Thursday, July 19, 2012

Around the Word

Is Your E-Book a Fake? Knock-offs aren't just for fashion, and Amazon has become the Chinatown of e-book fakes. The online retailer's not just selling them—most of the offenders are products of Amazon's self-publishing imprint CreateSpace. If you're looking for Walter Issacson's bestselling bio of Steve jobs, make sure you don't get fooled by Steve Jobs by Issac Worthington. Beware of Fast and Slow Thinking by Karl Daniels, which strikes uncomfortably close to the real-deal Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. When searching for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one top result is I Am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The solitary review for that book notes: "this is almost certainly copyright infringement. the author chose a popular book title, added 'i am' to the beginning, and calls it legitimate. of course, anyone who is looking for these things should know better." Technically speaking, titles of books aren't copyrighted, but the legal line here is definitely blurry.

Stephen Covey's Legacy of Leadership Lit. Last week, author and father of the thought-leadership genre Stephen Covey passed away from injuries he suffered in a bike accident in April. Covey's seminal works—including 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, and First Things Firsthave sold millions of copies and influenced some of the biggest names in corporate America. It's arguable that 7 Habits was responsible for catapulting thought-leadership books from a niche market to a mainstream genre, as well as making a "book as badge" the new must-have for high-powered business gurus. So the next time you land a high-paying job editing (or ghostwriting) a "big idea" piece for the latest whiz-kid CEO, thank Covey for paving the way. 

Big Brother Is Reading You. Or, rather, he's reading your Kindle, according to the Wall Street Journal. E-books, which have officially outsold "analog" books this year, are the newest frontier of consumer data mining. Until now, publishers have been mostly in the dark about what happens after a book leaves the store, but no longer. Whether you download a book but don't read it, start a book and don't finish it, or tear through an entire series in a matter of days, that information is now available to those who most want to know. Some publishers are excited about the opportunity to hone their offerings according to market forces, like finding the perfect length for an e-book or coming up with a formula for ideal content, but others fear that a data-driven marketplace will have a homogenizing effect, not to mention potential privacy pitfalls. What do you think? Can boiling the book business down to an algorithm be good for the marketplace and the marketplace of ideas? Or does having the publishing industry reading over your shoulder give you a case of the digital willies?

Scalia Rules on Crimes Against Grammar. What do liberal lawyer Bryan Garner and conservative SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia have in common? According to this New Yorker piece, they're both SNOOTS set on righting the wrongs legal writing exacts on the English language. The two men, who bonded during a lunch meeting at which Scalia gushed over David Foster Wallace's essay "Tense Present," have collaborated on two books about the role of grammar and persuasion in legal writing. Although they disagree about politics—and the acceptability of contractions (which, according to Scalia, are “intellectually abominable, but commercially reasonable”)—they were able to withstand an exacting collaboration that produced 216 drafts before finalizing their second book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. While their partnership has begun to shine a light on the issue, Garner is well aware that it'll be an uphill battle to raise the, er, bar when it comes to legal writing. “Word for word," he said, "lawyers are the most highly paid professional writers in the world. But the literary tradition in the profession is probably the worst."

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