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LibraryThing: State of the Thing
Dear Reader,

Welcome to the June State of the Thing. New this month: cover improvements, tag translation, meetup pictures, and more! We have author interviews with Dan Rather, Alex Grecian, Catherine Fletcher, Kathy Hepinstall, and Joy Kiser. There are 2,341 free Early Reviewer books available in June.

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News and features

Cover improvements. We recently made some major changes to our cover-image system. Among the new features: a "cover information" lightbox for every cover, the ability to flag non-covers or spam, additional stats on your covers, and more. Watch the New features group for additional announcements.

Tag translation. Tags on the various LibraryThing sites, like German (LibraryThing.de), French (LibraryThing.fr), Dutch (LibraryThing.nl), Finnish (fi.LibraryThing.com) can now be translated into the language of the particular site. Translation has been seeded with translations drawn from one user-driven ecosystem, Wikipedia. LibraryThing members can help out by adding new translations, and voting on existing ones. Read more on this here, or join the discussion.

Recent LT Meetups! LT groups recently met up in Kansas City (pictured, with more images starting here) and in D.C. (lots of pictures beginning here). Watch the LibraryThing Gatherings and Meetups group for upcoming events near you, or organize one in your neck of the woods!

Top-cited books on Wikipedia. This week Tim re-analyzed all of English Wikipedia, looking for citations to LibraryThing works (using ISBNs, OCLC numbers, title and authors, etc.) We found over 1.1 million citations to 412,000 LibraryThing works, up 120% from when we last did this in 2009. See the Top 100 in the blog post or the whole lot on the new Zeitgeist: Wikipedia page.

Visit us at ALA! Tim, Abby and Kate will be showing off our LibraryThing for Libraries products at the American Library Association meeting in Anaheim beginning this Friday, June 22. They'll be at Booth 1919, and in the mobile pavilion. Stop by and say hi, check out our new enhancements and meet the newest inflatable animal in the LibraryThing menagerie! See the blog post for more details, or to sign up for an exhibits-only pass!

Free books: Early Reviewers

Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We've given out a grand total of 114,760 books so far through Early Reviewers (and if you include Member Giveaways we've now given out more than half a million free books!).

The June batch of Early Reviewer books contains 2,341 copies of 93 different titles. The deadline to request a free book to read and review is June 25 at 6 p.m. EDT. The July batch will be up at the beginning of the month.

The list of books

The most requested books so far this month:

Interview with reporter Dan Rather

Dan Rather anchored the "CBS Evening News" from 1981-2005, and currently hosts "Dan Rather Reports" on HDNet. His new memoir, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, was recently published by Grand Central.

You open the book with chapters on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and on the controversy surrounding the story of George W. Bush's National Guard service record, the two events which you write were responsible for your departure from CBS News after forty-four years. If you had that period of your life to do over again (and I ask this knowing that you don't, of course), would you have done anything differently? What did you take away from those experiences that's proven useful for you in the years since?

I don't have it to live over again and see no use in playing the "might have, could have, should have" game. I wrote what I witnessed, what I learned (at great expense) and I wrote my heart. Beyond that I just keep remembering my late mother's often stated mantra: "About yesterday no tears; about tomorrow no fears." And I just keep on keeping on. Always with the knowledge that I'm not perfect—I've made my mistakes, had my failures and have the scars to show for it.

One of the major themes in "Rather Outspoken" are the major changes in American journalism in recent decades, most importantly the "corporatization, politicization, and trivialization" of the news. You write "Too often, the top priority for large media companies is not the news, but the imperative to protect the interests of their parent companies and their advertisers. Burying or soft-pedaling a story is simply censorship masquerading as good business." As I was reading I kept asking myself what we as individuals can do about these trends, other than just being aware of them and factoring them into our understanding of what is marketed to us as "news." Do you have any thoughts on this?

Individuals can and should be aware—be very aware—of these trends, and the fact that they are increasing not decreasing. And they should factor them into their understanding or how much of the media—especially huge corporate media—really works. Individuals can work as part of our collective society to speak up, write up, in opposition to the reducing if not eliminating the plunge toward ever-larger control by ever-larger international conglomerates reducing competition and controlling more national distribution of news. Understanding just how much, how very much, big business is in bed with big government (whether that government is led by Democrats or Republicans at any given time) to benefit their mutual interests, not the public interest, is key.

You're now working for HDNet on a weekly one-hour investigative program, "Dan Rather Reports." From the book it's pretty clear that you're enjoying this very much, and the show's been very successful so far. Do you see programs like yours as the future of investigative television journalism, given your concerns over the direction of the broadcast networks and other "news" outlets?

It is clear that the old media order has broken down. And the gutting of newspaper staffs and television news divisions, with an increased reliance on entertainment content, has created a crisis in investigative journalism. I think that independent ventures HDNet can help fill some of the void. The editorial freedom Mark Cuban has given me is really unprecedented. The question is how many people out there have the means and interest to fund high-quality investigative reporting? In many ways I can't think of a more patriotic thing to do.

You write in the book about the important role certain teachers played in your life. Tell us about those teachers and what key lessons they taught you that you've put to use in your life and career.

One common thread for many of my teachers is that they believed in me and took the time to treat me as an individual. They taught me that it is not just about the destination but it is about the journey. However we try to reform our educational system, we must allow for teachers to see their students as individuals.

Read the rest of our interview with Dan Rather.

Interview with author Alex Grecian

Alex Grecian is the author of the Proof graphic novel series. His new book, The Yard, was released recently by Putnam.

For those who might not have yet had the chance to read The Yard, give us just a short introduction to the book, if you would.

Jack the Ripper has done his nasty work and disappeared. The citizens of London are terrified and they don’t trust their police anymore. The homicide rate is at an all-time high and police morale is at an all-time low, when Walter Day, the newest detective at Scotland Yard, is assigned to catch a cop-killer. Overwhelmed, Day turns for help to an eccentric doctor named Kingsley who is well on his way to becoming the first forensics scientist in England.

What first interested you about the post-Jack the Ripper period in London police history?

The actual Ripper murders have been talked about to death (so to speak). Jack the Ripper's fascinating, of course, but I don't feel like there’s much left to say on the subject. At least, not by me. But the impact he left on the people around him had to have been enormous. Something that devastating and that frightening doesn't happen in a vacuum. He didn't kill those five women, and then disappear and life went back to normal for everyone. He permanently changed London—and the world—and that is fertile ground for an entire series of stories.

Tell us about Walter Dew, the loose prototype for your main character, Inspector Walter Day. What about him drew you to tell his (fictionalized) story? And there are other quasi-historical characters in the book too, right?

There's all sorts of conflicting information out there about Walter Dew, but it's clear that he was one of the most remarkable policemen Scotland Yard has ever had. He first came to the public's attention when he chased down a man who'd been mistaken for Jack the Ripper. It was a long footrace, and Dew was always immaculately dressed, but he caught the suspect and then ended up saving him from a lynch mob. Years later, he solved the famous Crippen case, when he pursued an escaped murderer across the ocean. Dew's ship was faster and he arrived in Canada a day before the killer did. He was waiting on the dock when Crippen (who had murdered his wife) pulled into port. It was a huge news story on both sides of the Atlantic and made Dew a bit of a celebrity. I had planned to use him in The Yard, but realized that I'd be bound by his actual history and wouldn't be able to take a lot of liberties. So I ended up fictionalizing him a bit. But my character, Walter Day, is very much like Dew. He has Dew's determination and goodness.

Likewise, Dr Bernard Kingsley is based on the real-life forensic scientist Bernard Spilsbury. I fictionalized him too, but I used real-life police commissioner Sir Edward Bradford without changing him a bit.

Do you recall which part of The Yard came to you first?

For me, the entire book was sparked by the statistic that an average of ninety-six bodies a month were pulled from the Thames, most of them with their throats slit. That's a fraction of the murder victims that must have been found in the city every month and the police force was ludicrously understaffed. Combined with the low morale left in the wake of the Ripper murders, protecting the people of London must have seemed like an overwhelming job and yet those detectives showed up to work every day. I wanted to explore the mindset of the police. And I still do. I think I've barely scratched the surface of what it must have been like.

Read the rest of our interview with Alex Grecian.

Interview with author Catherine Fletcher

Catherine Fletcher is a lecturer in Early Modern History at Durham University. Her first book, The Divorce of Henry VIII (published in the UK as Our Man in Rome), was released last month by Palgrave Macmillan.

Tell us about "our man in Rome." In a nutshell, who was Gregorio Casali, and what did he do?

Gregorio Casali was Henry VIII's resident ambassador at the papal court in Rome throughout the six years of negotiations over Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He came from an upwardly-mobile Italian family whose sons made their way in life through military and diplomatic service to foreign princes. He was the man who did the 'fixing' for Henry in Rome: from entertaining cardinals to bribing secretaries, from intercepting letters to kidnapping enemy agents.

Do you recall what first interested you in Tudor diplomacy generally, and in Gregorio Casali specifically?

I had been on holiday to Florence and had got interested in Renaissance Italy. Shortly afterwards I was reading the classic biography of Henry VIII by J. J. Scarisbrick. He mentioned the role of the Casali family in Henry's divorce negotiations, and I was intrigued by how an Italian family could have got involved in something we in England often think of as a very English bit of history.

How was it that an Italian came to represent Henry VIII at the Vatican? Was hiring a "local" ambassador a fairly common practice?

Yes, it was. These were the very early days of the system we have today where countries keep ambassadors overseas on a long-term basis. Italy had been one of the first parts of Europe to adopt this system, and Italians had a reputation as expert diplomats. In the early sixteenth century, ideas about national loyalty were very different: it was much more about allegiance to a king than about where you'd been born, and we find military commanders and diplomats moving from the service of one ruler to that of another.

Casali brought with him quite a family network. How did his brothers and other relatives help (or hinder) his efforts at the papal court?

An ambassador's main responsibility was gathering reliable information, so it made a big difference to Casali that he had family members he could count on to supply news. He had one brother based in Venice and another fighting in the war down in southern Italy. A third travelled to Istanbul and London as well as helping out in Rome. That gave him a good geographic spread, but as the troubles with Henry's divorce mounted so did family tensions over how to handle the affair. Not all the brothers were happy to put loyalty to the pope aside as Henry moved towards a break with Rome.

Read the rest of our interview with Catherine Fletcher.

Interview with author Kathy Hepinstall

Kathy Hepinstall has worked for several major advertising agencies and as a freelancer ad designer. Her fourth novel, Blue Asylum, is just out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For those who haven't yet had the chance to read Blue Asylum, what's this novel about?

It's about a plantation wife, sent to an insane asylum for the "crime" of running away with the slaves. There, she meets another inmate: a haunted ex-Confederate soldier who can only calm his terrible memories of what he did in the war with visions of the color blue. In this unlikely venue, Iris finds herself falling for Ambrose. They plot their escape from the asylum with the help of Wendell, the disaffected son of the head psychiatrist.

I'd love to hear about the research that went into Blue Asylum. Are any elements of the novel's plot or characters based on historical events or people?

I did quite a bit of research on insane asylums of the day—it was very curious. There for about forty years in American history, suddenly the thought was to treat the insane with kindness, to put them in nice, comfortable surroundings and give them structure—in the hopes that would make them better. It was a good time to be insane.

Also I did research on Sanibel Island, and stayed there for about six weeks, all told. There has never been an actual asylum on Sanibel, but it had the perfect blend of harmony, peacefulness and alligators to work as the setting.

Do you have a favorite line or scene from the novel that you'd like to share?

"With a dog’s heart, he loved both sides."

I read through your author blog to prepare for this interview (and I have to say it's one of the funniest things I've read in a long time). Did you really bury a copy of your novel for Oprah and then provide directions to the buried novel in the local paper? ... also, has Oprah retrieved her book yet?

Ah, thank you. And, yes I actually did bury a copy of my novel for her and then took out an ad with a map in her local paper, The Montecito Journal. Oprah did not retrieve the book, although someone did steal her shovel. So I took out another ad, this time hiding the book in a safe by the side of the road with a sign pointing to it that said "Oprah’s Book." Non-Oprahs of Montecito were instructed, on their honor, not the memorize the combination to the safe included in the ad. Someone heisted the book, the safe and the sign. What can I say? Montecito apparently is swarming with thieves.

Read the rest of out interview with Kathy Hepinstall.

Interview with author Joy Kiser

Joy Kiser is a writer/editor for the federal government. She was previously the librarian for the National Endowment for the Arts, and for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Her book, America's Other Audubon was published earlier this year by Princeton Architectural Press. It is an introduction and partial reprint of a rare book of ornithological artwork.

What first got you interested in Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio? What attracted you to the book, and what surprised you the most as you researched its history?

When I walked into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio to begin my new position as assistant librarian, volume one of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio was exhibited in a Plexiglas display case at the foot of the stairway that led to the library on the second floor. A label, about three inches high by five inches wide, succinctly explained that the book was the accomplishment of the Jones family of Ohio: the daughter, Genevieve, had conceived of the idea and had begun drawing and painting the illustrations with the assistance of a childhood friend; the son, Howard, had collected the nests and eggs; the father, Nelson, had paid the publishing costs; and after Genevieve died, the mother, Virginia, and the rest of the family spent eight years completing the work as a memorial to Genevieve.

The book was on exhibit for several weeks. Each morning as I climbed the stairs, I would gaze at the label in the case and then into the faces of the members of the Jones family, whose photographs had been tipped onto the page adjacent to the illustration being displayed in the exhibit case. I became increasingly bewildered that eight years of work could be summed up on such a tiny label in so few words, and with such a lack of emotion. I found Genevieve's face almost haunting—her large, expressive eyes full of expectancy and hope. Was this book the only thing that was left to represent her life? What kind of person was she that she would inspire her entire family to devote so much of their own lives to completing her undertaking? I had to find out. I hoped to one day publish her story as an historical narrative but not reproduce her family's entire work because of the expense. But that was what Princeton Architectural Press was willing to do, with an encapsulated version of the story I still hope to write.

The first six years of my life I live in an apartment above my father's TV repair shop in the small city of Barberton, Ohio. I remember that in black and white. I never saw the clouds or a sunset or sunrise and there was no grass. My earliest memory (I was probably about 3) is of my Mother carrying me to the next apartment building to play with the little girl who lived there and seeing a small brown bird fluttering its wings in a scrubby tree in the vacant lot. I suddenly realized there were whole communities of living things outdoors that were beyond the control of the grownups and did not have to account to them.

When we moved to the town of Norton, Ohio, when I was six, it was like the moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when everything suddenly turns into color. There was lots of green grass and trees, an orchard full of what seemed like gigantic fruit (it took both hands to grasp one peach), wildflowers of every color, snails, toads, tadpoles, caterpillars, praying mantids, butterflies, and not only brown birds but blue, orange, yellow, and gray ones. My father's orchard had plenty of nests and I quickly learned how to climb trees (after only about three falls on my back that knocked the wind out of me) to see the eggs or baby birds. It was Wonderland to me. I felt an immediate kinship to Gennie. I never knew another girl who was interested in climbing trees to look into nests. And I felt sad that she had so few opportunities. I have had lots of second chances but most of them were necessary because of my own poor choices. Gennie didn't seem to have any second chances and none of her choices could have saved her from her fate.

I was surprised to learn that Howard Jones colored two copies himself, and numerous single plates, when he was in his 80s. Rare book dealers told me that the copies Howard colored work would be worth less than the originals because they were not colored by the original colorists.

Read the rest of out interview with Joy Kiser.

Hot titles this month

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James
  2. Quiet by Susan Cain
  3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  4. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  6. Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
  7. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  9. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
  10. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

That's it.

Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions? Send them our way.

—Jeremy (jeremy@librarything.com)

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