By any other name

Publisher’s Weekly had an article up recently regarding the alternate titles of famous books. I saw it when I was sick and then promptly forgot about it. I found the one on Steinbeck to be particularly interesting in the sense of “what could have been.” Frankly, I’m glad he read Robert Burns.

Reading Cultures With Silent Workers

I thought I’d pass along a brief juxtaposition of articles today. First is Farhad Manjoo’s critique of your local book stores vs. the power and convenience of Amazon over at Slate. Manjoo apparently isn’t taking into account the used book market or local book shops of that variety. Having lived in college towns as an English major myself, I have to say that this is a pretty glaring oversight. That situation might not apply to everyone, but I still think there’s a lot to be said for the local book shop beyond Manjoo’s limited critique.

As a counter point, I wanted to post this story from The Atlantic by Vanessa Vaselka about labor practices at Amazon and her attempt a few years back to start a union movement. There are a few aspects of Vaselka’s article that I found wanting. In particular the focus is mostly on Vaselka herself rather than a wider labor movement. I realize Vaselka didn’t get far in her recruiting, but I’m curious about the union (ILWU) and wider efforts for unionization. In other words, it’s a good slice of life experience of unionization, but not particularly enlightening to the larger picture I happen to be intrigued by.

More to the point in this post, Vaselka’s article puts one of Manjoo’s claims into a sharper perspective. Amazon is incredibly efficient, but its important to remember that this efficiency comes at a price and ometimes a particularly high one at that.

Best Known or Best?

Interesting discussion happening over at the Guardian about what happens to be an author’s best book vs. his or her best known book.

As a note, I can’t say I agree with Self’s description of Catch-22. Heller’s most famous book is a bit slow to get started perhaps in regards to its plot, but the novel enacts the sort of structured chaos involved in military service as well as the trauma and inexplicable chaos involved in war. While Catch-22 has its problems (quite a few in fact), I don’t think they’re the hundred pages Self mentions. I’m more than happy to believe him on Something Happened though. It’s a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for years now but I can never quite seem to make the time to get to it.


Julian Barnes at the Guardian writes a compelling article about Voltaire’s Candide. I have soft spot for that book after reading it as an impressionable undergraduate. A history professor (who I happen to owe a lot) assigned it as a means of teaching the period’s history (a function that, as Barnes points out, the book does quite well ). Despite loving the class, I don’t recall much of the historical details that we covered or their representation in the book. I do remember the lectures on Enlightenment thought and Voltaire’s scathing satirical wit though. I’ve carted Candide around for the better part of ten years now. I’ve never gone back to reread it but Barnes makes me wonder if it’s about time I do.