to put together a list of their five favorite reads from 2012. Here’s what they came up with:

Tim:

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare: An Ecologist’s Perspective by Paul A. Colinvaux.

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (with my son).


Abby:

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

Abby adds “Because picking just 5 is hard, honorable mention to: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.”


Chris H.:

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham.

The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester.

The Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks.

The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabriel Campanario.

The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp.


Jeremy:

Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace.

The Passage of Power by Robert Caro.

The Rector and the Rogue by W.A. Swanberg (the new edition edited by Paul Collins).

The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson.

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann.

Honorable mentions here for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King and PYG: The Memoirs of a Learned Pig by Russell A. Potter. NB: I always post a top ten fiction and a top ten non-fiction list on my blog on December 31, so check in there at the end of the year for the complete list.


Kate:

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Kate gives an honorable mention to Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan.


Mike:

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks.

In the Woods by Tana French.

The Riyria Revelations (series) by Michael J. Sullivan.

Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook.

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin.


Seth:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Hunter.

PHP Master: Write Cutting-Edge Code by Davey Shafik.


What were your favorite 2012 reads? Come tell us here.

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, top five

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

End-of-2012 ReadaThing!

Mark your calendars! Coming up soon is the special End-of-2012 ReadaThing! All are welcome, and you don’t have to read for the full week: the goal is to have a few people from around the world reading at any given time during the ReadaThing. You don’t even have a pick a set time if you don’t want to – just dip in and out as your reading schedule permits!

The official start time will be at midnight on Sunday, 23 December UTC: that’s 7 p.m. Saturday in the Eastern US/Canada/LT time zone. This ReadaThing will have a staggered ending at midnight local time on January 1, 2013, to ring in the New Year in true LT style. See the time chart here.

For more information, see the announcement thread; to sign up, head right to the ReadaThing wiki. As we get closer to the date, we’ll add threads where you can post what will you be reading, and during the ReadaThing you can use the “Log Book” thread to document your ReadaThing experience.

For more on ReadaThings, and to participate in planning future events, join the ReadaThing group.

Labels: holiday, readathon, reading

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Welcome Seth, LT’s new sysadmin!

We are delighted to welcome Seth Ryder (LT member sryder) to the LibraryThing staff. Seth is our new systems administrator, and aside from all the usual system-administrator-type stuff, we threw him into the deep end last week by having him help us out with SantaThing ordering on his fourth day on the job!

Seth grew up in a small town outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. He worked for a large hosting company in the midwest where he spent his time as a Systems Administrator and even dabbled with a bit of quality assurance work for their internal development team. He has also has been doing freelance development for a few small companies over the past three years. At LibraryThing, Seth steps in to succeed Brian Stinson, who left LT for a great job at Kansas State University, where he’s working on his graduate degree in political science.

When he’s not busy keeping LibraryThing up and running, Seth says he enjoys attending concerts, learning about new technologies, reading fantasy books, exploring local breweries with friends, and hacking on personal projects. His favorite authors include J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, and Brandon Sanderson. You can follow him on Twitter at @sethryder.

Labels: employees, sysadmin

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

December LTER Batch is up!

The December 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 87 books this month, and a grand total of 2,469 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 Wednesday, January 2, 2013 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 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!

Archipelago Books Taylor Trade Publishing Mulholland Books
Ballantine Books Random House Monarch Books
Quirk Books Henry Holt and Company Safkhet Fantasy
Safkhet Cookery Eerdmans Books for Young Readers WaterBrook Press
Dragonwell Publishing Bell Bridge Books Plume
Scribner Books The Permanent Press Kirkdale Press
JournalStone Algonquin Books Crown Publishing
Random House Trade Paperbacks CarTech Books Sunrise River Press
Fine Life Books Penguin Young Readers Group Crossed Genres Publications
Top Five Books Illuminated Publications, LTD BookViewCafe
Pink Petal Books Jupiter Gardens Press Humanist Press
Orca Book Publishers Demos Health Two Harbors Press
Copper Ridge Press Hunter House PublicAffairs
Portfolio Prufrock Press Glass House Press
Dog Ear Publishing

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Reminder: SantaThing Signup Closes November 29, 4 p.m.!

Quick reminder: signup for SantaThing 2012 closes at 4 p.m. EST tomorrow, Thursday November 29th!

Go here to sign up, or feel free to browse the list of Santas and make suggestions!

Also see the Talk thread where generous LTers are sponsoring others so that they can participate in SantaThing this year.

Labels: santathing

Monday, November 26th, 2012

November SOTT & author interviews

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 a reminder about SantaThing (signups continue through November 29, so head right over to the SantaThing page to join the fun!), as well as author interviews with Jon Ronson, Nancy Marie Brown, Jon Meacham, and Christopher Bonanos.

I talked to Jon Ronson about his new book Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, just out from Riverhead. Some excerpts:

For those who haven’t had a chance to read it yet, give us the nutshell version of Lost at Sea. What’s the thread that ties these twenty-two short pieces together?

These are funny, sad stories about people lost at sea, trying to make their way through the world. Sometimes they reach for crazy ideas to get them through, sometimes horrifying ideas, sometimes silly ideas, sometimes even inspiring ideas. I see this as an empathetic book about people spiraling out of control.

They sometimes feel like adventure stories. I get into some dangerous scrapes. Other times they feel like mystery stories: there are actual mysteries that need solving. Sometimes the mystery is, Why does this person believe this crazy stuff? Or, Why does this person act in this baffling way?

There’s a Christmas-themed town in Alaska where every day is Christmas and the kids have to be Santa’s elves. A bunch of them were recently arrested for being in the final stages of plotting a school shooting. There’s a real-life superhero who dresses in a supersuit of his making and breaks up gangs of armed crack dealers in the dead of night. I went along with him. It was terrifying. There’s a billionaire filtering her money into creating a robot version of her real-life partner that she’s convinced is about to burst into spontaneous life. I interviewed the robot. And so on.

How much follow-up do you do on your stories? Do you keep in touch with folks you’ve profiled? Once you’ve finished writing, do you move on to other projects?

I like to keep in touch—I’m never happier than when people from my stories appreciate how they’ve been portrayed. That doesn’t always happen. I’ve stayed in touch with maybe half the people in my books. Just today I corresponded with two of them: Phoenix Jones, the real-life superhero, and Mike Coriam, the father of Rebecca Coriam. Hers is the title story of the collection. Rebecca was a young woman who worked on the Disney Wonder, a cruise ship. She went missing on it one day—she just vanished. The Coriams have had no luck trying to find out what happened. They feel they’re hitting a brick wall. I went on a cruise on the ship to learn what I could.

If you could interview or profile one person you haven’t had the chance to talk to, who would it be? What would you want to ask?

Right now—and this is unusual for me, because I’m not so interested in writing about famous people—David Bowie. He seems to have retreated from the world. He’s barely been seen for six years. I would love to know why, and would like to ask him to reflect on his life.

Read the rest of our interview with Jon Ronson.

I also had the chance to talk with Nancy Marie Brown about her new book, Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths (Palgrave Macillan). A few teasers:

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien are probably first on that list. I also loved C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy. I’ve had a very pretty edition of Tennyson’s poems since sixth grade—but I’m afraid I like it more for its fake leather binding and slipcase than because the poems resonate. In high school I discovered Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (probably in Tolkien’s translation), and that was my entry into studying medieval literature.

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

My whole house is a library—my husband, Charles Fergus, is also a writer—so it depends which floor you are on. The basement holds our general fiction, poetry, fantasy, and science fiction collections. In my husband’s office is mostly nature and science. Upstairs is the general nonfiction collection and a small collection of children’s books and young adult novels, which I’m studying to learn how to write one. My office is taken over by Icelandic literature (both modern and medieval, in English and Icelandic) and books about Scandinavia, Vikings, folklore, medieval literature and scholarship, and travel (mostly to Iceland and northern Europe).

Read the rest of our interview with Nancy Marie Brown.

My third interview for November was with Jon Meacham, about his new biography Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, out this month from Random House.

As part of your research process, you spent a night in Jefferson’s bedroom at Monticello. Can you tell us about that experience? What insights did you gain from being there that helped you understand the man better?

I was struck by the play of light in his rooms. The sun strikes his chambers first, and he always woke at first light—a sign of his constant engagement with the
world, and of his endless energy.

You write in the Epilogue about Jefferson’s legacy, and about how he has, over time, “provided inspiration for radically different understandings of government and culture.” What is it about the Founders in general, and perhaps Jefferson in particular, which has lent itself to such wide-ranging interpretations? What do you see as some of the most common misconceptions of Jefferson’s philosophy or positions today?

Jefferson represents the best of us and the worst of us—our highest aspirations and our most disappointing failures. It’s easy, then, to find ourselves in a kind of
conversation with him as we look to the past for inspiration and for instruction. I think the most stubborn misconception about him is that he was solely a man of ideas. My view is that he was at once a philosopher and a political realist.

If you had the chance to interview Jefferson, but could only ask a single question, what would it be?

What is your greatest regret?

Read the rest of our interview with Jon Meacham.

Last but not least, I was able to chat with Christopher Bonanos about his book Instant: The Story of Polaroid (Princeton Architectural Press).

How did this book come about? What first got you interested in the story of Polaroid?

I was always a Polaroid shooter, from my teenage years, when I got a secondhand camera. (A Model 900, from 1959, marked $5, bargained down to $3.) And when Polaroid film was discontinued for good in 2008, I wrote a little magazine story that led me to the story of the company’s rise and fall and rebirth, and Land and his extraordinary invention. You find a good story with an amazing central character, and if you’re a writer, you start to think “that’s a book.”

Tell us about your research process: what sources did you find most useful? What was the most surprising thing you learned?

Polaroid’s archive contains a few million documents and photos, and during the company’s bankruptcy, the whole pile went to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. The person in charge of it, a librarian named Tim Mahoney, is going to spend his whole career on this one collection, it looks like, and the first tranche of it came open to researchers around the end of 2009. So in January 2010, I started logging a lot of time there. Also, the company’s museum collection (prototypes and such) went to the MIT Museum, where I also did quite a bit of digging. And then a lot of the extraordinarily smart people Land hired are still around, and I spoke to lots of them.

Surprising things I learned: Polaroid kept everything. EVERYTHING. In the company’s early days, Land had been involved in a patent dispute, and after that, each idea was disclosed, signed, witnessed, and dated. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like those files when you’re trying to figure out how an invention got off the ground.

Another big surprise: Land made a point of hiring woman scientists, which was highly unusual back then. He was friends with an art-history professor at Smith College who would recommend his smartest students, and Land would scoop them up every year. A lot of them were, as you’d expect, art-history majors, and he’d send them off for some chemistry classes and build his own scientists that way. It was an end run around the usual pool of graduating talent, and it also made those women extremely loyal. A lot of them stayed at Polaroid for decades.

You’re something of a Polaroid enthusiast yourself, I understand? How long have you been using Polaroid cameras? Are you still using them today?

I started shooting as a kid, though that camera is no longer useful: it uses a film format that’s out of production. But I do carry another camera (Model 180, for the cultists) with me every day, and I try to shoot my son at least two or three times a week. I’ve been keeping an album since he was born, and I have to assume he’s one of the very last kids who will be documented that way. (I take plenty of digital photos of him, too, of course.)

Read the rest of our interview with Christopher Bonanos.


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