At The Margin
Vol. 3, Issue 9 (Whole Issue #35)
December 31, 2002

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

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This Issue:
1. A Small Miracle Mixes Books and Paint
2. E-Book Watch: DMCA Lays an Egg
3. Production Notes and Personal Stuff
4. Blue Underlined Words
5. E-Mail to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?

1. A Small Miracle Mixes Books and Paint
Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop has found a new location and will remain open. The new location, at 353 Newbury Street, is two or three doors up the street from the old 339 Newbury Street location. If you know the neighborhood, the new address may sound familiar. It is Johnson's Paint Company, which opened in 1938 and is Newbury Street's oldest business.

The upstairs of Johnson's Paint, which houses Johnson's Artist Materials, is a traditional destination for Boston artists. It is here the bookshop will be relocating. Johnson's Artist Materials is reducing its floor space to make room.

Avenue Victor Hugo's press release announcing the new location was titled, "A small miracle on Newbury Street unexpectedly mixes books and paint."

When Vincent McCaffrey announced the store's closing at the old location (see ATM #34: and advertised a half-price sale to reduce the stock, the story made all the major news outlets in Boston. It got picked up by several national and international outlets as well. The result was brisker business than the store had known for some time, complete with appearances by various celebrities.

Finding a good retail location for a used bookshop in downtown Boston seemed unlikely given the current cost per square foot of retail space and the commonly slow turnover of used books.

The unexpected solution presented itself against fears that the business may be forced to close if it could not find a suitable location, leaving one less bookshop in an already much diminished literary community once world famous as a destination for book lovers. Such closings have become common around the country in recent years as overhead costs have risen -- problems compounded by the spread of chain stores and increased use of the internet.

The bookshop moves to its new quarters in February. It will remain open during the move in the month of January, although its hours may be (like the publishing schedule at At The Margin) charmingly erratic. In the new location, the store will be about one third smaller than it was in the old location, but it will continue to carry the same mix of general subjects and fiction. It will be on the second floor, but it will have a street-level entrance.

The store cat is said to be satisfied with the short move.

The store will continue to keep a website at The email address is

2. E-Book Watch: Dmca Lays an Egg
We ran a story in ATM #21 ( about the Elcomsoft case, which was the first big criminal prosecution under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This law, according to a Department of Justice press release, makes "trafficking in a product designed to circumvent copyright protection" a criminal offense.

A small Russian firm named Elcomsoft created a program that would defeat the weak encryption of Adobe Acrobat eBook files and convert them to PDF files. Acrobat eBook files are readable only by Adobe's commercial eBook software. PDF files are readable by a whole host of programs, including Adobe's own (free) Acrobat Reader and the Mac OS X operating system. Adobe took umbrage at Elcomsoft's creation of this software and filed a civil suit against the firm. But impatient with its progress under the civil suit, Adobe then leaned on the U.S. Justice Department to arrest somebody.

The Justice Department went after Dmitry Sklyarov, the lead engineer in the development of the product Adobe found so offensive, meeting him when he arrived in Las Vegas (July, 2001) for a convention of programmers. The feds actually threw the poor guy in jail for a while. The furious general outcry (which included the founding of an organization called inspired Adobe to backtrack. It joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation in asking the Justice Department to release Sklyarov. But it was too late for that. Sklyarov was held in the U.S. for five months, until Elcomsoft and the feds hammered out an agreement that he could be freed if the proceedings were redirected from him to his employer and he testified at the trial.

The criminal trial has been wending its way through the system, and this month it finally ended. A federal jury returned a verdict declaring Elcomsoft not guilty on all counts. Sometimes the good guys win.

This doesn't by any means invalidate the DMCA, although it may cause prosecutors to think twice about trying to charge people under it. Apparently, it is difficult to convince a jury that it's a criminal act to write code that lets people make backups of their Adobe eBooks or read them on different machines or lend them to friends.

For more information, there is a complete archive of the case with a lot of relevant documents at

3. Production Notes and Personal Stuff
Update on ATM
You may notice At The Margin has new procedures for subscribing and unsubscribing. Now you do it through a web page, at I have moved ATM to a new server, so you may notice other changes as well, but I think they should be small. If I have lost any subscribers in the transition, I'm sorry. I admit it is silly to apologize to readers who won't receive this issue, but some may read this when it's archived on the web. If you received this issue in the usual way, however, your subscription survived the move, and you need do nothing.

From time to time, readers send me the email addresses of people they think should receive ATM. Under the new system, I can no longer handle those referrals. If there is someone you're sure would enjoy ATM, forward your issue to her or send him to the signup page:

When you go to that page and type your email address into the box and click the "subscribe" button, the email program sends a message to the address asking for a confirmation. You then confirm by visiting a web page.

I cannot unsubscribe you, either. If you want to stop receiving ATM, go to the signup page, enter your email address, and click "unsubscribe." Subscribing and unsubscribing are risk-free procedures. The site uses no cookies, and the only record of your email address is in the subscription list. If you unsubscribe, that record gets deleted.

If you want to change the email address at which you receive ATM, go to the signup page, unsubscribe you old address and subscribe your new one.

The other change to ATM is that I've established an affiliation with Powells. If you're a book lover, you've probably heard of Powells. In case you haven't, it's an independent book retailer in Oregon (although "independent" is a relative term -- Powells is pretty large). I wanted to use Powells because it has such a large inventory of used books. My plan is to put in a Powells link for every book I mention, so you can order it if it sounds interesting to you. If you order it through the link, I get a small referral fee. I admit this situation could be a conflict of interest, but I'm a one-person operation, and it's impossible for me to build in checks and balances. So I ask you to just go ahead and take a chance on corrupting me. It might be fun to watch, anyway.

Update On Travis
As you can see in the "Email to the Editor" department, there were a lot of thoughtful messages about my dog, Travis, this month. Thank you all. It has been 70 days since the surgical biopsy confirmed he had hemangiosarcoma. He's in good health, considering his condition. He has recovered from his surgery and at this point suffers only from his chemotherapy.

As I said in the last message, chemotherapy is supposed to be easier on dogs than on people. That being the case, I hope I never need chemotherapy or have to live with someone who does. Travis's treatment has been a thoroughly unpleasant adventure. His first course of chemo was the worst, because we didn't know what to expect.

We had always given him medicine in food, and when he stopped eating due to nausea, we couldn't give him his antinausea medication or his appetite stimulants. Catch-22. We took him to the hospital for an emergency visit the day after Thanksgiving. The vet gave him an injection of his medication, then gave us a bagful of syringes and told us to give him shots every six hours. I learned how to fill the syringe, but Gerry was the one who gave him the shots. She managed it very well, and Travis was so tolerant of it that she once gave him his shot when he was asleep, and he didn't even wake up. Then we faced up to the challenge and learned to give him his medications without food, which basically involves putting a pill down his throat. He is tolerant of, but unhappy about, this procedure, which occurs at least three times a day.

To get him eating again, we tried everything we could. Sometimes he would enjoy sausage-filled ravioli, and sometimes not. Sometimes he liked made-from-scratch waffles and sometimes not. Cocktail sausages, deep-fried and breaded mozzarella sticks, pepperoni pizza, ice cream, steak, omelet, deli-sliced roast beef, smoked salmon, Christmas cookies... We tried just about everything we could think of, with varying results. He survived his first round of chemo on a diet of graham crackers and Slim Jims, which are those smoked beef sticks they sell in liquor stores. Gerry calculated that Slim Jims cost $64 a pound. We could have fed him cheaper on filet mignon, but he wouldn't have eaten it. He lost nine pounds, and he's now down to 106. But at the end of three weeks, he was skinny but completely normal again -- for two days, until we returned to the hospital for his second chemotherapy.

We are half-way through the second chemotherapy, and it was as difficult as the first, but at least we knew better what to expect and have avoided emergency visits to the hospital. After a week of anorexia, he has started to turn the corner on eating. He is still picky, but he eats as the spirit moves him. We know from experience this is a difficult phase, because eating becomes sort of political for him. He knows if he turns away food, not only does he get a chance at something better (we have been known to prepare three or four dishes in succession), but he gets the entertainment of watching his people wring their hands and plead. The vet wants us to put about 15 pounds on him in the next two weeks.

As of his last visit to the hospital (December 23), there is no evidence of metastatic disease. We are guardedly hopeful, and we are keeping about fifty dollars' worth of Slim Jims on hand.

4. Blue Underlined Words
Interesting items I've found on the web this month, not always related to books.

The Samuel Pepys Weblog
Samuel Pepys kept his famous diary for nine years, from 1660 to 1669. Pepys was an educated, curious man, and his diary provides an engrossing picture of life in Restoration England. This site, maintained by Phil Gyford, posts a new entry from the diary every day, staring January 1, 2003. It also provides annotations and a page of historical background. Thanks to reader William Metcalfe for the tip.

A Lot of Flocking Poetry
"Warm drift, graze gentle, White below the sky, Soft sheep, mirrors, Snow clouds." That's a poem "written" by sheep. This BBC story describes the work of Valerie Laws, a writer who spray-painted words on the backs of sheep to see what kind of poetry their random movements might create. The farmer who owns the sheep finds it amusing, and the organization that provided the financial grant to Laws thinks it's exciting.

Tracking Recent Coinages
"Frozen smoke," "cup-holder cuisine," "invacuate." These are among the most recent words posted at The Word Spy, a website "devoted to recently coined words, existing words that have enjoyed a recent renaissance, and older words that are being used in new ways."

A Rich Archive Almost Lost
In 1986, researchers in Britain observed the 900th anniversary of The Domesday Book by creating a multimedia archive that would provide a snapshot of mid-1980s Britain. The result was an information-rich program -- a marvel of technology on two laser videodiscs with a controlling program that ran on an Acorn computer. Both laser videodiscs and the Acorn computer are now obsolete, and the program has been inaccessible for some time. A joint British-American research team has recently developed emulators to run it on modern equipment, providing a sort of object lesson in how risky it is to archive information projects with the latest technology.

Government Science
Regardless of your politics, the science sponsored by the federal government is fairly authoritative. is a search engine/portal providing links to the innumerable websites established by government research organizations. You can find everything from the Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service Aquaculture Program (to "establish a globally competitive, sustainable aquaculture industry in the United States) to "Ask the Space Scientist" (responding to questions about the solar system, black holes, cosmology, and strange sightings).

The Secrets of Demotivation
I don't know if this is for real, but the website of Despair, Inc. purports to sell demotivational posters and other paraphernalia. It offers a line of Demotivators(r) with the tagline "increasing success by lowering expectations." Some of this stuff is hilarious. Thanks to reader Monica for the tip.

5. Email 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:

ATM Kicks Ass
who are you and why did I get this kick ass email? I'm really depressed the victor hugo is going away. That bookstore is a beautiful thing, quite frankly the only positive thing the overhyped city of boston has to offer.


Good Wishes to Travis and Avenue Victor Hugo
My thanks to you -- on Thanksgiving! -- for your civilized, informative, and amusing newsletter. I do appreciate your efforts, despite not being as well-read as (I am sure) are the majority of your subscribers.

I, too, lament the change of address (not the closing) of Avenue Victor Hugo -- a real beacon in a sea of commercialism. The one remainder at that end of Newbury Street is Johnson's Paint. (I am an artist and teacher and am always referring my students to Johnson's and to Avenue Victor Hugo.) The Trident Bookstore is also a respite from the chain stores that dominate the landscape.

Finally -- my heart goes out to you, your wife, and Travis. We have two beloved cats (Max & Greta, almost 15 years old!) and Greta developed cancer in a foreleg. The leg had to be amputated about 1 1/2 years ago. Happily, Greta hops about like a rabbit and is in fine fettle (despite her age).

With best wishes,
Jesseca Ferguson

I'm an avid reader of your newsletter from Argentina. I've read about Travis's illness and wish to sympathise with you. My family had a wonderful bitch adored by all because she was the best friend one could have. She had a terrible infection due to a strange illness, and a hysterectomy at age 2 but, thanks to the vet's work and her family's care, reached 14. I know how you can love your dog and thus feel your anxiety. Trust Travis's vet will be counting many days of his life yet.


I've subscribed to your newsletter for a while now, and it is always enjoyable -- Lots of interesting items, fun links, and things to think about. I wanted to write to say thanks, and also to wish you luck with Travis. I've had many pets over the years, and it is always hard when they are going through periods of illness. Hopefully the surgery with the chemo will work well for him, and he will be a part of your family for years to come. Best of luck!

Regards (and happy holidays),
Tanya N. Kutasz

It's Cold Comfort Farm!
I am so proud, this time I know what book it is! Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm. In fact, I just read it a few weeks ago, and enjoyed it a good deal. I also enjoy your newsletter a good deal (make that a great deal). Thank you for writing it.

I was very sorry to read about Travis, and hope that his medical treatment will be very successful.

We live near Albany, NY, and visit Avenue Victor Hugo on each of our trips to Boston. I am glad that their plans aren't to close down completely, and we will look forward to visiting them in their new location. One of the few used bookstores still left in Albany (Bryn Mawr Bookshop) is closing at the end of the year, which I find quite sad. I've been going to it in all its different locations since I was in high school, and can still remember many of the books I've found there.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Trudi Jacobson

I recognize the first words from Cold Comfort Farm, one of my favorite books and an annual read along with Pride and Prejudice, The Wind in the Willows, and Charlotte's Web. I think it would be useful to have the services of Flora Poste available for putting our lives in order at times; she seems so good at it.

Thanks for a fine issue. I'm pulling hard for Travis and hoping that Blue, the staff cat at Avenue Victor Hugo, will soon have a new and less expensive home.


P.S. Spellcheck doesn't like my name either.

Well, you nearly did it -- me & the cats were stumped. Until Sue, the wife, mother & cat conversationalist said "Well, it's Cold Comfort Farm, isn't it?".

My guesses were on the lines of "It's not one of the Argentinian magical realists who had read Jane Austen?" Who would not be, after all, Stella Gibbons.

Bryan & Homer & Sampson & Susan McEnroe

P.S. Here's a next teaser: what were the names of the cows on Cold Comfort Farm?

Another list of surnames, to keep folk teased:

Who were they?

And another, perhaps a bit more recondite:

Thanks for your general happiness.
Bryan McEnroe

[Editor's Response: Bryan's lists are way beyond me, except for the cows' names, but I'm not going to give them because they are part of the fun of reading CC Farm. Anybody want to try the other lists?]

At The Margin has 1,079 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 1,078 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 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 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:
James MacFadden died in March 1905 when he was forty-seven years old; he was riding in the Driffield Point to Point.

I'm waiting for your guesses. This is a very well-known novel, but I don't expect very many people to identify it from this line, because James MacFadden is an exceedingly minor character in it.

Last 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.

The book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Six readers, all women, correctly identified it: Liz Hogan, Sarah Imholt, Trudi Jacobson, Susan McEnroe, Susana, and Suzanna. Two of them confessed they had not yet read the book, one saying she'd seen the movie and the other insisting it is in her TBR stack.

Cold Comfort Farm was Gibbons's first novel, published in 1932. It is an uproarious burlesque of the rural novel. In it, the abovementioned Flora Poste goes to live with distant relations at a farm where the Queen's Bane blights the corn, the King's Evil lays waste the clover, and the Prince's Forfeit brings black ruin on the hay. And the cows have the funniest names this side of P. G. Wodehouse.

You can identify a person who has read this novel simply by saying, "Send gumboots." Anyone who laughs out loud has read the book.

Many people know Cold Comfort Farm, but few people know Gibbons's other books. There are 32 of them, including four books of poems and two books of short stories. Cold Comfort Farm appears to be the only one now in print in the U.S. The Encyclopedia Britannica's entry on Stella Gibbons says, "Cold Comfort Farm was a popular and critical success but was never equaled by her later work. Her later fiction, although well-written, was said by critics to dwindle into magazine entertainment." Notwithstanding the backhanded swipe at a magazines, it does seem to be the case that the author, as Mark Twain said of E. W. Howe (The Story of a Country Town (1883) ), "caught the only fish in her pond."

If you don't believe Britannica and want to try to chase down the other books of Stella Gibbons, you may have the most luck with Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (a 1940 book of short stories), The Matchmaker (1949), Conference at Cold Comfort Farm (1949), The Weather at Tregulla (1962), The Wolves Were in the Sledge (1964), or The Snow-Woman (1968). Her last book, The Woods in Winter, was published in 1970. She bequeathed two unpublished novels to her grandsons when she died in 1989.

One-hit wonder she may have been, but Stella Dorothea Gibbons is one of the most interesting writers we have ever profiled in this newsletter. She was born in 1902 and home-schooled until she was a teenager. Her father, a successful physician, was said to be a spendthrift and something of a drinker, and it was Stella's storytelling that sustained the spirits of her two younger brothers in the midst of an unhappy home life. She went to college in London. When she left there, she divined her profligate father would not support her, so she went to University College to acquire a marketable skill, training to be a journalist. She finished the program in 1923. She took a job with British United Press in 1924, but she was fired in 1926 when she made a miscalculation in an exchange rate that temporarily dislocated the financial markets.

The same year she was fired from British United Press, she got a job with London Evening Standard. In 1928, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, speaking at the Royal Literary Fund, said it was a shame that the deceased author Mary Webb, once a winner of the prestigious Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, had passed into obscurity. That speech made Webb fashionable again, and the London Evening Standard decided to serialize her rural novel, The Golden Arrow. Stella Gibbons got the job of writing synopses with each new installment in order to bring readers up to date on the story. She thought the story was ridiculous and eventually realized it would be a good subject for a parody. The rest, as they say, is history.

One job later, when Gibbons was working on the magazine The Lady, she began writing her parody of The Golden Arrow during her daily commute on the train, a pattern we've seen before, but one that is probably doomed as trains have become crowded with people talking loudly on cell phones. The postscript to all this is that in 1933, she won the same Femina Vie Heureuse Prize that Mary Webb had won. Gibbons was also married in 1933 to an actor and opera singer, Allan Bourne Webb (another Webb!). They had one daughter. Until the age of 85, she held parties on the first Saturday of every month, attracting large numbers of literary people and others.

Her biography, Out of the Woodshed, which was written by her nephew, playwright Reggie Oliver, was published in England in 1998. It has not yet been published in the U.S. But Oliver has posted a fascinating, not quite book-length, biography of her on the web (, which is where I got most of this information.

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

At The Margin is a learning project of novelist Floyd Kemske. He is committed to keeping it free for readers who enjoy it. But if you are moved somehow to support what he's doing, consider ordering one of his books. You can read the first chapter of any of his novels at his website:, or you can order one right now through one of these links:

Human Resources
It's a tough job when your new boss is a vampire

Labor Day
A renegade union organizer tries to unionize a union

Lifetime Employment
Life in a company where murder is the only path to promotion

The Virtual Boss
The boss is only software, but he still acts like a bastard

The Third Lion
A novel about the lies and loves of the incomparable Talleyrand

Write On Target (Nonfiction)
A guide to writing copy for direct marketing

At The Margin is published monthly, but is otherwise charmingly erratic. It aims for release sometime during each calendar month.

(c) Copyright 2002 Floyd Kemske

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