LibraryThing: State of the Thing

posted by Karen Hood
Monday, November 29, 2010

Here comes SantaThing!

SantaThing is Secret Santa for LibraryThing members. You pay $25 to participate, everyone gets a randomly assigned person to choose $25 worth of books for, we buy the books and mail them out to everyone. As always, everyone has a ton of fun suggesting books for others, picking out books for our Secret Santas, and basking in the glow of surprise gifts. You can read more and sign up here.
Note: To have time for assigning and picking you must sign up by Monday, November 29 at 8pm.

News and Features

Publisher series. We’ve added a new option to the Common Knowledge section, called “Publisher series”. Different from the existing series field, Publisher series aren’t all from the same author or only some editions are in the series, like the Britannica Great Books or my personal favorite, the Voyager Classics series of science fiction. Learn more about publisher series here.
Search redesigned, improved. Search is now available from every page, and you can search one type (like works or authors) and get result-counts for all types. There are new fields that are searchable (like member reviews and words in tags), and tabs have been reorganized a bit. Get the scoop here.

New group: “Books in 2025—The Future of the Book World”. This new group aims to centralize and restart a site-wide conversation about the future of books and reading. Anything about the future of books is welcome, but the focus will be on how ebooks and social reading are and will change things. Read more about the focus in the blog post, or check out the group.

We’re hiring. We’re on the hunt for a bookish and social-media savvy person, who likes moose and lobster (the job is in Portland, ME). If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, check out the job post.

Talk: Started by you. There’s a new “Started by you” option in Talk. It shows the posts started … by you! Get the full story here.
More CK fields: Original and alternative titles. We’ve added fields for “Original title” and “Alternative titles.” Together with “Canonical title,” this pretty much covers most of the possibilities. Learn more about it here.
Minor bug-reporting changes. Tim made some small changes to bug reporting, mostly in the color coding. Get the details here.
The important dates: The sign-up will close Monday, November 29th at 4pm Eastern time. Picking closes Wednesday, December 8th at 10pm Eastern time.

Free books: Early Reviewers

Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We’ve given out a whopping 64,441 books so far through Early Reviewers.
The November batch of Early Reviewer books contains 3,118 copies of 101 different titles. The deadline to request a free book to read and review is Friday, November 26th at 6pm EST. The next batch will be up during the second week of December.
The list of books
The most requested books so far this month:

Interview with author Gary Shteyngart

I was already a Gary Shteyngart fan after I read Absurdistan, and was aware of Super Sad True Love Story long before I got my hands on it, thanks to the word-of-mouth spread of his hilarious book trailer. (Warning: contains illiteracy and wiener dogs.)
In Super Sad True Love Story, it’s the really-near future. Everyone communicates via social network (ahem) on their äppärät (like a smartphone). Our schlubby, older hero Lenny tries desperately to keep his younger girlfriend Eunice (who navigates the äppärät like she was born with it in her hand) as they navigate New York City during the catastrophic end of America’s rein over the world.
Author Mad Lib: Gary Shteyngart lives in Manhattan! When he’s not writing, he’s sleeping, making a fort out of the pillows and blankets, having a vodka tonic and a piece of fine beef. He’s working on a new book, a memoir actually.
A good portion of the novel is about how people communicate in this future world—scanning information is literacy, reading skills are diminishing. Now, LibraryThing is definitely a niche social network, as it’s a mash-up (that’s like a combination, if you’re over 40) of reading and digital life. Will there be room for those who are tech-savvy and yet still enjoy the mental exercise of reading?
Yes! The key is to enter a kind of equivalent of the “slow food” movement which began in Europe to counter the proliferation of fast food. So much technology is really helpful—I love the map feature on the iPhone—but if you use it too much it takes over your life and you become more technological appendage than human being. I still think reading printed books rules, but it’s fun when people bring me their iPad or Kindle to sign which has happened a bunch during this tour. People are funny.
You started writing this book in 2006, writing with the crazy idea that the financial system failed. Way to hit the nail on the speculative-fiction head! With your satirical (and eerily accurate) imagination, what can you see happening in the next few years? I need to know if I should dump my shares of Land O’Lakes-GM-Ford.
I think our society will be confronted on a more regular basis with the fact that we’re no longer the #1 best country ever on the planet, and that the eyes of the world will shift eastward, and that many of us (and this is really the sad part) who counted on having a normal, steady middle-class existence will not.
Read the rest of the interview with Gary Shteyngart.

Interviews with National Book Festival authors

The 2010 National Book Festival was chock full of authors and readers. Squeakychu organized a LibraryThing meetup, and much literary fun was had by all. I’ve asked a number of 2010 National Book Festival authors one question apiece.
Henry Petroski, author of The Book on the Bookshelf and The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts—From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers—Came to Be As They Are
What object you’ve come across recently that caught your eye as being well designed?
I have just returned from a cruise around the Aegean Sea, and I was impressed with the design of the identification cards that were issued to all passengers before they boarded the ship. My card, which was also my cabin key, was imprinted with my name, cabin number, and inclusive dates of the cruise. Upon embarking the ship, my picture was taken with a small hand-held camera and the image was linked to my card and stored in the ship’s computer system. Each time I left the ship to visit a Greek Island, my card was swiped and my image appeared on the purser’s laptop computer so that my identity could be confirmed. The purser thus knew that it was indeed I who was going ashore. Upon returning to the ship, my card was swiped again, my picture appeared on the computer screen again, and the purser knew that I had returned to the ship. This system not only kept track of who was leaving and returning to the ship but also verified that they were indeed registered passengers. By having a good-size image of me before him, the purser could easily see that it was I who was returning to the ship and not some terrorist who had mugged me in port and stolen my identification card to gain access to the ship. The card and the verification system enabled the purser to know when everyone was aboard and to insure that they were all registered passengers. The neat little plastic card was but a small part of a well-designed system.
Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent and its sequel, this year’s Innocent.
At the end of Innocent, the character Rusty Sabich says, “I’m ready to find out what happens next.” Do we get to find out what happens next? Will there be another book?
The truth is that I really don’t know. I don’t have a firm plan although I too am curious about what will happen next with Rusty. I feel like he deserves a chance to be happy.
Judith Viorst, author of Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
You write in such a wide variety of genres (science, children, poetry, psychology). Which do you find the most challenging? The most satisfying? The most fun?
You ask which genre of writing I find most satisfying. Can’t pick. I write in a variety of genres BECAUSE it’s the variety itself that I enjoy (maybe with the exception of mastering the difference between solid-propellant and liquid-propellant rocket fuels), which means I can’t say I prefer one over the other when it comes to satisfaction. As for which genre is the most challenging, each has its own very special challenges. In my science writing I’ve had to struggle to clearly understand the often quite difficult subject matter I wanted to write about before I wrote about it, whether (in my book about outer space) it was rocket fuel or whether (in my book Necessary Losses) it was psychoanalytic theory. The challenge in poetry is concentrating many thoughts and feelings into one stanza, one line, one word. In prose books and articles I can go in the other direction, can expand and elaborate, and the challenge there has been to do the research and interviewing that help enrich whatever points I’m trying to make. For my children’s books the challenge is to locate and speak from the little kid that lives inside of me, to write without ever patronizing or moralizing, and to always respect the intelligence of my young readers.

So, I repeat, every genre—science, psychology, poetry, prose, children’s books—has its challenges.
As for which genre is the most fun, all I can say is that when the writing is not going well, I’m wondering why I didn’t take up house-painting, and when the writing IS going well, whatever I’m writing is fun.
Adele Logan Alexander, author of Author of Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family, 1846-1926.
What stop-everything-and-read book have you come across lately?
Picasso’s War: The Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece that Changed the World, by Russell Martin. A riveting merger of political, personal, and cultural history.

Author interviews—you ask the questions

Next month one of our interviews will be with Salman Rushdie, about the follow-up to the novel he wrote for his son, Luka and the Fire of Life. We’ll also be interviewing librarian favorite Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust to Go. Have a question for Rushdie or Pearl? Post them in the Author Interviews—you ask the questions group.

Taylor Plimpton’s Must Reads

Taylor Plimpton is the author of the memoir/how to on New York nightlife Notes From the Night. Taylor, son of George, wrote Notes as an ode to high-end partying, and he created a playist to go with his book (see in iTunes). We’ve asked Taylor to share some of his favorite books, and pair each with a song.
Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski. As a memoirist, I’ve always been intrigued by the amorphous line between fiction and truth—indeed, I enjoy exploring it in my work myself—but no one dances between those boundaries as liberally and fantastically as Kapuscinski, a Polish journalist who was once described as combining nonfiction with magical realism (think the literary child of Thomas Friedman and Garcia-Marquez). Shah of Shahs a labyrinthian account of the opulent, doomed final days of the last Shah of Iran, is a wonderful introduction to some of the most beautiful, mind-bending reportage you’ll ever read…

Blue Movie by Terry Southern. If you’ve never sat down with Southern, the hipster-comic-genius responsible for the screenplays to Easy Rider and Dr. Strangelove, you’re missing out on some of the funniest, coolest and most readable literature ever penned. Not for the faint of heart (he’s perhaps best-known for Candy, which was originally banned from the U.S.), his masterpiece may just be Blue Movie, which depicts a hip 60’s director (think Kubrick, to whom it’s dedicated) who decides to make a “quality” porno. Sexy, dirty, twisted, and outrageously funny, the book itself somehow succeeds where the movie cannot—creating brilliant, quality art about the most sordid of subjects…

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow. Saul Bellow’s books, especially his masterpieces like The Adventures of Augie March and Henderson the Rain King, are epic journeys involving larger-than-life characters in search of something larger than life. In Henderson, the title character, a big-bellied, hard-drinking millionaire several times divorced, heads to a small village in Africa, where, after much trial, tribulation and disaster, he is received as a kind of living god. Funny, sprawling, full of mischief and mystery, this may just be the great American novel you’ve never read.

  • Listen to Soda Soap, by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

Easy in the Islands by Bob Shacochis. If you’re a lover of the tropics, as I am, you know that “paradise” rarely lives up to its name. No matter the beauty of the landscape, something always seems to go wrong. So it is in this brilliantly crafted collection of short stories, where Shacochis captures the maddening imperfections of island living the way no one else has except for Herman Wouk in Don’t Stop the Carnival (another must-read). The easy, effortless writing draws you in to a world ripe with colorful characters and grand absurdities that will make your own misadventures at the beach seem tame by comparison…

Chuang Tzu by Chuang Tzu. Everyone’s perused The Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu—besides the Bible, one of the most widely translated (and wisest) books in the world (if you haven’t, pick it up immediately)—but few are aware of the other major Taoist work, Chuang Tzu. Filled with humorous parables, unlikely masters, lofty insights, and down-to-earth wisdom about life and how to live it well, Chuang Tzu is also one of the great literary masters of old. Who else could capture the Great Way by describing a man swimming effortlessly through the boiling rapids of a river, or a cook dissecting an ox?

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 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. Room by Emma Donoghue
  2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  3. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
  4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  5. 61 Hours by Lee Child
  6. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  7. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
  8. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
  9. Tinkers by Paul Harding
  10. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

That’s it.

Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions? Send them our way.
—Sonya, one of the LibraryThing librarians (

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