Welcome to the March State of the Thing. New this month: t-shirts for kids, a major tag milestone, LibraryThing in Esperanto, and Harry Houdini's library! We've got author interviews with Lauren Groff, Taras Grescoe, and Natalie Dykstra. There are 3,103 free Early Reviewer books and thousands of Member Giveaway books available in March.
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News and features
T-shirts for kids! We're now stocking LibraryThing "What's on your bookshelf?" t-shirts in children's sizes; they're Anvil brand, red or black with white lettering, 100% cotton preshrunk. We've got Extra-Small, Small, and Medium sizes (approximately 2T, 4T and 6T). Check out the blog post for more details and images, or head right to the store.
Tag Milestone! Last week we passed another major tag milestone; members have now added more than 85,000,000 tags to their books on LibraryThing. For more numbers and other nifty LT-facts, check out the Zeitgeist page.
Esperanto site added. By popular request, we've added an Esperanto version of LibraryThing: http://epo.librarything.com/, and members have begun translating the site's text. Watch their progress on the translations page.
Houdini! New among the Legacy Libraries is Harry Houdini, most of whose impressive collection of books on magic, Spiritualism and related subjects is now at the Library of Congress.
LT at Library Conferences. Tim and Kate were at the Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia last week, and this week Abby and Tim are exhibiting at Computers in Libraries, in Washington, D.C. If you're there too, stop by Booth 323 for a demo of all the latest LibraryThing for Libraries enhancements, and get a sneak peek at a brand new feature, BookPsychic (which you'll eventually be seeing on the main LibraryThing site as well).
Free books: Early Reviewers
Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We've given out a grand total of 106,614 books so far through Early Reviewers.
The March batch of Early Reviewer books contains 3,103 copies of 91 different titles. The deadline to request a free book to read and review is March 26 at 6 p.m. EDT. The April batch will be up at the beginning of the month.
The list of books
The most requested books so far this month:
Interview with author Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff is the author of the well-received 2008 novel The Monsters of Templeton and Delicate Edible Birds, a collection of short stories. Her second novel, Arcadia, is out this month from Hyperion.
Like your first novel, Arcadia is set in upstate New York, where you grew up (as did I). How do you think the area has shaped the things and people you write about?
I find that I can only write about places after I've been absent from them for a while. I've lived in Florida for six years, now, which only makes me love upstate New York more. I grew up there, and it seems that when I want to write through or about a childlike sense of wonder, I reach for the place I remember as a child. Also, I miss the lilacs and the icicles and the rolling hills and the cold lakes in the summer, and this sense of loss makes me long to return there when I sit down to work in my hot and humid studio.
You've set one section of Arcadia in the future, 2018 specifically. Did you find writing scenes in the future any different from writing scenes set in the past, or in the present?
It was strangely exhilarating to write scenes set in the very near future: it wasn't as pure an imaginative leap as writing a hundred years in the future would be, and it required research and thought into where we are in the world right now. It was as if I had a photograph of the present, and my job was to paint beyond the bounds of the frame.
Tied up in Arcadia is the fascinating and elusive idea of utopian communities: did you find yourself doing much research into historical views or depictions of this topic as you wrote? If so, was there a particular source that you enjoyed or found most useful?
There are many books about both philosophical utopias and real-life attempted ones on my shelves. I find the utopian urge to be a deeply American one: in fact, in the first half of the nineteenth century, there were over forty utopian intentional communities created (and lost) in America. The two that were among the most successful, and therefore the most devastating when they collapsed, were Oneida in central New York in the nineteenth century, and the twentieth century community called The Farm in Tennessee. I visited both places for overnight stays and loved them both.
Read the rest of our interview with Lauren Groff.
Interview with author Taras Grescoe
Taras Grescoe is an award-winning author of books and articles on world travel. His fifth book is Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, coming next month from Times Books.
Tell us a bit about how the idea for this book came about, and how long you spent making all the trips it took to research the different cities you profile. What was your best experience (transportation related or otherwise) while researching the book? Your worst?
For the last decade, I’ve been thinking about writing a book-length examination of how cars changed our lives, and how car-centered thinking has transformed our cities. But I didn't want to contribute another angry screed against the evil motorcar to the literature. There are so many people thinking differently about transportation, and so many amazing initiatives happening in cities around the world, that I figured I could combine a little righteous anger and a lot of hope and optimism in the same book—which is why I detail how we got into the mess of sprawl and congestion, and how a lot of committed people are finding ways to get us out of it.
As much as I loved riding funiculars, rattly old subways, and high-speed trains in Asia, Europe, and South America, the best experience was meeting people around the world who are committed to making their cities better places to live for themselves and their families—a lot of those people have become friends. The worst part: when I was looking at sprawled and congested cities like Phoenix and Moscow, being stuck in endless traffic. Hours I spend in a car always feel like hours I'll never get back.
You write that Straphanger is, "in part, the story of a bad idea: the notion that our metropolises should be shaped by the needs of cars, rather than people." How and when did this idea take hold, and can you tell us a few of the ways this bad idea has manifested itself?
Streets in North American cities belonged to the people of those cities until at least the '20s. Kids played in them, pedestrians crossed them at will, streetcars and horsecars and cable cars used them, bike-riders enjoyed them, vendors sold food from carts. They were anarchic, and alive. Though Americans accepted the new technology of the automobile, and it became ever more affordable thanks to Ford's mass production, it took a concerted effort on the part of automobile industry lobby groups to manufacture the concept of the "jaywalker" and convert city streets into speedways for cars. At first, police resisted, citizens resisted: tens of thousands of kids were slaughtered by Chevrolets and Fords, and there were giant demonstrations against "death drivers" in almost every major city in the 1920s. A great portrayal of the process in action is Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, published in 1918. (Tarkington was clearly ambivalent about the coming of the automobile to the city, but he brilliantly portrays the way that new technology unstitched so much of what old walkable cities used to be.) Later, technocrats like Robert Moses in New York City consolidated power and streamlined the process of building cities for cars, rather than people. Car culture really did its job well: now nobody finds it strange that so much precious public space—the streets of Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto—should be occupied by two tons of privately-owned of plastic, fiberglass, and metal.
Who's doing it right? Which cities (or countries) do you see as models for best practices in developing and implementing the kinds of mass transit that work best?
Copenhagen is brilliantly combining public transport and advanced bicycle infrastructure. Tokyo has always been built around rail, but there's a huge pedestrian and bicycle culture the Japanese don't think twice about. I'm on the fence about bus rapid transit, which I think can have a pretty big impact on the quality of life (for better and for worse) in urban neighborhoods in cities like Bogotá and Curitiba.
On the flip side, are there particular places where you think particularly bad ideas still hold sway?
Any place that has bought into jitneys and so-called "free market" provision of public transport is a nightmare of congestion or pollution, whether it's busetas in Latin America, the jeepneys of Manila, or the chastniki of Moscow. And any place that allows its public agencies to be dismantled and managed by carpetbaggers in the name of ideology (the smaller cities of Britain, many of Australia's big cities) has undergone precipitous declines in service. Many cities in the south and west of the United States are challenges, because so much of their development is post-war sprawl, but most of them have historic nuclei, often built around old interurban or rail stations, that could prove promising hubs for good public transport and walkable neighorhoods. They're going to have to do something about all those life-sucking surface parking lots, though.
Read the rest of our interview with Tara Grescoe.
Interview with author Natalie Dykstra
Natalie Dykstra is an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, MI. She has received a National Endowment of the Humanities fellowship for the research which resulted in her first book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, published this month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Do you recall what first interested you about the life of Clover Adams?
I vividly remember the moment I got interested. I was still in graduate school, working on my dissertation about how nineteenth-century women represented themselves in letters and diaries, when I read a five-page scene in Blanche Wiesen Cook's brilliant first volume of her biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Cook describes how Mrs. Roosevelt would go every week to Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., to sit in front of the seated bronze statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that marked Clover's grave. She found comfort there in the months after her discovery of her husband's affair with Lucy Mercer. But why? I became fascinated by the woman who fascinated Mrs. Roosevelt.
You write in the prologue "Clover's life has remained half-illumined, a reflection of how others viewed her but not how she saw herself." But, you argue, her photographs "invite the viewer to stand not on this side of her suicide, but on the other, the one she lived on." For those who might have not have yet had the chance to see Clover's
photographs, what is it about them that's so compelling? Do you have any particular favorites?
Clover's photographs, when I first saw them, struck me as interesting and extraordinarily beautiful. Packed with a lived life. There are photographs of friends, of the seashore, of her dogs perched at chairs around a table as if "at tea." There are carefully composed photographs of her women friends that have great clarity and style and portraits of children that confer an enormous dignity. She got down on the same level as the children to take their photographs, so the viewer sees them eye to eye. And she was meticulous about the sequence in which she put her photographs in the albums, one image per page. I suppose some of my favorites include her gothic-like picture of her summer home, Pitch Pine Hill, on Boston's North Shore; her portrait of Elizabeth Bliss Bancroft, wife the historian George Bancroft; and her portrait of three women standing on rocks at the seashore, with two of the women turned away from her camera.
How did Clover first become interested in photography, and how did the art come to shape and even define the last years of her life?
I think it's pretty clear from her letters that a trip to New York City in the spring of 1883 was the impetus for Clover to start photography. During a week-long visit with her good friend, Anne Palmer; she went to numerous gallery shows and museums and visited the studios of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the painter F.D. Millet. Anne was herself a photographer, something I know because Clover later requests to see Anne’s photographs. When Clover returned home to Washington, D.C., she was filled with, as she said, "new ideas." Less than three weeks later, she began to photograph in earnest, writing down her experiments in a small lined notebook and talking about her photography with her father in her weekly letters.
Clover found with photography a way to express herself – her sense of style, her sense of what was beautiful and worthy of a picture. For all its technical demands, photography allowed Clover to deepen her passion for art. For her compositions and choice of subjects, she drew from the rich visual world of fine art painting she knew so well. Something surfaced in Clover's photographs not readily apparent in her often witty, fast-paced letters: a richness and subtlety of feeling.
Read the rest of our interview with Natalie Dykstra.
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.
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!
Hot titles this month
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King
- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
- 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
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