Thursday, October 25th, 2012

New feature: your list statistics

LibraryThing Lists is still a “semi-released” feature, but we’ve added a simple statistics feature to show you where your books match up with lists created so far:

If you’re signed in, you can find List statistics here:
http://www.librarything.com/profile/MEMBERNAME/stats/lists

If you’re not signed in, here’s Tim’s:
http://www.librarything.com/profile/timspalding/stats/lists

You can find lists (and create your own!) here:
http://www.librarything.com/lists

Here’s a look at the by-list view:

And in the by-work view:

Come discuss the feature here.

Labels: new feature, new features, statistics

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

October 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 author interviews with David Quammen, Rachel Hartman, Karen Engelmann, and Jaime Manrique, plus some activity ideas from the co-authors of Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun.

I had the great pleasure of talking to David Quammen about his new book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (W.W. Norton & Company). Some excerpts:

Before we get too far, can you give us the nutshell explanation of zoonosis and spillover, for those who haven’t yet had a chance to read the book? What sorts of diseases are we talking about here?

Zoonosis is an animal infection transmissible to humans. It can be a virus, a bacterium, a protozoan, a number of other infectious bugs. It doesn’t necessarily cause disease in humans, but if it does cause symptoms once it gets into humans, then we call it a zoonotic disease. Spillover is the label for the moment when any sort of an infectious pathogen passes from one species into another, but we particularly think of it in terms of animal infections passing into humans.

That includes a whole rogue’s list of the best-known diseases, and also some little-known things: it includes 60% of the infectious diseases that we know, under the strict definition of zoonosis. That runs from West Nile and hantavirus, Lyme Disease, all the influenzas, Ebola, Marburg, a couple of exotic little-known things called Nipah virus from Bangladesh, and Hendra virus from Australia. Also SARS, which came out of southern China, and of course HIV, the AIDS pandemic, also began with a zoonotic spillover.

Was there a particular author who inspired you as a writer?

There’s one author who influenced me hugely, by far my largest literary influence and it’s probably going to seem counter-intuitive, but that’s William Faulkner. I started as a fiction writer, and before I was a fiction writer I was a fiction reader. I started reading Faulkner when I was a freshman in college, and became obsessed with him (like a lot of people do because he’s such a great writer). I did my graduate work on structure in Faulkner’s novels, and then I started my writing career publishing novels myself. I discovered that I wasn’t really meant to be a novelist and I turned into a non-fiction writer. But even now, when I spend six years or eight years researching a non-fiction subject, a big sprawling topic like zoonotic diseases or island biogeography, and then the time comes to put that together into a 500-page book, or a 600-page book, what I learned from closely, closely examining and pondering the structure of Faulkner’s novels serves me very, very well.

Read the rest of our interview with David Quammen.

I also had the chance to talk with Rachel Hartman about her first fantasy novel Seraphina (Random House). A few teasers:

Your dragons are quite different from those created by other authors; tell us a bit about them, and how you came up with the idea to portray them as you have.

My dragons can take human form, but they rigidly suppress their human emotions, which they find distastefully overwhelming and undragonlike. They’ve been called “scaly Vulcans” by some reviewers: not a perfect analogy, but close enough to give the right idea.

The idea of dragons struggling with being human came to me a few years ago when I learned about a condition called Sensory Processing Disorder. Our brains filter out sensory information so we aren’t overwhelmed by it, and different people’s filters work differently well. It occurred to me that dragons in dragon form would be accustomed to one set of senses: excellent eyesight and smell, indifferent hearing, poor touch and taste. What would it be like to go from those senses to ours, to taste sweetness for the first time or feel with our sensitive skin? From contemplating their senses, it wasn’t much of a stretch to start thinking about emotions. Would dragons in their natural state even have emotions? In my conception, it’s not that they don’t have them at all but that they’re very reflexive and physical. “Fight or flight” is as close as they get to anger and fear, but surely the softer emotions are a messy mammalian thing, for parent-child bonding and social cohesion.

We aren’t born knowing what to do with emotions; I’ve learned this from raising a child. How well are dragons going to be able to cope? They would need some rules for how to keep themselves from being overwhelmed. In my world, they’ve taken a pretty repressive—draconian, even—approach to maintaining their essential dragon-ness. Dragons who “lose” themselves to emotion are sent home and lobotomized. It’s harsh, but they think it’s necessary.

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

I have a large collection of books on various Medieval subjects: architecture, costume, musical instruments, military history, women’s history, material culture. The jewel of my collection is a three-volume work, The Plan of St. Gall, about a Medieval monastery that was designed but never built. I also have a lot of graphic novels, shelves of classical Greek (which I studied for four years in college), and all my favourite fiction. My husband’s books overlap with mine, so there’s philosophy, science, and many books in Irish.

Read the rest of our interview with Rachel Hartman.

My third interview for October was with Karen Engelmann. We talked about her really enjoyable debut novel, The Stockholm Octavo (Ecco):

Folding fans and the “language of fans” play a key role in the plot. Is this a particular passion of yours? Of all the fans you describe so vividly in the story, do you have a favorite?

My mother gets the credit for inspiring the folding fans. She had a modest collection, but they were magical to me, especially as a child. Much later, I visited an exhibition of rare fans in a museum in Sweden, and was taken by their beauty, mystery and opulence. When I decided to write a novel set in late 18th-century Europe that had female characters in central roles, I knew folding fans would play an important part. Women used every available means at their disposal to survive in the man’s world of the period, and the use of folding fans as a means of communication was an aspect too delicious to ignore. Of the fans in the book, I would want to possess the Chinese Princess, the fan that Mrs. Sparrow throws on the table as a bet in the card game against The Uzanne. The Princess is a child’s fan made of pierced ivory, so she is small and sturdy enough to carry around in my purse, and has a red silk tassel for some added pizzazz.

What was your research process like for the book? You lived in Sweden for a time, right? Any particularly useful sources you’d recommend to your readers?

Living in Sweden for nine years gave me the sensory information, the language skills, and the interest in Swedish history that inspired the novel. The actual research was challenging, since the best material on Gustav and Stockholm is written in Swedish and so required more time and concentration. I have two good friends who provided invaluable help, sending stacks of books (including a Swedish dictionary that must weigh 15 pounds). There is a bibliography on my website for interested readers (both Swedish and English sources) and I would love to see the Swedish volumes translated into English. One cautionary note for writers: the amount of available material can be overwhelming. If you are fascinated by a topic, it can be hard to know when to stop and the story and characters never emerge. Plus, writers want to stuff everything they’ve learned into the narrative and this can kill the story. About 100 pages of my manuscript were cut and most of it was factoids. Listen to your editors!

Read the rest of our interview with Karen Engelmann.

I was very pleased to be able to chat with Jaime Manrique about his latest novel, Cervantes Street (Akashic Books), a biographical novel about Miguel de Cervantes.

Do you recall how the idea for this book originated, or which part came to you first?

One afternoon, about 15 years ago, I was in bed with the flu and in a cable channel I saw a program about Cervantes. Although I had read Don Quixote a couple of times over the years, I knew very little about its author—other than he had lost the use of his left arm fighting in the Battle of Lepanto. When I found out about his captivity in Algiers for five and half years, that later in life he had been in jail twice, that in his 20s he fled Madrid because he wounded a man in a tavern brawl, and the punishment was exile for ten years and the lost of his right hand, I was blown away. It was a life that only a writer of adventure stories could have made up. At that moment, I determined to learn more about this man—about whom little else is known, anyway.

Most folks probably know Cervantes for Don Quixote; tell us about his other works, and which of them would you recommend to contemporary readers?

Unlike Shakespeare who wrote many great plays, Cervantes wrote only one great novel. His other full-length novels are kind of unreadable; his verse is undistinguished. However, the plays that survive are interesting and have splendid moments and beautiful language, and the short ones are marvelous comic inventions. Among the Exemplary Novels are a couple of dazzling jewels. I’m very fond of the Colloquium of the Dogs—which though a bit long-winded is a marvelously unique and inspired short novel.

Read the rest of our interview with Jaime Manrique.

And last but not least, there’s a neat book out this month from Bloomsbury, Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun. I asked the co-authors, Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Joshua Glenn, to share the activities from the book which their families have enjoyed.

Elizabeth recommends:

Yarn bombing: My kids and I used yarn that was sitting in my knitting bag to create a brightly striped rectangle that we turned into a legwarmer for a banister in a particularly grey part of our hometown. To make it even more fun, we waited until it was well past bedtime and dressed up in dark clothes and headlamps to install it. A creative way to add a pop of color to industrial landscapes.

Explode things: Everyone has tried the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. My kids and I went one step better by chewing a Mento until it was soft enough to cram in the cap of a one liter bottle. Then we put the cap back on, turned the bottle upside down, and threw it onto the street. Then we ran like heck in the other direction while the bottle rocketed more than 25 yards down the street. Watch on YouTube.

Cigar box guitar: A cigar store gave my husband and kids a wooden cigar box with a gorgeous label. They worked together to build a four-string guitar that he uses to play Rolling Stones songs. A challenging but fun activity that is both useful and beautiful to look at. See video of the guitar in action.

And from Josh:

Making LED graffiti: Taking inspiration from the Graffiti Research Lab (a guerrilla street-art outfit), I rounded up a bag of 10mm diffused superbright LEDs, a fistful of 3V lithium batteries, and a stack of disc-shaped rare earth magnets, and handed it all over to my sons and their three girl cousins. They taped these together, thus creating beautiful “glowies” and—even better—”throwies.” Check them out!

Misusing the Foursquare app: The location-based social networking Foursquare is intended for use by 20-somethings interested in friend-finding and nightlife-bragging. But my family enjoys using it to transform our city—and everywhere else—into a game. It’s an app that doesn’t just ask you to stare at a screen; instead, it encourages you to discover new places … some hiding in plain sight.

See more videos and photos from Unbored at www.unbored.net, or download a PDF of these selected activities. Thanks to Elizabeth and Josh for sharing some of their favorite ideas from the book!


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, October 9th, 2012

October LTER batch is up!

The October 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 88 books this month, and a grand total of 2,268 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, October 29th 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, 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!

Taylor Trade Publishing Archipelago Books Quirk Books
Plume Tundra Books Ballantine Books
Bantam Candlewick Press Galaxy Audio
T.S. Welti Galaxy Press Bethany House
Riverhead Books Pintail Thunder Lake Press
Spiegel & Grau Prufrock Press Elephant Rock Books
Gray & Company, Publishers Putnam Books Empowerment Nation
The Permanent Press Booksmyth Press Kensington Publishing
Dafina Human Kinetics Firbolg Publishing
Direct Hits Publishing Gotham Books William Morrow
BookViewCafe Random House Palgrave Macmillan
HighBridge Talonbooks Henry Holt and Company
Open Books WoodstockArts JournalStone
Red Adept Publishing HarperCollins Kirkdale Press
Sunrise River Press McFarland OIC Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

“The Casual Vacancy” Review Contest

J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, hits shelves (and mailboxes) today, and I’m going to bet it doesn’t take very long at all before the LibraryThing reviews start appearing.

We figured it was a good time to have another review contest! We did this before when Breaking Dawn and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, and it was great fun.

The prizes:

That’s right, there will be FIFTY winners.

How the winners will be chosen:

  • The top three reviews—with the most thumbs-up—will get the big prize. The next seven will get the next prize.
  • The remaining forty winners will be randomly picked from all members who both wrote a review and voted for others’ reviews.

So, when you finish reading, get writing! When you’re done writing, take some time to read other reviews, and give the thumbs-up to the ones you think deserve it.

The contest ends on Friday, October 19th Tuesday, October 30th. Have fun!

We’re also assembling the published reviews for The Casual Vacancy as they roll in. See this thread for discussion. Warning: don’t read these reviews if you don’t want to see spoilers.

Fine Print: The review you post must be your review (as per the Terms of Use). LibraryThing staff and family can enter, but can only be honored as prize-less runners-up.

Labels: contest, contests, reviews

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Spine Poetry Contest Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered our Book Spine Poetry Contest! We were happily overwhelmed at the number of entries we received (373 total!), and all of the judges agreed that it was very difficult to choose just a few winners. You can check out all of the entries in the gallery. Click on the images in this post to see the full-size versions.

Without further ado ….

We’ve decided to award two grand prize awards: the first goes to HouseholdOpera for “Dark and Stormy Night” (pictured at left). The poem reads “The dark is rising / under Milk Wood. / A wave / travels / the forest, / tempest-tost.”

The second grand prize goes to klx, for the only poem that made almost all of us laugh out loud when we read it (pictured at right). Here’s the poem as captioned by the author: “My goat ate its own legs, / Weird by true, / A moveable feast. / The idiot.”

Along with the honor and fame, HouseholdOpera and klx have both won an LT t-shirt, stamp, and sticker, plus a CueCat and three lifetime gift memberships to LibraryThing!

We picked two runners-up: both will win their choice of an LT t-shirt, stamp, or CueCat, plus two lifetime gift memberships. The runners-up are trippingpencil, for “Feed / the white tiger / or she dies, / Asshole. / How good do we have to be?” (at left) and opheliaskiss, for “The Bookseller” (at right).

We also chose a few Honorable Mention winners; each will receive a lifetime gift membership. These are:

  • eelee for Cameras
  • jorlene for Such a long journey …
  • Sylak for The Library / Thing of Beauty (which, the author writes, “will never be broken up by me and now sits in pride of place at the top of my bookshelf for visitors to admire”)
  • Rating an Honorable Mention (but not winning another prize) is HouseholdOpera for Steampunk Internet.

    I’ll be contacting the winners today to claim their prizes. And let me just reiterate how really difficult choosing the winners was: we had a great range of really amazing material to work with!

    Congratulations to our winners, and a big thanks again to all the entrants and to our special guest judge, Nina Katchadourian! Watch for a collection of Nina’s Sorted Books projects, coming in 2013 from Chronicle Books. And stay tuned; this was a good success, so I think we’ll do it again next year!

    Labels: book pile, contest, contests

    Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

    Flash-mob: Help catalog Rudyard Kipling’s library!

    As part of our Legacy Library 5th-birthday celebrations, we’re kicking of a flash-mob cataloging party for the library of Rudyard Kipling. We’ll be working from the shelf-list of Kipling’s library at his home, Bateman’s.

    Kipling (1865-1936), is well known for his fiction and poems, and he accumulated quite a neat library, judging by a somewhat cursory glance at the inventory. It’ll be fascinating to see what it looks like when all the books are in LT.

    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.

    [UPDATE: We’re done! Thanks to the eighteen volunteers who helped out!]

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

    Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

    September LTER batch is up!

    The September 2012 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 77 books this month, and a grand total of 2,011 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, October 1st 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 Archipelago Books Tundra Books
    Henry Holt and Company Monarch Books Riverhead Books
    Putnam Books Mulholland Books William Morrow
    Light Messages WaterBrook Press Random House
    Demos Health Plume Wilderness House Press
    Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Ballantine Books Two Harbors Press
    The Permanent Press Coelacanth Books Bethany House
    Random House Trade Paperbacks Blue Steel Press Gotham Books
    Greenleaf Book Group Bitingduck Press Spiegel & Grau
    MSI Press Crown Publishing HighBridge
    Human Kinetics Unbridled Books Gray & Company, Publishers
    BookViewCafe Clarion Publishing Exterminating Angel Press
    f/64 Publishing Palgrave Macmillan Bridgeross Communications
    Bloomsbury Savage Press Small Beer Press
    P.R.A. Publishing Prufrock Press Bellevue Literary Press
    Eerdmans Books for Young Readers JournalStone

    Labels: early reviewers, LTER

    Monday, September 3rd, 2012

    Legacy Libraries, Five Years On …

    Five years ago today we launched the Legacy Libraries group (formerly and affectionately known as “I See Dead People[‘s Books]”. The project, now with its own homepage, has grown far beyond what we originally intended when a small group of volunteers started cataloging Thomas Jefferson’s library. Some numbers:

  • 157: Legacy Libraries completed to date, with 60 more currently in progress (the full list)
  • 19: libraries of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence cataloged so far
  • 16: libraries of Mayflower passengers documented
  • 8: libraries of actors added or suggested
  • 1,401: Libraries of Early America on which data has been collected to date
  • 153,232: books added to Legacy Library catalogs so far
  • 8: flash-mob catalog projects, including Frederick Douglass and the H.M.S. Beagle (see below for the next one!)
  • 433: members of the Legacy Libraries group
  • ~160: members who have contributed to at least one Legacy Library
  • 59: Legacy Library catalogs which contain a copy of the works of Shakespeare

    To mark the occasion of the fifth birthday, some announcements:

    Badges! All LibraryThing members who’ve helped with a Legacy Library should now find on their profile page a new “award,” which we’ve named the Legacy Lagniappe. If you don’t have one and should, email me (jeremy@librarything.com) with your LT username and the Legacy catalog you worked on (some of the early records are a bit hazy). We’re glad to finally be able to recognize those members who’ve helped out, at least in some small way. The project wouldn’t be what it is without your contributions and your help! I’ve also been working on trying to connect a few LT libraries which should probably be brought into the Legacies fold, so if you were involved with one of those, please be in touch.

    - Boswell Completed. One huge project has recently reached completion: the library of James Boswell, underway since early October 2008, now contains 5,047 titles! Congratulations and thanks to LTers moibibliomaniac, larxol, and aynar. Jerry Morris (moibibliomaniac) sent along this note:

    “When, after thirteen long months of cataloging, Boswell cataloging team member larxol declared the cataloging of the library of James Boswell complete in November 2009, he included the following proviso:
    ‘… “complete,” in the sense that all the books we know about at this time have an entry.’

    Little did he know …

    In Feb 2010, James Caudle, the Associate Editor Yale Editions of the Papers of James Boswell, read my announcement in a recent issue of The Johnsonian News Letter that both the Samuel Johnson and James Boswell Libraries could be viewed online at Library Thing. He congratulated us for our efforts and offered his assistance in the form of additional catalogues and lists we and probably most of the rest of the world were unaware of.

    In May 2010, we began the cataloging of the 1893 Auchinleck Sale (books owned by generations of Boswells), to be followed in rabid, if not rapid, succession with the cataloging of the 1916 Sotheby Sale, the 1917 Dowell Sale, the 1810 Catalogue of Greek and Latin Classics (written by Alexander Boswell), the c.1770 Catalogue of Books Belonging to James Boswell (written by James Boswell himself), and finally, Boswell’s Curious Productions, a catalogue of chapbooks belonging to James Boswell.

    Thanks go to the Boswell cataloging team: larxol, aynar, and myself (moibibliomaniac); to James Caudle; to Yale undergraduates Jing fen-Su (c.1770 catalogue) and Jacob Sider Jost (Curious Productions); to Boswell researcher Terry Seymour; to Boswell collector Paul T. Ruxin; to James Boswell himself; and to Library Thing and its Legacy Libraries for making these least four years enlightening and enjoyable.”

    A Selected Catalogue. In 1793, the librarian at Harvard College, Thaddeus Mason Harris, published a pamphlet titled A Seleced [sic] Catalogue of some of the most esteemed Publications in the English Language. Proper to form a Social Library: with an introduction upon the choice of Books (Printed at Boston, by I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, Faust’s Statue, No. 45, Newbury Street, 1793). Harris wrote in the introduction of his choices:

    “As it has been my endeavour to form a catalogue for a small and cheap library, intended to suit the tastes and circumstances of common readers, many valuable works, in the higher departments of science, have been intentionally omitted. And imperfect as the list may be found, in other respects, yet I trust it will appear that there are sufficient under each head to give a satisfactory and comprehensive (though in some instances very short) view of that particular department of knowledge.”

    This weekend I added Harris’ catalog to LT: see it at SocialLibrary1793. How does your library stack up to the Harvard Librarian’s recommendations from more than two centuries ago? See my overlap (17 titles), or yours (if you’re logged in).

    Coming soon: Kipling Flash-mob! We’ve got a great list of books from Rudyard Kipling’s library, and this week we’ll be starting a flash-mob to catalog them into LibraryThing. Watch the blog for an announcement about details tomorrow or Wednesday, and save some time to join in!

    Finally, from me, a big and very heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who’s helped out with these projects over the last five years, and to Tim for taking an interest and letting us run with the idea way back then! We’ve got a lot more work to do, but it’s great fun, so if you’re interested in helping out with a current project, know of another library we ought to add, or want to begin a project of your own, please be in touch (jeremy@librarything.com, jbd1 on LT, or @JBD1 on Twitter). Here’s to many more years of this important, endlessly-fascinating project!

    If you want to discuss the state of the Legacy Libraries at five years, head over to the Talk thread.

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

    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