Month: July 2009

Fidra asks: What ten books would you love to see in a bookshop?

Eoin Purcell

Fidra Books posted a query on their blog today designed to help them figure out what books to order for their new store:

We’re resigned to the fact that we will open with a stock that has gaps and biases and it would be hard not to – this can be rectified in the next few months as we discover our customers’ tastes – but in an attempt to be more balanced we’d like you, our lovely blog-readers, to make some suggestions in the comments section below as to say, your top ten books that you’d love to see in a bookshop.

I loved the challenge this presented and so I went to work straight away, this is what came up with!

In an vain attempt to spread my bets and make sure I cover as many bases as possible I think this list may well get a bit rickety but here goes! In no order particularly:

    1) AJP Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (for the thinking general history reader, this will launch them on the path of a thousand questions)

    2) Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations or Millennium (in terms of broad brush history of the epic kind, you’d be hard pressed to find better than these)

    3) Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World (a travelogue, a cookbook, a history and all wrapped in the neatest little package, sweet as)

    4) Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (clever science fiction for the fan who hasn’t yet mined the Science fiction cannon)

    5) Stephanie Swainston, No Present Like Time (genre bending, adventure and all with an inconstant narrator, boy does Steph write fantasy well)

    6) Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man & The Sea (maybe its a guy thing, but this may well be one of the few fiction books I can stand to re-read)

    7) Evelyn Waugh, Sword of Honour Trilogy (yes this cheating slightly because its a trilogy but lordy this is great writing)

    8) Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome And the End of Civilization (this revives the full horror and the depth of the tragedy that was the end of the Roman empire, and moves the debate on from the hole I believe it fell into by trying to pass the collapse of Rome off as merely change rather than regression)

    9) Robert Cooper, The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century (a nicely thought through book on the global political lanscape, not as radical as any of the Kagan books [Paradise and Power/The Return of History and the End of Dreams] but better for that)

    10) William A. Draves & Julie Coates, Nine Shift (one of the most prescient and forward thinking books, I have ever read. Calmly and plainly explains where the world is going, why and looks at how it will change society utterly. A great book)

Two notes. Children’s books from picture books, to fiction, Food & Drink, Sport, Modern Fiction and quite a few other topics got a raw deal here but that’s the nature of top 10 lists. The last space took some time deciding.

I think it’s a good list!
Eoin

The FT has a really nice piece on Hidden City Rivers

Eoin Purcell

Lovely corner in the Fleet Sewer. (Image with thanks to Flickr User: Mr. J Doe)

Lovely corner in the Fleet Sewer. (Image with thanks to Flickr User: Mr. J Doe)

What a week
I had intended to write more on hidden city rivers but then events interrupted and I got waylaid.

In any case, the FT has a wonderful article on another hidden river, The Fleet in London:

The Fleet became a noxious ditch and, in 1679, the build up of filth burst under the pressure of the water behind it and washed away several butchers around Smithfield meat market, cattle and all. The poet John Gay, perhaps employing his profession’s licence, thought the river delightful and observed: “Fleet Ditch with muddy current flows.” Gay also recommended the oysters for sale on the quayside. Such shellfish would struggle to pass health and safety muster now. Much better to stop at The Eagle, the bar that started Britain’s gastropub revolution, and which tempts me in with those ancient London scents: meat, beer and fish.

It really is a wonderfully evocative piece and well worth reading. If you are looking for something more, you could read the Wikipedia article linked above or you could check out Mr. J Doe’s Flickr stream (his image adorns this post) and read some the fascinating captions he has on the sequence of photographs of London’s Sewers.

Hire me, I am a man of leisure

Eoin Purcell

Why I have so much time
Yesterday I was laid off by Mercier Press. I’m not bitter or angry, sometimes companies have to make decisions that no one likes but that are necessary given the economic climate. It helped that I had commissioned a list for almost the entire year 2010. I will miss many of my co-workers at Mercier.

Honestly, I see this as a great opportunity. I’ve made no firm plans yet so I thought I would put myself out to the market and see what came back. Until I update this post I am available for short-term, medium and long-term work. If you have an offer drop me an e-mail (eoin.purcell AT gmail.com). I’ll consider anything publishing- or writing-related, but I’ll be honest (as my readers know) I’m no copy editor or proofer!

Looking forward to the future,
Eoin

Further Action on George Monck

Eoin Purcell

George Monck & The Restoration of Charles II in 1660
Okay, so call this crazy but I have made a decision about my thesis on Monck. I am putting it up on Scribd. I’ve embedded the file above and here is the link to the document. Yesterday I dug out the thesis and re-read it. It has promise but as I note below in a new introduction which I have included in the text, needs a lot of fresh work to be really worthwhile. But equally I think it offers something even as it is. For more on my thoughts, read the note.

2009 Introductory Note
This thesis was written during my Masters year in UCD, Dublin. I enjoyed the process and at the time I was happy with what I had written. However, some six years later I can recognise that there are serious deficiencies in this thesis and that is something I plan at some stage to rectify in another work. Please feel free to send messages or feedback to me at eoin.purcell AT gmail.com.

Original Documents & Eyewitness accounts

In retrospect there are many things I would change, not the least of which would be the sources I used. Four major areas (with many other areas needing minor attention) could be improved. Firstly, more original documentary evidence would have greatly improved the book. Aside from letters and papers of the officers and officials around Monck in Scotland which I now know exist in archives that I did not consult for the original, I believe that there are numerous other sources that might be exploited to huge advantage. They would, I believe, include eyewitness accounts available from:

    1) The soldiers in Monck’s units
    2) Monck’s officers
    3) Londoners during Monck’s time in the city
    4) Observers from outside the capital
    5) Soldiers and officers still loyal to the last few Grandee’s like Lambert

Character
Secondly, I believe that more work on Monck’s character and his pragmatism and motivations would have been sensible. There is surely more material available to work on that. He is a truly incredible individual. His motivations are a mystery in many ways though I think my analysis of his actions reveals that he was simply taking the easiest course of action to secure his own position, I firmly believe now that had he been presented with the opportunity, he would have crowned himself king or had himself declared Lord Protector. I’d like to spend time proving that.

The Actions of Others
Thirdly, the role of the other actors needs a great examination, I see that now clearly as a major failing in the original work. The Grandee’s in London and the parliamentarians of the Rump are as powerful figures and their motivations and actions were such critical factors in the course of events. Had any of them for instance mounted a sufficient case against Monck while he was in London, or managed to hold together a force in the field, events would have been different. The brief mention of the role of Lord Fairfax is insufficient to explain the reverence he was held in by many of the foot soldiers more work on the importance of his siding with Monck should have been done.

Conclusions
Lastly, the work deserved a better and less lazy conclusion than that which I impulsively gave it in 2003. Events in Iran that year inspired an unfortunate idealism in me that scarred the powerful conclusions of the evidence about Monck. I was more concerned the hammer home the deficiencies of the Grandee’s rule and compare those with the failures of government I saw in Iran than to properly assess Monck’s character and to bring together the argument I had mustered in the preceding pages. That was a mistake and one I think should be rectified in any new work.

The 1st Duke of Albermarle (as Monck became as a reward for his efforts in restoring the monarchy) is one of the most singularly unstudied yet important men in British history. Considering the volumes of material on other actors in the Civil War and Interregnum this is a strange fact. Perhaps, when I have the time I will rectify the problems with this thesis and the lack of a decent examination of the man and publish a book on him.

Eoin Purcell
Glasthule, Dublin, July 2009

Some Thoughts On: Why Publishing Cannot Be Saved (As It Is) An Editorial by Richard Eoin Nash

Eoin Purcell

Johan Gutenberg (Thanks to Flikr user robert Scarth: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_scarth/)

Johan Gutenberg (Thanks to Flikr user Robert Scarth: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_scarth/)

Things will get worse for publishers as they currently exist!
The increasingly wonderful Publishing Perspectives caries and editorial by Richard Eoin Nash*. It is a nice tight piece that makes a number of clear points:

1) This is an industry based on a hobby:

The book business is a tiny industry perched atop a massive hobby. But rather than celebrate and serve the hobbyists, we expect them to shell out ever more money for the books we keep throwing at them (a half million English-language books in 2008 in the U.S.).

2) Our distribution system suits publishers, not readers or writers:

Instead of using the ever-increasing array of cheap and free tools now available to offer new ways to structure the writer-reader relationship, we’re using the technology to either thwart the readers (see: DRM) or to hustle them, using social media to move product, not have a conversation.

3) Publishing needs to change to a service type model:

For-profit publishing should not be saved — it should figure out new business models, ones that offer services that both readers and writers want and are happy to pay for.

4) And in the words of The Economist’s Intelligent Life Magazine, we are all writers now:

We’re also going to have to recognize that reading increasingly is writing — readers are writing back in all sorts of ways, commenting on books, re-mixing books as in fan fiction, or creating from scratch, and publishers, rather than barring this activity, or hiding from it, need to embrace it and find ways to serve it.

Stake-claiming
One area I disagree strongly with him on though is the idea of service. I feel like there have been a glut of ground claiming posts recently mapping out a future for publishing, Nash like Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly seems to be pointing firmly in the direction of Publishing as a Service (PaS) (although to be fair to Savikas, he does say Content rather than publishing), the idea that if publishers want to survive they should adapt to become facilitators of the people who are creating and consuming content (I know people hate that word). Mike Shatzkin on the other hand seems to think the focus should be on curating those niches and in re-engineering a publishing portfolio around a vertical segment.

Now that might sound like splitting hairs, but in fact if a publisher only chooses one of these options (or over emphasises services to the detriment of the content) they lead to different scenarios, one which sees publishers create a set of tools to facilitate conversation and engagement and the other whereby the publisher focuses on changing their list and reinventing their content into a package suited to a niche in which they have credibility. in space one they have become software engineers, in space two they remain publishers.

Reinventing the wheel
When I read that first concept I cannot help but think that those tools exist. There is WordPress, Blogger and Typepad and even Ning. There is LibraryThing, Shelfari and even to a certain extent Amazon. Why recreate the wheel?

Publishers are not coders and we probably never should be. Personally, I don’t think that most publishers should spend their time creating design software or better printing presses, leave that to the odd genius who happens to also be a publisher or the software programmer? It would be a stupid investment. It isn’t our specialization, far better for us to spend time curating and filtering content, because filtering is what the web needs.

That doesn’t necessarily mean gate-keeping, we may be facilitating the filtering by readers within a community, rather than choosing what floats. The point is that spending money creating tools seems a waste when they exist already and are owned by people with much deeper pockets in many cases. Spending money curating the content, packaging it however seems like a good investment, using the existing tools and new tools as they emerge to distribute content , engage with an audience and promote good material sounds like a publisher’s job and is certainly something we can do.

Ditch the tool creation idea, lets look at tool usage and author/community development
I think that Nash actually sums it up better than in this editorial on his About Page on his website when he writes:

Basically, the best-selling five hundred books each year will likely be published like Little Brown publishes James Patterson, on a TV production model, or like Scholastic did Harry Potter and Doubleday Dan Brown, on a big Hollywood blockbuster model.

The rest will be published by niche social publishing communities.

That short phrase encapsulates the changes I see coming to the world of books and reading. Communities of Interest (with readers at various degrees of engagement from Obsessed to Mildly Taken with a genre/niche) that are deep and to which publishers add value and thus gain respect, credibility and leadership of a sort that allows them to curate and (hopefully profit). There is a danger though, as discussed on Twitter with Peter Brantleythat this role would be limited to publishers and in many niches, single individuals might wield enough power to curate a niche. It sounds plausible but I DOUBT they would remain independent forever as some publisher hoovers the niche operations in a particular segment up to re-balance their portfolio.

Nash goes on in his about page to suggest that those communities (niches) need an infrastructural base:

Now is time to build their infrastructure. Let me know if you’ve the time or money to help.

But as I say above the idea of publishers as a provider of tools I think is flawed, sure we can advise on what tools to use for certain platforms, which blogging engine we prefer or social networks we find work for what genre, but actually making those tools is too far beyond our reach and represent foolish dreams rather than real ambitions.

There is a lure to thinking of publishers as some kind of technological innovators, but it is a call of the sirens, it will end in tears. I’m with Shatzkin in encouraging a concentration on the best quality niche content mediated through the existing and developing tools in a credible way to create and curate a community of interest around a niche.

Yes that means slicing, dicing, repackaging, up-selling, giving away and generally bashing content from place to place in the most platform neutral way, that still requires good enough content for them to think it worthwhile.

All of this is a long way to say that Richard is right in the overview but I’d be concerned on some of his details!
Eoin

Hidden City Rivers

Eoin Purcell

Image Copyright of Flickr user informatique (http://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/)

Image Copyright of Flickr user informatique (http://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/)

UPDATE: Kathy Foley has e-mailed me some links that I will incorporate into something later today or perhaps tomorrow. I also remembered this book, Hidden Cork, which we are publishing in November and I am planning on hitting the author up for some Cork details!

An appropriate topic for Uncovered History!
A great pointer from the NYT Blogs section (not to mention a wonderful historical photo) to an article on “Daylighting” historically covered rivers in cities and creating greenbanks along their banks:

I have a story running in The Times on one of the most remarkable such transformations — the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, South Korea. Through more than six centuries of settlement, the stream went from being a revered feature of the landscape to an open sewer to a buried, forgotten storm drain and now to a three-mile corridor of burbling waters, milling carp, strolling picnickers and relative quiet in one of the powerhouse metropolises of Asia. You can see a video report on that effort at the bottom of this post. The Seoul stream project was integrated with a parallel effort to take away highways and improve public transportation.

The story also discusses an ambitious effort to expose 1,900 feet of the Saw Mill River, which runs under a stretch of shops and parking lots in downtown Yonkers, a city of 200,000 abutting the Bronx. The photograph above shows the giant flume built in the early the 1920’s to contain the river. From San Antonio to Singapore, there are other examples.

Of course it doesn’t take long to realise that Dublin has it’s own rivers that might make for interesting “Daylighting” projects. The video gets particularly interesting around the 5minute mark when they go underground and actually follow the tunnels that the Poddle river flows through

On the other hand, Dublin is lucky in that it has two extant canals that frame the city centre and create park-like walkways most of the northern and southern perimeters. When you take in the glorious seafront, the effect of the Liffey and the Dodder, then “daylighting” the Poddle seems a bit like we are getting greedy.

Kathy Foley suggests that Cork might benefit from some “daylighting” but when I did some digging on that front I didn’t get much. If anyone knows more, send me info to eoinpurcellsblogATgmail.com

Just going 9am, time to cut the hedges!
Eoin

A great Review for Petticoat Rebellion

Eoin Purcell

The Herald today has a smashing review of one of Mercier’s new books: Petticoat Rebellion: The Anna Parnell Story:

During the reign of Queen Victoria, women wore corsets to thrust breasts upwards and nip in waists, and crinoline hoops to make their buttocks and hips wider. They had problems walking freely, and often fainted.

Patricia Groves’ new book, Petticoat Rebellion; The Anna Parnell Story (Mercier Press, E14.99), offers a fascinating insight into the social restrictions and mores that threatened to hamper a radical female activist in the 19th century.

You can read the rest of Anna Coogan’s review here and you buy the book from Mercier here.

I have to say that I am biased as this was a book I commissioned early enough after arriving at Mercier Press, but the story is a wonderful forgotten episode in Irish history and well worth reading. The author is Patricia Groves and you can read her profile here. The Parnells were a truly international family, Anna’s grandfather was an American
Eoin