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Archive for February, 2006

February 28th, 2006 • Posted in Nigel Beale Bookstore Photos

My Favourite Bookshops

I am currently compiling a personal list of favourite bookstores. Here are a few lists from others, courtesy of Librarian Robert Teeter’s great website, along with a bunch of British favourites and author Jeremy Mercer’s Top Ten found in The Guardian. Jeremy has an Ottawa connection, wrote for The Citizen for a while I believe. He was here recently promoting his book about Shakespeare and Company: time was soft there I missed meeting and interviewing him damn it. Hoping to "Biblio File" him sometime soon.

Update: I’ve just posted a hundred or so photos of bookstores taken on my travels during the past several years. Check them out here.  

February 28th, 2006 • Posted in Uncategorized


Enthusiasm, like a good idea, is a gift from God.

February 28th, 2006 • Posted in On Collecting

Are you Packed

Heading off to London and the Book Fair today. Friends are saying: Hope you’re all ready to go. You must be excited. Are you packed?

I am saying: no, not yet….don’t have to be.

this is what the time between when the airport taxi is called, and when it arrives is for.

February 28th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Gadfly. Book Review by Nigel Beale

The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan University of Toronto Press 1962

This book reads like a hastily written, over-padded undergraduate term paper. It consists of little more than a series of lengthy, brain-cramping quotations about the alphabet and typography, and scatterings of slick bite-sized ad copy, unborn ideas and incomprehensible references. A cast of brilliant writers including Cervantes, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Plato, and Shakespeare walk across the book’s stage in roles that, while entertaining if you’re into literature, are more perplexing than illuminative.

As a result, night after night, for months on end, within minutes of pages being opened, a great veil of slumber descended over this reviewer’s head, transporting him away from the task at hand.

Reading The Gutenberg Galaxy taxes all the senses. But to dismiss it as frustrating gibberish, tempting though this may be, would be foolish. Marshall McLuhan, the crafty gadfly, knew exactly what he was doing. For the serious, patient reader, this book (a Governor General’s Award winner for non-fiction) reveals, over time, powerful insights into the impact of communications technology on human existence.

Starting right on the cover with a big stylized "e " which bears striking resemblance to the e-commerce logos that today, 40 years on, so stuff our visual diet, the book is packed with prescient aphorisms and truths about life in a multi-media, multi-sensual world.

In communicating his message, McLuhan eschews clear, linear writing for the "grotesque," an approach that, in principal, expresses truths by throwing together collections of symbols, leaving it up to the "beholder" to make the connections; truths that would otherwise take much longer to express verbally; a kind of "witty jazz" with no point of view, no linear connection and no sequential order, where the reader participates as co-author.

This may explain why the book starts at the end, where McLuhan calls upon the great 18th century English poet/illustrator William Blake to explain his delivery. It has to do with sense ratios (hearing, seeing, touching etc.). When they change, men change. And they change when any one sense or bodily or mental function is externalized by technology. Imagination is the ratio that exists when there is unity of experience, an entire, natural interplay among the senses; when no senses are "outered." Because, when outered, each sense becomes a closed system, and in "beholding this new thing, man is compelled to become it."

Inclusive wisdom " the unity of all senses" is diminished says McLuhan, when one sense (visual, in the case of printing) is stressed to the detriment of others. Plato is quoted as saying that the onset of literacy diminished ontological awareness, resulting in an impoverishment of being and a loss of richness in experience. The stated purpose of The Gutenberg Galaxy is to discover how far the restrictive visual bias was pushed by introduction of the alphabet, then manuscripts then typography.

McLuhan’s objective in The Gutenberg Galaxy is to show the process by which forms of experience, mental outlook and expression have been modified, first by phonetics, then by printing. He plays the psychoanalyst trying to identify and explain early patterns of behavior in order to understand and control their impact on current and future experiences. The message of the book is not that print, or any other communications technology, is good or bad, but rather that to be unconscious of its effect is disastrous.

Standing on mentor Harold Innis’s shoulders, McLuhan suggests that revolution takes place as personal and social life adjusts to new models of perception brought on by new technologies. From the alphabet on, he says, there has been a continuous drive in the West toward a separation of the senses which has had a profound impact on our emotional and political existence.

The alphabet made possible invention of logical "grammars" of thought. Science during the Renaissance meant translating force and energy into visual graphs and experiments. According to McLuhan, introduction of printing and typography in the 16th Century fostered homogeneity in every phase of human sensibility. A visual-print bias emphasizes the explicit, uniform, and sequential in everything: the arts, history, economics, recreation, industry. Non-literate modes, says McLuhan, are implicit, simultaneous and discontinuous (much like his text). They existed in the primitive past, and now, in the multi-media present where, thanks to broadcast, there is less of a print bias.

Students processed through print technology translate problems and experience into visual linear order. Words are carefully reduced to homogenized entities so that they can be applied. For a society in need of a workforce to perform the common tasks of commerce, finance, production and marketing, this kind of education was essential. "Without uniform processing by literacy, there can be no market or price system."

With the Renaissance came a new passion for exact time and precise measurement, a need to itemize, classify, organize, mechanize, to squeeze the senses into visual space.
Print culture, suggests McLuhan, is consumer-oriented, concerned with author, oral fidelity, exact quotation, and labels of authenticity. Manuscript culture before it was producer-oriented. It valued relevance and usability of items rather than their sources. Authorship before print was seen largely as a collective process, the building of a mosaic. Medieval students treated books as part of a total body of knowledge passed down from the ancient sages, rather than the expression of an author’s opinions or personality.

It has been observed, unfavorably, that McLuhan fails to offer any opinions in his work. This pre-print trait, plus the fact that he uses a book to communicate what it probably better told in a multi-media presentation, are just two among many ways in which he frustrates us into an awareness of medium. Just as Joyce does with his impenetrable musical prose, and Gertrude Stein with her lack of punctuation.

According to McLuhan, effort to assert personality against the restrictive leveling claims of society defines the prevailing philosophy of human nature since the Renaissance. It is ironic that in part by following the humble medieval path, deliberately suppressing personal opinion on the good or evil of multi-media technology, McLuhan gained enormous notoriety and celebrity.

In addition to deliberately using the medium to make its message, The Gutenberg Galaxy, as mentioned above, contains plenty of aphorisms and puns, devices designed to break and twist knowledge, to stimulate engagement and thought. The famous "global village" makes an early appearance on page 31, describing each of us as now simultaneously present in every corner of the earth. Famed American educator John Dewey is described as "surf-boarding" along on the new "electronic wave" in his struggle to restore education to its primitive, pre-print phase. And of course that powerful ‘e’ stares out on the very (albeit designer created) cover of the book. All of this in pre-Internet, pre-satellite, pre-CNN, 1962. And more.

The most powerful line in the book, one that reinforces a post-September 11 belief in McLuhan’s prescient genius, is this:

"Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it, everything affects everything all the time. in our striving to recover a unity of sensibility and of thought and feeling we have no more been prepared to accept the tribal consequences of such unity than we were ready for the fragmentation of the human psyche by print culture."

No wonder he was called an oracle.

Copyright © Nigel Beale.

February 28th, 2006 • Posted in Uncategorized

Prescient Negroponte on the Future of Books

This from Nicholas Negroponte , a founder, among many other things, of Wired Magazine and MIT’s Media Laboratory…written for Wired a millennia ago, in 1996:

Subject: The Future of Books

“What weighs less than one millionth of an ounce, consumes less than a millionth of a cubic inch, holds 4 million bits, and costs less than US$2? What weighs more than 1 pound, is larger than 50 cubic inches, contains less than 4 million bits, and costs more than $20? The same thing: Being Digital stored on an integrated circuit and Being Digital published as a hardcover book.

The most common question I get is, Why, Mr. Digital Fancypants, did you write a book? Books are the province of romantics and humanists, not heartless nerds. The existence of books is solace to those who think the world is turning into a digital dump. The act of writing a book is evidence, you see, that all is not lost for those who read Shakespeare, go to church, play baseball, enjoy ballet, or like a good long walk in the woods. Anyway, who wants to read Michael Crichton’s next book, let alone the Bible, on screen? No one. In fact, the consumption of coated and sheet paper in the United States has gone from 142 pounds per capita in 1980 to 214 pounds in 1993.

It’s not a book – it’s bits
The word is not going anywhere. In fact, it is and has been one of the most powerful forces to shape humankind, for both good and bad. St. Thomas said a few words in southern India almost 2,000 years ago, and today the southern province of Kerala is 25 percent Christian in a country where Christians are less than 1 percent of the population. There is no question that words are powerful, that they always have been and always will be. This back-page column, except for my loathsome picture, has never had anything in it but words.

But just as we seldom carve words in rocks these days, we will probably not print many of them on paper for binding tomorrow. In fact, the cost of paper (which has risen 50 percent in the past year), the amount of human energy required to move it, and the volume of space needed to store it make books as we know them less than the optimum method for delivering bits. In fact, the art of bookmaking is not only less than perfect but will probably be as relevant in 2020 as blacksmithing is today.

It’s not bits – it’s a book
And yet books win big as an interface medium, a comfortable place where bits and people meet. They look and feel great, they are usually lightweight (lighter than most laptops), relatively low-cost, easy to use, handsomely random-access, and widely available to everyone. Why did I write a book? Because that is the display medium my audience has today. And it is not a bad one.

We can “thumb” through books, annotate and dogear their pages – even sit or stand on them when we need to be a mite taller. I once stepped on my laptop, and the result was awful.

The book was invented 500 years ago by Aldo Manuzio in Venice, Italy. The so-called octavo format was a departure from previous manuscripts because it was handy, portable, and pocket-size. Manuzio even pioneered page numbering. Odd how Gutenberg gets credit while Manuzio is known to only a few. Today’s Manuzios are the flock of researchers looking for display materials capable of producing handy, portable, and pocket-size flat-panel displays for PDAs (personal digital assistants, a term coined by John Sculley five years ago and one of the weirdest acronyms to stick). In general, these efforts miss the point of “bookness,” because the act of flipping through pages is an indisputable part of the book experience. In 1978 at MIT, we animated flipping pages on a screen and even generated fluttering sounds. Cute, but no cigar. A new effort by Joe Jacobson at the Media Lab involves electronic paper, a high-contrast, low-cost, read/write/erase medium. By binding these pulplike, electronic leaves, lo and behold – you have an electronic book. These are quite literally pages onto which you can download words, in any type, in any size. For the 15 million Americans who want large-print books, this will be a gift from heaven – if Joe succeeds during the next couple of years. So, those of you who don’t want to climb into bed with “Intel inside,” there is hope. This is the likely future of books.

The model said never to work
When my colleagues and I argue that the mass media of the future will be one that you “pull from” versus one that is “pushed at you,” we are told: Poppycock! (Or worse.) These naysayers argue that a “pulling” model cannot be supported because it eclipses advertising. While I am not sure it is even true, let’s pretend that it is and ask ourselves: What mass medium today is larger than the American TV and motion picture industries combined, has no advertising, and is truly, as George Gilder puts it, a medium of choice? The answer: Books.

More than 50,000 titles are published in the United States each year. Guess the typical number of copies published per title. A major house considers 5,000 to be about the lowest run it can support economically, while some of the small houses consider 2,000 copies of a title a large run. Yes, more than 12 million copies of John Grisham’s novel The Firm were printed, and the first run of Bill Gates’s book was 800,000. But the average is much smaller, and these less massive books are not unimportant. They just interest or reach fewer people.

So, the next time you ask yourself about the Web (which is doubling in size every 50 days) and wonder what will economically support so many sites (today, one homepage is added every 4 seconds), just think books. You say to yourself, Surely most of those Web sites will go away – no way. There will be more and more and, like trade books, there will be an audience for all of them. Instead of worrying about the future of the book as a pulp standard, think about it as bits for all: bestseller bits, fewer specialty-seller bits, and no-seller bits for grandparents from grandchild.

Meanwhile, some of us in research are working really hard to make them feel good and be readable – something you can happily curl up with or take to the john. “

February 27th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Bowl Fulls

I love cherry picking the low hanging fruit.

February 26th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

(Audio) Interview with Luise von Flotow, Translator, by Nigel Beale

Luise von Flotow is an associate professor in Translation Studies at the University of Ottawa with a special interest in translation and gender. In 1992, her translation Deathly Delights was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. Her most recent book is the English translation of Girls Closed In by Quebec author France Theoret. I spoke with Luise in her office several weeks ago about Canada as a mecca for translation, efforts to convince government of the potential for this industry to expand, and the challenge confronting translators of being faithful to original work while at the same time appealing to audiences in the translated language. She is passionate about her work. You can tell by the charming enthusiasm in her voice. Just listen, especially when she tries to evade identifying the best translators.

Copyright © 2006 by Nigel Beale 

February 26th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Not war, genocide or famine, it’s the loss of culture that really upsets me

Long inured to the deleterious nature of broadcast news, little of the misery and carnage imported into my living room via the media now affects me. I can do little to amiliorate pain in the greater world situation other perhaps than to call an MP, cut a cheque, or write a ditty. Caring about pain only results in angst. It’s up to statesmen to quit fighting.

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
they make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s
and under their lips in the poison of vipers

I think it’s time we turned everything over to stateswomen again.

But we digress:

One incident during the past decade did however penetrate the insouciance. Not the Dresden style bombing of Kosovo or Bagdad, nor the slaughter of half a million Tutsi tribespeople by their Hutu neighbors, not starvation, not even the ethnic strife currently devastating Darfur, Sudan. No. It was when the Taliban blew up those two awesome (to use a ‘totally’ disemboweled word), massive Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

It isn’t the loss of life due to war, genocide, or famine that upsets me. Humans keep procreating. We are replaceable. No. It’s the loss of culture and its products that really upsets me.

Which is why, in a silly little way, I am upset that TVOntario cancelled its book program Imprint.

I hope to create a tidal wave of support for the re-incarnation of Imprint on TVO, in some form. In fact, I have just sent this post over to TVO’s discussion board. There appeared to be a poll option attached to the post option, but I don’t think it worked.

February 26th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Broke My Back Mountain

Wow. The Americans have just made a serious movie about homosexuality. This is the first time in world history that a film of this nature has ever been produced, right?

February 26th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

i wanted it nice

Laughed my ass off last night reciting these Sherwin Tjia pseudo-haikus, found in his The World Is a Heartbreaker.

go squee


i will be
a better person
just for you

floating around
her womb, minding
my own business

Page 52, pulsates I think:

only children
have that
kind of energy

i wanted it nice
for as long
as possible

i tried to
redeem my life
with my life

food for fat
and inactive

she was one
big ball of

as does page 84

i only hang
out with
lonely women

this time of
night everyone’s

one more
way to let
people meet me

i’ve gone back
to feeling bad about
my body again

she strolled
by like
sliding soap

Not certain why I find these so intensely funny. Possibly because I’ve heard Sherwin recite them, so am aware of the juxtaposed mock- seriousness and humour in his voice. Just like when you hear a haiku about poo…. high contemplativeness coupled with low shit.

This distanced irony, the co-joining of crudity and sophistication, I surmise, replicates and happily stimulates something at play in my own mind. My brain strives for deep understanding of the most important questions, my body lives for earthy, sexual expression. Sherwins’ do too. The only thing that separates us, at least to this point, is his predilication for cross-dressing.

Francois Rabelais’s work, as my hero literary critic Clifton Fadiman points out, expresses deep knowledge and joy in its attainment, plus a vast courseness that delights in the eternal comedy of the human body.