Archive for the ‘Lit Links’ Category


Lit Links: for the lexically lacking

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Recently I’ve been getting quite a lot of compliments on how good my English is. On a recent trip to Birmingham (West Midlands,  not Alabama) a shop assistant told in me I had a lovely Dutch accent, and how clever I must be to have almost entirely gotten rid of it.

I could have been very flattered were it not for the fact that I’m British.  I spent years losing the Birmingham accent I picked up while studying there, and even more years before that trying to shrug off the Geordie accent I grew up with in the gray and green wilds of Northumberland.

But the lovely people who praise my command of English may have a point. Since I’m immersed in Dutch language most of the time, finding the right word in English is becoming more and more difficult, to the point that I have to ask my Dutch husband to translate for me sometimes.  I appear to have stopped picking up new words in English too.

So here, for myself and the other lexically lacking ex-word nerds, are some lit links to help repair those broken down English language synapses.

Eggcorns are similar to malapropisms in that they are examples of using the wrong word in a familiar phrase. Where malapropisms produce nonsense, eggcorns sound so similar to the original word that they appear to make perfect sense, to the extent that some are eventually are absorbed into the language. Here’s a fascinating essay on eggcorns, which suggests that “this process of the masses’ getting it wrong until it becomes right is common, ongoing, and unstoppable.”

WordPower is a simple but addictive vocabulary game that can be played online, or as an iPhone ap. I’ve tried quite a few vocabulary games recently, and this is the only one so far that has a nice interface and uses words I didn’t already know.

There’s another (slightly easier) vocab game online, that has the added incentive of donating ten grains of rice to the World Food Program for every answer you get right. Ten grains may not seem like much, but it can make a real difference.

Want to make those new words stick? Here are Ten Tips to Improve your Vocabulary.

As a fun exercise at school in my teens, the best English teacher I ever had taught us how to avoid ambiguity in our writing by having us spot misleading newspaper headlines. Soon  the wall of her classroom was papered in perfectly awful examples of headlinese, like “McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers.” :-) There’s a wonderful term to describe these headlines: crash blossoms.

And then there’s the Cupertino Effect, the tendency of a spellchecker to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspelled words and words not in its dictionary, to which even the New York Times has fallen prey. It may also have inspired Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, also known as The Spellchecker Poem.

Dictionary.com has a surprisingly good blog, full of trivia about etymology, word meanings and the written word. The scope is broad, the topics are hot,  and the presentation is fun: you can find out out why New York is called the Big Apple, what to call the biggest numbers in existence, and where the word ‘hello’ comes from.

It’s fifty years since To Kill a Mockingbird was published.  I think a fitting way to mark the occasion would be by learning to cuss like Scout Finch.

If you feel that your command of English is just fine, thanks – and of course, if you’re Dutch then it probably is - how about working on your vocabulary in a few fictional languages, like Avatar’s Na’vi, Star Trek’s Klingon or Tolkien’s Sindarin?

Lit Links: Pop Science

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Like many booksellers, I’m an arts major. (Not many science majors working in book stores. They’re all doing  jobs that require mashing stuff together for astronomical paychecks probably.) That means that until recently, I honestly didn’t not know my proverbial sacrum from my ulna, much less the order of the planets in the solar system, or what holds the bits of an atom together. (Gluons. I thought that was a joke when I first found out. ) My boffiny six-year old changed all that, when he developed an unsual interest in science at just two years old. Now I’m furiously trying to keep up.

Anyone with even a passing interest in science will want to reserve a few hours to enjoy this treasure trove: Every issue of Popular Science magazine - all 137 year’s worth of them, is now available online for free. It’s worth a look just for the hilariously  over-optimistic predictions of what life would be like in the new millennium. Where is my home “kept clean by high-frequency sound”?  And my commute by “jet-propelled monorail train?”

Ever wondered how books are actually made? Webcrafters Inc is a bookmaking company based in the US; they make the Rand McNally atlases among other things, and now they’ve put together an amazing infographic, showing just how a book goes from concept to bookstore. (We’ll be doing this ourselves, albeit on a teeny tiny monochrome scale, come November.)

Books  make you dumb! Well some of them do, apparently. Here’s completely reliable, scientific analysis of SAT scores and reading choices. Now you know which books not to read.  

Discover magazine picks the 25 greatest science books of all time – and they really do mean of ALL time, right back to the beginnings of modern science, from  Galileo Galilei in 1632 to  Oliver Sacks in 1985. 

Ah, this is more up my street: Poetry about the elements. Everypoet.net needs your help to fill in every block on the periodic table with a poem. Hundreds have been submitted already, some of them rather good, actually. Some of them silly. Some of them, well… they won’t be winning any Pulitzers. Highly entertaining though. Pick your favorite element and dive in!

If I didn’t work in the best bookstore in Europe, I’d probably be working on a help desk somewhere. I wonder if it would be anything like this one? Helping customers with their new-fangled book technology?

Lit Links: The fate of the bookcase

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

The book is dead! Long live the book!

Well, not quite.

We’ve been reading with interest the many opinions on the rise of the e-book and what it means for print. Our conclusion, reached over many slow Monday mornings and staff room coffees, is that e-books are fantastic. For the people who like e-books.

It’s not that we don’t like them. E-books are convenient in many different ways. I have access to thousands of free classic public domain books on my i-Phone. And very recently, Apple introduced iBooks, giving i-Phone and i-Pad owners the ability download thousands of books not in the public domain. (Although in many cases, your official Apple version of the latest Grisham will cost more than the paper version.) Any book. On your phone! This is the stuff we didn’t even dream of when we were playing Pong and Pac-Man because even now, it seems far-fetched to anyone over the age of 12.

Real books, though, can be magical in ways that a bunch of ones and zeroes probably cannot. For a bibliophile, a world without print is inconceivable! It would mean the denial of  pleasures like turning up a long wished-for rare book in a charity shop. Or running your hand over the smooth cover of a new paperback. Old book smell. New book smell. Deciding whether to crack, or to not crack the spine – with some books you simply must, and with others you never would.  And, god forbid, with only-ebooks as the medium for all those words, heavenly places like the famous second-hand book shop Shakespeare & Co in Paris would disappear. I don’t think I want to live in a world that would kill off Shakespeare & Co.

How will we collect our books together in a purely digital world? If you like books, you can’t tell me that this:

stirs you as much as this does:

Okay, I know that a bunch of hard drives versus one of the most amazing libraries in the world is not a fair comparison. And yes, there are now lots of places where you can create your own digital bookshelf online. ABCers have been spotted using Shelfari, and Goodreads is one of the best web 2.0 applications of the digital bookshelf I’ve seen. But can digital bookshelves ever come close to the dog-eared, crackle-spined eclecticism of the collections in our Ikea billies?

“In the age of the e-book, what will happen to bookshelves? How will we decorate our apartments? How will we judge our prospective partners?”

No books means no shelf-snooping! Perhaps we can replicate it by embeding flash drives full of books into the contents of curio cabinets, where the curios reflect our personal obsessions and interests in a way that we hope will show who we really are. Or perhaps we’ll retain our billies after all, “as display cases filled with only the books we valued enough to acquire and preserve in hard copy.” Many of us with tiny homes do this already. But I don’t believe that booklovers with even the tiniest appartments in Amsterdam will ever give up on ink.  People who love books will buy books, and the people who love reading will probably buy both e-books and real ones. There will always enough people who like the tactile, olfactory pleasure of reading a ‘proper’ book to keep real books alive.

At ABC, we believe in real books. That’s why we’re investing in Europe’s very first Electronic Book Machine, which will debut in our Amsterdam store this September. We see a future for the bookshelf. How about you?

Lit Links: Our Irregular Round Up of Book Stuff

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Today’s Theme: The Art of The Novel

Mike Stilkey stacks up old books, often chosing titles that fit the idea he has in mind. And then paints on them. Pictures of rangy, doubtful looking types, reminscent of Edward Gorey. Each piece stands alone, but arranged as a group across a gallery wall, they become something else altogether.

Fore-Edge Painting sounds like something to snigger at. But it’s really something very lovely.

Will Ashford disassembles books - Ralph Waldo Emerson books in particular, and transforms single pages into poetic artworks using colored vellums, graphite and India ink to hilight or obscure words.

Picture Book Report is a blog where fifteen illustrators express their love for books by creating beautiful pieces of art in response to their favourite texts. The list of books covered is fairly small and centered round the sort of books that have turned millions onto reading for life (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy for example.) I hope they expand the list of titles and the number of artists taking part in the future; there are so many possibilities!

We’ve seen it done before, but never on this scale:  20,000 books arranged by color. This thrills the slightly autistic little corners of me that other bookcases cannot reach.

Lit Links: Our Irregular Round Up of Book Stuff

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Today’s Theme: Bookselling.

I wonder what would happen if those jolly wags at The Guardian tried this out on us? The British broadsheet sent volunteers to major UK bookstores, both on and offline, with a variety of complaints (a copy of Ulysses with missing punctuation!) and  questions (“If I like The Naked Chef, will I like The Naked Lunch?”) to find out how well-read their booksellers were.  They were sorely disappointed – most booksellers know their stuff!

Mind you, most of us, especially when faced with a ‘which-book-is-next-in-the-series’ question can be thoroughly stumped now and again. And that’s where Fantastic Fiction comes in handy, a website where  novels are listed in chronological order, sorted by series. Really, really handy when trying to figure out which ‘Margaret Weiss book with dragons’ a customer is looking for. ;-)

This does not work, however, if you come looking for a book that does not exist.

I was amused to discover today that book thieves in New York have rather literary tastes. Here at ABC Amsterdam the items we most often discover to have been stolen are coffee table books and fun things like Giant Microbes. Which books are most often stolen from bookstores in New York? You’d be surprised.

Remember when we used to have a little cafe in the basement of our Kalverstraat store? First Lindsay, and later Gary provided coffee and treats and were sorely missed when they had to turn off their percolators for good. Many of us had to go through some serious brownie-withdrawal.  If we are ever able to have a little coffee stop in our store again, please, oh please, let it be run by these people: Caffe al Baccio: a darling Italian bookstore with a coffeeshop that serves coffee with a kiss  – including Nutella! In the coffee!