Please note the date on this issue and don't put too much faith in the links, as they can age quickly.

At The Margin
Vol. 2, Issue 11 (Whole Issue #25)
November 29, 2001

Details, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books.

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This Issue:
1. Book Covers: An Exercise in Packaging
2. Publishers and Libraries Start to Agree on Something
3. Mission Statements, Customer Care, and Malaise
4. Production Notes
5. E-Mail to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?
7. Blue Underlined Words

1. Book Covers: an Exercise in Packaging
Here's an instructive exercise in modern book merchandising. Go to an airport gift shop or newsstand and look for a book. Without reading any titles or jacket copy, see if you can find something you would be interested in spending some time with. If you have any interest in the categories that distributors regard as good airport fare (thrillers, mysteries, romances, science fiction, business, some mainstream), you won't even need to read the titles. Just looking at the books will tell you what categories they belong in. Book jacket designers communicate with you on a level that often lies just below your awareness.

A book jacket is designed to get a response that may be more emotional than intellectual, but that's not to say it's always an exercise in manipulation. A publisher would probably be delighted to have you think a book might be better than it is, but any other sort of cover deception tends to be self-limiting. The only way a cover can fool you into thinking a techno-thriller is a western or a science fiction novel is a romance is to sacrifice techno-thriller or science fiction sales. So cover designs fall into categories in much the same way the books themselves do. And when a cover design is successful in a certain category, all the other covers in that category imitate it, at least for a while.

Book cover design started in the late 19th century, when some publishers started to print designs on the binding or on papers that were then glued to the covers. The dust jacket was originally intended to protect a book in its journey from the press to the warehouse to the shop and finally to the buyer's home.

In the 1920s, however, capitalism discovered packaging, and some publishers began to see the value of using color printing on dust covers. It wasn't enough to apply the principles of packaging, however. Some began to think of creating book "brands." The decisive step took place, not in the United States, but in England, with the 1935 launch of Penguin Books, which published mass-market paperbacks. The publisher designed a logo and adopted a three-band design for the cover, signifying the type of book with a predominant color. The orange (the color chosen for fiction) Penguin cover is instantly recognizable, even in the U.S. Penguin Books was one of the first publishers to establish a sort of brand loyalty among book consumers.

Today, mass-market paperback book cover designers know they have less than a second to speak to you from the shelf when you are browsing, and they try to make the best of it. It's surprising how well they do, considering that most designers do not read the books and get what they need to know from the book's editor. To communicate with you, they rely on a sort of graphic shorthand. Thrillers and horror stories, for example, are usually arrayed in dark colors, with a cover design based on a single object, often used as a visual metaphor: a submarine, a hypodermic needle, a handgun. Romance novels wear lighter colors and generally rely on a less metaphorical presentation: there is invariably a scene involving one woman and one man. Space, rocket ships, futuristic city scapes can all promise science fiction within. On any type of book, raised foil lettering or a die cut tells you the publisher is positioning it as a blockbuster.

Of course, the design can't get your attention unless the book is shelved face-out, and only a minority of paperbacks can be, so the competition has wrapped around to the books' spines. Books that are big enough (both commercially and physically) get wraparound covers. Vignettes from cover graphics on the spines are increasingly prevalent, even for narrow-spined books. Unfortunately, it seems not all cover designers understand that you can't just take the most dramatic part of the cover picture and shrink it to fit the spine. So spine art is sometimes not even recognizable. There has been some talk on the web about book covers this season. There is a long article from September in The Guardian (,6000,552107, 00.html) and another long one in The Globe and Mail ( I used both articles to get the historical information in this item. Both newspapers seem to have been inspired to take up the subject by the recent appearance of the book Front Cover: Great Book Jacket and Cover Design by Alan Powers, published in September. I don't know anything about the book and can't comment on it, but maybe I'll be able to tell you about it when it starts to turn up for sale used.

2. Publishers and Libraries Start to Agree on Something
Last March (, At The Margin ran a little story about how the Association of American Publishers (AAP) unleashed former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder on librarians. The AAP hired Schroeder as its president, and she went after America's beloved distributors of free information. "We have a very serious issue with librarians," she was quoted as saying in The Washington Post. "Libraries have spent all this money on technology. They don't have any money left for content."

The media picked up on Schroeder's remarks gleefully, and may have made the antipathy between libraries and publishers more than it is. After all, nothing pulls in readers or viewers like a good fight, so we were all treated to a couple on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand stories. The news establishment doesn't really care how many hands there are in a news story, so long as at least one of them is making a fist. The newspapers encouraged Pat Schroeder and the librarians to say bad things about each other and dropped the story when it became apparent the parties were going to be civilized about it, after all.

Publishers and librarians may still dislike each other, but they have begun to find a basis for working together one level up from Pat Schroeder (i.e., internationally). A press release dated October 15 and issued jointly by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in The Hague and the International Publishers Association (IPA) in Geneva describes points of agreement announced by a "Joint Steering Group" of the two associations.

The points are (1) that while the principles underlying copyright protection remain unchanged, new technologies have fundamentally altered methods of publication, distribution, and rights management, (2) "bridging the digital divide" is best achieved by government, which should increase funding for libraries to acquire books and publications as well as for people to connect to the Internet, especially in developing countries, (3) limitations on copyright in the public interest should be maintained even as technology changes, and (4) libraries are important in the long-term archiving of electronic information but there needs to be more discussion among interested parties to set policies governing access.

These points aren't particularly revolutionary, and nobody got hurt in the negotiations that produced them, so you won't read about this agreement in the newspaper. But you can read the press release for yourself at

3. Mission Statements, Customer Care, and Malaise
Deborah Cameron is a psycholinguist and author of the book, Good to Talk: Living and Working in a Communication Culture, which is about as much connection as we can make to the world of books for this item. You should nevertheless run, don't walk, to the URL below and read her essay, "The Tyranny of Nicespeak," in The New Statesman. It explains a great deal about why you feel that nagging dissatisfaction with your work, your commercial relationships, and your political choices. Here is a small sample: "Managing language is a booming business, supporting legions of consultants whose expertise may consist of having once read a book about transactional analysis or neurolinguistic programming. One big corporation advertises that its employees are trained in 'expanded listening': they have learnt that listening is a 'four-stage process' and that most people listen at a '25 per cent level of efficiency'. (So far as I know, no reputable psycholinguistic research supports either claim.) The New York Times recently reported that computer help-desk workers are being trained to diagnose not the technical problem a caller wants help with, but the caller's personality type. If the worker uses a language (pseudo-) scientifically designed for the caller's personality, the interaction will be judged successful, whether or not the computer problem is solved."

Here's the URL for the entire essay:

4. Production Notes
In the issue after next, I intend to change the way I select books for "Do You Know Me?" Instead of requiring that it be out of print, I will require that a book be at least ten years old. This will let me choose books that are a little more familiar and therefore give more readers a chance to know them. If anybody objects to this, send me an e-mail and let me know. I wouldn't mind keeping it the way it is. I just thought readers might enjoy it more if they had a better shot at getting the answer. I must say, however, that your answers and guesses are nearly always entertaining, whether or not they are correct. Check out this month's to see what I mean.

Some of my web research tools have gone missing in the past couple months, and I attribute this in part to the Internet enclosure movement., for example, has discontinued its Newstracker service, which I used to search for news stories related to books. Most search engines and portals are struggling to survive as AOL and Microsoft try to use their market positions to crush or absorb competitors in preparation for their imminent Sumo matchup.

But the web is also affected by physical world. This month brought news that the magazine Lingua Franca has been closed by its publisher (Academic Partners Limited), and its web site, which was fairly productive of ideas as well as interesting book-related stories, is now gone. Lingua Franca was an important site for me, but since November 1999, Lingua Franca has also owned Arts & Letters Daily, a site that presents an avalanche of links to intellectual matters every day. I don't know whether Denis Dutton, the founder of ALD who sold it to Lingua Franca, is now supposed to resume control of the site. In any case, one of his former editors is suing him, claiming a proprietary interest in the site he sold (see,1008,1006825a1561,FF.html). I had a scare while compiling this issue when my attempts to reach ALD ( got a "server unreachable" message. I thought maybe it was a victim of Lingua Franca's demise or under an injunction or something. But the server was back the next day, and the site seems to operating as usual now. Arts & Letters Daily has been an important stop on my beat each month.

But the temporary absence of ALD showed me how difficult it is to find and keep my web research tools. In addition to ALD, I still have about 30 sites left that I check regularly, but most of them are not as consistently productive as Lingua Franca or's Newstracker service. I am not complaining. I just wanted to give you some background before I asked you to let me know of good sites (preferably somewhat obscure) that might yield or inspire the kinds of items you're used to reading in At The Margin.


5. E-mail to the Editor
[Editor's Note: The messages we receive here at ATM often take on the character of a dialogue or conversation with the previous issue. You can find that issue on the web:]

On Borges and Stevenson
Superb issue [ATM #24] -- it's the unexpected turns and truly peculiar editorial mind that appeal to me irregularly with ATM. Speaking of Borges and lists, I note that in his lovely poem "The Just" he lists small good things: a man who cultivates his garden, a man grateful for music, a man who takes pleasure in etymology, two men playing chess, a potter contemplating form, a typographer who sets beautifully despite disliking that which he sets, a woman and man reading a canto to the end, a man who prefers others to be right, a man stroking a sleeping animal, and a man quietly grateful for the existence of Robert Louis Stevenson. "These people, unaware, are saving the world," he concludes. Two notes: (1) Borges is a genius, and (2) for more on the genius Stevenson see the new issue of The Atlantic Monthly, in which I have tried to resurrect that wondrous writer.

yrs grinning,
Brian Doyle

[Editor's Note: I recommend Brian's essay on Stevenson. Fortunately, it's online:]

A Gracious Compliment
I have nothing of great import to say, except a thank you for ATM each month -- I look forward to reading it each month, and feel a glow when I see it appear on my e-mail list.

Rob King

[Editor's Note: I feel a glow when I get a message like this.]

Hayduke Lives, and Keeps You Off Airplanes
At The Margin [#24] was good, as usual.

The bit about the fellow carrying a copy of Hayduke Lives! by Edward Abbey at the airport was particularly good and revealing, putting a new take on what it means when a book bombs.


[Editor's Note: Charlie is Charles C. Ryan, well-known in science fiction circles as the founder and editor of the late, lamented Aboriginal Science Fiction, which published excellent original short fiction for over 15 years before it ceased operations this year.]

A Defender of John Adams
Methinks you go overboard in your condemnation of John Adams and your suggestion that his support for the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 disqualifies him from consideration for the honor of a taxpayer-funded memorial [ATM #24]. But you pooh-pooh the suggestion that public opinion could have had an effect on Adams's signing the laws in question (passed at the height of an undeclared naval war with France) and are silent on the fact that later Presidents have been honored -- revered, even -- despite their having espoused legislation or issued executive orders that went as far or farther in suppressing civil liberties in an overzealous response to a perceived foreign threat.

Abraham Lincoln's Civil War suspension of habeas corpus for draft resisters, persons discouraging enlistment, or persons "guilty of any disloyal practice affording aid and comfort to rebels" led to the arrest and imprisonment of more than 13,000 persons. Eighty years later Franklin Roosevelt acquiesced in the incarceration of more than 100,000 Americans whose only crime was to be of Japanese descent.

Two Irish journalists were expelled under the Alien Act, and twenty five men were arrested, ten of them convicted, under the Sedition Act. Yet Lincoln and Roosevelt are rightly remembered as two of the greatest of American Presidents. Meanwhile, historians Joseph Ellis and David McCullough have reminded us that other great American historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and even George Washington had serious personal shortcomings and made questionable decisions that most earlier historians have preferred to overlook.

None of these acts, from the Alien and Sedition Laws to the internment of Japanese civilians, were remotely justified, and they clearly violated the principles of civil rights and liberties embodied in the Constitution. But they pale in significance when compared to the positive accomplishments of the Presidents who unwisely endorsed them. We should revere and remember the Adamses no less than we admire Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, all of whom, I suspect, pass the Kemske test for greatness.

Tom Halsted

[Editor's Note: Lincoln and Roosevelt were both great presidents. They could have been greater.]

The Art of Fiction
I noted, with interest [ATM #24], your praise of David Lodge's The Art of Fiction (1992), which you characterized as one of the better books bearing The Art of Fiction title, and I look forward to reading it. If I may suggest one, I recommend The Art of Fiction (1955) by W. Somerset Maugham. In this book, Maugham presents his ideas on novel writing, and then discusses ten great writers including Fielding, Austen, Stendahl, Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Melville, E. Bronte, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. He weaves together analysis of one of their novels with biographical information, and, in conclusion, he fictionalizes a cocktail party in which the writers attend, and, in this way, he brings them to life by imagining how they might have interacted with one another.

Cheers, too, Floyd, for your review of David McCullough's John Adams. You write: "Tumult and fear are the reliable friends of the police state. Apologists for sedition laws always claim these laws are necessary for national security. But then they invariably use them to punish their political enemies. That is just what happened in the presidency of John Adams. The Federalists packaged the Sedition Act as a war measure, but they used it chiefly in the presidential election of 1800 to imprison newspaper editors of the opposition party, the Republicans." Well said! It just goes to show there has been, and always will be, a precarious balance between security measures and civil liberties; that it is a ongoing battle between the two; and that it is an important civic duty for citizens to check the "fine print" on all legislation dealing with these issues. Keep up the great work on the newsletter, Floyd! Best wishes!

Hank Drought

On Capitalizing i and e
I agree completely about the shortcomings of the capitalist model when it comes to supporting valuable, albeit less widely read, non- lowest common denominator literature [see ATM #24]. However, I can't say I'd be terribly disappointed if the success of iUniverse meant that all that bus terminal and airport bookstore drivel that the public will inevitably consume didn't require killing so many trees. Let them read eBooks.

In my experience as a journalist in the computer industry, I must disagree with your take on e or iSyntax being capitalized according to normal rules of writing. iUniverse, when starting a sentence, is still iUniverse, according to several prominent computer industry magazines. If usage is the guide, then I think you have to turn to those doing the using. I'll admit to fighting this trend myself for several years as it relates to marketing slogans or product names that have insisted on lower case letters. I've always thought that, as a journalist, it's not my job to appease the marketers whims. They can by ads if they want the public to remember thisPRODUCT as a catchy twist. However, I think that the "i" and the "e" have emerged as very specific symbols over the last couple of years and that we all pretty much understand them in isolation and as distinct from "I" and "E." Simply put, the "e" in eBook, eBusiness, and ePublishing has a meaning on its own. I think you could turn to mathematics to find examples where capitalizing a letter, even at the beginning of sentence, would change its meaning. It might be a bit of a stretch to grant the same weight to "e" and "i," but I think it's closer to that than the marketspeak before the internet explosion.

Jeff Sauer

[Editor's Note: Good points, Jeff. Thanks.]

Netlibrary Finds a Buyer
Hi, as head of Modern Collections at the British Library I very much enjoy At The Margin -- congratulations on such an interesting read. The piece on e-books in the last issue [ATM #24] attracted my attention; you may have seen the message below from other sources but just in case here it is (below)

John Byford

[Editor's Note: John Byford's message included the text of a November 15 press release from OCLC Online Computer Library Center. OCLC has offered to purchase "substantially all the assets of netLibrary." The offer looks serious, because it includes a loan to keep netLibrary operating until the deal is completed. You can read the press release at Thanks for the heads-up, John.]

At The Margin has 1,129 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 1,128 others. Please limit your comment to 200 words and send it to ATM's editor, Floyd Kemske (


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 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

Somewhere far to the north of Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Place Ville Marie, the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, the bald-headed prairie and Stanley Park lies an unreal world conceived in the mind's eye, born out of fantasy and cauled in myth.

I'm waiting for your guesses.

Last Issue's Sentence

The hedges of scented whitehorn on either side of the villa gates had the longest fiercest thorns they had ever seen.

One reader guessed Katherine Mansfield, which is not correct. Another reader, Thomas Dahl, offered this observation: "I don't know who wrote the original, but I remember having the exact same thought in mid-air back in 1983 when the rail I was leaning against on the second story balcony gave way and I tumbled into the neighbor's yard. Just short of the oak tree." Ouch. Thanks for the laugh, Thomas.

The sentence is from The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden. It was published in 1963 by The Viking Press, but the edition I am looking at is a mass market paperback from Dell, printed in 1964. It is the story of a respectable British woman who falls in love with an Italian pianist and leaves her family to be with him at Villa Fiorita. Her two children then travel to Italy to try to break up the affair.

Margaret Rumer Godden, born in England, traveled with her family to India in 1908 at the age of six or nine months (disagreement among the sources) and lived there most of her life. She returned to England at the age of 20 to study dance, then went back to India to open a dance school in Calcutta, where she met and became pregnant by a stockbroker named Laurence Foster. One source says she was in love with him, another says she wasn't. She returned to England for her pregnancy, and while she was there, she wrote her first book, Chinese Puzzle. It was published in 1936. Her baby died at the age of four days.

Her husband seems to have neglected her. When she admitted Eurasian children to her dance school, the local British community assumed it was a front for a brothel and ostracized her. In a way, her ostracism freed her to explore Indian culture, and it became a theme in many of her books. She wrote about 60 books (it could be 70 -- the sources disagree), including over 20 novels. One of her earliest novels, Black Narcissus, has been continuously in print since 1939. Others include The River (1946), Greengage Summer (1958), In This House of Brede (1969), The Dark Horse (1981), and Coromandel Sea Change (1991). She also wrote short stories, children's books, autobiographies, and memoirs. Greengage Summer (the only one of her books I know) is a charming story about an English girl and her family living in France for the summer. Her mother becomes ill and the children come under the care of an unkind French woman who keeps a hotel. The girl has a crush on a mysterious man living at the hotel, and the story develops a wonderful mystery that is surprisingly brutal.

Godden had two more children by Foster, but when he lost all his money in the stock market, he abandoned her to join the Army in 1941. To pay off his debts, she moved from Calcutta to a cottage in a mountain village and sold herbal tea, ran a school, and wrote. During the pre-independence riots, her servants attempted to poison her and her children. She fled and arrived in England on a troop ship with virtually none of her possessions, except the manuscript of The River. She married again in 1949 (James Haynes-Dixon) and continued writing steadily. Her last novel (Cromartie vs. the God Shiva) was published in 1997, and she died in 1998, at the age of 90.

One of Godden's autobiographies, A House with Four Rooms (1989), includes a quotation for which she is very well known: "There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person." I also ran across this quote: "Like everyone else, I am a house with four rooms. My house is, of course, slightly worn now, but I still hope to go on living quietly in all of it, finding treasures old and new, until the time come when I shall have, finally, to shut its door."

One of the reference books I use in compiling At The Margin each month is The Reader's Encyclopedia, edited by William Rose Benet and published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company in 1948. I don't know how I came to be in possession of this book, but it has often supplied me with interesting facts and concise descriptions of authors or literary trends (although it stops, of course, at 1948). When you look up "Rumer Godden" in this book, it directs you to the entry for "Foster, Mrs. Laurence." This entry tells you that "Rumer Godden" is the pseudonym of Mrs. Laurence Foster. Try to imagine the thinking that went into making a reference book entry out of the name of Laurence Foster. He was a man who lost all his money and abandoned his wife to pay his debts; his only achievement was apparently in getting Rumer Godden pregnant. It shows you how long ago 1948 really was.

Brief bio: Some of her novels became films, so there's a longer bio at the Internet Movie Database:,+Rumer. Charming site:

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.

The National Flight from Critical Intelligence
Mark Crispin Miller, author of The Bush Dyslexicon, describes the practical education he has received in modern American anti-intellectualism via the asinine and poisonous correspondence provoked by his attempts to promote his book.

Literary vs. Popular
ATM has avoided writing about the controversy surrounding Jonathan Franzen's non-appearance on Oprah's Book Club. If you want a run-down on what happened,'s account is as good as any.

The Language of the French Revolution
The French Revolution was much, much more than a bunch of people dragging each other to the guillotine. This generation's scholarship has focused on how the revolutionaries' use of language helped to create their reality. Here's a long, fascinating review of A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth- Century France by Sophia Rosenfeld.

Kelly Link
Kelly Link is a writer whose story collection, Stranger Things Happen, was recently published by Small Beer Press. She also happens to be a former employee of Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop. Her book got a big review in The New York Times, and has otherwise been exciting a great deal of notice. Here's an audio interview with her. (Note: I don't know if you must be a Premium subscriber to download the interview; if so, please accept my apologies.)

Beware Political Scientists Bearing Gifts
Population growth is not a problem... there's plenty of fresh water to go around... deforestation and species extinctions have been grossly exaggerated by muddle-headed environmentalists. Does this sound like fantasy land? It's The Skeptical Environmentalist, a heavily-promoted new book by Bjorn Lomborg, a political scientist and professor of statistics. The Union of Concerned Scientists is sponsoring a series of analyses of Lomborg's claims written by experts in water resources, biodiversity, and climate change, none of which Lomborg is.

If you liked this issue of At The Margin, forward it to a friend, and encourage him or her to subscribe.

A Commercial Message From Avenue Victor Hugo
We don't try to diagnose your personality or disarm you with our sincerity. We just try to connect you with the book you want. If we tell you "Have a nice day" or "Enjoy your book" (and we rarely do), you can be sure we mean it. 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:

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

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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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