Links for April 28

  • The Times Online has an essay about modern classics editions:
  • Today we have heaps of choice and plenty of publishers telling us what we should be reading. As the Oxford World’s Classics series is relaunched this month, its rivals include Penguin and Vintage, as well as enterprises from smaller presses such as Everyman, Wordsworth and Oneworld.

    The present “classics” industry dates back at least to 1906, when Joseph Dent hit on the idea of publishing 1,000 titles by the “best authors” at the (relatively) cheap price of one shilling. This was the Everyman Library. At the beginning of the 20th century there were many new “common readers” as a result of the Elementary Education Act passed in the 1870, and they wanted to own their books. Add to that the establishment of English Literature as a subject in the universities and you had the magic equation – readers wanting books, professors wanting to pontificate on what to read, and booksellers wanting to sell.

If that’s not enough classics for you, they have one more but less interesting piece.

I admit that I’m a fan of the classics genre, as I said in a post about the dubious winners of those tedious year-end prizes. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been reading To The Lighthouse (more on that shortly, as well as a post on James Wood’s How Fiction Works); Woolf’s novel is one of those that makes me sit up and go “Ah! This is the real thing.”

  • Not long ago the New York Times ran a great essay called It’s Not You, It’s Your Books, and that topic arose independently of the article at a party last night. This week, Rachel Donadio strikes again with You’re an Author? Me Too!:

    It’s well established that Americans are reading fewer books than they used to. A recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts found that 53 percent of Americans surveyed hadn’t read a book in the previous year — a state of affairs that has prompted much soul-searching by anyone with an affection for (or business interest in) turning pages. But even as more people choose the phantasmagoria of the screen over the contemplative pleasures of the page, there’s a parallel phenomenon sweeping the country: collective graphomania.

    In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and “workshop” their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day (with a lucky few bloggers getting book deals). And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly “for personal fulfillment.”

  • Riots, Terrorism etc (no complaints about the punctuation—it’s from the London Review of Books) isn’t except for the lede: “‘Important’ is a cant word in book reviewing: it usually means something like ‘slightly above average’, or ‘I was at university with her,’ or ‘I couldn’t be bothered to read it so I’m giving a quote instead.’ Very occasionally it might be stretched to mean ‘a book likely to be referred to in the future by other people who write about the same subject’.” Alas, the rest of it appears to be on the subject of how the British newspaper industry is doing as poorly as the American one. See here for more on the subject.
  • For pure amusement, check out What is the polite word for “pimp”? in Language Log. The title makes sense in the context of the article, and I won’t give away the joke here.
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