At The Margin
Vol. 3, Issue 8 (Whole Issue #34)
November 27, 2002
Matters, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books.
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1. Boston's Newbury Street Loses a Bookshop
2. An Obscure Book, A Missing Village
3. Production Notes and Personal Stuff
4. Blue Underlined Words
5. E-Mail to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?
1. Boston's Newbury Street Loses a Bookshop
After 27 years, during which Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop was repeatedly voted the best or among the best used bookstores in the Boston area, owner Vincent McCaffrey has announced his plan to close the Newbury Street store with a pre-Christmas half-price sale and to move the remaining stock to a new location.
McCaffrey made the decision after three years of declining revenue and increasing costs. Income at the store has been cut by more than a third due to the extraordinary growth of internet book sales. This has come at a time when the City of Boston has repeatedly increased taxes while real estate values have driven rents to all- time highs.
McCaffrey also wrote a press release about the Newbury Street store's closing which resulted in a great deal of publicity. I have seen reports about the store in the Boston Globe and Publisher's Weekly. The Christian Science Monitor invited McCaffrey to contribute an article on "The Perfect Bookshop" (it's on the web: http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1108/p11s01-coop.html). In addition, Tom Owen tells me there have been three television stories about it, and "a customer said she heard about it on a New York radio station which may be related to a report on NPR." Tom says he has also heard of stories in Le Monde and a British publication called Publisher's Reports.
But, in fact, the bookshop staff have been too busy to chase down the reports, because the sale has brought in a great deal of traffic. At The Margin has also seen a recent surge in subscriptions, which I am sure is due to this news about the bookstore. Long-time readers will remember that At The Margin began life as a promotional vehicle for the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop website, before I decided (with Vince McCaffrey's blessing) to make it an independent "learning project" of Floyd Kemske.
Those of us who like to fantasize about running a bookstore have no notion of what a highly demanding, low-margin business it is. Used bookstores, in particular, do not enjoy the turnover common to new bookstores, because of the need to carry a much larger selection of stock. An average used title requires as much as two years to sell compared to two or three months for a new book. The Avenue Victor Hugo stock of 150,000 books and 250,000 back issue magazines requires a significant amount of space, making the store's tony Newbury Street address -- now a destination for stylish shoes and expensive haircuts -- less and less affordable.
With the advent of online book sales, the margins are thinner than ever. According to the press release, "Mom and pop with their Mac on a table top in Tennessee can now compete, selling the books they picked up at their local library sale at prices which reflect the lack of overhead costs to bargain conscious buyers. The number of used booksellers nationally, which remained for years at about 10,000, has now risen to the hundreds of thousands."
This is speculation on my part, but I think book-buying habits are probably changing, too. When you're after a particular book, buying it online is often both faster and cheaper than going to a store. The internet is a lousy place to browse, but who browses anymore? Fewer and fewer people are going to a store to find "something to read" (as opposed to finding a particular book). If book browsers were still an appreciable part of the retail experience, the big chains would not be devoting space to movies, videos, and music CDs. And they would not be putting in coffee bars.
Avenue Victor Hugo is looking for a new home close to the present address. The website (http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com) will remain active through the move in January. I am in touch with Vincent McCaffrey regularly, and I will pass along information about the store's situation when I have it. I will be moving At The Margin to a different server, so even if the store's website ultimately comes down, you can expect this newsletter to continue.
2. An Obscure Book, a Missing Village
The internet may not promote book browsing, but there are some ways in which it helps people discover new (to them) books. A neighbor of ours recently had an adventure with books on the internet, and the story struck me as exemplary of the way technology is making connections between books and readers in unexpected ways.
Like many Americans, Monica had grown up without any special knowledge of her family's background, and her grandparents never talked much about their lives before coming to the U.S. But after her grandmother died, her grandfather seemed to feel the need to give her some background, and he loaned her a book called Geschichte der Gemeinde Zichydorf. It was written by a farmer named Johann Achtzener and privately published in 1975.
The book is a history of the village of Zichydorf, which was in the province of Banat, Yugoslavia, but now no longer exists. The author, who protests he had no training for the task but was the one who was willing to do it, tracked down people all over the world who had roots in Zichydorf, gathered their stories, wrote them up, printed them in a book, and sent copies to all of Zichydorf's far- flung descendants. Sometime later he sent a second volume.
Monica doesn't read German, but she was captivated by the book's wonderful photos of families, glee clubs, parades, and ceremonies. She wanted to know more, and she did what you would do if you wanted to know more about something. She went on the internet and did a search.
It turns out to be easy to find background on the Germans of Banat. A Google search on the word "Zichydorf" alone yields over 500 hits, the first of which is the Zichydorf Village Association, which has a newsletter, a surname database, and an online discussion list (http://feefhs.org/zva/frg-zva.html). It is part of the Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS), an organization founded in 1992 that has undergone explosive growth fueled by the geneaology research boom that is powered by the worldwide web.
Monica also found Elisabeth Grob-Hugel, a Canadian who had translated Geschichte der Gemeinde Zichydorf and its addendum and who sells an English version of the two volumes in spiral-bound format. The translation, like the original, is clearly a labor of love. "Our people lost their homeland, heritage, culture and were torn from families and friends," writes Grob-Hugel in her prefatory note, "but through perseverance started a new life in another country. Through hard work and determination they have a left a new life to their children. I am very proud of our heritage and all that it means to me."
The story of Zichydorf is the part of Second World War history that you usually don't know anything about if you were born in the Allied countries. We know all about the suffering of innocent people at the hands of the Nazis, but we don't usually hear too much about the suffering of innocent people at the hands of the other side.
The story starts when the Habsburgs drove the Turks out of Hungary in 1699. The Austrian Habsburgs then encouraged the colonization of the area by their German-speaking subjects. In Vienna, they laid out plans for villages and offered Catholic Germans homesteads, farms, livestock, construction materials, and tax exemptions to "settle" the area. Settlers, mostly poor peasants, came from all over southwest Germany to take part. Although they came from many provinces, the Hungarians (Magyars) who were there when they arrived called them Swabians. History, then, usually refers to them as the Danube Swabians. From 1718 to 1787, about 150,000 Germans came into the region in three successive waves, building the villages laid out in Vienna and establishing enclaves of German culture, often under great hardship due to maurauding Turks, plague, and frontier conditions.
Throughout the 19th century, however, despite the government having withdrawn its subsidies, German settlement in the area prospered, side by side with Serbs, Croatians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Slovaks, Czechs, Ruthenians, and even some French and Italians. The region became known as the "breadbasket of Europe" as a result of its agricultural success. In the mid-19th century, the Magyars tried to counter German cultural influence by making Magyar the official language of the country, and the urban areas of Swabian settlement were gradually assimilated. Many Germans Magyarized their names and adopted the Magyar language. But the small villages remained relatively unaffected by Magyarization. The Swabians remained the largest ethnic minority in Hungary, at about 13 percent of the population. The Magyars themselves were only 49 percent.
Swabian families tended to prosper disproportionately, however, because they followed the custom of bequeathing estates to first-born sons. Their farms stayed intact from generation to generation, while those of Magyars, who divided holdings among their children, fragmented. This doubtless created hard feelings between the two ethnic groups. It also created a large group of landless younger Swabian children, many of whom emigrated to the U.S. and Canada in the early years of the 20th century, nearly 200,000 in all.
The Allied settlement of the First World War considerably reduced Hungary, and portions of the Banat province were ceded to Romania and Yugoslavia. The Swabians found themselves living in three different countries.
In the Second World War, Hungary and Romania allied with Germany (at least at first), while Yugoslavia took the side of the Allies. The Nazis recruited among the Hungarian Germans and encouraged them to reverse their Magyarization. When the war started to go against Germany, the government tried to evacuate ethnic Germans from eastern European territories, but many refused to go, having lived there all their lives. About 50,000 did evacuate. When the Soviets took control of the area, they deported many of the German adults to forced labor camps in the Soviet Union. The survivors of these camps were allowed to return to Hungary the next year, but by then the government had confiscated their property, and they were subject to expulsion if they were not Magyarized. Over 200,000 Germans were expelled from Hungary, the lion's share to West Germany and the rest to East Germany. Many of those who were not expelled were shot by the partisans who had fought the Nazis.
Zichydorf was a casualty of all this. Achtzener's book has stories of hundreds of people being shot at a time, accounts of people being transported to hard labor camps, and many other atrocities that have become all too familiar to anyone who has survived the twentieth century. Zichydorf now exists, after a fashion, online in the Zichydorf Village Association, but the residents speak mostly English, and they communicate by computer. Because a farmer cherished and wanted to share his memories of the place, the descendants of that little village have a book to help them understand where they came from.
For a good brief account of the Danube Swabians, see the paper by Sue Clarkson at http://feefhs.org/banat/bhistory.html. In addition to much more detail than I have provided here, the paper also gives a bibliography. There have been about a dozen authoritative books written about the Banat Germans.
3. Production Notes and Personal Stuff
Once again, I need to apologize to you. I missed getting an October issue out. I have no excuse, but I do have some explanations. The recession seems nowhere near ending in my business, and new business development is taking up quite a bit of time.
But I've also had some unpleasant and time-consuming personal events. Our Great Pyrenees, Travis, has run this household for eight and a half years as the most benevolent of despots. About five weeks ago, Gerry found a ping pong ball-sized lump on his chest that seemed like a bag of jelly under the skin. Several vet visits later, including a surgical biopsy at a teaching hospital of Tufts Veterinary Medical Center, he was diagnosed with subcutaneous hemangiosarcoma. This is an aggressive type of cancer that forms in the lining of a blood vessel. The average life expectancy for a dog with this condition is 4-6 weeks from diagnosis. After the biopsy, he had an ultrasound to "stage" the cancer and then an MRI to show the surgeon just what she might be dealing with.
He had surgery just over two weeks ago as I write this. The surgeon had to make an incision about a foot long down the side of his neck. The pathology report showed that she got it all, but with this cancer, it has nearly always begun to metastasize by the time you see it, so there are doubtless cancer cells traveling around his body trying to get a foothold. He will begin chemotherapy just as soon as he has finished recovering from surgery (which was complicated by a fluid collection in the "dead space" that was left at his incision -- he's now walking around with a drain in his chest). His oncologist does not want to give him radiation because she would have to delay his chemotherapy to do it.
Travis will not lose any of his coat -- several square feet of which has already been removed for various procedures -- as a result of chemotherapy. Dogs don't react to chemotherapy the same way human beings do, and the dose is proportionately lower because treatment goals are different for dogs. The goal with a dog is not to cure but to extend life at a certain quality level. Accordingly, the vets measure their success in days. In the only study of dogs with a condition similar to Travis's, the dogs (with surgery alone) had median survival times of 172 or 307 days, depending on whether the skin was involved. But our surgeon has an 800-day dog (and counting) who got surgery followed by chemotherapy. We are hopeful for a similar result, since the pathology report was so clear.
The hospital is great, and everybody there likes him a lot, which is good, because he is very fond of the attention of strangers, and we haven't yet run into problems with his resisting the hospital visits. Travis is as gentle a dog as I've ever known, but he's a 115 pounds, and isn't easily forced to do anything.
But the hospital is an hour's drive from our house, so whenever we go, I lose at least two hours out of the day, and sometimes it's more like five.
I hope to get back to normal sometime, but I really can't tell you when. Many ATM subscribers know me personally and know about Travis, but if you've never met him and would like to see a picture of him, there are a bunch of them on my website, starting at http://www.thirdlion.com/personal.html.
4. Blue Underlined Words
Interesting items I've found on the web this month, not always related to books.
This site lets you enter any two keywords into the Google search engine to see which has more references. I was surprised by the results of the match I ran between "book" and "TV." "Book" won, 70,800,000 to 51,200,000. I can't say it means anything, but it gave me a momentary glow.
The Powerpoint Anthology of Literature
This site offers several slides from a presentation analyzing various works -- from Hamlet to Maxim magazine -- and it's pretty funny in spots.
Timeline of War
This site shows major conflicts around the world from 3,000 B.C. to A.D. 1999. It is fascinating to discover that the American Revolution was contemporaneous with the Persian and Vietnamese civil wars, not to mention the Hawaiian Wars.
Abrupt Climate Change
If you've been sleeping well, this site ought to cure it. The most authoritative research -- from a number of different sources -- suggests the primary effect of global warming will be the freezing of the North Atlantic region. This is because the climate in that region is created by the Gulf Stream, which will be displaced or eliminated by melting Arctic ice. The northeast U.S. and Britain will freeze over, and it could happen over the course of a decade or less and persist for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
The Future of the Book Conference
The International Confrence on the Future of the Book will be held at Cairns, Australia in April, 2003. The theme is "From Creator to Consumer in a Digital Age." The conference organizers suggest the conference should be attended by publishers, librarians, bookstore managers, authors, educators, and researchers. The conference site, at any rate, may be a good place to be if the climate of the northeast U.S. changes next spring.
The Schøyen Collection
The Schøyen Collection comprises most of the kinds of manuscripts found throughout the world over the past 5,000 years. It is the largest private manuscript collection formed in the 20th century. This website has information on 600 of the manuscripts, including descriptions and photos.
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: http://www.thirdlion.com/ATM33.html.
George Orwell as Essayist
As usual a remarkable and remarkably wide-ranging issue [ATM #33]. One note: You are right, I think, to say that "Shooting an Elephant" is one of the great essays in English. It is cogent, relaxed, brief, enormous in scope, terse, cleanly written, and unforgettable; when I mutter to students about writing I make them read that essay as a stunning example of a single story, a single image really, carrying a huge idea on its shoulders. The brief perfect essay is so much more effective than the long detailed article, eh? And how lovely to see Orwell brought to light as a superb essayist. I believe that he and Robert Louis Stevenson are the two great essayists in English of the last two centuries.
[Editor's Response: I'll always take the recommendation of an accomplished essayist on essayists, Brian.]
Roget's as Cheating?
Yes, there is a tendency to see Roget's Thesaurus as cheating, as some sort of Cliff Notes of the English language. In a literary translation seminar I took many years ago, the prof told us early on not to use a thesaurus, and the entire class rose in opposition, insisting that translation is impossible without one. It is much more difficult even than writing without one. Because you are much more likely to be able to come up with the word you're looking for than the word someone else's words are looking for, especially since those other words probably have no equivalent in English, so you need to take your mind through a whole range of possibilities to combine with other possibilities to find some combination that will work. And what is more communal than literary translation, where you are bringing a foreign work into the English language and into our literature, and thereby expanding its possibilities (with, of course, the help of a thesaurus). But then there are people who think such a thing is a form of treason.
[Editor's Response: Rob Wechsler is the author of Performing Without a Stage, an outstanding book on literary translation. Disclaimer: he's also my editor.]
Furze and Gorse
I enjoyed reading about your experience with circular definitions (furze and gorse) and it reminded me of an example I used to use when teaching the need for some undefined terms in any logical system, such as classical geometry. I had a cheap dictionary that defined "kangaroo" as a certain kind of marsupial. If you looked up "marsupial" you learned that it was any animal that had a marsupium. What is a marsupium? A pouch found on certain animals such as the kangaroo. Maybe kangaroo, like point, line, and plane in geometry, should just be an undefined term. You know what it is. I know what it is. Let's get on with it.
[Editor's Response: Thanks for the note, Marvin. I've always wondered just what a marsupial is. Now I know not to bother trying to find out!]
You might be interested in knowing that your name Floyd Kemske is corrected by my spell check as "Flayed Chemise." In case you are looking for a hero of a new novel, you might consider him (or her).
[Editor's Response: This message gave me the biggest laugh I had for a week. You may be interested to know that my online thesaurus suggest "Deck Out" as a substitute for Dick Dowd.]
Lament for Avenue Victor Hugo
It was a very sad day to hear that the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop on Newbury Street is closing. The store has been a sanctuary and literary lifeline for years. I'm sure there are many who share fond memories of browsing through the stacks on rainy spring weekdays, hot summer afternoons, snowy Sunday mornings, dark nights after work, and losing all track of time, when a "few moments" turned into two or three happily spent hours, and ended with the purchase of "just the right book," or more than one. I hope Vince will find a new (and less expensive) home for Avenue Victor Hugo not too far away. We will miss the bookshop at its present location, but will follow wherever the shop reopens.
[Editor's Response: I'll be following it, too, Hank. For those who haven't seen his name in ATM before, Hank Drought is the proprietor of the James Drought Home Page http://www.drought.com/, which is devoted to the novels of James Drought and even offers free samples. Check it out.]
At The Margin has 1,122 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 1,121 others. Please limit your comment to 200 words and send it to ATM's editor, Floyd Kemske (firstname.lastname@example.org).
6. Do You Know Me?
For those who like puzzles as well as books, this department brings you the first sentence of a book by a famous writer that is at least 10 years old. 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 email@example.com. 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:
The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been too expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of influenza or Spanish plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.
I'm waiting for your guesses. This book has a fairly dedicated following, so I expect quite a few.
Last Issue's Sentence:
There could be no doubt about it; the new nameplate was crooked.
Nobody ventured a guess this time. It is, in fact, The Skull Beneath the Skin by P. D. James (Charles Scriber's Sons, 1982). It was her second (and apparently last) Cordelia Gray novel. Cordelia Gray is a private detective whose "series" debuted in 1972 with An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. That book won a Best Novel award from the Mystery Writers of America. But The Skull Beneath the Skin doesn't seem to have won anything, and it's not one of P. D. James's better known books. The author is much better known for her Inspector Adam Dalgliesh series, which comprises 10 books, including her first, Cover Her Face (1962).
In The Skull Beneath the Skin, Codelia Gray, troubled by her current finances, takes a job to serve as a bodyguard for a famous actress. The actress has been receiving death threats, and Cordelia has reason to believe that the murderer may strike during a weekend at an island castle where the actress is attempting her comeback by starring in the revival of an antique production in a restored theater. It's mysterious, and there is some suspense, but it's a fairly forgettable book. One thing I found unusual about it was that the murder didn't occur until nearly half-way through the book (the 45% mark, actually). But many might think it worth the wait. The murder is somewhat unusual and gratifyingly gruesome. One of my sources says the delay to the murder is a hallmark of P. D. James, that her books provide 50 to 100 pages of background in order to make sure the reader has enough information to solve the crime (see http://www.bastulli.com/James/PDJAMES.htm).
Phyllis Dorothy James was born in 1920 at Oxford, England. Her father was a civil servant, and her family was not well off. She finished at Girls High School in Cambridge and went to work, as a civil servant, at the age of 16. She worked for some time in a tax office and then got a job as an assistant stage manager at a theater in Cambridge. She held a variety of jobs before she began writing full time, including those of nurse and mental health administrator. She spent 30 years in the British Civil Service, including a stint in the Criminal Policy Department, where she was principal in charge.
She married at the age of 20 and had her first daughter when she was 22. Her second daughter was born during the V-1 rocket bombings of London in 1944. She read Jane Austen, still her favorite writer, to get her mind off the air raids. Her husband returned from the war with schizophrenia and spent the next twenty-odd years going in and out of hospitals, sometimes discharging himself and sometimes being readmitted compulsorily. He had no pension, and the family was poor. James enrolled in night school to qualify for advancement in hospital administration. Her life was hectic as she kept up with her coursework, held down her job, and visited her husband in the hospital on weekends. "I realized," she said later in an interview, "that there was never going to be a convenient time to start that first novel, and if I didn't make time, find the motivation, I would be a failed writer and that would be absolutely appalling for me." (http://dir.salon.com/books/int/1998/02/cov_si_26int.html) Before J. K. Rowling employed a similar strategy 40 years later, she began writing a novel on the train during her morning and evening commutes. In three years, she finished Cover Her Face -- her first Inspector Adam Dalgliesh novel -- which was published in 1962.
Her husband, who died in 1964, lived to see two of her novels published. And since the first one, her success has grown steadily. She has had about three dozen books published altogether and has a full complement of mystery writing awards. She is the writer many mystery lovers point to when they want to claim literary status for the category. In 1979, she retired from the Civil Service to work full-time as a writer. She is a public figure in England, having served as a Governor of the BBC and as Chairman of the Literature Advisory Panel at both the Arts Council of England and the British Council. In 1983, she was awarded the OBE, and in 1991, she was made a Life Peer, which entitles her to be called Baroness James of Holland Park. Her latest book, published in 2001, is an Inspector Adam Dalgliesh novel, Death in Holy Orders.
At Contemporarywriters.com, she said, "Within the formal constraints of the detective novel I try to say something true about men and women under the stress of the ultimate crime and about the society in which they live." (http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth193&state=index%3Dj)
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The Virtual Boss
The boss is only software, but he still acts like a bastard
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Write On Target (Nonfiction)
A guide to writing copy for direct marketing
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