Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Report from MLA

Yesterday, Modern Language Association's annual meeting in San Francisco ended at 1 pm. A dash to the airport got me on the 3:25 pm to JFK. After a 35-minute wait for my luggage and a taxi ride with a driver who thought Inwood was in the Bronx, I walked in the door at 1:30 am!

MLA keeps promising to move the meeting to a less holiday-busting time--but it hasn't happened yet.

8100 attended--and the 50 degree weather seemed to lift everybody's spirits.

Our most popular title in the booth was The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction edited by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher R. Beha. Other books of interest were Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.
One professor told me that he makes a deal with his students: If they buy a copy of Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, he will refund their money if they don't like it. Many students have bought a copy--but the professor hasn't had to reimburse anybody.
Now, MLA is a smart and polite group, but one annoying thing happened over and over again. Why would groups of Ph.D.s cluster at the foot of the down escalator to chat and chat while everybody else had to stumble around them?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Can we talk about the two-spaces-after-a-period thing?

One of the many ways I, as a freelance writer, cobble together enough income each month to pay the electric bill is by taking on the occasional editing job. Right now I'm editing a Chinese-restaurant guidebook, and last month I was working on a couple of magazine pieces.

One thing I see time and again is the persistent use of two spaces after a period or other final punctuation. This relic of the typewriter era has had incredible staying power. Even many young Millennials, who have never used a typewriter for anything, have inherited this habit from their parents or schoolteachers, or from following the examples of others.

Yet if you look at modern, professionally published material -- such as books from HarperCollins, magazines, newspapers and professionally produced websites -- you will not see two spaces after a period. In addition, most web browsers automatically render one space after a period no matter how many spaces appear in the source material.

There are a number of reasons why two spaces after a period are no longer necessary, but the main one is that the typefaces we use today (Times New Roman, etc.) are proportionally spaced. On a typewriter, the typeface (Courier) was not proportionally spaced -- every letter and character used exactly the same width. But with proportional spacing, the "i" is narrower than the "m" and -- most relevant to the current rant -- the space is already the right size for a visually pleasing break after the end of a sentence. Indeed, if you use two spaces after a period with a proportionally spaced typeface you risk creating a visually unpleasant quantity of white space.

I hope you'll all join me in eradicating the two-spaces tradition once and for all. Or, if not, I'd love to hear why.

Chicago Manual of Style Q&As on this subject

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I can never decide if academic conferences are easier or more difficult when they are in my hometown. When they're in NYC, I feel that I must stop by the office to do "a few things." Drycleaning has to be picked up. Dishes need washing. At times, an out-of-town conference seems more focused. Plus, the hotel maid makes my bed.

This year's American Historical Association meeting is in New York City from January 2-5 at the Hilton. Stop by booth 424 to visit us. We'll feature our formidable backlist--and new titles such as Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan and How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein.

I promise to stay focused.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Name is Steven Shaw and I'm an Academic

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself, as I will be one of the regular contributors to the fine HarperAcademic blog. As you can see from the preceding post, I'm the author of the book Asian Dining Rules: Essential Strategies for Eating Out at Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Korean, and Indian Restaurants. But that's not what makes me an academic.

I actually became an academic just a few weeks ago when I signed on as Director of New Media Studies at the International Culinary Center. Come spring I'll be teaching a course about the culinary blogosphere, an area in which I have a fair amount of experience thanks to a decade in that space and seven years heading up the eGullet online community. I'm looking forward to sharing with HarperAcademic's loyal readers as the course develops.

In the meantime, continuing with the Chinese-food-on-Christmas theme, you might enjoy this article from Time Out New York about Chinese-restaurant tactics.

If you'll eat Chinese food on Christmas Day...

If Christmas isn't your holiday, chances are your tradition on December 25th is to go out for a movie and Chinese food.

Steven Shaw, author of Asian Dining Rules and Turning the Tables, provides tips on how to have the best dining experience on any day of the year.

On the movie side of things, why not try Marley & Me?

Interview: Scott McCloud

There's a terrific interview with Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and Making Comics, at Graphic Novel Reporter.
Understanding Comics is adopted in all sorts of classes--from comics as literature and art appreciation to new media.

Reading To Be Green

Des Moines Public Library will host Nicolette Hahn Niman, author The Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms, during their "Reading to be Green" series on February 26th.

Jan Kaiser, the event coordinator, notes the timeliness of Nicolette’s event, in reference to the Agriprocessors Inc. raid this past May. The company employed underage workers and illegal immigrants, violating several labor laws, as well as laws (and kosher requirements) relating to the safe handling and processing of meat.

For more "Reading to be Green" books, check out our interactive Environmental Studies catalog.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A December 26 Tradition

My family celebrates Christmas on the 24th. The next day, some go to mass. Others go to the movies. Some of us lay around eating what's left of the holiday pie. It's a mixed bag.

For almost 20 years, the one holiday ritual that hasn't changed is Modern Language Association's annual conference. Every December 26th, I get on a plane or train and head out to set up our exhibit booth. This year Doreen and I will attend.

If MLA is part of your holiday tradition, please come visit us in booth 108. We'll be surrounded by lots of books, catalogs--and leftover holiday candy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

(Snake) Oil Advertising

Chevron's ads tell us it is investing heavily in alternative and renewable fuels--but Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil, points out that Chevron's corporate reports tell a different story:

"Chevron's "human energy" advertisements are everywhere: TV, magazines, bus stops and newspapers. The commercials--which end with the words "oil," "geothermal," "solar," "wind," "hydrogen" and "conservation" flashing one at a time between the three bars of Chevron's logo--encourage us to believe that the company is equal parts clean energy, conservation and oil. But is it really, as the commercials claim, "part of the solution" to the world's climate crises, rather than at the heart of the problem?" Read the rest of Antonia's Op Ed at the Los Angeles Times.

Adoption of the Week

Michael Largo's darkly brilliant Genius and Heroin has been adopted for a course called "The Creative Process" at Union Institute in Cincinnati. I'd love to sit in on this one.

I wonder why Michael's Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die hasn't shown up in a course on death and dying?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winner: American Book Award

Congratulations to Nikki Giovanni! Her book, The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998, has won a 2008 American Book Award. The American Book Awards were established by the Before Columbus Foundation to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America's diverse literary community.

In November, Nikki stopped by our booth at the National Council of Teachers of English meeting to say hello--and we were happy to report that teachers continue to tell us that their students love her poetry.

We thought you might like to sit in as Nikki reads her poetry....

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Waiting in Line at the Bookstore!

Last night, I must have been the happiest person in line at my local bookstore. Why was I so happy? Because there was a line! A 10-minute wait! People were standing in line with more than one book.

Here's what they were buying.

Lydia (visiting from Detroit) bought The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for her sister and Masterpiece by Elise Broach for her 10-year-old niece.

Mike (Upper Westside) got The Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics for his sister-in-law.

Me? The new Artemis Fowl for my niece and The Encyclopedia of Perennials for my sister--a garden designer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fast Food Nation Contest Winner!

This fall, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation was an All-Campus Read for the Community College of Baltimore County.

Students participated in our Fast Food Nation Contest by entering a creative project--based on the themes of the book.

Our first-prize winner is Bobby Moseley's original song "When Will I Explode."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Columbia Gazetteer for Free--Until January 11

When I was a kid, I spent many hours browsing through my great aunt's print edition of The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. The result? I am very good at answering crossword clues such as "a river in Afghanistan."*

Now, you can try out the new online version for free. The username is eviewsblog. The password is ljgaz. Free access ends on January 11, 2009.


*If it begins with A and has seven letters, it must be Andarab.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Books Make Great Gifts

Elmo, Jon Stewart, Maya Angelou, Julie Andrews, and others remind you why books make great gifts for the holidays.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teaching Guide: The Last Lecture

My November was a whirlwind of educational conferences--and at each meeting, I met teachers who told me how excited they are to be teaching The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow.

At the National Council for Teachers of English--the response was so strong that we ran out of teaching guides.

However, as you think about what you'll assign in your classroom for the fall, keep in mind that all of these wonderful teaching resources are available online--making it easy to incorporate The Last Lecture into your curriculum.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Paula J. Giddings Wins Gustavus Myers Award

Congratulations to Paula J. Giddings, whose book Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching has won an Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. The Myers Center Outstanding Book Awards identify and review books that analyze the myriad forms of bigotry and discrimination, and, importantly, advance pathways towards human rights for all.

Modern Thought

HARPER PERENNIAL MODERN THOUGHT is the definitive home for the modern world's most influential minds. Enhanced by original commentary from today's leading scholars, these editions seek to preserve the spark of great thought--and inspire new ideas from future generations.

Stop by booth 53 at the American Philosophical Association in Philadelphia to see them up close.

Lost & Found: The Red Leather Diary

For more than half a century, the red leather diary languished inside a steamer trunk. Rescued from a Dumpster on Manhattan's Upper West Side, it found its way to Lily Koppel, a young writer. The diary painted a breathtaking portrait of a bygone New York—of glamorous nights at El Morocco and elegant teas at Schrafft's during the 1920s and '30s—and of the headstrong, endearing teenager who filled its pages with her hopes, heartaches, and vivid recollections.

Intrigued, Koppel followed her only clue, a frontispiece inscription, to its now ninety-year-old owner, Florence Wolfson, and was enchanted as Florence, reunited with her diary, rediscovered a lost younger self.

Joining intimate interviews with original diary entries, The Red Leather Diary re-creates the romance and promise of a remarkable era and brings to life the true story of a daring, precocious young dreamer.

It will be available in paperback in January.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Author Event: Francine Prose at NCTE

Francine Prose, the author of the classroom favorite Reading Like A Writer and the recently published Goldengrove, spoke at the Secondary Get-Together at the National Council of Teachers of English conference that was held last month in San Antonio. Over 400 high school English teachers attended the event, which featured the teachers participating in a class assignment based on Francine's books. The teachers were completely captivated with Francine, who is a Visiting Professor of Literature at Bard College, and a spirited question and answer session followed her talk about the process of writing. File this tidbit under "writing a book is very hard work and not for the easily stressed": Francine revealed that Goldengrove went through 13 drafts which she revised ten times each. That's 130 revisions!