Free Art History Ebooks from The Getty and The MMA

Both The Getty and The Metropolitan Museum of Art are releasing digital books (.pdfs) of their own publications about their collections as a “virtual library.” These books are complete .pdf versions of the print bersions, and are free to download.

Here’s The Getty’s list of free downloadable books.

Here’s The Metropolitan Museum of Ar’s list of free downloadable art history publications.

See also catalogs from other museums that are participating in the Getty-sponsored Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative.

Free Ebook from RIA: Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks was edited by Fintan O’Toole and Catherine Marshall. The book, available as an ebook and as a printed book, traces the story of Ireland’s creative output from the revolutionary period until today. The book consists of 100 artworks created from 1916 (the year of the Easter Rising) to 2015, using each year as a spring board to trace the cultural history of Ireland. The works include visual works (paintings, sculptures, architecture) as well as literary; images of the visual works are included. The literary works are represented only by allusion and discussion in the short essays accompanying each piece. It’s interesting, though I suspect more interesting the more you know; I’m woefully ignorant of the visual arts of modern Ireland.

Print copies of the book can be purchased from the Royal Irish AcademyModern Ireland in 100 Artworks is a project of the Royal Irish Academy, in partnership with The Irish Times. The ebook, in both Mobi and EPub formats may be downloaded here.

The Book of Aneirin Digitized and Online

Image of p. 20 of The Book of Aneirin

The Book of Aneirin Cardiff MS. 2.8.1 p. 20

The 13th Century Book of Aneirin has been completely digitized and placed online. This is one of the four major Welsh mss. mostly known because it contains the text of Y Goddodin, an epic poem retelling the historic battle of Catraeth wherein 300 Men from Manaw Gododdin, near Edinburgh, fought the Saxons at Catraeth (modern day Catterick, North Yorkshire) around the year 600AD. Only three of the Britons survived the battle, one of whom, the poet Aneirin, commemorates the fallen.

This is the last of the Four Ancient Books of Wales to be digitized and made publicly available. The other three books are:

Lady Charlotte Guest

Portrait of Lady Charlotte GuestThe Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s “Life of the Week” post this week is a biography of Lady Charlotte Guest, the translator of the Mabinogion, including the four mabinogi proper, as well as the three Welsh tales, and the four Arthurian romances, as well as several other tales, including the prose Taliesin fragment from the sixteenth century, edited by Patrick Ford as the Ystoria Taliesin in 1991.

Lady Guest’s translation, with the accompanying notes, is actually quite wonderful; it was the first translation I ever read, and it still remains well-worth reading. It has become fashionable to sneer at her—and imply that she wasn’t responsible for the work. She was; I’ve seen some of her handwritten notes, and while she has, quite understandably, Victorian sensibilities, she had a scholarly frame of mind. I wish that her notes from the first editions were still printed; they are well worth reading, and in fact her translations of the four romances, particularly Gereint (the Welsh version of the tale Chretien called Erec et Enide) inspired Tennyson’s take in Idylls of the King.

You can read more about Lady Charlotte Guest here and here. Angela V. John has written a solid biography: Lady Charlotte Guest. An Extraordinary Life

Amazon: “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error”

From the Seattle PI blog, quoting Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles–in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

You can find the original here

You know, I’m not really happy with Amazon’s response, rather, their lack of response. This should have been put on the front page of the site. Moreover, even though I realize that the magnitude of the error was because of a human making the wrong SQL and metadata choices, I’m not really happy about the initial decision to exclude “adult” books from the Sales Ranks, and thus, from Search. A large number of the books they’ve chosen to hide this way are standard scholarly history texts, novels, and critical theory texts, as well as book that feature queer characters, or are by queer-identified authors, even if the books have no sex, or queer characters. They’ve also “hidden” books about sexuality that are standard college text books—not only Alex Comfort’s Joy of Sex, but the text books my father used to use in his classes at Keene State and UNH. My father the tenured faculty member, and ordained minister, by the way. Not porn.

My feeling is, if you don’t want people to find the item in your store, Don’t Carry It In Your Stock.

Richard Nash has written a thoughtful post here that I think makes a very very good point

The vigilance and outrage demonstrated on Twitter are necessary, not because the folks at Amazon are bad people, but because the books that were de-ranked were de-ranked because it is always the outsider whose books get de-ranked and “mainstream” society and the capitalist institutions that operate within it, whether my old company or Amazon, must self-police ruthlessly in order to guard against this kind of thing happening.

I’m removing all Amazon affiliate links from my site, starting now. I’ll be keeping the links to Powell’s, and to Books for Scholars.

Amazon Rankings Reek of Homophobia and Puritanism

On Amazon.com beginning April 10, 2009, sales rankings of hundreds of books Amazon considers to be gay and lesbian began disappearing. These are not porn, most aren’t even romance or erotica. These are all books that Amazon subject metadata identifies as having gay and/or lesbian interest. Mark Probst, author and publisher, broke the news here. He wrote to Amazon as a publisher, and received this response:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage

Here’s a screen shot of Amazon’s page for C. J. Cherryh’s Regenesis. Notice the sales rank circled in blue. Next to it is the screen shot of Amazon’s page for Nicola Griffith’s Always. Notice the circle where the sales rank should be?

I want to be very very clear here.

Amazon is not removing books from sales rankings because of graphic sex. They are removing them because they have gay and lesbian associations. There’s a list of books here, being built by volunteers, but I want to talk about a few specifics. For instance:

Adrich, Robert. Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History.
This is about as far as you can get from being titillating. It’s a dry accurate, historical document. Thorough, balanced, and well-done. Not even a little bit “adult.” A standard college supplementary text though.

Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle.
This is part of the canon. It’s taught all the time. It’s even considered a YA classic.

Forster, E. M. Maurice.
Again, a classic novel, taught in History of the Novel classes, by a major British author. I’ve taught this book; half the time people don’t even realize Forster is obliquely referring to sex.

Griffith, Nicola. Always.
This is a detective novel, and a love story. There’s more sex in a Harlequin romance. This is just a really good book that happens to be by a dyke, and that happens to have lesbian characters, including the lead, Aud, who, by the way, don’t die all miserable and alone.

Hall, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness.
This is one of my least favorite books of all time, but it is firmly part of the novel canon, and routinely taught in college lit classes. The raciest thing in the book is this bit: “And that night they were not divided.” I think this book is personally responsible for 90% of all the subsequent books where lesbians characters have to be killed off, and generally made to suffer. This is where the trope started.

Newman, Leslea. Author. Diana Souza. Illustrator. Diana Souza Illustrator. Heather Has Two Mommies..
This is a charming, award-winning children’s book about Heather, and the fact that she has two mommies. Unless you live in dreariest podunk, your public library problem has this book. Amazon sells thousands of this a year—they’ll sell you a copy right now, they just don’t want the neighbors to know. Or something.

Tin, Louis-Georges. Editor. Marek Redburn.Translator. The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience.
Again, a scholarly, academic and solid history. You’ll find this not only at most college libraries, but a most large public libraries; it’s a standard reference work.

You can still buy the books, of course. If you know what to look for.

Here’s why this is a problem. This is the book equivalent of putting the books “in the back.” They are much harder to find. For the average book browser, someone who doesn’t have a particular author or title in mind, these books are not going to show up in the first five or ten or twenty screens. They may not show at all. The default settings for search show books based on sales rankings; no rankings, no showing.

And now, here are some other books you can buy, all of which show their Amazon sales ranks:

Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Famed in pornography trials, now embedded in the canon. It’s a really really poorly written, sexually lame novel by a closet homosexual homophobe who pretty clearly doesn’t like women, and has never even heard of a clitoris, but still . . . the fact that this tripe isn’t banned, when Well of Loneliness is, and the styles are similar, says rather a lot.

Ellis, Brett Easton. American Psycho.
This is too disturbing to describe, frankly. It still has a sales ranking, and lots of samples. You go have nightmares.

Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds.
Yep. Still has a sales ranking. Fortunately you can get it gift-wrapped so those models don’t get cold.

But the fact that Joseph Nicolosi and Linda Ames Nicolosi’s A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. is still ranked when Heather Has Two Mommies isn’t, says it all.

There’s a certain irony that Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex is unranked, while the most violent movies imaginable are ranked. I’m fine with Amazon deciding not to sell anything they want. But they’re not hurting their sales, only that of authors who write these books, and they’re making it harder for readers to find the books we want to buy. Guess I’ll have to start shopping elsewhere; they’ve removed the single reason I shop online: the ease of finding what I want.

There’s a petition you can sign in protest here.

ETA:This post from Dear Author pretty much satisfies me regarding what happened; a poorly formulated sql query and subsequent database commands because somewhere someone at Amazon has some odd understandings about what “adult” means, and included “gay and lesbian,” among other tags, as books that should have their sales rank removed. No, I don’t think it’s a corporate agenda, or conspiracy. Note too that generally the “Category” data is provided by publishers.

Le Figaro Stings French Vanity Publishers

Via Anne Weale’s Bookworm on the Net, I read this Times UK article about a French variant on the Travis Tea Atlanta Nights sting perpetrated by SFWA upon vanity “publisher” PublishAmerica.

French newspaper Le Figaro submitted a copy of Gustave Flaubert’s exceedingly well-known and much beloved nineteenth century novel, Madame Bovary to the five largest French vanity presses, or in French l’édition à compte d’auteur. Le Figaro changed the names of all the characters, the title, and the author, attributing their plagiarized masterpiece to one Charles-Denis-Bartholomé, the father-in-law of heroine Emma Bovary. Flaubert’s novel is so well known, and Flaubert’s style so marked, that these cosmetic changes shouldn’t have made any difference, if the presses had bothered to read the ms. before accepting it. Of course, since they’re vanity presses, they merely calculated the amount of pages the print would require, plugged the numbers in their spreadsheets, added their inflated mark up, and sent their acceptance letters.

Naturally, the offers to publish the ms. came in from all five—for a price. A rather hefty price, considering that they’re essentially offering printing and binding services. None of them recognized the novel, though one implied in their very quick response (all responded in a matter of weeks) that their “editorial board” (reading committee?—comités de lecture) had read the ms..

As Le Figaro editor Mohammed Aïssaoui puts it:

. . . mais, tout de même, ces «comités de lecture» auraient au moins pu s’étonner de la qualité littéraire, du style de ce texte et de l’absence de fautes, qui tranchent nettement avec ce qu’ils reçoivent à l’ordinaire; et que l’on reçoit aussi dans l’édition normale.

Mais, justement, la différence est là: d’un côté, une maison d’édition classique prend le risque d’investir son argent, et rémunère—si modestement que ce soit—un auteur en qui elle croit; de l’autre, un commerçant, qui n’a d’éditeur que l’étiquette, exige d’être payé avant de publier (en fait, il conçoit et propose une maquette et se borne à faire imprimer). «Dès lors qu’il y a une participation financière, même partielle, de la part de l’auteur, cela ne peut pas constituer un contrat d’édition; ce n’est ni plus ni moins qu’une prestation commerciale», affirme Guillaume Marsal, responsable juridique de la Société des gens de lettres (SGDL).

And (using my admittedly lack-witted French) a translation:

. . . but, all the same, these “reading committees” should at least have been astonished by the literary quality, the style of this text and the absence of errors, a clear departure from what they usually receive; and from what one usually receives at a normal publisher.

But, that is precisely the difference: a traditional publisher takes the risk to invest its money, and remunerates—as modestly as possible—an author in whom it believes; the other, is a tradesman, a publisher in name only, and requires payment before publishing (in fact [the vanity publisher] designs and proposes a restricted printing plan). “From the moment that there is financial participation, even partial, on behalf of the author, that cannot constitute a contract of publication; it is neither more nor less than a commercial service,” asserts Guillaume Marsal, legal counsel for de la Société des gens de lettres (SGDL).

Monsieur Aïssaoui points out, very clearly, that these companies are essentially running a literary scam; they are overpriced printers, pretending to be publishers. One poor author even describes her book being littered with basic grammar errors, errors introduced by the publisher; just like PublishAmerica. It really is a small world. *.

*Many thanks for TexAnne’s help with the translation; all remaining errors are still completely mine, and I refuse to share credit with anyone ;)

Atlanta Nights

The thing is progressing, still, which is good. But in the meantime, I thought I’d indulge by sharing some truly wonderfully awful writing.

There’s a shady-not-really-professional POD “publisher” called PublishAmerica. A number of professional writers, editors, and copy editors, mostly from the fields of fantasy and science fiction, many of them author advocates, abetted by two teenagers, and a text generator, decided to find out once and for all if PublishAmerica will truly publish anything. They will.

Each writer contributed a chapter, following a chapter by chapter skeleton outline for a novel (remember Naked Came the Stranger?). These writers engaged in public cacosyntheton, synchisis, acyrologia, alleotheta, amphibologia, anacoluthon, and every vile cliché, transparent plot device, and literary offense ever to have thrived in the slush pile.

I give you Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea (say it out loud).

“He didn’t seem like the kind of man who died,” Irene said. “Sometimes, when were in bed, making love, at the very edge of the surf where the waves washed over us again and again, I looked at his face and saw something there that not even all the forces of erosion could ever wash away. He was a determined man, and in his position he had to be: and I knew that, too, looking up at him wanting only for him to be there forever. He was old, you know: he was around in the seventies and everything. But there was an agelessness to him, a beautiful eternal foreverness that shone from him like the light from a lighthouse, or like the sunlight from the sun. He made me feel like a child again, and I wanted to stay in bed with him, feeling him warm my world, cooled by the waves that washed over us, until the stars went out. That what I expected anyway. That’s what he promised. And now he’s dead. His heart’s stopped.”

This is hilarious stuff. As one of the collaborators, SF writer and fellow New Hampshirite James D. Macdonald, writes:

You can read the acceptance letter at
ftp://ftp.sff.net/pub/people/doylemacdonald/sting/Sting_acceptance.rtf

You can read the sample contract at
ftp://ftp.sff.net/pub/people/doylemacdonald/sting/Contract.pdf

Never again let it be said that PublishAmerica is “selective” in what they accept. Never again let it be said that they reject the majority of the manuscripts they receive. Never again let it be said that they are anything other than a vanity press.

PublishAmerica’s offer to publish Atlanta Nights indicates that PublishAmerica is not a genuine book publisher. No reputable publisher would have accepted Atlanta Nights and no one literate in English can read it without mirth.

You can read reviews or buy your own copy of Atlanta Nights here. Once the authors received the PublishAmerica contract, thereby proving their point, they went public with the hoax. PublishAmerica subsequently withdrew their offer. The authors decided to share their art with the public via Lulu.com. Go buy a copy; the proceeds will benefit the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Emergency Medical fund. Plus, it would be a shame to miss prose like this:

Yvonne poured herself a drink and melted into the chair across from Callie. She brushed a strand of moltenly hair from her eyes and proceeded to carve the ham. Callie watched intently. Juice streamed from the ham in rivulets like saliva drooling from the fierce jaws of a wild dingo poised over the dead carcass of its prey in the dingo-eat-dingo world.

Edited for specificity 1/27/2005
Update: You can read the official press release for Atlanta Nights here.
Update: 2/03/2004 Added a link to Derryl Murphy’s post about the writers.

The Macclesfield Psalter

I’m going to cheat by starting with an excerpt from a press release sent out by a British cultural charity, the National Art Collections Fund.

The National Art Collections Fund is spearheading the campaign to save the remarkable 14th-century Macclesfield Psalter for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The Macclesfield Psalter is a jewel-like treasury consisting of 252 richly-illustrated pages providing a fascinating record of medieval English humour, and teeming with highly surreal and imaginative marginal illustrations. This exquisite manuscript was sold to the Getty Museum, California, at auction in June for £1,717,335. However, the Government’s export system, which recognised the outstanding importance of the Psalter to this country, gave the UK the chance to match this sum.

As of today, only £96,511 more needs to be raised in order to keep the Macclesfield Psalter on view in the UK for all to see. We have until 10 February 2005 to raise the remaining funds.

Ordinarily, I’m in favor of the Getty buying manuscripts; they’re in my back yard, so to speak. But this is a special case. We know a fair bit about the manuscript; it was almost certainly a local product in every sense of the phrase, created in East Anglia (likely in Goreleston) for a local landowner. There are incredible miniatures, and fascinating marginal figures. The miniatures, which are of such high quality that it’s clear they’re the work of a master, include images of the patron saints of Suffolk and the Gorleston church, localizing the manuscript. The marginal “border” illustrations are particularly interesting because they feature the kind of “world upside down images” that are subversive comments on the main images, or, more likely in this case, (following Dr. Ruth Mellinkoff’s argument) attempts to distract or avert the devil or other evil influences.

The scribe of the Macclesfield Psalter is likely the scribe of the no longer extant Douai Psalter and the Gorelston Psalter. Some illumination by the same artist was part of the Douai Psalter (destroyed inadvertantly because of poor storage during World War I when the Douai Psalter was buried in a zinc box to hide it from enemy troops).

You can read more about the Macclesfield Psalter here, and see some images here, and donate online here. They’ve come very close to matching the Getty price; they’ve enough for 245 of the 252 leaves.