Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hollow Earth Treasure, Victorian Pulp revisionism, & Self Determinism

Printed a great book today: Etidorhpa by Llewellyn Drury. An unusual title (it's 'Aphrodite' backwards), and even zanier concept-- a man finds a stranger in his living room, who then hands him a manuscript detailing travels inside the earth. It has some neat illustrations detailing the old man's visit to the Hollow Earth, where he is guided by a being that is completely hairless, eyeless, sexless. Just look at the PDF to see what I mean.

The Hollow Earth idea was the 19th Century's "Kennedy Assassination" of its era; it spurred all sorts of literature, plays, actual Scientific expeditions to the Arctic to find an opening to the realm, all for naught. The Hollow Earth theory hasn't entirely died out; there have been books about lizard people and secret tunnel complexes running the length and breadth of the planet, and the rumors that there are some caves in Tibet in particular... See? It's easy to get drawn into Fringe archaeology. It's even easier now that Google Editions can let you print these seminal works...

I started reading a book from Black Coat Press, who appears to specialize in reprinting 19th century French fantasy, gothics, and science fiction, as well as more modern European SF works. This one is directly inspired by Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" retro-pastich, with it's own unique alternate history fantasy-steampunk elements. The core of the story is that the residents of Neverland materialized one day in the middle of the Royal Gardens in London-- pirate ship, lost boys, indians, and faerie folk -- as refugees, and only Peter Pan stayed behind, to become a meance to the British (Albion) Empire. "The League of Heroes" is Lord Kraven, a Victorian-era military Doc Savage, Phileas Fogg, Lord Greystoke, Sherlock Holmes, Steam-powered iron suits, and plenty of pulp-references and a delightful tongue in cheek attitude. And I printed a copy out and put it on the shelf in Science Fiction. It's that easy.

If that book interests you, you should head over to our online database at: to do searches for books to print. You'll be amazed what you find. And when yo udo, call the store and we'll print them out for you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Flurries, mishaps, & Calling All Steampunks!

It's been busy 4 or 5 days. You wouldn't think so considering Christmas and all, but on Christmas Eve we received orders for more books than we had printed up until that point. The interesting thing was that they were all Google editions.

Unfortunately, around that time Ginger decided to get the Flu; I spent the next few days troubleshooting any and all issues that popped up (it was really like a virus; incessant and seemingly all-encompassing.) I won't go into it here, but with the help of support I managed to resolve all the problems by today. It's tough work. A machine as intricate as this doesn't easily reveal where the problem is; I felt a little like a physicist trying to put a super-collider together. I had to do a lot of thinking before taking a step (but Ginger won't punch a min-black hole into the earth's core, thankfully).

The bad news is that I wasn't able to complete the "Leaves of Grass" project due to time spent dealing with Ginger, and an unexpected roadblock: an incomplete Public Domain scan. It appears that the only version of Whitman's Death Bed Edition of "Leaves" is actually missing pages of text. It hampered my progress, but I used a secondary source to plug the gaps. I just simply ran out of time. I misjudged the complexity of cleaning up poetical texts, especially if the original PDF it came from had marginalia, which gets translated as gobbledygook into a text file. I still plan to finish "Leaves" off some day; it will be the only "Complete" death-bed edition this side of anything Big Publishing has to offer, so it's worth finishing off.

Anyhow, back to those Google Editions: The true gems came from one order; a customer wanted to print 8 books for his Girlfriend as a Christmas gift. He'd been eyeing these books for over a year. And they were all of a particular, shall we say, Steampunk quality.
Here's the List: To The Poles by Airship, Indian Club-Swinging, Around the World with a Magician and a Juggler, Aeroplanes & Dirigibles of War, Wilde vs Whistler (not Steampunkish, but fascinating. Oscar Wilde published his vitriolic correspondence with the famous painter.). The pick of the lot was clearly D'Orcy's Airship Manual .

What an odd shape (it challenged Ginger's parameters)! But what an interesting book; copiously illustrated with photographs and schematics, this book displays the largest variety of dirigibles I've ever seen.
Surely there's A Steampunker with a novel/Role-playing/Art idea in need of this resource material?

Last post I mentioned my passing obsession for Stage Conjuring, but now it's this and other airship treasures. Yum.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Phat books and passing obsessions.

One of the biggest (literal) challenges of working with Ginger and the database of books, is the page-count limit. The specifications talk about an outer extent of 850 pages, and no less than 40. That's quite a variance, and 97% of all books fit into that spread.

This chunky puppy to the left (The Dictionary of's a very long title) clocked in at 723 pages. Which made me a tad bit nervous, because books of such girth can cause...problems. See the image below.

We had a great laugh when this "Soviet Literature" book failed the way it did; it was a learning experience, and we're prepared next time an order comes across our database (like the Dictionary above). These issues are ultimately, the limits of the machine's basic functions, but not the limits of our innovation and imagination. Slightly thinner paper, splitting a book into multiple volumes--these are just a few possibilities.

Every day I keep stumbling upon, not just obscure books, but whole fields of interest in the Google Editions, & I spend some time looking at these lost topics. The public's attention can wax and wane in the book industry (right now we can't get enough of "My Dog/cat/squirrel & I share a special bond" books, for example). As these topics fall behind demand, the books go out of print, and, as recently as 4 years ago, were only available as super-rare used books.

But that's all changed. A simple search on our database for 'Circus' brought up many delightful books on Circus life in the late 19th- early 20th century (for now you can do the equivalent search at Google Books). "Theatrical and Circus Life: or, Secrets of the Stage, Greenroom, and Sawdust Arenas"  is a comprehensive tome with dozens of illustrations of what the titles suggests; "On the Road with a Circus" is a journalist's account of actually traveling with a circus in the U.S. What continued my obsession was the realization that the availability of these books is not mere whimsy; circuses don't really exist in the modern era any more (for good reason, as this news item can attest), and some have evolved to be smaller, mostly acrobatic troupes. Regardless, there's probably a wealth of tips and tricks that modern performers can draw upon.

My most recent obsession is Stage Magic, partly fueled by my love of "The Prestige" (book and movie), and I may post about it another time, but once again, Google Books is an excellent armchair adventure.

Finally: local press. The Stranger's Book Section spent a little time getting to know Ginger recently, and Paul Constant's article is here. "Cherubic, and excitable," ah, an economic and apt use of language indeed...

Final Edit: We've set up a searchable database on our website & it can be found here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Busy, Busy Digital Bees...

It's been a busy 4-5 days for Ginger and myself. There was some kind of sea-change; whether it was a coincidental need amongst our customers, of the availability of particular books on the EBM database, or the Third Place Press employees becoming more familiar with the times we switch to searching for a POD title--something definitely happened.

We've printed one book for a Self-Publishing customer (actually a small publisher that wanted to present her author with a 'quick' copy while the hardback print-run goes to another press), and several books.

A sampling of titles shows how diverse people's interests are: "American Nervousness", "Invisible Storytellers: Voice-over narration in American Fiction Film", "Cooking with Spices for Dummies", "Adventures of Piang The Moro Jungle Boy", "Education, Health Knowledge, and Child Health in Coastal Ghana", "Autobiography of a Super-Tramp". An even balance of Google Editions & in-print titles shows Google was onto something when they first started digitizing vast collections of books.

I'm printing another book as I write this, occasionally wrestling with Ginger when she acts up (as all technology does eventually"; helping out over at the store with the mad rush of Christmas shoppers; endeavoring  to work on "Leaves of Grass" amid the madness.

It's an odd Christmas; I've hardly felt it--the usual retail stress-- a new kind of calmer stress, more like a manageable sense of pressure, suffuses my days at work. It's a change I very much prefer.

And another day ends, and another day begins...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Lost Books of Alan Lomax & the Strugatsky brothers

Immediately after we went 'live' with Ginger we started encountering some 'purgatory' books; books that were still in copyright (either the author was still alive, or their estate was in charge), but were completely out-of-print in the U.S. The whole issue of rights management suddenly became a part of what we now deal with as booksellers.

Before, we just assumed that if the book was in the store, it was sellable, either as a new book or a used copy. Now, what happens is that we get requests and we have to scrutinize whether we can print the book or not. Part of the complexity is our commitment to have as many books as possible accessible to our customers. Google Editions hasn't scanned every book every printed yet, and Project Gutenberg & Internet Archive have an a decade or more head start.

I've found several books that are public domain pdfs that are possibilities for turning into what we call Third Place Press Exclusive Editions. We create a cover to go around the cleaned-up pdf and print it for the customer, at a slightly higher price than a regular paperback. It's a one-off, but that's ok; that's what the EBM was created for. An example is a book called "The Devil's Picture Book: A History of Playing Cards" a fascinating little book about card games from around the world, including Tarot.

A customer sent me an email requesting several titles by different authors, and one was on our database, "Roughing it in the Bush", which I then printed; another was a Ted Hughes book that was obviously still in copyright, just out-of-print here in the U.S.; the final books were by Russian-born Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, classic writers of visionary Science Fiction in the 60s and 70s. I found several versions of the brothers' books online as downloadable pdfs and text files, but since Boris was still alive, I felt uncomfortable with creating a print edition. So I sent word to a literary agent-friend, and hopefully I hear the final word soon.

And then there's the case of Alan Lomax a brilliant musicologist, who recorded and interviewed musicians of all kinds, around the world, preserving their musical knowledge and skills for future generations. A co-worker of mine wanted to get a copy of "The Folk Songs of North America, in English", for his friend; apparently the book is exhaustively researched and contains many chapters with techniques that would be valuable to folk & bluegrass musicians (which he and his friend are). It turns out the copyright still stands (Lomax passed away in 2002), but unfortunately the book is currently out-of-print. That's a shame since a book like that would do well here in Seattle with the Folk community... So if the Lomax estate is listening out there: contact me, I'd like to bring that book back in print for you.

Really, it's that easy with the EBM technology. Back to "Leaves of Grass"...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Designing books & Osmosis

Aside from being able to print all these books from publishers and Google, we're able to access the brilliant Internet Archive for even more out of print titles. It's where we found the first book we made & designed under Third Place Press-- Arthur A. Denny's "Pioneer Days On Puget Sound". I put that book together using the no-quite-clean text on the Archive site, in Indesign & tried to keep a similar feel to the 1908 edition I used as reference. Though we did use our own cover design (See left). This'll be the format for all our Public Domain "Special" editions.
As I was working thought the text I couldn't help but absorb Denny's memories of the founding of Seattle. It's a rather dry accounting, but fascinating nonetheless. For about a week I was learning about obscure settlers and the first "Battle in Seattle" between the settlers and the Natives. It was fun. And now I'm about to go though it again.

"Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman is the next project on the table and I'm already learning. I've never been much into poetry, let alone Whitman, but just in the indexing of his poem titles, I've found some interesting things. For starters, the obvious 'I Sing the Body Electric' stands out because it was the title to a Ray Bradbury story collection, but others 'One Hour to Madness and Joy', 'Recorders Ages Hence','City of Orgies','As I Ebb'd With the Ocean of Life', and so on. I can't wait to get to some of these poems and see what the titles hint at.
Another unexpected pleasure to an already pleasurable job printing and making books.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who is that Papier-mache man?

Now that Ginger's been introduced, I should probably account for myself. And why I'm in a potentially scandalous partnership with a machine named Ginger.


First and foremost I've been a bookseller most of my life, before that I was an obsessive SF & Fantasy & Comic nerd in the 80s (oops. I just reveled my 'use by' date). I worked at several bookstores in my career; a now-defunct book chain called Crown Books (remember them?); then a very long stint at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle (and contrary to any rumors, opinions, EbbCo. is going to be around a looooong time); and now I'm here at Third Place Books.

Bookselling has always been an amazingly rigorous intellectual job; you're brain never shuts down--whether you're recommending books to customers, trading opinions with co-workers, or trying to figure out how to bring in more business to your Indie Bookstore. But I've been watching the Publishing industry slide into this weird Stockholm syndrome-in-a-Wal-Mart situation where the art of bookselling is sorely under-appreciated. Until Indies build up the next sleeper hit (too many examples to cite here, but trust me). So a solution to this down-slide was badly needed. I think the EBM is that solution (more later on that).

So what's a bookseller like me doing in a place like this? As lead publisher & designer of a small Press? Luck and timing, mainly. But there's also my extended relationship with Graphic Design, harkening back to this SF&F zine I published  long ago called PRESCIENCE. The experience of putting together the zine (old school Word layout, cut & paste imagery, photocopy all) led to the purchase of my first computer, an Apple Performa. Running Photoshop 5 and Quarkexpress. That was in 1995-6. I've taught myself most aspects of design, picked up handy tips from talented individuals--all while working at bookstores. That's the answer for the design side of my experience.

Publishing? In 2001 a brief stint at a wacky online start-up called Publishing Online introduced me to the concept of e-books and, further, Print on Demand technology. The wheels in my mind started spinning: how can both of these book formats work towards helping the publishing industry and Indie Bookstores (not Big Box Chains, 'cause frankly they could all switch to selling shoes and their board members probably wouldn't care)? I spent many years (back at a bookstore job) pondering the idea, but I didn't like how these start-ups were treating e-book design (design was virtually non-existent, and when it was it was clumsy), and the POD examples I'd seen were atrocious. Worse that uncorrected proofs.

But as the years went on, I noticed the growing innovation with e-books (Cory Doctorow's efforts along with SF&F publisher Baen Books), and heard rumors about this...machine...a machine that could pop a book out in 15 minutes. It was like as if someone had told me they'd seen a minotaur walking down the street one night-- plausible, but beyond my understanding at the time.

I'm going to skip a few years ahead and get to where we are. Third Place Books is investing in a vision of the future of bookselling, & book publishing Big and Small. It's going to take some time to get the public's mind around the concept (it took some time for booksellers to understand it, and the big publishers have yet to recognize the potential).
Which is why I'm writing this, why I'll be back to pester the internet with my ruminations...

A beginning, an ending, a beginning.

Hello world.
Meet Ginger.
Ginger's an Espresso Book Machine. Version 2.2. She joined the staff of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, a neighborhood on the Northern outskirts of Seattle, on November 9th, 2009.
Her Parents (I guess it's an apt description) are a group of crafty individuals from a company called On Demand Books.

So the relationship is pretty fresh. For a machine of such mechanical intricacies, Ginger runs pretty smoothly, and for those out there who haven't gone to the link yet, Ginger prints and binds a book in 5- 10 minutes (depending on page size).
It's pretty amazing.
It's why I started this blog.

In the weeks I've spent getting to know the the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) system, and it's associated database of millions of titles, I've learned a great deal. From layman's understanding of brute mechanical functions, & paper consistencies, to the deep well of obscure titles available just from Google Editions (those books you find on Google Books with full-preview PDFs and no Copyright).

Intermittently, I'll be posting about all these things and more, some thoughts on the future of the publishing industry, the survival of the independent bookstore, and the kinds of things Ginger and I will be doing under the aegis of Third Place Press.

I hope y'all come along for the ride.