Treasuring Early Natural History Books

Always happy to see a story involving my old hometown Cleveland’s book culture–Judith Rosen of Publishers Weekly reports that an 1886 book of natural history and ornithology, Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, a copy of which was discovered in 1995 in the library of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is now being republished by Princeton Architectural Press. PAP’s catalog listing for the book shows that the new edition has been retitled  America’s Other Audubon by Joy Kiser, the librarian who found one of twenty-five remaining copies of the rare book.

The author, Genevieve Jones, an amateur naturalist of her day, was inspired to create the book after seeing Audubon’s Birds of America paintings at the World’s Fair of 1876. She created sixty-eight original lithographs in making her book, which contemporaries described as “the most beautiful book ever produced in America.” Sadly, Jones died before it was finished and her family labored seven years to see to its completion, then underwriting printing and selling it by subscription. Only 90 copies were produced, and among the subscribers were Theodore Roosevelt and President Rutherford Hayes.

I love old natural history books, such as The Journal of A Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion, to which H.G. Wells contributed an Introduction upon its publication in 1919–a few months before the author died of multiple sclerosis at age thirty. Two sample entries from Barbellion’s youth, January 3, 1903: “Am writing an essay on the life-history of insects and have abandoned the idea of writing 0n ‘How Cats Spend their Time.'” and March 18, “Our Goldfinch roosts at 5:30. Joe’s kitten is a very small one. ‘Magpie’ is its name.”  I have an old Penguin copy of the book and a reprint published in 1989. Then there’s Fishes: Their Journeys and Migrations by Louis Roule, originally published in 1933, which I republished as a Kodansha Globe title in 1996, with a new Introduction by George Reiger of Field & Stream magazine. A reviewer of the original edition wrote, “Will please the nature student, the Izaak Walton enthusiast, or the reader who delights in believe-it-or-nots.” Living in an age of diminishing biological diversity with an accelerating pace of extinction, it is important to be aware of species and varieties that used to be common and are no more, or increasingly scarce, and I treasure these books for aiding that effort, decades after they were first published. That’s kind of miraculous.

Good News for Bloggers & Internet Publishers

From Nevada comes news of this favorable Federal court ruling that will buoy the work of bloggers, social networkers, and anyone who publishes on the Internet. Had this decision gone the other way any outlet that quotes from online articles could have been deemed in violation of copyright, even when proper attribution and linking are provided, as is the custom on this blog. Thank you Electronic Frontier Foundation for becoming involved in this troublesome case, where Fair Use on the part of Democratic Underground was essentially the ruling given by Judge Roger Hunt. He slapped down the copyright trolling machinations of the plaintiff, who according to the article by Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, had “filed hundreds of copyright cases based on its sham copyright ownership claims.” h/t @jayrosen_nyu

Ereading Devices in Independent Bookstores?

Today my publishing friend David Wilk has posted Booksellers and Co-opetition, an intriguing commentary on his blog, suggesting that indie booksellers should consider selling ereading devices in their brick & mortar stores, even Kindles and Nooks, as a way to maintain their connections with customers who are migrating to digital reading, even as many of them continue to read print books too. I suggest you read David’s piece, and think about how independent bookstores might carve out a new place in the emerging ereading environment.

Book Camp–Fostering Innovation Since 2010

Book Camp on Sunday, February 12 was a spirited ‘unconference,’ a confab of experimentally-inclined publishing people enjoyed enormously by the 150 + plus in attendance, including me.

If you’ve never taken part in an ‘unconference’–and I never had until the first NY Book Camp in 2010–these gatherings are deliberately unplanned and unprogrammed up to the moment they begin. Book Camp is very much opposite to the two big digital publishing conferences held each year, Digital Book World and Tools of Change. As scripted and prepped as speakers are at those events, the presentations at Book Camp are informal, casual, and exploratory. Here, people aren’t sure what they think about a publishing question until they’ve had a chance to say it aloud, or listened to a colleague talking about it. / / more. . .

Easy on the Eyes

I recommend a computer add-on called F.lux to spare your eyes & improve your onscreen life, for MAC, Linux, and Windows. It calibrates monitor brightness to your location and time of day. I’ve been using it for several months and really like the mellowing effect, especially when I work evening hours. You can read about it and download it at this link. Oh, and it’s free. Props to @herf and @lorna for making this useful program.

Putting Printed Books and Ebooks on Equal Footing

With indie record labels now routinely making downloads of music available to buyers of vinyl LPs, I’m heartened to see a similar strategy taking hold among indie publishers too, with regard to ebooks and printed books. . . . With the print book and ebook initiative announced today, Coach House has demonstrated their continuing relevance, if it were needed–and that of publishers like them– in the burgeoning digital age that publishing has entered. I wonder how long it will be before big, commercial houses are also routinely making ebooks available, or some digital product, available with purchase of a new book. Meantime, congratulations to Coach House Books for leading the way. // more. . .

“Riot of Life” at 8000 Feet Below Sea Level

Watch Under the Sea Near Antarctica, ‘a Riot of Life’ Discovered in Super-Heated Water on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Startling discoveries have been made of heretofore unknown species in explorations of deep ocean waters near Antarctica. Learning about all these newly discovered species, my mind turns quickly to thoughts of extraterrestrial life. After all, we know that conditions in space would be extreme, even more extreme than 800 degrees and all the pressure that must be exerted on life at 8000 feet below sea level. Still, if life forms can flourish in those conditions, maybe there are some kinds of organisms, beyond our current imaginings, that would also thrive in deep space. // more . . .

Media Organizations Pranking Themselves

Carl Franzen of TPM’s IdeaLab reports that for several hours today News Corp. was erroneously corroborating that the Twitter handle of @wendi_deng was in Twitter-speak a ‘verified account’. Turns out they were wrong, as was Twitter. . . . I detest seeing errors in books I’ve published–I get sick to my stomach the first time I see an error in a book I’ve edited–so my outlook here is informed by that. And yet, I know that I am fallible, along with other people, and that we’re all probably more mistake-prone in our screen-dominated age than in eras past. Mistakes will continue to occur in communications. But what’s inexcusable is to make errors on top of errors. Both companies here failed as organizations to correctly assess the matter at hand. I guess you might say they’re simply too complex to be simple when they need to be. // more. . .