A Goofy Invention, Some Stupid Rules and a Popular Library Book

You remember Get Smart’s joke gadget, the Cone of Silence? Have you heard of a real privacy invention called the Isolator Helmet, meant to give a writer peace and quiet for working? You can buy it on-line for about $35,000. An amusing essay in the August 20th Publishers Weekly sent me in search of information about Hugo Gernsback, inventor, writer, editor, publisher, and the fellow for whom the science fiction award Hugo is named. He founded the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, and was known for questionable business practices; his writers received extremely low fees and sometimes none at all. He owned 80 patented inventions at his death in 1967, including the aforementioned helmet. It resembles a diver’s helmet, with a box at the mouth for smoking, and an oxygen tank which costs extra.  Somehow those two features don’t seem compatible. 
 
Speaking of ridiculous. . . . Can you fathom why prisons in North Carolina won’t allow inmates to read The American Heritage Dictionary or The Dog Encyclopedia?  Book censorship is common in U.S. prisons, and the outlawed titles are sometimes hard to explain. The Authors Guild reports that Books Through Bars, an organization which provides books to prison inmates, had trouble in 2017 with the New York State Department of Corrections denying delivery of books. Since the same policy barred care packages from loved ones, much public outrage led to Governor Andrew Cuomo rescinding the ruling. In Texas, 10,000 titles banned from prisons include a collection of Dave Barry’s humor, and the pop-up version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 
 
So aren’t we fortunate to be able to walk into our lovely library and check out armloads of uncensored books?  If you don’t mind waiting in line for one with more than a hundred readers ahead of you, consider putting a hold on The Library Book by Susan Orlean. (The line is shorter for the audio, e-book, or large print version.) Ms. Orlean has written a tribute to public libraries in general, and, in particular, an account of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire, the worst American library fire ever; about 400,000 books were destroyed and 700,000 more damaged. 
 
A big thank-you to book publishers everywhere!
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com

Library of Congress, The President is Missing and Robert Benchley

“The Library of Congress is the greatest library in the world. If you ever get down about American culture, [remember that] there are more public libraries in this country than there are Starbucks.” David McCullough

Here’s a fun anthology if you like fantasy: Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries and Lore. Available at the inimitable Longmont Library, this book includes such authors as Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and other Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy award winners. Be thankful our library is nothing like the ones depicted herein.

“My resolution was to read more so I put the subtitles on my TV.” Unknown

You’ve noticed that James Patterson likes to co-author novels with other suspense writers. In June, Knopf/Doubleday will publish The President is Missing, and Patterson’s co-author is none other than Bill Clinton. Also, as if he weren’t busy enough, Patterson wants to teach you how to write a mystery. For $90, you can take an online class involving videos, reading material, exercises, and critiques. If you visit masterclass.com I’m pretty sure no salesman will call.

“[Creative writing] really isn’t like any other kind of work, for it must come from a great emotional upheaval of the soul of the writer himself; and if that emotional upheaval is not present, it must come from the works of any other writers which happen to be handy and easily imitated.” So said humorist Robert Benchley. For a good time, search for him in the library catalog. He also claimed he needed to actually live the lives of his characters, which took considerable time in Cannes, Nice, gambling, drinking. “It was not until I decided to tell stories about old men who just sit in their rooms and shell walnuts that I ever got around to doing any work.”

“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” Henry Ward Beecher.

“How about the public library?” CC

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in March 2018

#1 Dr. Seuss, Terrible James Patterson and Library Factoids

You know how, when a bestselling author dies, finished but unpublished manuscripts turn up in the estate? You have to be suspicious when it isn’t just one discovery, but year after year new books appear. In the case of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, the find is legitimate. What Pet Should I Get, written and illustrated between 1958 and 1962, and inexplicably filed away by the author, was released by Random House Books in July, with a one-million-copy first printing. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the #1 best seller for two weeks, was unseated by What Pet, which sold 171K print units its first week out.

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Vanity Fair magazine recently ran an article on James Patterson, in which Steven King remarked that Patterson was “a terrible writer” who is “very, very successful.” Patterson himself says his obituary should begin, “He was slowing down at 101, and had only finished four novels this year.” The grammar in that sentence kinda confirms Mr. King’s assessment.* You Patterson fans send your rebuttals to carol@carolcail.com.

Now for your reading pleasure, here are a few factoids about public libraries according to Publishers Weekly. The United States is blessed with 16,000 branch libraries. (Not counting the mains.) It’s a myth that library borrowers don’t buy books; roughly a third of the people who bought a book in a given month also read one from the library in that same month. Federal statistics show that 1.53 billion in-person visits were made to public libraries in 2011. In 2012, a national survey found that libraries are more trusted than any other institution, including the military, churches, and police. (Congress came in last. Duh.) In 2013, 48% of Americans over 16 visited a library, and 70% of households with children reported that a child visited a library.

Lastly, here’s an observation from Roger McGough:
“The only problem
with Haiku is that you just
get started and then”
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*I bet you knew that “only finished four” should be “only four.”
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in September 2015