Category Archives: books (considered as such)

caveat emptor

 

 

I have learned to abhor so called print on demand booksellers.

They are sort of like cockroaches. If you are looking for a book online — from Amazon.com, or a bookstore/bookseller with a web page — and, say, you enter a search term such as “Theodore Dreiser” or “Sister Carrie,” you will get far more hits than you need or want.

Many of them are for on demand publishers. For instance:

Lightning Source Inc.

Forgotten Books

Trieste Publishing

Andesite Press

I was recently fooled, as it were, by seeing the name Trieste Publishing for a bookseller. I ordered a hard to find book of essays by William Hazlitt from them.

Trieste Publishing sounded like a bona fide publishing house, not an on demand publisher.

The book arrived in no time. It was what in booksellers’ parlance is termed an ex-libris copy, an ugly photocopied book from a public library with marks and stamps on it.

Some time ago, I ordered the lengthy novel by David Graham Phillips Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise. It was out of print. It was sold by Indypublish.Com. It came in two volumes with a plain dark blue cover. There were no words on the cover.

The title page simply read Susan Lenox Her Rise and Fall.

They couldn’t even get that right. The novel’s title is actually Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise. If you read the novel, you will see that the difference in titles makes a big difference.

 

 

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Here are some more ludicrous examples.

 

The cover of Theodore Dreiser’s novel The “Genius,” published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 

book cover, The 'Genius' (Create Space).jpg

 

I was astonished to see the cover of this edition. How could they have a portrait of Albert Einstein on the cover? Dreiser’s novel was based loosely on the life of Greenwich Village artist Everett Shinn, who in no way resembled Einstein appearance wise, and of course was from a totally different world, so to speak. The “publishers” did not bother to ascertain what the novel is about.

 

The cover of Theodore Dreiser’s novel The Financier (which is based on the life of the American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes), sold by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 

book cover, 'The Financier' (Create Space).jpg

 

 

The financier, Yerkes, died in 1905. He was active in the late nineteenth century in places such as Chicago. Dreiser knew of him. In the CreateSpace cover illustration, he is dressed in garb appropriate for Benjamin Franklin.

 

 

The cover of an edition of Theodore Dreiser’s Plays of the Natural and Supernatural, sold by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 

 

book cover, 'Plays of the Natural and Supernatural' (Create Space)

 

 

The cover of an edition of Theodore Dreiser’s play The Hand of the Potter, sold by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 

 

book cover, 'The Hand of the Potter' (Create Space).jpg

 

 

 

The illustrations look like they could have been done by Bruegel or an Italian Renaissance painter.

 

 

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It’s disturbing, to me, to see books being marketed by firms that have entirely no knowledge of books or their content. A related problem which concerns me is that such sellers clutter up the online market for books, so that one can’t find which editions are in print that are worth purchasing.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

Montaigne on books

 

“… I take pleasure from the fact that I can enjoy [books] when it pleases me to do so; my soul is satisfied merely with possession. I never travel without books, neither in peace nor in war.  Sometimes whole days go by, even months, without my looking at them. But it might be at any moment now, or tomorrow; or whenever the mood takes me. . . . Books are, I find, the best provisions a man can take with him on life’s journey.” — Michel de Montaigne

 

 

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Exactly my sentiments!

Except ….

I have learned from experience not to take books with me on actual trips. (Note Montaigne’s reference to “life’s journey,” which is something entirely different.) Extra baggage. And, I am in such an excited state mentally when traveling that I never read them (during a trip).

I do return lugging hard to find books (e.g., Juan Ramón Jiménez in Spain), increasing by a large measure the weight of my baggage.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 2017

 

footnotes

 

 

 

I have been a reader all my life and take great pleasure in it.

I am not an academic, yet I like to challenge myself by reading books on all sorts of topics. As well as trying to read the classics, I don’t shy away from reading scholarly tomes.

For example, being a lover of Walt Whitman, and always intending to read more of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I have begun reading a book by a well known English professor which discusses the influence the two had on one another.

I desire to read books in their traditional printed form, not on line. I love having the book in my hands and turning the pages. I appreciate the physical appearance of books and enjoy owing them. I tend to prefer hardbacks over paperbacks. This is especially true of hefty volumes. I find the pages easier to turn.

I have a pet peeve. It involves footnotes. Sometimes, they are boring and not essential from the reader’s point of view. But, often – usually — they are worth at least checking, and quite often, indeed, they contain valuable information. In the case of the work of some scholars, the footnotes can often be as informative as the main body of the text itself. This is true, for example, of the works of the Samuel Johnson scholar Thomas M. Curley, whose works should be better known (but never will be).

So, I ask, why are footnotes buried at the back of the book? Why do publishing practices require or mandate this?

I write scholarly essays for a separate web site of mine which is devoted to the writer Theodore Dreiser. I compose the essays using Microsoft Word. I try to document my findings using footnotes, to make what I have discovered through research verifiable and to give my articles credibility among scholars. Microsoft Word permits one to insert a footnote in a document wherever one desires. The footnote is inserted at the bottom of the page automatically, and the layout is adjusted automatically to allow space at the bottom of the page for the footnotes. One also has the option of creating an endnote, if so desired, in which case the citations appear sequentially at the end of the main body of the document.

I recall writing term papers as a college student in the 1960’s. I used a manual portable typewriter, a Royal typewriter with a Harvard College sticker on it that my older brother had bequeathed to me. Being a procrastinator, it seemed that I was always pulling “all nighters” to write the paper the night before it was due. I would have books spread out before me from which I would be cadging information for footnotes. (I almost always — by the way — composed my papers at the typewriter in a single draft, with no revisions.)

Allowing for footnotes in those days was a slight problem. One had to anticipate how many footnotes there would be at the bottom of the page, then make a pencil mark about a half an inch from the bottom of the page to allow space for each footnote. When one got to the pencil mark, one stopped typing the main text and typed in the footnote.

Can someone explain to me, if the technology is available to any student writing a term paper on his or her computer using standard word processing software — the technology to insert footnotes at the BOTTOM of EACH page, with the word processing program automatically making adjustments to allow enough space — why can’t publishing firms place footnotes at the bottom of each page instead of at the end of the book? It would save so much vexing flipping back and forth to find and read the citation. In the old days, footnotes were always at the bottom of each page in printed books. Why, in heaven’s name, do publishers insist on the supposedly “modern” way of doing it?

A friend of mine from the past who was a homegrown philosopher used to say to me, “Science marches backwards.” So do many other areas of modern life, big and small.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

      March 2017

 

 

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Addendum: I had a discussion the other day about the subject of this post — namely, footnotes — with someone whose opinions I respect. He suggested to me that the reason that footnotes get buried in, relegated to, the back of the book is because publishers and authors fear that most people don’t care to read them and that, if they were placed at the bottom of the page to which they refer, many readers would find them to be a distraction.

This is undoubtedly true. True as an observation about publishing practices, that is. But, I would say, flat out wrong.

A similar point was made to me once by an eminent scholar whom I became acquainted with when I was employed at Columbia University. His books were a pleasure to read on account both of the clarity of expression and the prodigious original research that underlay them. The footnotes were copious and lengthy and demonstrated considerable industry and erudition.

In discussing a recently published book of his with the author, whom I told that I admired it, his footnotes came up. He told me he had placed them at the end because, that way, people who didn’t want to read them could ignore them.

In retrospect, I thoroughly disagree with my acquaintance’s position on this. If the reader isn’t interested, he or she can go on to the next page and ignore the footnotes.