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LibraryThing: State of the Thing
Dear Reader,

Welcome to the March State of the Thing. This month we have a job posting, new features, author interviews with Charles Cumming and Téa Obreht, 2,914 free Early Reviewer books and hundreds of Member Giveaway books available.

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News and Features

We're hiring! We're looking for someone to assist with the customer service side of LibraryThing for Libraries. If you're interested, or know someone who might be, check out the job post.

Search the Wiki. LibraryThing's WikiThing and HelpThing have now been added to the site-wide search system. See an example, or discuss in Talk. Join the HelpThing and WikiThing group to help maintain and improve the wiki.

New Google Chrome extension. If you use the Google Chrome browser, you may want to try out our new LibraryThing extension, which allows you to quickly search your LibraryThing catalog, add books, and view your latest additions. Download the extension, or read more in the Talk thread.

New LibraryThing for Publishers pages. This month we'd like to welcome W.W. Norton, Yale University Press, Sourcebooks, Plume, and a whole host of other fine publishers to LibraryThing for Publishers. Publishers, we'd love to have you! Find out how to sign up here.

Books in space! Early this month a small band of catalogers (benjclark, JBD1, 2wonderY, staffordcastle, and katya0133) engaged in a quick flash-mob cataloging project to enter the library of the International Space Station into LibraryThing. Thus far we've located 100 titles aboard the station, and are on the lookout for additional books in orbit.

Legacy Libraries news. Recently-completed Legacy Libraries include Herman Melville, Gustave Flaubert, Jeff Buckley, and Daniel Webster (how's that for a quartet?). For more, see the blog post.

We've also updated the Legacy Libraries statistics on your Statistics/Memes page (linked on your profile). See what books you have in common with the Legacy Libraries, use the advanced options to compare all 186 Legacy Libraries, or focus on sub-groups, like the signers of the Declaration of Independence, or 19th-century readers.

Free books: Early Reviewers

Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We've given out 73,367 books so far through Early Reviewers.

The February batch of Early Reviewer books contains 2,914 copies of 110 different titles (our largest batch ever!). The deadline to request a free book to read and review is March 28 at 6 p.m. EST. The next batch will be up during the second week of April.

The list of books

The most requested books so far this month:

Interview with author Charles Cumming

Charles Cumming is the author of the spy novels A Spy by Nature, The Spanish Game, and Typhoon. His new novel, The Trinity Six (St. Martin's Press) takes us into the hunt for the Cambridge Spy Ring's long-rumored sixth man. Cumming is a contributing editor of The Week magazine.

How did you first get interested in the Cambridge Spy Ring, and what led you to write a book about them?

I guess it began with the movie "Another Country", which came out midway through the 1980s. I watched it as a teenager while studying at the same school that Guy Burgess had attended—Eton College. Rupert Everett plays Burgess as a louche, iconoclastic schoolboy at war with the Eton hierarchy; the story works incredibly well as a metaphor for his later career, and also explores his homosexuality, which, of course, was illegal in that period. The film also features a supporting role by the young Colin Firth. It's illustrative of the embarrassment the Cambridge spies caused to the British Establishment that Eton declined to allow the film to be shot at the school.

In our last interview with you, you reported that your research materials for The Trinity Six included some previously unpublished materials on one of the Cambridge Spies, Anthony Blunt. What did you come across in there that changed your view of the spy ring or shaped this novel?

I got lucky. I came into possession of an archive about Blunt's life that contained his Death Certificate, his last Will & Testament as well as various letters and documents written by people who had known him, both during the war and while he was working as an academic at the Courtauld Institute in London. The archive didn't change my view of the Cambridge spies per se, but it did inspire the plot of The Trinity Six. In the book, the hero, Sam Gaddis, is an academic who is handed a vast archive of intelligence material relating to the KGB and the NKVD. The archive contains the clue that unlocks the final secret of the Sixth Man.

As you researched them, did you come to particularly like or dislike any of the Cambridge Five?

I was always quite fond of Burgess, probably for no better reason that that he has been played with such brio by various actors down the years. Tom Hollander was terrific as Burgess, for example, in the BBC series "Cambridge Spies". Those that knew him speak of a man with immense charm, a steel-trap intellect and real ideological conviction, but there’s no doubt that he could also be extremely arrogant and reckless. I think there is something really compelling about Burgess, not least his appetites for sex, alcohol and intrigue. In many ways he is a tragic figure. The others—Blunt and Philby, in particular—leave me cold. In The Trinity Six, somebody describes Philby as a "sociopath" and I think that’s fair description. Blunt had many admirers at the Courtauld, but I suspect that he was utterly ruthless and self-serving, at bottom a cold and calculating snob. Maclean and Cairncross remain the most opaque to me. There's a great biography still to be written about Maclean. I hope somebody does it.

Read the rest of the interview with Charles Cumming.

Interview with author Téa Obreht

Téa Obreht is the author of the wonderful debut novel The Tiger's Wife (Random House). She was born in the former Yugoslavia in 1985 and lived in Cyprus and Egypt before immigrating to the United States when she was twelve years old. Her short stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, and elsewhere, and Obreht was named one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty by The New Yorker. She also appeared on the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" list in 2010.

Can you tell us a little bit about the inspirations for the themes
and characters in The Tiger's Wife?

The Tiger's Wife was born as a workshop story in 2007, and though the story itself failed, many of the themes now present in the novel already existed in that early form: storytelling, loss, the clash between science and superstition. I think something like that tends to happen quite organically, without much planning, and can reflect aspects of the writer’s own life: my own grandfather had recently died, I was questioning the idea of mortality (which gave rise to the deathless man); I was also preoccupied with childhood, my own as well as his (which enriched the tiger sections). At its core, that initial short story was about a young deaf-mute girl who arrives in a snowbound village attempting to retrieve the escaped tiger with whom she used to perform in a circus; somehow, in the evolution from failed story to novel, this narrative became the backbone of the whole project, a chapter of the grandfather’s childhood, and the core around which the later elements of the deathless man and Natalia's bond with her grandfather formed.

How have your own life experiences shaped your choices of style and
subject matter in your writing?

I moved from Belgrade to Cyprus and Egypt when I was seven, and my travels definitely affected the kinds of narrative I was exposed to and the way I think about storytelling. When you're surrounded by very vivid and rich history, and come from an oral storytelling culture to begin with, you start to find that a story forms in everything. Your daily route to school becomes an epic journey, full of pitfalls like neighborhood dogs and scraped knees. I think there’s a lot of everyday epics in The Tiger’s Wife; that's certainly something I picked up in childhood.

How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?

Since I was very little, about eight years old. I wrote a short story about a goat, and announced my intentions to become a writer to my mother, who was as supportive then as she is now. It occurs to me that perhaps that first goat set up the template for the later menagerie that has ended up invading my stories.

What's your writing process like? Do you write longhand, or use a
computer? Does it depend on what you're writing?

I haven't written long-hand in years; something about the finality of writing on paper intimidates me. Also, there's the issue of my handwriting. My process is to go on writing binges, most of which last several hours, usually through the night. I’ve tried to change my habit and become a morning writer, but daytime doesn't afford me the same kind of solitude. I often have some form of background noise on—mostly television. I edit a lot while I write; I find it hard to get through a huge chunk of plot if I'm not satisfied on a sentence-by-sentence level. This sometimes leads to my looking up from writing the same sentence over and over and discovering that several hours have gone by.

Read the rest of the interview with Téa Obreht.

Author chats

Author Chat lets you talk to authors—ask questions, get answers, and find out more about how or why a book is written. The schedule of upcoming chats is posted too, so you can plan to read the author's book ahead of time.

Current chat: Irene Brodsky is discussing Adventures of Silly Kitty, Princess Jasmine and First Puppy.

Upcoming chat: Larry D. Sweazy will discuss The Badger's Revenge.

Take me to the chats!

More free books: Member Giveaways

At any given time, there are hundreds of books available from our Member Giveaways program. Member Giveaways is like Early Reviewers, but isn't limited to select publishers—any author or member can post books. Request books, or offer your own!

Popular this month

  1. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
  2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  3. Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
  4. Matched by Ally Condie
  5. Just Kids by Patti Smith
  6. Room by Emma Donoghue
  7. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
  8. The Confession by John Grisham
  9. True Grit by Charles Portis
  10. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

That's it.

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

—Jeremy (jeremy@librarything.com)

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