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

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
Charlesbridge

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

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

January 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.

We had a whole host of author interviews this month:

I talked to Shalom Auslander about his first novel, Hope: A Tragedy, out this month from Riverhead Books.

Which of these characters came to you first? Which was the most fun to create?

Kugel, the main character, came first; I liked the idea of a character whose tragic flaw was hope, the very thing we’re supposed to never give up or go without. And yet here was a person, it seemed, whose hope was getting him hurt, who might be better off if he gave up and just accepted things as they are, i.e. crappy. Mother, though, was the most fun to create. She is eternally hopeless and finds glory in suffering and pain in joy; I was given birth to by people just like that. Also, she moans about being in the Holocaust, which she never was, and that makes me laugh.

Read the rest of our interview with Shalom Auslander.

I also talked to Theodora Goss about her latest book, The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story, published this month by Quirk Books. You may want to watch the book trailer to get a sense of the book’s interesting design.

How did you come up with the idea to have the book designed this way, as a “two-sided love story”? Can you describe the design process bit for us?

I actually didn’t come up with the idea of the two-sided design myself. My wonderful editor, Stephen Segal, came up with it and called me to ask if I could write a story that would fit the format. It was quite a challenge! We didn’t want a story that would simply have two sides to it—that wouldn’t really be using the format. We wanted a story that could only be told in this way, that would use the format as part of the reading experience. And I think when you read the book, you’ll find that it does. You can only understand the story, particularly the conclusion, by reading both sides.

But I was the one who decided that it should be a love story (after all, what other kind of story is so particularly two-sided?), and who came up with the story of Brendan and Evelyn. And after I had come up with it, the basic plot and the characters, then the characters started talking to me, as they do anytime you write a story. They started telling me what they wanted to say and do.

I should also mention the wonderful artist, Scott McKowen, who captured the feel of the story so perfectly. I can’t think of a better way to present this book than the way Scott has presented it, with the gorgeous slipcase and the illustrations inside. I think in the end, the book was a collaborative effort between the three of us. And once it’s read, the readers will become a part of the collaboration as well, because this story isn’t just on the pages. In a sense, it exists between the two sides, and that’s the story the readers will have to put together themselves.

Read the rest of our interview with Theodora Goss.

My third interview this month was with Susan Goodman, the H. Brown Fletcher Chair of Humanities at the University of Delaware, and the author of Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925, recently published by the University Press of New England.

The Atlantic Monthly’s founders laid out quite an ambitious goal for themselves in 1857, “to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea.” How did they manage to make a success of their magazine when so many similar ventures did not last?

As the country’s most intellectual and literary city, Boston brought together men and women who from the beginning of the magazine made it a powerful voice in American politics as well as the arts. Its success depended on a loyal group of contributors, informed and curious readers, often intent on self-improvement, and good management. Luck also played a part. The first issue, for example, contained Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Brahma”, which provoked a craze of parodies and made readers eager for the next issue.

Read the rest of our interview with Susan Goodman.

I also chatted with Jay Wexler about his new book The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions, published by Beacon Press.

You write in the introduction that you first got the idea for writing a book about the Constitution’s “odd clauses” while you were working in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Clinton administration. Do you recall a particularly odd question the OLC was called upon to advise on while you were there?

There were all sorts of odd questions, but the one I spent most of my time on had to do with whether the President had the authority to create a national monument in the middle of the ocean. President Clinton was interested in creating a giant national monument in Hawaii to protect coral reefs, but it’s not immediately clear that the relevant statute giving the President the authority to create monuments (it’s called the Antiquities Act) gives him the authority to make monuments in the ocean. The question required a good bit of statutory analysis as well as analysis of the proper scope of the so-called “Property Clause” of Article IV of the Constitution. The legal opinion that came out of all that work is here. As it turned out, it was President Bush, not Clinton, who ultimately made the Hawaii monument.

Read the rest of our interview with Jay Wexler.

And, last but not least, we have an interview with Susan Cain. Her first book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, published this month by Crown.

You describe in your opening chapters the rise of what you call the Extrovert Ideal. Give us the nutshell version: what is this, and how did it come to be such a powerful force in American culture?

The Extrovert Ideal says that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.

In my book, I trace how we shifted from a “Culture of Character” into a “Culture of Personality” at the turn of the 20th century. Big business, the media, the self-help industry, and advertising all went through radical changes that had the effect of glamorizing bold and entertaining personality styles. I also tell the surprising life story of Dale Carnegie, who morphed from shy, awkward farm boy into bestselling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, and is a fascinating example of this cultural transformation.

And I talk about why the Culture of Personality is not a great model for the 21st century.

Read the rest of our interview with Susan Cain.

Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

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Labels: author interview, authors, state of the thing

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Announcing the February “Dickens of a” ReadaThing!

Mark your calendars! Coming up is a weeklong February ReadaThing, and with the bicentennial of Charles Dickens‘ birth on February 7 occurring right in the middle, we thought it would be fun to include a voluntary “Dickens of a ReadaThing” option this time. All are welcome: you don’t have to read Dickens if you don’t want to, and of course 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.

The official start time will be at 1 p.m. on Friday, February 3rd in New Zealand: midnight GMT and 7 p.m. Thursday, February 2nd, in the Eastern US/Canada time zone. This ReadaThing will run for a full week!

For more information, see the announcement thread; to sign up, head right to the ReadaThing wiki. As we get closer to the date, consider posting your reading selection in the “What will you be reading?” thread, 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.

Edward Pettit is spending the entire year reading books by and about Dickens, and charting his course at Reading Charles Dickens, so I asked him to weigh in on his experiences and offer some suggestions of Dickens-related books LibraryThing members might want to consider reading:

“For the Charles Dickens Bicentennial in 2012, I’ve decided to become a Charles Dickens Ambassador. First, I’m finishing a reading project I began on Sept 15, 2011 to read all of Dickens’ published work in just one year. Having read only a few of Dickens’ novels over the years (including A Christmas Carol a dozen times), I had always hoped to get to the rest of them, but never seemed to find the time, so what better time than the Dickens Bicentennial. And as reading is such a solitary activity, I thought I’d invite everyone along for the ride, so you can read (and comment) about my Dickens endeavours online.

Second, you can also join me at The Free Library of Philadelphia for events every month of the year as the FLP opens its amazing Dickens collection to the world in several exhibitions. We’re hosting literary salons, speakers, performers. We’ll follow Dickens’ foosteps on his visit to Philadelphia in 1842. We’ll even have some Drinking with Dickens events in local bars to imbibe the many Victorian beverages featured in the novels.

To further my duties as a Charles Dickens Ambassador, I also carry around a bag full of Dickens novels, which I freely give to anyone who asks for a copy. So join me in 2012. Become a CD Ambassador. Spread the joy of reading Dickens.

If I could recommend a starter Dickens work, it would be A Christmas Carol. It doesn’t need to be Christmas time to read this extraordinary tale of ghosts and transformation. I am moved by it every time I read it (and my kids are still scared to death of Marley’s ghost).

Or you could try The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Dickens’ first novel (and first serial). This book is a pleasure to read with vibrant characters, especially Mr Pickwick and his manservant Sam Weller. The novel is not just funny, but there’s also a kind of innate joy and goodwill that rises out of its pages. I never wanted to leave this Pickwickian world.”

Ed (EdwardGPettit on LT) will be around during the ReadaThing as well, so look for more suggestions and recommendations from him as we get closer to the ReadaThing dates.

I’m already looking forward to this ReadaThing: I haven’t picked what I’ll be reading yet, but it’ll probably be some Dickens (maybe American Notes), along with whatever else I happen to be reading that week.

Reminder: For more information on the ReadaThing or to sign up, see the announcement thread. Have fun, and happy reading!

Labels: readathon, reading

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Try the 2012 75 Books Challenge!

If you’re looking for a fun way to get more involved with LibraryThing, you might consider joining the 75 Books Challenge for 2012, one of the site’s most active (and entertaining) groups. Members take a stab at reading 75 books in 2012 (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 (like Journeying January, group reads (like the SteinbeckaThon or Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa), meetups (D.C. and New York City meetups are planned for the spring, and a group met in Denver just this weekend).

The 75 Books Challenge has been going on for a few years now (I think this may be the fifth year), and it gets more and more interesting every time. I’ve joined the fray for the first time this year (you can see my reading thread here), and I’m already finding it lots of fun … not to mention the fact that my wishlist continues to grow as I see what others are reading!

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

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

Labels: groups, reading

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

January Early Reviewer Batch is up!

The January 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 86 books this month, and a grand total of 2,069 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 30th 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, Australia, 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 Ballantine Books Monarch Books
Multnomah Books WaterBrook Press Hyperion and Voice
Tundra Books Riverhead Books Putnam Books
McFarland Beacon Press Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
MSI Press Second Story Press Faber and Faber
William Morrow Palgrave Macmillan Linden House Publishing
O’Reilly Media Wakestone Press Nilgiri Press
Candlemark & Gleam Jupiter Gardens Press Crossed Genres Publications
Random House Trade Paperbacks Jupiter Storm Rovira i Virgili University Press
Akashic Books Upper Rubber Boot Books St. Martin’s Griffin
BookViewCafe Random House The Permanent Press
Orca Book Publishers Human Kinetics JournalStone
Bellevue Literary Press Capricho Press Bell Bridge Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

CueCats, T-Shirts, Stamps, Gift Memberships on Sale!

Through December 25 we’re offering sale prices on all our LT goodies:

Gift memberships are $5 for a year or $15 for life.

CueCats are $12.

T-Shirts are $12.95.

Our “Catalogued at LibraryThing” stamp is $12.95.

Stickers are $1.50.

Shipping’s not included in these prices.

Get your orders in now: USPS first-class orders must be received by Monday morning, December 20 to be delivered before Christmas.

Labels: cuecat, sale, stickers, teeshirts