Friday, July 31, 2009

In the Wake of Godzilla

[Photos from Along the Highway Adjacent to Gloucester Crossing]

For readers who are unfamiliar with the landscape and day to-day affairs of Gloucester, Gloucester Crossing is a newly built shopping mall located on the grounds of a formerly fully functioning neighborhood elementary school. The shops are scheduled to open later this year. When I write formerly fully functioning elementary school, I mean to say that the Fuller School was shuttered at the onset of the development, staff laid-off, and students relocated. Subsequently the grounds surrounding the school, including the ballpark and vernal pond, were clear-cut. Despite repeated assurances from the developer Sam Park that the vernal pond would be protected (see videos), it was not. Despite the full knowledge that the developer was not in compliance with, and his complete disregard of, the agreed-upon terms of development, Sam Parks and DeMoulas (Market Basket chain of supermarkets) were given two million dollars in tax-increment-financing, or TIF, further unfairly crippling local businesses.

Perhaps you have a “Gloucester Crossing” in your neighborhood. I think I speak for the majority when saying we all basically desire the same thing for towns and cities — that our local businesses and industry be allowed to grow and thrive — creating a mutually beneficial relationship between citizen and business. Local industries, such as fishing and tourism are the lifeblood of Gloucester. Destroying the natural beauty of Gloucester in the name of creating low-paying jobs (part of the TIF agreement) destroys the very thing that draws people to our city — an extremely shortsighted form of development.

I am sickened by feelings of powerlessness against rapacious developers who defile our community. Not only was it heartbreaking to witness the annihilation of the vernal pond, surrounding tree cover, and ballpark, but also the wholesale demolition of the granite outcropping that formerly ran adjacent to the last leg of Route 128. Created over millennia — rife with native plants and wildlife — now only a pile of rubble.

There are many in our community who bravely fought the developer. They won the first round against Park’s bullying self-serving insistence that a traffic light on Route 128 be installed to serve his customers (with the potential to create the worst traffic jams imaginable). As the developers are circling round the harbor front, it is very clear that there needs to be in place a system of checks and balances that offers incentives to those who consider the environmental impact as well as the aesthetics of future developments, and adhere to the agreed upon terms. Gloucester is a perpetually cash-strapped small city, which places us in a very vulnerable position. I don’t see the good folks of Manchester, Essex, and Rockport tolerating this kind of in-your-face-destruction. Is it because Gloucester is that much poorer, or is it because we citizens, through our elected officials, lack the political will to legislate against and to prevent this kind of abuse?

Boycotting works. Did we need a fourth supermarket within a one-mile radius? Did we need another Marshall’s and Staples, particularly since both businesses already have branches that are within a half hour drive? A friend said, “what does it matter, what’s done is done, and nothing can change that fact.” Yes, that is true, but this is a teaching moment for all of us who care about the natural beauty and community development of Cape Ann. Fishermen and artist, restaurateur and patron, Varian engineer and organ builder, innkeeper and guest, elected official and voter, rich and poor, year round and summer resident, entrepreneur and blue collar worker, white collar and green collar, we all have to join forces and work together to preserve our natural resources and shape future development. The alarm has sounded and we now have a visual, daily reminder of the face of unbridled, pernicious development.

The photos taken only a few days ago show the granite outcropping before and after it was demolished. The flora is native spiraea (Spiraea latifolia), a caterpillar host plant for the female Summer Azure butterfly, found dead at the blasting site.

[Kim Smith is the author of Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Available now from David R. Godine, Publisher.]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Perec & Kramer: Separated at Birth

We have the folded and gathered (unbound) pages for Thoughts of Sorts here, and reading it over — Perec's mostly humorous essays are quirky, whimsical, and engaging — this likeness struck me; it struck me like a bolt of lightning:

Georges Perec
, Godine

Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld

I'm not 'sayin', I'm just — you know — saying. They're both kooky.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Looking, and Looking, and Looking at the Newberry Library

Last month, while attending the ALA in Chicago (for those of you who think this is the American Law Association, think again; it's the American Library Association — for librarians — and it is, as shows go, pretty dull stuff), I allowed myself the luxury of visiting the Newberry Library on West Walton Street. The Newberry is one the great, free-standing, independently funded research libraries in this country, and it is well known in typographic and calligraphic circles for its outstanding collections in these areas. I was welcomed by Paul Gehl, whose official title is Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing, which contains probably the greatest collection of writing books and calligraphic manuscripts (along with those at the Houghton amassed by Philip Hofer and the British Museum) in the English speaking world.

In the old days, when I was a student at Dartmouth, you could go to almost any library, sign in, sit down in the reading room and have books brought to you. You didn't have to wear white gloves or provide evidence of some formal scholarly affiliation, or show your drivers license to prove your identity. As a senior at Dartmouth, I spent an entire term my senior year at the Bodleain Library at Oxford sitting in the reading room and looking through fifteenth and sixteenth century books. No one asked me any questions; the books were brought, left at my reading station, and picked up when I was finished. All in total silence.

The same procedure, I am glad to report, still obtains at the Newberry, and Paul Gehl is the personification of civility and helpfulness; he simply gives the interested scholar the two wooden racks of typewritten cards describing the Wing holdings with a few slips of paper on which to write the call numbers. It's simple; it's efficient; and it's a pleasure. No wonder that every serious scholar from Stanley Morison to Beatrice Warde to Nicolas Barker has made it their home, and a special vote of thanks is due to Jim Wells, who presided over the collection for years and who befriended and was a friend to so many in this rarefied field that still holds a fascination for a certain lunatic fringe.

The history of scholarship in the fields of typography and calligraphy is riddled with individuals who never received a formal college diploma and never attended formal courses of study but whose education was nurtured and furthered by curators like Jim Wells and Paul Gehl. Daniel Berkeley Updike, whose "Printing Types" remains the standard in the field to this day, never graduated college; not did Stanley Morison, probably the foremost typographic scholar of the last century. Richard Benson, whose recent book will find its place on the shelves of the classics, never graduated, not did his brother John Benson, the foremost stone-cutter of our age. Matthew Carter, who is surely the foremost type designer of our time, was offered a place at Oxford, but declined to study punch cutting in the Netherlands instead. The list goes on. Scholarship, and most especially connoisseurship, have little to do with a college degree; they have everything to do with looking, and looking, and looking some more. And reading. To this end, we have institutions like the Newberry to thank, and to their curators for their help and encouragement.

Godine's Biggest Fan

Some impostor (we're sure it is an impostor, although the reasons why are another matter) has sent David several very genial letters in the name of pop icon Britney Spears. We thought you fine readers might enjoy a bit of tom-foolery. To wit:

Monday, July 27, 2009

A National Best Seller

A little bit of cheery news for a small independent press such as ourselves: The Poetry Foundation released their list of national best-selling titles for July 12, and Linda Bamber's debut collection Metropolitan Tang came in at a sturdy, whimsical, desirous #23 on the list! Sandwiched between Frederick Seidel and Matthew Dickman — not too shabby.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Brood Parasitism

What is going on? Look closely at the photograph and you will see the smaller bird is feeding the much larger bird. The plumage of juvenile birds often differs strikingly from that of their parents, but that is not the case here. The bird in the foreground is an adult Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and the bird it is feeding is an entirely separate species, a Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater). The obviously well fed fledgling cowbird parked itself in our yard for over a week. From sun up till sun down, squawking loudly with its mouth held wide open, three Song Sparrows ran themselves ragged feeding it safflower seeds.

Lovely russet-streaked plumage, brown-cap, streaked-eye, and clear bird songs give clues to identifying the Song Sparrow. Its song is sweet and performed at all hours of the day, from early spring through our Indian summer. They are one of the most common and geographically variable birds found in North America, breeding as far north as Canada and Alaska and wintering in Mexico. Not all Song Sparrows are migratory. For the past few winters we have had several residing in our garden all the winter long. Their diet usually consists of seeds, grains, berries, and less frequently, insects. We find them feeding in a solitary fashion on the ground below both the safflower and Nyjer seed feeders.

The Brown-headed Cowbird is a brood parasite, meaning it lays its eggs in the nests of other passerines (perching birds), neither building its own nest nor raising its young. Females lay as many as three dozen eggs in a season and over 140 different species of birds have been known to raise their nestlings.

Brown-headed Cowbirds were originally nomadic, foraging on the insects and prairie seeds churned up by the vast herds of bison during their annual northward and southward migration across the Great Plains. Nearly extirpated, the bison were replaced by goats, sheep, and cattle, with which the cowbirds became associated, hence the name cowbird. As the North American landscape has become increasingly fragmented through deforestation, the Brown-headed Cowbird has experienced a massive range expansion.

Cowbird young tend to hatch earlier, grow faster, crowd-out, and reduce the food intake of their hosts. Some species have learned to recognize and reject cowbird eggs — robins, blue jays, catbirds, and brown thrashers, for example. Species that accept the cowbird eggs include many warblers, vireos, Eastern Phoebes, and Song Sparrows. The spotting pattern of the Song Sparrow egg is similar to that of the cowbird. Brood parasitism is a dramatic example of avian co-evolution. Brown-headed Cowbirds have their most damaging impact on species such as the Kirtland’s Warblers, which have only recently been subjected to cowbird parasitism and have not yet evolved defense mechanisms.

Since World War II, the decline of forest songbird populations over much of North America has increased rapidly and the reasons are many. Brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds was considered by many to be the chief cause. The primary determinant is not brood parasitism, as was demonstrated by an extensive study conducted by Audubon scientists (cowbirds are also declining in numbers), but habitat fragmentation. Perhaps the loss of songbirds could be halted if their survival depended entirely on conservation efforts in the United States and Canada. However, it is the inexorable destruction of tropical rain forests (the songbirds winter habitat) that, if continued unabated, in only a few years will drive many of our beloved songbirds to extinction. The most enduring action we can take to ensure a future for all living creatures is to properly manage the scale of human activities on our planet.

{Kim Smith is the author of Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities, of which Viveka Neveln at The American Gardener recently wrote, "Anyone who gardens along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to South Carolina will appreciate Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!"}

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Desert Review & Special Offer

Just got a really nice review from Publisher's Weekly of Desert, by J.M.G. Le Clézio: "One of the few works by 2008 Nobel laureate Le Clézio to be translated into English, this mythic novel tells two parallel stories of descendants of a holy man called Al Azraq. The novel begins with Nour, a Berber boy who bears witness to the failed rebellion led by Sheik Ma el Aïnine against the French in the years leading up to WWI. In the cadences of an incantation, Le Clézio renders the dire suffering of the displaced desert peoples who turn to Ma el Aïnine for guidance. The parallel story, set in the near-contemporary, portrays Lalla, a young woman who lives on the Moroccan coast and spends her days exploring the seashore and listening to the stories of her aunt and the fisherman Old Naman. After escaping an arranged marriage, Lalla lands in Marseille and finds not the gleaming white city of Naman's stories but a cruel place cut off from nature. Le Clézio's vision is cinematic, his language lyrical and the lives he portrays are vivid and convincing."

We've also decided to make Desert available with The Prospector at a special 30% discount off the cover price when you purchase them together. The offer only lasts until August 1 — so, order now and discover this world-renowned Nobel Prize–winning author through a definitive masterpiece (The Prospector) and the novel that the Nobel committee termed Le Clézio's "definitive breakthrough as a novelist" (Desert).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Aram Saroyan @ the Poetry Foundation

Over at The Poetry Foundation website, Black Sparrow author Aram Saroyan (whose new collection of essays, Door to the River, will be available this fall) has an essay on his personal / literary experiences with Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Ted Berrigan. He writes, 'As a teenager in Manhattan, I turned to poetry because I couldn't understand what life was about and thought I might uncover some clues in such writing, which, according to Louis Zukofsky, finds an order "that can speak to all men." Howl, which I found during high school, was like an encyclopedia of the emotional and psychic life that had been driven under in me, with the result that I felt restless and bored a lot of the time. It was like finding a deep neural and psychic autobiography in the middle of the snow job of late-1950s/early-1960s America. Life is big, it said. It has a lot of colors. It's serious. It's funny. It's full of suffering that is also like bread, nurture, on a journey of the soul. I could say that reading it broke me open, so that I could discover myself in the deeper history of our time and kind.'

Friday, July 17, 2009

Garrison Keillor Ruffles Some Feathers

Over at Norlight Lit Life, the blog of Northern Lights Bookstore, they take exception at a recent statement by cultural icon and fellow bookstore owner Garrison Keillor. They write, 'Oh Garrison, we love you but we hope you realize why people were justly upset with your comments of late. Comment one: Garrison Keillor commented that Common Good Books, St. Paul, Minn., which he opened in 2006, "is sort of slowly making its way. I don't know. It's not making money. Nobody makes money with bookstores."

It's the blanket of "nobody" that stands independent bookselling hair on end. It is certainly difficult to make money selling books. Living in 90% of the world today, you'll find difficulties making money in most businesses that don't revolve around oil, weapons, or governmental bailouts. This buys into the dangerous myth of the dying bookstore. Times are tough. Some great stores have closed their doors. Bookselling alone has brought few independent wealth. But to say that no one makes money on it, that we're non-profits without 501-c status rather than integral and innovative members of the business community — that's where we disagree. Most vociferously with the perpetuation of that myth that bookstores are a dead-end for business — the myth that big box stores and online warehouses would love to use as examples of us being quaint dinosaurs. The only way someone should mistake us for quaint dinosaurs is in hearing our roar combined with our impeccable customer service!'

This is an ongoing discussion in our office and elsewhere in the book world: is this popular story grounded in fact? Certainly, every business today is struggling — but does the closing of many bookstores indicate tough times or a pandemic demise? We'd love to hear what booksellers themselves have to say on this!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Reading

Over at the Three Percent blog, Nobel Prize-winner Le Clézio's novel Desert is recommended summer reading from the 2010 Best Translated Book Award panelists (it has disclaimer that this is not in any way the award's long-list, but we hope Desert is included on that too). Chad Post writes, 'The list below simply represents all of the titles that the nine BTB panelists (Monica Carter, Scott Esposito, Susan Harris, Annie Janusch, Brandon Kennedy, Bill Marx, Michael Orthofer, Chad W. Post, and Jeff Waxman) have recommended to each other to take a look at. It’s a sort of list of “books in the running,” or more accurately, “translations that some of us have liked.” (And yes, this is just fiction. For now. Maybe we could do something with poetry in the not-too-distant future . . .)'

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Effort

It has been a blur of wild activity here over the past few weeks. We're calling independent bookstores to follow up on our catalog mailing, setting bookstore appointments for David (who is at ALA right now in Chicago and will be in Denver next week), finishing our Fall lead titles in production, and trying to come up with new marketing, sales, and publicity avenues all the while. The total expended effort to keep these projects afloat is just herculean.

From the editorial process to the minutiae of color proofing, to calling bookstores individually: every tiniest aspect of the organization requires personal, focused attention. Not a bit of it is automatic. If it were not that the staff here — from our interns to the owner — are better jugglers than Barnum Bailey, everything would fail miserably. Before working at such a small organization I had never realized how intensive the publishing process really is. David Godine acquires, edits, art directs, sets metal type, calls on bookstores, and works the trade shows. The editors do marketing, the publicity person edits, the art director does permissions, and the production guy (moi) controls the website. We also make julienne fries (it's a good thing) and whiten your smile.

All of this is apropos of nothing, but the blog has been pretty quiet and I thought our regular readers would want to know what's happening. I hope everyone else's summer is a little bit calmer!