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At The Margin
Vol. 1, Issue 5
Wednesday January 5, 2000
Details, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books.
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1. Don't Insult Henry James
2. ...Or Ralph Schoenman
3. A Rocky Start For Pay-as-you-go Portable Files
4. A New Level of Political Dialogue
5. Do You Know Me?
6. Another Story of the Avenue Victor Hugo Cat
7. Blue Underlined Words
1. Don't Insult Henry James
Henry James wrote 20 novels, maybe 100 short stories, and more essays and reviews than you can readily imagine. He also wrote at least 10,500 letters. He wrote letters to his agent, to his publishers, to actors, to family members, associates, and just about anybody else you could think of except Mark Twain. I checked on this last one.
You may wonder how I checked to see if Henry James had ever written to Mark Twain. There's a website. I bet you knew I was going to say that.
James's letters appear in a number of published collections. But there are 7,460 of them, unpublished, in 130 repositories and private collections. Steven H. Jobe, a professor at Hanover College, has indexed these unpublished letters. Susan E. Gunter, a professor at Westminster College of Salt Lake City, has created a biographical register of more than 1,000 of James's correspondents.
The work of these two scholars forms the basis of the Online Calendar of Henry James's Letters and a Biographical Register of Henry James's Correspondents. The website is part of the University of Nebraska Press. You can find it at http://jamescalendar.unl.edu/.
You must go to this site the next time you write a dissertation or critical monograph about Henry James. Actually, you don't have to wait. It's an open site, and it's fun to scratch around in. In addition to discovering that James never wrote any letters to Mark Twain (at least none that were preserved), I found this interesting biographical entry for Violet Paget (1856-1935): "British writer who met James in London in 1881, she dedicated her book, Miss Brown (3 vols., 1884) to him. James found her an adept conversationalist but thought her work disagreeable. Their friendship cooled in 1893 after she satirized him through the character of Jervase Marion in 'Lady Tal' in Vanitas: Polite Stories (1892). She used the pseudonym Vernon Lee." So even a giant like Henry James could let his vanity interfere with a friendship.
There's more background on the James Calendar in this article: http://www.chronicle.com/free/99/10/99102202t.htm.
2. ...Or Ralph Schoenman
If you have a copy of the British edition of Confessions of a Philosopher: A Journey through Western Philosophy by Bryan Magee, hold on to it. It is pretty rare. It is a review of philosophy from Plato to Popper with a popular sort of orientation. There is a chapter on Betrand Russell with a passage about Ralph Schoenman, who was a close associate of his in the 1960s.
Magee's book was critical of Schoenman, saying he manipulated Russell and was rude to his friends. It is said to be less critical of the man than Russell's own account (Private Memorandum Concerning Ralph Schoenman, published in 1970), however.
But Ralph Schoenman went to court against the book under England's benighted laws of defamatory libel. On November 11, a settlement was reached in the High Court of Justice in London, by which the author and publisher agreed to apologize, pay damages and legal costs, and destroy all unsold copies of the book.
The book, which was published last July, is still for sale in the United States, where it is much more difficult to prosecute these kinds of libel cases. His American publisher, Modern Library, calls Magee "the Carl Sagan of philosophy." I haven't read the book myself, but I may do so now that I know it has been suppressed somewhere.
To read an open letter protesting the case, go to the website of the British magazine, Index on Censorship. You'll find a link to the letter at http://www.indexoncensorship.org/news/news.html.
3. A Rocky Start for Pay-as-you-go Portable
I "design" At The Margin for the lowest common denominator. It's all text. I don't even use fancy punctuation like "curly" quotes or em dashes. I create my copy of it in a monospaced font with a fixed line length, and it doesn't look half bad. But I know many of you probably read it in Times New Roman or Goudy Oldstyle Handtooled, which makes my spacing variable and my line lengths disruptive. It's your right to read the thing in any typeface you prefer, of course, but I sometimes find myself wishing I could control how the page looks on your machine.
The technology is already in place for that. It would require you to have a piece of software called Acrobat Reader from Adobe Systems. But those of you who have not yet installed it are unlikely to install it just to gratify my desire to do page layout, so for the foreseeable future, At The Margin will stick with its current "design" and remain plain text.
There are versions of Acrobat Reader for virtually any kind of machine (Mac, Windows, Unix, whatever), and they can all read PDF documents (it stands for "portable document format"), which look almost exactly the way their creator intends them to look, regardless of computer equipment or installed fonts. Acrobat Reader displays (or prints) a PDF document with its layout intact, all the pictures in place, and in the font chosen by the document's author. I use PDF documents, in fact, when I do design work. I could not get along without them. They let me show the client the document as it is supposed to look, with the right colors, pagination, and with the graphics in place. This is something I can barely approximate with faxes. PDFs are faster (I send them by e-mail), they look better, and they don't have my fax number across the top.
If you want to install Acrobat Reader so you can read PDFs (which are increasingly common on the web), it's free at the Adobe website: http://www.adobe.com. (A disclaimer: I own ten shares of Adobe stock. I'm not going to be able to retire if you install Acrobat Reader, but I wouldn't mind seeing the company succeed.)
All this is by way of background to explain that Adobe has taken the Acrobat/PDF thing to a new level. They have just introduced Acrobat Reader with Web Buy. Web Buy works on your machine with software called Adobe PDF Merchant, which operates on a server. The way it is supposed to work is that creators can make PDFs that are encrypted. When you download one and try to open it, it gives you a message that you don't have a license for it, and there's a button to press that lets you retrieve the license on the web. The license will usually be for sale. Adobe Systems does not promote the idea that "information wants to be free."
If this looks like just another way to put a wall between you and published materials for the sake of enriching corporations, it probably is. But it may also make it easier for authors to protect their work when they make it available on the web. At any rate, to kick off the new development, Adobe is offering dozens of books for free download (they are all in the public domain, of course), including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Frankenstein, The Scarlet Letter, Wuthering Heights, Through the Looking Glass (illustrated), Treasure Island, Paradise Lost, and Emma. Go to http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/webbuy/main.html to download Acrobat Reader (or download an updater that will give your copy the Web Buy feature) and find a link to the page listing the books. You have to have the Web Buy feature in your copy of Acrobat to read the free books. I must tell you, however, that when I did it, and I pressed the button to retrieve the license, I got a page of incomprehensible code that sat there and did nothing. I am sure Adobe will work on this until they get it right.
In the meantime, if you like to browse books and dislike messing around with software, try a bookstore.
4. A New Level of Political Dialogue
This is not about books, actually, but it's too good not to share with you.
If you go to the website of the American Civil Liberties Union, you will see that the ACLU is considerably exercised about a super-secret global surveillance system that goes by the name of Echelon. I don't know much about the thing, but I'm not particularly in favor of super-secret global surveillance. Fortunately, the ACLU has a web page set up to let you send an automated e-mail message to your Congressional representatives asking for an investigation of Echelon: http://www.aclu.org/action/echelon106.html. The ACLU, like other activist organizations, sets these pages up for any issue it considers fairly urgent.
Bear with me here for a little more background. The January issue of Technology Review profiles V. A. Shiva (aka "Dr. E-mail") who invented a software product called EchoMail. EchoMail decodes incoming e-mail for a company, based on Shiva's theory of the content of e-mail communication. Shiva has reduced incoming communication to five dimensions: (1) issue, (2) request, (3) product, (4) customer type, and (5) attitude. EchoMail uses keywords and word relationships to score every message in the five areas. The software can then send appropriate canned replies composed by the organization's public relations department. If you've ever sent a message to a business and gotten back a reply that seems somewhat related but not quite responsive to your inquiry, it could be the effect of automated e-mail analysis.
EchoMail counts some heavy hitters (JCPenney, IBM, Procter & Gamble) among its users, and automated e-mail analysis promises to be one of the hot new areas in business. Read the Technology Review article at http://www.techreview.com/articles/jan00/shapley.htm. The article mentions that the U.S. Senate just signed up for EchoMail.
If you think about this for a moment, you will see that we have attained a new level of political dialogue. You go to the ACLU site and have an automated e-mail message sent to your senator about some civil liberties issue. Your message arrives at the Senate computer, where it is analyzed by an automated e-mail analysis system, which determines the content and sends you a reply based on your issue, attitude, and whatever. It is a political dialogue without human intervention.
5. Do You Know Me?
For those who like puzzles as well as books, this department brings you the first sentence of a novel, currently out of print in the U.S., by a famous writer (caution: he or she may not be famous for being a 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 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 lovely Jessica sat alone at a small white table in front of a smaller white page, and although she looked so neat and demure there was murder in her heart.
I'm waiting for your guesses. And this is a particularly difficult one.
Last Issue's Sentence:
The morning of the Tilney-Studdart wedding rain fell steadily from before daylight, veiling trees and garden and darkening the canvas of the marquee that should have caught the earliest sun in happy augury.
Nobody sent me any guesses. But I know you were all pretty busy with the holidays.
The sentence is from Friends and Relations by Elizabeth Bowen.
Here's the novel's entire first paragraph: "The morning of the Tilney-Studdart wedding rain fell steadily from before daylight, veiling trees and garden and darkening the canvas of the marquee that should have caught the earliest sun in happy augury. The bride's relations frowned in sleep and were roused with a sense of doom by rain's inauspicious mutter on roofs and windowsills. Clouds with their reinforcements came rolling over the Malvern hills. Till quite late, the rooms at Corunna Lodge were dusky as though the morning had been delayed."
The novel was originally published in 1931, and Elizabeth Bowen renewed the copyright in 1959. The dust jacket of the Avon paperback edition characterized the novel like this: "Laurel marries Edward, Janet marries Rodney. The sisters become brides during a soft English summer in the twenties. Ten years pass, children are born, life is peaceful and assured. Then, like a quietly approaching storm, the story reveals, by the most delicate means, the secret love of Janet and Edward."
Elizabeth Bowen was born in 1899 in Dublin and died in February 1973 in London, of lung cancer. After her basic education, she attended an art school for a few years, but she never attended college. Nevertheless, before her career was over, she was a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her fifty-year writing career established her as "what happened after Bloomsbury... the link that connects Virginia Woolf with Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark." (the quote is from her biographer, Victoria Glendinning).
She wrote ten novels, but only three or four remain in print. The Death of the Heart (originally published in 1938), widely regarded as her best, was issued in paperback in 1991 by Penguin Classics. But she seems to be on the verge of being rediscovered by modern readers. The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen was published in 1996, the same year the Well-Spoken Companion Series issued an audiocassette of actress Rosemary Harris performing as Bowen and telling her stories. Bowen had a stammer all her life, but I haven't heard the cassette and don't know if Harris did one in her performance.
Bowen wrote about educated, upper-middle class people and was a keen observer of manners and social absurdities. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss her as a drawing-room comedy lightweight. Walter Allen, writing in The Modern Novel, said about her work, "It is as though Henry James has been superimposed upon Jane Austen." And, as you may have felt from reading the first paragraph from Friends and Relations, many knowledgeable readers prize her for her treatment of both place and weather.
The University of Texas at Austin (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center) has 5.42 linear feet of her papers on file, and they are catalogued at this website (which also includes a short biography): http://www.lib.utexas.edu/hrc/fa/bowen.e.html.
While mostly out of print, Bowen's novels and short story collections are not rare, and Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop sometimes has them on hand. You know where to inquire. As well as The Death of the Heart and Friends and Relations, her novels include The Hotel (her first), Eva Trout, The Heat of the Day, The House in Paris, The Last September, The Little Girls, To the North, and A World of Love.
6. Another Story of the Avenue Victor Hugo Cat
Customers frequently exclaim that we have or have found books they can't find anywhere else. This is inbetween exclaiming over how beautiful and friendly and laidback the cat is.
Recently a customer asked us for a title which unfortunately we didn't have a copy of. Well, it was a slow night so I called another local dealer who turned out to have it. When the customer called, I referred them on. Of course, they were so desperate to get it, not having had any luck elsewhere, that they wanted to reward us somehow.
They knew the cat as well so they mailed Blue a catnip mouse in appreciation of our greater than normal service. The cat was last seen heading for a quiet corner with something small in his mouth. He's probably going to be very laid back all day.
[Editor's Note: Tom passes these stories on from time to time. If you want to see the cat, his image is all over the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop website: http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com/.]
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.
Back in Print
Big publishers are all in search of blockbusters, and their method is to throw a bunch of writers at the wall and see which ones stick. This means the odds of publishing a first novel are getting better all the time. The odds of publishing a second one are declining fast. And the hope for staying in print, even with a book that sells steadily, is fading for most mid-list authors. But Backinprint.com, a website sponsored by the Authors Guild, allows out-of-print authors to continue selling their books: online, by mail, or via toll-free telephone call. http://www.backinprint.com/
Lolita Lives on in Spite of Her
An author named Pia Pera wrote a novel called Lo's Diary, which purports to tell Nabokov's famous story from Lolita's point of view. Nabokov's son Dimitri (who wrote a rather resentful preface for it) undertook a copyright action against it, without which "it's unlikely that Pera's novel, a work of fairly astounding ineptitude, would ever have gotten much attention at all." The quote is from a delightfully vicious review you can find at New Times Los Angeles Online. http://www.newtimesla.com/issues/1999-12-02/ink_p.html
Before your next poetry slam, try The Semantic Rhyming Dictionary, a web page by Doug Beeferman, a graduate student in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. You type in your word, and the page comes back with a selection of rhyming words, plus links for words related to your word, pictures of your word, and quotations with your word. http://www.link.cs.cmu.edu/dough/rhyme-doc.html
Does Time Always Have to Go "Forward"?
This is just too cool. A physicist named Lawrence S. Schulman has developed a cosmological model in which time is not prevented from flowing backwards. He published it in the December 27 issue of Physical Review Letters. Until he figured this out, the prevailing view was that opposite flowing timelines could not coexist in our universe, that they would destroy each other on contact. But Schulman says reverse-time sites can exist in our universe and may be what we see when we observe the dark matter that occurs in the galaxy. I don't know enough to physics to vouch for his idea, but hey, he's got a color diagram! http://www.aip.org/physnews/graphics/html/timearrow.html
Try a Random URL
"Most/all common English words have already been registered as domain names in the COM top-level," says this Web page. So it randomly generates words, adds "http://www." to the front and ".com" to the end, and voila, there's another website to visit. Every time you refresh the page, it gives you about a dozen new sites to try. http://www.davidchess.com/toys/WordURL.cgi
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A Commercial Message from Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop
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In the U.S., we ship via United Parcel Service at $4.50 for the first book and $1 for each additional book (UPS shipping to street addresses only; no P.O. boxes). Overseas shipping is postage plus $1 per book.
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Visit our gorgeous website for new arrivals, original stories, and outstanding cat pictures: http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com.
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