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At The Margin
Vol. 2, Issue 8
Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Details, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books.
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1. Is It Real, or Is It a Novelization?
2. Obituary for the Steady State Theory
3. E-book Watch
4. Book-of-the-month Club Goes Back to Its Roots
5. E-Mail to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?
7. Blue Underlined Words
1. Is It Real, or Is It a Novelization?
This month, the local news outlets in Boston have been carrying a story about the opening of a new restaurant. Situated in the heart of Boston's historic food court (Faneuil Hall Marketplace), the new restaurant is said to recreate Cheers, the bar from the long-running television show of the same name. The new restaurant has timed its opening to match the rebroadcasting of the show on the cable channel Nickelodeon.
But the television show was based on a real bar (the Bull and Finch Pub), which is still operating in the basement of the Hampshire House over on Beacon Street. So a restaurant is inspired by a fictional bar in a television show, which is inspired by an actual bar on Beacon Street. The natural cycle by which reality is turned into fantasy which then begets a new reality -- the merchandising cycle -- is a beautiful thing, isn't it?
Actually, what the new Cheers bar represents is the food service equivalent of a novelization.
Joe Mullich, writing for Salon.com, tells the story of going to a chain bookstore to buy a copy of the novel Planet of the Apes (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2001/08/08/apes/index.html). The bookstore did not stock (and apparently its staff had never heard of) the 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle. What they gave him was Planet of the Apes: The Movie Novelization by William T. Quick, published in 2001.
The original book was published in French as La Planete des Singes and was translated into English by Xan Fielding. It arrived in the U.S. as Planet of the Apes, was published in 1963 (hardback, book club, and mass market paperback versions), became a movie with Charlton Heston in 1968 (released under two titles: Planet of the Apes and Monkey Planet), and spawned four years' worth of schlocky sequels. Pierre Boulle, the author, was already famous for writing the novel The Bridge On The River Kwai.
Planet of the Apes is a respected piece of literature. People born after 1965, who grew up in the shadow of the silly film sequels of the 1970s, are often surprised at the philosophical depth of both the book and the original film when they encounter them. That the book should now be virtually lost in the midst of Planet of the Apes: The Movie Novelization... Planet of the Apes: Reimagined by Tim Burton (a "pictorial moviebook")... Planet of the Apes: Leo's Logbook: A Captain's Days in Captivity... Planet of the Apes: An Unofficial Companion... Planet of the Apes: Human War... Planet of the Apes Pop-out People... and The Planet of the Apes Novelization for Young Readers... is reminiscent of Charlton Heston's discovery at the end of the 1968 movie: human society is bound to create its own hell.
Mullich's story inspired a raft of reader responses -- http://www.salon.com/books/letters/2001/08/10/novelization_fathers/ -- some of which seemed sort of panicky. Many of them retailed the readers' own experiences with novelizations. There was, for example, a reader who had found a Piers Anthony novelization of Total Recall (which was originally based on a Philip K. Dick short story titled "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"), which he characterized as letting a cartoonist redraw Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. Readers also discussed the novelizations of Great Expectations, Little Women, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Don't panic. The worst has not yet happened. If you go to the chain bookstore, you are unlikely to even *find* the novelizations of Great Expectations, Little Women, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or Bram Stoker's Dracula. I know, because I went to both Borders and Barnes and Noble and checked. All you will find there are the original books. On my research expedition, I also found The Thin Red Line, Fight Club, All the Pretty Horses, and The Tailor of Panama, each in its original version, but bearing the banner "Now a major motion picture!" In fact, Planet of the Apes (the Pierre Boulle version), although it may be AWOL at Borders and Barnes and Noble, is still in print, and if you can't find it at an independent bookstore, you can certainly find a used copy.
The novelizations of Great Expectations, Little Women, Frankenstein, and Dracula were apparently unable to compete with the originals. The same will probably happen to Planet of the Apes. But the former novels are all in the public domain. Planet of the Apes is still under its original copyright. It is surprising the marketing weasels at 20th Century Fox (or HarperCollins) didn't manage (or think) to buy the rights from Random House to suppress the original so the public wouldn't be "confused" by a novel that features neither Mark Wahlberg nor Helena Bonham Carter.
And this is why I think we all need to keep our wits about us. Novelizations will never constitute a significant threat to great works of literature in the public domain. But they may well do serious damage to current literature. Consider for a moment the Disney corporation (which owns Touchstone Pictures and Hyperion Press) or AOL Time Warner (which owns Warner Brothers and Warner Books) or any number of "entertainment" conglomerates. Presumably, somebody at or near the top level of such a corporation is making decisions about the focus of marketing efforts for its various "properties." The movie business has long been dogged by rumors that studios suppress distribution of originals when they release remakes. How far are we from the time that AOL Time Warner (let's say), releasing a "major motion picture!" based on a current book that it has published, decides to suppress distribution of the original book in favor of the novelization based on the movie? It can't very well happen, of course, if the book is written by Stephen King or Tom Clancy. But what if the writer, like Pierre Boulle, is more of a novelist than a marketing icon? Imagine, for a moment, your choice of current books being dictated by a dogsbody in the executive suite at Disney or "strategized" by a Rupert Murdoch toady.
When a book is taken out of distribution, of course, you can always buy used a copy, either through a used bookstore or on the Internet. The corporatist predators of the "content" industry cannot control the trade of used goods, which is one of the reasons why they were determined to learn from the example of the used book trade. They insisted that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act contain provisions that allow them to restrict or prohibit resale of personal copies of movies, e-books, and music (and even prosecute people who talk about how to do it!). The used book is the last major presence of fair use, and it will continue to be so until the corporatists can figure out a way to get Congress to outlaw it.
2. Obituary for the Steady State Theory
The Big Bang theory of cosmology is a permanent part of our intellectual furniture. But many of us who are still alive today remember a time when it had a competitor. In its younger days, the Big Bang theory seemed just this side of outlandish. It suggested that when we observe the outermost reaches of the universe, we are observing the past, maybe even something like the beginning of the time. How could we hope to interpret it, given that we live under natural laws that probably didn't operate the same way for the phenomena we might be observing?
The alternative to the Big Bang theory was the Steady State theory, which held that the universe maintained its density in the midst of its observed expansion by continually creating new matter. All you need to create matter, after all, is energy. And the new matter requirements of the Steady State theory seemed quite modest (a few atoms per cubic mile annually).
The Steady State theory satisfied a deep philosophical need for some people as well as fitting some of the mathematics of relativity better than the earliest versions of the Big Bang theory. But over time, Big Bang math improved and the theory began to look more attractive. The death knell sounded for the Steady State theory in the mid 1960s, when engineers at Bell Labs (who were working on a different problem at the time) found the background radiation left over from the Big Bang explosion. By 1970, most astronomers had embraced the Big Bang theory as the best explanation of the origins of the universe. And now we see that much of the stuff we observe at the outermost reaches of the universe is indeed as outlandish as the Big Bang theory would have predicted.
In one of those poetry-of-history moments, the Big Bang theory was actually named by the foremost proponent of the Steady State theory. Astronomer Fred Hoyle, who developed the Steady State theory in 1948 with Hermann Bondi and Tommy Gold, coined the name Big Bang as an expression of contempt for the theory that competed with his.
Hoyle died on August 20 at the age of 86. He was a truly great scientist and gathered armloads of international awards in the course of his long career. Among other achievements, he was one of the earliest cosmologists to propose that the elements of the periodic table are created by the nuclear reactions of stars and by supernovae. He also helped to refine the Big Bang theory in several respects, notwithstanding that he never gave up on the Steady State theory (one of his recent books, A Different Approach to Cosmology, suggested a "quasi-steady state"). He was also one of the strongest champions of the Panspermia theory of life, which holds that life exists throughout the universe, and that Earth got it from somewhere else. He wrote a number of books and did a lot of British radio shows to popularize his theories.
But Hoyle is also a cherished figure in science fiction. Coming from England, he didn't have to worry quite as much about the boxes that most American intellectuals are expected to confine themselves in. He was a superlative science fiction writer. His 1957 novel, The Black Cloud, concerns the passage of Earth through a cloud in space that turns out to be intelligent. He wrote another eight science fiction novels after that, seven of them with his brother, Geoffrey. The Black Cloud is still in print, in a library binding edition from Lightyear Press, but Bookfinder has a 154 listings of used copies of the mass market paperback (http://www.bookfinder.com/).
Here's a page with a Fred Hoyle bibliography: http://www.sfsite.com/isfdb-bin/exact_author.cgi?Fred_Hoyle. Here's an interview with him, mostly on the subject of Panspermia: http://www.panspermia.org/hoylintv.htm. Here's his lengthy obituary: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,60-2001291637,00.html from The Times of London.
3. E-book Watch
NetLibrary is a company that supplies e-books to libraries. If you have an account at a local library (presumably, this is what we used to call having a library card), you can read your library's netLibrary e-books on the web. The library subscribes to the netLibrary service, and it gets access to as many as 40,000 titles from a broad range of categories. Each title has full text search and an embedded dictionary.
According to Wired News, the California state university system has negotiated a new kind of agreement with netLibrary. Cal state libraries, under this new agreement, will be able to "lend" netLibrary e-books to an unlimited number of borrowers simultaneously. Until now, the netLibrary contract specified that an e-book could be used by only one borrower at a time. Here's the story: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,46160,00.html.
This kind of e-book use is exactly what the publishing industry is foaming at the mouth about. But in negotiating a deal with a 23-campus, 370,000-student system, netLibrary apparently felt it was the better part of valor to let the Cal State librarians have what they wanted. The Wired story doesn't have information about how this contract has affected netLibrary's relations with its more than 300 publishers (the roster doesn't include very many consumer or mass- market outfits, and it leans toward university presses). Presumably, they got all that worked out before they signed the deal. Otherwise, expect some kind of intemperate announcement from Pat Schroeder of the Association of American Publishers (whom you have read about in this space before) in the near future.
NetLibrary isn't much use to readers unless they have accounts with subscribing libraries, but it has a public website at http://www.netLibrary.com/. And the site does offer 11 e-books to the general public. These books don't seem to have a single-reader access restriction. But with titles like The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Book, The War of the Worlds, Communist Manifesto, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, they are all in the public domain: http://www.netLibrary.com/reading_room/index.asp.
4. Book-of-the-month Club Goes Back to Its Roots
At its founding, 75 years ago, the Book-of-the-Month Club was based on the premise that readers would buy books recommended by a panel of intellectuals, who were chosen from leading lights of the day. The idea worked well, and over its long history, the panel picked out The Sun Also Rises, Elmer Gantry, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Catcher in the Rye, all well before they became classics. It also picked out Gone with the Wind, but panel members were dubious about it, finally deciding to give it the benefit of the doubt when one panelist said, "Well, people may not like it very much, but nobody can deny that it gives a lot of reading for your money."
In the 1990s, however, when so many publishers were getting rid of editors and turning over publishing decisions to their marketing departments, BOMC took similar action. In 1994, it disbanded the panel and began relying on its own staff to pick books for its members.
At 700,000, however, BOMC has about half the number of members it had in the 1980s. It has decided to bring back the panel, a move it says will ultimately double its membership. On the reconstituted panel, members serve for two years (previously they served for life), and they are encouraged to find "new voices" as well as review the handful of books that are sent to them each month. The first panel includes Nelson DeMille, Bill Bryson, Annie Proulx, and Anna Quindlen.
The story originally appeared in Newsday, but I found it in The Record: http://www.bergen.com:80/bookclub/bomc19200108195.htm.
5. E-mail to the Editor
This Month's Brian Doyle Message
You know, every time ATM arrives, I think I will read it later, and then I read it right away, which throws off my whole work day, for which thanks.
I just wrote a piece on the C. S. Lewis flap [ATM #21] for The Age, the daily paper in Melbourne, Australia, for which I contribute pieces here and there. Apparently HarperCollins' plans to bowdlerize (now there's a great word and a great story, Thomas Bowdler) caused an uproar Down Under as well.
Here's my piece, excerpt as you like -- yrs Brian
A Bookish Sort of Sin [Excerpt]
Editing the Christian imagery and theology out of Lewis is a lie, and one of remarkable subtlety, for the whole essence of his Narnia novels is that they are not Christian tracts. They are feats of one Irishman's imagination, a man absorbed by myths and legends as a boy in Belfast. They are stories, pure and simple, stories of adventure and exploration and discovery, stories of painful maturity, stories of people -- and the very reason for their popularity is that they are real, that readers all over the world have known characters like the boys and girls (and fauns and witches and wolves) in the tales. And, I suspect, most if not all of the millions of readers who have enjoyed the Narnia novels have yearned, deep in their hearts, for a savior like Aslan -- wise, kind, and immortal.
The Narnia books are stories made by a man riveted by the story of Christ, riveted by the struggle in the human heart between good and evil, riveted by the fitful grace with which men and women and boys and girls endure tragedy and loss and forge ahead with great resilience and courage and humor. For Lewis the story of Christ was finally the tale of love as the greatest of human possibilities; and to sell his fictions without that inherent acknowledgement, to carefully divorce the author's eloquent spirituality from his work, is literary murder -- a bookish sort of sin.
[Editor's Note: Eloquent, Brian. Thanks for letting me share it with ATM's readers.]
Speaking of C. S. Lewis...
Speaking of C. S. Lewis, I was surprised to see you list his Narnia books, not in order of publication, but in chronological story order. My sweetie and I were appalled a few years ago to see a new collection in Barnes and Noble where the books were numbered in story order, not publication order, and assumed it was because the publisher thought modern readers were too dumb to figure out how the stories fit together if they weren't explicitly told. Tsk tsk. Everyone knows that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the best book (note: published first) and the best introduction to the series.
And speaking (several issues ago [ATM #19]) of aliteracy and how marketing departments rely on visual cues for their products, I must confess I have no idea what type of mayonnaise we use. I know it's the one with the blue label that's not Hellman's, but beyond that is a mystery. But -- I recognize it in the store. A compulsive reader, I am reduced to searching for colors and shapes in drugstores and grocery stores because there are so many products and reading all the labels to find which is the one I want is just too time-consuming and, ultimately, irrelevant. The name of the Doritos flavor that has regularly appeared in my kitchen for the past 8 years is beyond me, but it's the one with the blue triangle. (Personally, I prefer the orange triangle, but that's getting off the track.)
More on C. S. Lewis
I read with interest your report of the C.S. Lewis controversy. I like your line that begins the last paragraph of the discussion:
"Since readers have actually converted to Christianity under the influence of Lewis's work, the stakes here are fairly high."
You are a cad! you are a card.
[Editor's Note: I wasn't thinking of the dual meaning of "stake" when I wrote the sentence about C. S. Lewis's work. It's true the stake has particular meaning in the annals of Christian martyrdom. It's also true, I guess, that my subconscious is often more clever than I am.]
You know print-on-demand, that utopian vision of every book on the computer and you can print it out whenever you want? They have articles about new machines and bookstore chains that would have them every few years. There's one in the Globe a few days ago where a guy refers to it as an "atm" for books (as in money machine).
The theory being you walk into the store and ask for the book, they look on their data base and punch the machine which starts printing and 15 or 20 minutes later you walk out with a plain vanilla copy at a reasonable price.
Or maybe not. We had a customer inquire about a book from the 1920s which online (most copies) went for $500 or more, but alibris was offering one at a lower price. Checked it out and it was a pod, oh and the lower price: $136.00. So much for cheap books for the masses. When we told the customer, she said plaintively,"If I start saving now, maybe I can buy a copy by Christmas."
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At The Margin has 1061 subscribers, most of whom are interested in what you have to say about books or items you have read in ATM. Send a message to the editor and get those thoughts out to 1060 others. Please limit your comment to 200 words and send it to ATM's editor, Floyd Kemske (email@example.com).
6. Do You Know Me?
For those who like puzzles as well as books, this department brings you the first sentence of a book, currently out of print in the U.S., by a famous writer. The name of the author and title of the book will be in the next issue, so write your guess down. If you want to send me your guess, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include your name (so I can congratulate you in this space if you're correct) and let me know if you recognized the writer's style or if you know the book, or both.
This Issue's Sentence:
Once my mother phoned me and said, "Oh, why did the mother in your story have to be so slangy?"
I'm waiting for your guesses.
Last Issue's Sentence:
Peter guessed that he must have been hurt in the accident though he could not remember very much from the time he had left the safety of Scotch Nanny's side and run out across the street to get to the garden in the square, where the tabby striped kitten was warming herself by the railing and washing in the early spring sunshine.
The sentence is from The Abandoned by Paul Gallico. Two readers correctly guessed it. Nancy Kruse Hannigan got it by searching on the phrase "Scotch Nanny" at the Google site. The other, Arabella, not only knew what book it was but also offered the title under which it was published in England: Jennie. Arabella said she was surprised that it is out of print: "although it was first published in 1950, it was available as a paperback (put out by International Polygonics, Ltd. of New York City) as recently as 1988."
As near as I can tell, the book is indeed out of print. There may still be some copies in stock at some bookstores, but used copies are readily available. If anyone has different information, please let me know the particulars, and I'll provide a correction in the next issue.
The Abandoned is about a boy who is struck by a car, and he comes to, not as a boy but as a cat. He meets another cat, Jennie, who helps him with his feline education.
Paul Gallico was born in New York in 1897, to immigrant parents. His father was Italian and his mother Austrian, and they had come to the U.S. two years before he was born. He attended public schools in New York and then graduated Columbia University in 1921, a graduation that was a year late because of his service in World War I. He worked for the National Board of Motion Picture Review for a few months then took a job as a film critic for The New York Daily News. He lost that job (he later said) because his reviews were too "smart alecky." He found work in the sports department.
Gallico became a sports writer of considerable reputation by means of a single act. On assignment at the training camp of Jack Dempsey, he persuaded Dempsey to let him spar with him so he could get an idea of what it was like to be punched by a heavyweight champ. It took Dempsey less than two minutes to knock him out, but he wrote a story about it and ulimately became a minor celebrity. He became sports editor of the Daily News in 1923.
But Gallico's ambition was to write fiction, and in addition to his sports news and columns, he wrote short stories, which he peddled to Vanity Fair and The Saturday Evening Post. When he sold a story to the movies for $5,000 in 1936, he decided he had enough money to quit sports writing and devote himself to fiction.
The Snow Goose was published in 1941, and it brought him international recognition. He was the author of at least 50 books, including the Mrs. 'Arris books, Thomasina, Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees, Confessions of a Story Writer, The Hurricane Story, and The Poseidon Adventure (in addition to others already mentioned). A number of the books in his bibliography appear to be stories about cats.
He was married four times. He died in 1976.
Here's a website devoted to him: http://www.mande.demon.co.uk/gallico/gallico.html. It includes descriptions of many of his books, a bibliography, and a biography. Notwithstanding his ultimate responsibility for visiting on us the film version of The Poseidon Adventure, Paul Gallico seems to be universally esteemed. The only exception is the Daily Worker, which criticized a column he wrote in the Journal-American: http://www.trussel.com/hf/plots/t616.htm. It appears that Gallico had something of a feud going with the Daily Worker in 1948, when the article appeared. But his original column is not online, and with only the Daily Worker account available, I can't tell whether he was, as the Daily Worker implied, a fascist.
7. Blue Underlined Words
I follow a lot of links in the course of compiling this letter, and some of the pages I visit look like they may be interesting or useful to you. I have only visited them and know nothing about them beyond what I could gather from the visit. So I'm not endorsing anything, just bringing it to your attention. Click at your own risk.
A Celebration of the Brass Bra
"A Famous Brassieres of Science Fiction Calender" (sic) is "a series celebrating science fiction's love affair with that most ludicrous of devices, the brass bra." It offers images of a number of garish pulp covers featuring women dressed in these things. This site was found by an ATM reader (who shall remain anonymous) who did a Google search on "famous brassieres." Go figure. http://home.sprynet.com/~beb01/calender.htm
World's Most Overrated Bookstores
The world's first book town, Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border, has a reputation as a destination for rare book collectors, but June Thomas says it is undeserved. The selection is appalling, the booksellers don't much care about books, and the stock is in poor condition. http://slate.msn.com/culturebox/entries/01-07-24_112462.asp
Early English Books Online
The EEBO project is a partnership of University of Michigan, Oxford University, Council on Library and Information Resources, and ProQuest Information and Learning. They are attempting to put 25,000 early English text volumes online in five years. There are selected items for free viewing from Erasmus, Shakespeare, King James I, Marlowe, Caxton, Chaucer, and More (as well as others). http://www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/eebo/Content.html
Free Chapters from Scholarly Books
Princeton University Press offers free introductory chapters (PDF format) for many of the titles in its catalog. There are titles in political science, history, ethics, and international relations, among others. http://pup.princeton.edu/sample_chapters/chapmenu.shtml
The Tasks of Growing
This Is Harry is a website maintained by Jeff Sauer about his young son, Harry. Jeff keeps a journal, which he regularly posts on the site with photos. It must be very appealing to family and friends, but it is interesting in its own right as well. As Harry confronts the tasks of growing, Jeff confronts the issues of fatherhood. The journal is often thoughtful, and the photos are charming. I particularly recommend Harry's encounter with the backhoe, which starts on June 26, 2001. Be sure to check the links, and look at July 10 for a fascinating followup. From this page, click on "Journal." That gives you the current entry. It's easy to find other dates from there. http://jeff.dtvgroup.com/
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A Commercial Message from Avenue Victor Hugo
We don't actually burn them, but we make no special effort to stock novelizations. We keep a large inventory of originals for our discerning customers. After the novelization you bought at the big chain store has disappointed you, come on over and try the real thing. We are real people, selling real books. We have a real cat.
Of course we sell out of print titles and will help you find any we don't have in our 150,000 book stock or among our 250,000 magazines. Inquiries and searches cost nothing. Just make your request on our "Feedback" page: http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com/feedback.php3
In the lower 48 states of the U.S., we ship via UPS at $5.00 for the first book and $1 for each additional book (UPS ships to street addresses only; no P.O. boxes). Overseas shipping is postage plus $1 per book.
Avenue Victor Hugo is your bricks and mortar alternative. Let us know what you're looking for. You can even give us a price range! You'll find us at http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com
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At The Margin is published monthly, but is otherwise charmingly erratic. It aims for release sometime during each calendar month.
(c) Copyright 2001 Floyd Kemske
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