Archive for the ‘Potpourri’ Category


Wordbits redesign

A week ago, I rolled out a new look for Wordbits. The old theme, Retro Book, was already old when I installed it three years ago and required significant editing to make it compatible with WordPress 2.2, which introduced support for widgets. Even with that functionality, the theme suffered from a narrow width that limited the multimedia content that could be embedded into posts. The new theme, flashy, is a far more modern design. It also required a good deal of customization, but I'm confident that it will stand the test of time better than Retro Book did.

It also behooves Wordbits to have a look that matches the theme of its content. The site was initially envisioned as a Web 2.0 successor to Prolific Quill, a message board that discussed the composition and consumption of literature. Although those topics will remain as potential sources for Wordbits content, the last four months have seen the site steering more toward coverage of the publishing industry and its evolution from print to digital media. Retro Book had the look of a dusty tome that doesn't fit the field's emerging trends, so it was time to close that book and open a new one.

Thanks to readers Peter, Gene, and Kahm for their advice in the redesign process!

Books on their way out of malls

I'm saddened to read that "Borders Accelerates Closing of Walden Outlets". I worked for Waldenbooks while in college, and they remained my primary retail outlet for the next ten years. I enjoyed the small, familiar store size and the staff where "everybody knew my name". I just don't get that with the larger Borders.

Publishers Weekly has more details on Waldenbooks closings, with the offline version of the story includes a map of closings by state. The hardest hit seem to be Pennsylvania and Ohio, with 24 and 16 closures, respectively. Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Hawaii are untouched, though I don't know how many stores they have, or how proportionate those that are closing are to those that are remaining open.

It seems an oversight to close a chain that serves a demographic Borders does not. When I was a kid, the local mall was robust enough to support two bookstores, one of which was a Waldenbooks. Now that mall has none, as its Waldenbooks (my alma mater) closed in January 2007, followed by the Auburn location in 2008 and Worcester in 2009.

In an email exchange, Leominster fantasy author R.A. Salvatore commented to me on the loss of his local Waldenbooks: "Ah crap. The loss of mall bookstores is one of the biggest losses to my industry and to American culture — they serve people the big box bookstores don't get to."

Are malls themselves on their way out? Or is there an erroneous perception that mall-goers don't buy books?

The formula behind book reviews

After reading Dwight Garner's book review of Edmund White's City Boy, I thought: Finally! After reading several author profiles and book previews, here is an honest-to-goodness review. Actually, at first I thought it was a combination review and interview, as the critic quotes the book author regularly. Then I realized he was simply excerpting from the book he was reviewing. It's possible, even likely, that the critic and the author never met. Though this might seem like bad journalism, citing a secondary instead of primary source, I disagree. First, the book being quoted is autobiographical, so it is a primary source. And second, it can be difficult to write an unbiased review when one knows the author personally. "Gee," the critic might think, "He was such a nice guy and so open to talking to me, taking time out of his busy schedule to do so. I'd hate to give his book a bad review…" Avoiding such personal interaction and potential conflict can produce a more honest review.

In the third-to-last paragraph, the reviewer writes, "Some of this material feels like filler… This is a book with a low-grade personality disorder." By saving such criticism nearly for last, the reviewer follows a format that journalist Aaron McKenna once prescribed to "video game journalism":

Most reviews follow a simple formula of going through the game, taking apart all the bad points if it is a bad game and sticking a line or two in about its redeeming qualities, if in fact there are any, at the end, or else (if it is a good game) going through all the really good points about the game, and then sticking down the negatives into a paragraph at the end, usually beginning something like "Despite all this, Game X does have one or two minor problems…"

The format of this literary review is quite similar, which makes me wonder if McKenna did not cast his net far enough when describing this pattern.

I suppose that's more a response to the composition, not the publishing, aspects of this article. Still, it's what caught my interest.

Auburn Waldenbooks closing

The Waldenbooks in Auburn, one town west of me, is closing, with all their stock being 40% off. Who can resist such a literary bargain? I bought several books I wouldn't've otherwise: Star Trek: The Buried Age; the Justice graphic novel (which I didn't realize is apparently only part one of three?); and Foundation. That last title is particularly exciting, as I've never read any of Isaac Asimov's work other than his robot short stories, and Foundation is a seminal novel I recently identified as missing from my reading background.

But why is this Waldenbooks closing a week from today? The Waldenbooks in Leominster, where I spent many a college hour behind the counter, closed a year ago this month. That leaves very few Waldenbooks left in this county, though a much larger Borders store exists just east of here. But that's a standalone; Waldenbooks are mall stores, and how can a mall be a mall without a bookstore? Are the larger Barnes & Nobles with their Starbucks cafés pushing out the smaller competition? Must every store be a megastore to survive nowadays? Whatever the reason, the lack of choices and availability to our favorite publications is a loss for everyone, not just the store employees.

Diary of an Inn

What little sleep I got on New Year's Eve was found at the North Bridge Inn of Concord, Massachusetts. Their accommodations included a unique literary offering.

On the coffee table in the corner of the room was a small, untitled book. I opened it up to find it was indeed a journal, with the first lined page indicating that I should "Please feel free to share your thoughts." Each page after that was an entry by people who had stayed in this room over the last 15 years. Some comments were succinct, such as "Thank you for your hospitality, Dick and Jane." Others were longer, relating who the people were, why they'd come there, what they were doing. Mormons from Utah were seeking their ancestral roots, celebrating the birthplace of this great nation; a married couple reinvigorated their marriage with an anniversary getaway, despite living only two towns over; a family visited their grandparents for Christmas. It was a fascinating diary of the life of a room.

I added my own page, reflecting on being in this room on the cusp of a new year, looking back at 2007 and forward to 2008. Maybe I'll append that page some day with notes of dreams realized or unfulfilled.

Banned Books Week

Over on her blog, Tech_Space, Angela Gunn is doing a phenomenal job defending intellectual freedom as she celebrates Banned Book Week. It's an important occasion that needs to be observed, as the younger generations don't seem to be doing so. CNN reported a few years ago that students lack enough civic knowledge and common sense to recognize the First Amendment for the unassailable foundation of this country that it should be: "… when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes 'too far' in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories."

I once had a high school teacher who told us, "Tom Sawyer used to be one of the most dangerous books in the country." When a parent unthinkingly took this statement literally without recognizing what wasn't being spelled out — that the book used to be considered dangerous — he called for the teacher's resignation. If you don't know who to praise more — the teacher for including such a book in the curriculum, or the parent for his zero tolerance against censorship — I'll give you a hint: it's the one who showed more thought. That's what freedom from censorship is all about: freedom to think. And if you haven't learned that from a book, go watch Dead Poets Society or Mr. Holland's Opus. Then come back here and read Angela's rightful rants:

What Type of Writer Should I Be?

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics…
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

Highlights from the Stacks

Courtesy Tech_Space, here's a list of the top 1000 books held in public libraries.

I'm gratified that a pop book like The Da Vinci Code is #469, proving no threat to Homer, Shakespeare, Twain, and Tolkien. But does that mean the list does not accurately represent demand? These books are available, but is their supply still justified?