by Sunita

One of the NYRB‘s free articles is a review article discussing two books and a film about libraries. I’m a huge library fan. It opened the world of books to me from the time I was able to read, first in private lending libraries in Bombay and then the wonderful public libraries of the US. I fell off the wagon for a number of years, mostly because I had access to university libraries, but a few years ago I reacquainted myself with my city and county libraries and haven’t looked back. I love this description of what libraries offer us all:

Klinenberg is interested in the ways that common spaces can repair our fractious and polarized civic life. And though he argues in his new book, Palaces for the People, that playgrounds, sporting clubs, diners, parks, farmer’s markets, and churches—anything, really, that puts people in close contact with one another—have the capacity to strengthen what Tocqueville called the cross-cutting ties that bind us to those who in many ways are different from us, he suggests that libraries may be the most effective. “Libraries are the kinds of places where ordinary people with different backgrounds, passions, and interests can take part in a living democratic culture,” he writes. Yet as Susan Orlean observes in her loving encomium to libraries everywhere, aptly titled The Library Book, “The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace.”

The article covers Susan Orlean’s new book about the LA library fire, Eric Klinenberg’s nonfiction study of libraries as engines of community, and the great Frederick Wiseman’s documentary of the New York Public Library. I haven’t seen it yet, but Wiseman’s work is unparalleled and whatever you watch will stick in your brain forever.

The Guardian has an article on the mess that Amazon’s review and recommendation systems has become. This is a general problem for Amazon, with bots and fake reviews messing up the ranking systems, but the books issue is in a class of its own:

Anyone glancing at the reviews for a Kindle version of Emma retailing at £4.36 might believe it is worth buying, but a look at the opening pages reveals a poor translation of the original.

Emma’s mother has become her mom, and her love interest, Mr Knightley, is “a sensible guy” who uses the word buddy instead of friend.

A passage that is supposed to say “poor Miss Taylor” will be missed, instead reads: “She is surely very sorry to lose terrible Miss Taylor, and I am positive she can leave out her more than she thinks for.”

I ran into a version of this when I was trying to buy an Oxford World Classics ebook edition of Tom Jones. I thought I had found one, and I thought it was on sale for $.99 so I did a price match at Kobo. But the Kobo rep couldn’t find the same information. What probably happened was that the $.99 price was pasted on the Oxford page but wasn’t really the Oxford price.

The Complete Review, which is a book review, links and discussion site, turned 20 years old this month. I’ve read it on and off for the last 15 years or so and find it to be a great source of book information and references. It’s basically a one-man operation and I’m in awe that he’s been able to keep it going for so long at such a high level. 20 years is a century in internet time; it’s almost as long as I’ve been on chatboards and in discussion groups. It’s almost as old as All About Romance (which has changed much more over its history in some ways and not at all in others).

This paragraph about the impermanence of links resonated a lot with me:

The greatest frustration I’ve found is the impermanence of the internet, which I have to admit took me by surprise. I had expected to essentially be able to simply build up a library of pages and links, with curation of posted pages limited to going back to add links to new reviews and coverage, or new editions or translations of a title, as they appeared; instead, links need constant revision. I did not expect to have to spend as much of my time updating and weeding out links, and continue to be shocked and disappointed by the vast amount of information — reviews and other material — that is no longer readily available (i.e. is/was only temporarily available). (Some lingers on at the invaluable Internet Archive / waybackmachine, but rooting through that is also arduous.) I suspect that less than 10 per cent of the original links to pages I linked to in 1999 still work — and that the percentage of pages I link to now that will still be accessible at the same URL twenty years from now will only be slightly higher. Updating links remains a Sisyphean task (all the more frustrating because the top of that mountain (indeed, mountain range) is never even visible …). Even where sites maintain information — i.e. the pages continue to exist online — it remains bafflingly popular to change URLs, far too often still without forwarding capacity, leaving links to nowhere (i.e. 404) pages. I continue to curse (daily) all site re-designs that fail to take inbound links into account (i.e. most of them) — and publishers’ constant fiddling with their sites has been a constant source of aggravation.

We forget that to keep a site alive you have to not only have an interest in it, but you have to keep paying for it. Everyone from individual amateur bloggers to big newspapers have broken links. Sure, as Orthofer says, there’s the Internet Archive, but it’s not complete and it’s not the same. This also has major ramification for how we use the internet as a source for historical and empirical data collection and analysis, which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

I’ve basically given up on Amazon reviews for almost everything. I find what I want to buy from their info and check it elsewhere, and then if it’s used books I buy directly through the ABE Books site. For other things I try to identify the seller, especially for electronics, because fakes are becoming a problem as well, even in the Prime section (the Financial Times has a great series of articles on Amazon but unfortunately it’s paywalled). Ah, capitalism. It gives, but in a Monkey’s Paw way.

The Hugo finalists were announced last week. Women dominate all the fiction categories. As in, there are less than half a dozen men in total across the lists. Heh. I’m very happy to see Zen Cho, Aliette de Bodard, Martha Wells, and Likhain as finalists, and as usual the novella, novelette, and short story categories offer a range of new-to-me authors and stories. Mike Glyer’s File770 blog has kindly provided a post with links to free excerpts or full works where available.

Today and tomorrow bring shortlist and longlist announcements for the Man Booker International Prize and Best Translated Book Awards, respectively. I’ll be back to let you know how my choices did and what new novels have presented themselves as candidates for the TBR of Doom. In the meanwhile, enjoy spring weather if you have it yet (sorry, Northern Plains and Mountain West folks). I know we have spring because the trees are flowering and my sinuses are making themselves obnoxious.