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Category: academia

University of Missouri Press to close, after 54 years


The University of Missouri Press, founded in 1958, will close up shop, university system President Timothy M. Wolfe announced Thursday. In its 54 years in operation, it has published approximately 2,000 titles.

The University of Missouri Press has published books on the topics of American and world history; intellectual history; biography; journalism; African American studies; women's studies; American, British, and Latin American literary criticism; political science, particularly philosophy and ethics; regional studies of the American heartland; and creative nonfiction. It has hosted a lecture series. Its published nonfiction series includes "The Collected Works of Langston Hughes" and "Mark Twain and His Circle." A recent release is "On Soldiers and Statesmen" by John S.D. Eisenhower, son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 2009, the press' staff was cut almost in half. According to Missouri's Columbia Daily Tribune, 10 employees will be affected when operations begin shutting down in July; the press' staff reportedly had been unaware of the coming closure before Thursday morning.

When the recession hit in 2008, it adversely affected many state budgets and put many university presses on the chopping block. In 2009, the Louisiana State University Press was among them, but it survived after a public show of support, although with significant budget cuts. The following year, Eastern Washington University, the University of Scranton and Southern Methodist University announced the closure of their presses. Last year, the University of California Press announced it would stop publishing its poetry series.

The University of Missouri's provost, Brian Foster, explained that the university is hoping to find new ways to invest in scholarly communications:

"Technological changes have turned media up on their head, and that's turning scholarly communication on its head," he said. "It's more than publishing a book; it's a much broader change."

Communication, he said, is "central to successful research, but given how the system is in such fundamental change, we just don't know where it's going."

The path forward may be hard to discern. Rice University launched a digital-only scholarly publishing venture in 2006 -- which it closed down in 2010. "The demise of the project," wrote Inside Higher Ed at the time, "led to immediate speculation about whether the Rice experience suggested difficulties for the economic model or if other factors may have been decisive."

An exact closing date for the University of Missouri Press has not yet been announced.


Facing cutbacks, UC Press will suspend poetry series

Princeton University Press to try e-book shorts

What will be the fate of Arts & Letters Daily?

— Carolyn Kellogg

Wednesday book news: Bezos, the Elsevier boycott and more


What was it like to sit in Westminster Abbey while Prince Charles, Camilla, Ralph Fiennes and 200 descendants feted Charles Dickens on his 200th birthday? Alison Devers teared up, she writes at Slate.

Scientists and academics worldwide have signed a petition boycotting the high pricing of publisher Elsevier's acadmic journals. Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon, Cal State L.A., and universities in Australia, India, Italy and France are just a sampling of the more than 4,600 who have signed the online petition, refusing to publish with or act as peer reviewers for articles being published in Elsevier's journals. Other complaints: that the company's policy of offering journals to libraries in bundles means the libraries are forced to take those they don't want, and that Elsevier supported the controversial SOPA and PIPA legislation. For its part, Elsevier says the $10 price per article is "bang on the mean." Leave it to a science publisher to use a term like "mean" to make me realize I don't quite remember the difference between mean, median and, wait, what was the other one?

A popular Android voice app called Iris (an inversion of Apple's Siri) has turned up some unusual resuts. Ask "Is Noah's Ark real?" and the answer is that it "is biblically believed to be real. It gave forth a new beginning to a underserving earth." Ask if humans come from monkeys, and the answer is "a part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution is that human's over time evolved from apes. Since it is a theory, it can't be proven." Curious about these answers -- and others that are even more extreme -- Gizmodo dug into the companies behind them. They come from a Q&A site called ChaCha, which boasts that one of its "prestigious investors" is Bezos Expeditions, the personal funding arm of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Read the complete report at Gizmodo, which includes many other surprising Iris answers.

Elsewhere in England, the Hatchet Job of the Year was awarded Tuesday. The winner of the first annual award for a deliciously nasty book review went to Adam Mars-Jones for his review of Michael Cunningham's "By Nightfall." The judges wrote:

Every one of his zingers –- “like tin-cans tied to a tricycle”; “it seems to be the prestige of the modernists he admires, rather than their stringency”; “that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard” –- is earned by the argument it arises from. By the end of it Cunningham’s reputation is, well, prone.


Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!

Introducing the Hatchet Job of the Year Award

The remains of Charles Dickens' cat, and his anti-Twitter tool

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ralph Fiennes reads Charles Dickens at Westminster Abbey as Prince Charles and Camilla look on. Credit: Arthur Edwards / WPA Pool / Getty Images



VQR announces new publisher, deputy editor

Vqr_iranThe Virginia Quarterly Review, commonly known as VQR, announced Monday that the National Endowment for the Arts' former director of literature, Jon Peede, would take on the role of publisher. The announcement comes 16 months after the magazine was rocked by the suicide of longtime managing editor Kevin Morrissey.

VQR's management came under scrutiny after Morrisey's death. Those greiving over Morrissey turned their attention to the magazine's editor, Ted Genoways, who countered that his actions had nothing to do with Morrissey's suicide.

Genoways, who became editor of VQR in 2003, was the creative force behind the magazine. He took it from being a typically quiet literary journal to a showcase for long-form journalism, presenting complex international stories and prize-winning photography and, for the first time, being nominated for National Magazine Awards.

With concerns swirling around the magazine, the University of Virginia, home to VQR, decided to conduct a financial and management audit. The results of that audit vindicated Genoways, with the university saying it had found "no specific allegations of bullying or harassment," as had been alleged. It went on to say that organizational changes would be in the offing.

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Princeton University Press to try e-book shorts


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Princeton University Press is going to begin publishing e-book shorts on Amazon and other e-book sellers, testing the idea that an academic publisher can succeed where other e-book publishers have gone with Kindle Singles.

Kindle Singles are sold in Amazon's Kindle store. Generally longer than a newspaper article and shorter than a complete book, Kindle singles are sometimes short stories, sometimes long nonfiction pieces. Priced from 99 cents to $2.99, Kindle Singles allow someone to dip into a topic without making a huge financial commitment. Kindle Singles are available on Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course. They're also available to anyone who has installed the Kindle app on a smartphone, or uses the Kindle cloud reader online.

Princeton University Press' e-book shorts will be like Kindle Singles but will operate outside Amazon's program. The five e-book shorts will launch on Wednesday; they will be available from multiple vendors and are all excerpts of existing books. Singles-buyers can get a piece of "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "On War" by Carl von Clausewitz, and "Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage" by Kenneth S. Deffeyes. The short piece "The Second Great Contraction" is an excerpt from "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, and the charmingly titled "The Five Habits of Highly Effective Honeybees (and What We Can Learn From Them)" is from Thomas D. Seeley's "Honeybee Democracy."

At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jennifer Howard talked to Princeton University Press' Robert Tempio, who oversees the series.

"Our thinking was that with the emergence of the e-book, there might be new and additional opportunities to promote and sell particularly pertinent and/or edifying selections from our books."

I asked him whether he's concerned that readers will skip buying an entire book if they can download a good chunk of it for a few bucks. "There was more sense that this might drive people to the full book," Mr. Tempio said. In any case, the outlay in time and money isn't likely to be burdensome for the press....

The Princeton Shorts experiment won't transform scholarly publishing as we know it. But it looks like a sensible, efficient way to test digital delivery, gauge readers' appetites for short books, and make the most of already published content.

Material from an academic press may find a positive reception from readers who like short e-books; Kindle Singles readers have embraced "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life" by Ann Patchett as well as stories by Stephen King and Lee Child.

[For the record, 8:15 a.m. Nov. 3: The original version of this post said that Princeton University Press' short e-books would be part of the Kindle Singles program. They are not.]


Literary journalism finds new platforms

Ann Patchett's lessons on writing, from Byliner

Christopher Hitchens on Osama Bin Laden

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Steven Brill brings 'Class Warfare' to school

As teachers across the nation are returning to their classrooms, Steven Brill is drawing a lot of attention -- and a lot of flak -- for the provocative portraits of educators and U.S. education in his new book "Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools." You may have even heard  him on CNN, CSPAN, NPR and plenty of other media outlets in the last two weeks, talking about his book's prescription for alleviating the system's problems. 

The founder of CourtTV and The American Lawyer magazine (among other things), Brill asks why, in chronicling the efforts of administrators, educators and reformers across the nation, has the U.S. education system turned into an "obstacle to the American dream rather than the enabler"?

Among the answers his book offers is this: There are plenty of exceptional teachers, but plenty more who fall well below the mark and are protected by "the most lavishly funded and entrenched bureaucracies in America (fourteen thousand school districts) supported by an interest group -- the teachers' unions -- [with]...money and playbooks every bit as effective in thwarting public interest as Big Oil, the NRA or Big Tobacco."  

It's enough to make you nervous as you meet your child's teacher on the first day -- is my child getting one of the good ones? -- but Brill's approach is bound to make readers anxious for a different reason. The problem with any book that indicts an entire system, whether you're talking about education or human rights or cancer research, is that it's bound to overlook many bright spots and individual success stories that are out there.

Continue reading »

Facing cutbacks, UC Press will suspend poetry series

Transcendentalstudies_waldr With still to-be-determined state budget cuts looming, University of California Press has decided to suspend the publication of its poetry book series New California Poetry. The press expects to take a cut of about 10% in direct funding from the University of California.

It's not just the expected cuts that motivated the suspension of New California Poetry. Director Alison Mudditt, whose appointment was announced in December, told The Times that the shifting marketplace for books and publishing are of even greater concern. "The far bigger challenges are the structural ones to our industry and markets which (not unlike the newspaper industry!) require us to rethink and retool to remain a vibrant and relevant voice in the digital age," she wrote in an email. "I've only been here six months, and much of my focus has been on developing strategies to meet these challenges."

In November, shortly before Mudditt joined UC Press, it had a surprise hit with the 738-page "Autobiography of Mark Twain." Published 100 years after the classic American humorist's death, the book reached an unexpectedly wide audience, hitting national bestseller lists. Two subsequent books concluding Twain's autobiography will be published in the coming years.

But one bestseller -- and its sequels, with any luck -- cannot forge an entire press. UC Press is both large and largely academic. In addition to the poetry series, it currently maintains 15 to 20 other book series, and many of its books aren't included in those series at all. Many of the books it publishes each year are geared for specialized, scholarly audiences. 2010's titles included "Aristotle and Xenophon on Democracy and Oligarchy," "Essentials of Paleomagnetism," "Reproduction and Sexuality in Marine Fishes: Patterns and Processes," "Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods," "Objects as History in Twentieth-Century German Art: Beckmann to Beuys" and "Sand: The Never-Ending Story."

The books in the "New California Poetry" series, Mudditt explains, frequently find a limited audience. "Most titles sell around 1,000 copies," she wrote, emphasizing that the series "requires substantial support."

“They have been wonderfully committed to poetry," Forrest Gander of Brown University told the Chronicle of Education's PageView blog. "They haven't been making money on the series, anyway. And they have allowed the editors to choose work based on the quality of the work and not on the potential for sales, which is a big deal." Gander has served as one of four editors on the series, which launched in 2000; it has published 33 titles by 25 poets.

The series has received plenty of acclaim, and sometimes critical attention has created momentum for a title. "Sleeping with the Dictionary" by Harryette Mullen won the National Book Award and sold about 15 times more than the average "New California Poetry" collection. 

UC Press will publish three titles in the series in 2012 and, though it is not currently reviewing manuscripts for 2013, it is working to secure the kind of funding it would take to relaunch the series in the future.


UC Press hires new director

Inside the next volume of Mark Twain's autobiography

Twain scholar Laura Trombley reviews "Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy" by Keith Waldrop, from UC Press' "New California Poetry" series, won the 2009 National Book Award for poetry. Credit: UC Press

Epistemology and Scandinavian crime fiction: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' in a new light

What could be more exciting than reading about Lisbeth Salander? Listening to academics discuss Lisbeth Salander.

Who needs "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" when you've got the presentation "The Millennium Trilogy in Genre Historical Light: Stieg Larsson and the Swedish Tradition(s) of Socially Critical Crime Fiction"?

Why page through "The Girl Who Played With Fire" when you could attend "From Periphery to Center: women in Scandinavian 'Femi-crimie'"?

Set aside that copy of "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest": "Negotiating Swedishness in the 21st Century: Swedish, European, and African Alterities in Henning Mankell's Crime Novels" awaits.

That's just a sampling of panels at the symposium "Stieg Larsson and Scandinavian Crime Fiction" taking place right here in Los Angeles, at UCLA's Royce Hall. Presented by the Scandinavian Section at UCLA, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Embassy of Sweden, the event begins Friday at 8:30 a.m. and continues through a 4:30 p.m. presentation on Sunday.

The highlight of the event may be Friday's keynote address by Daniel Alfredson, the director of the Swedish film adaptations of "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest."

Or it might be one of the academic talks, presented by an array of international scholars. Other presentations include "Representing and Investigating: Epistemology and Scandinavian Crime Fiction," "Solving crimes in sagas: Society, law and narrative in early Iceland," "Conventionally Unconventional: Lisbeth Salander's Sisters in Crime," "Is there Room for a Bad Cop? Contemporary Finnish Crime Fiction and the Demand of Realism" and "The Outlaw Heroine: Lisbeth Salander, Smilla Qaaviqaaq, Jaspersen, and the Ecology of Crime."

The Stieg Larsson and Scandinavian Crime Fiction symposium is free and open to the public; guest parking on UCLA campus is $10.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Music Box Films


Inside the next volume of Mark Twain's autobiography

Marktwain_nov2010The surprising popularity of Mark Twain's autobiography has been a boon and a burden for editors at the University of California Press. Because like rock stars with a surprise hit debut album, they're expected to follow-up with something equally appealing and popular. Twain, who planned for his biography to be published 100 years after his death, created such a large document that the 738-page "Autobiography of Mark Twain" was only part one -- and two more parts are planned.

In Tuesday's L.A. Times, Larry Gordon looks inside the world of Twain scholars and at the next phase of Twain's autobiography:

Thrust into a publishing success about which other academics can only fantasize, [Harriet Elinor] Smith and her colleagues at UC Berkeley's Mark Twain Papers & Project have become celebrities in the rarefied world of literary research and editing....

Robert H. Hirst, the Twain center's general editor, said he expected the memoir's first volume to sell perhaps 10,000 copies, still much higher than his previous releases. "You'd have to be a fool to expect something like this to be a bestseller," Hirst said of the often rambling reminiscences and many scholarly notes.

As sales took off, however, editors realized that Twain's sly humor and skepticism about wealthy elites, U.S. militarism, politicians and organized religion hold a seemingly timeless appeal. "It's a time when his particular sort of tone and attitude is very welcome," said Hirst, who has headed the center for 30 years.

As they fact-check and comb through conflicting accounts, scholars have a lot of material to go through. "He saved everything," said Twain scholar Laura Trombley at a Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities luncheon last week.

Trombley, who is president of Pitzer College and the author of "Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years," reviewed the first volume of Twain's autobiography for The Times. "In the 'Autobiography,' Twain generously provides the 21st century aficionado a marvelous read. His crystalline humor and expansive range are a continuous source of delight and awe," she wrote. "This was his version of reality, and what an entertaining record it is."


Twain scholar Laura Trombley reviews "Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1"

David L. Ulin on Mark Twain's most overrated & underrated books

Can't find Mark Twain? Kindle's got him

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Mark Twain in an undated photo. Credit: The Mark Twain House & Museum / Associated Press

What will be the fate of Arts & Letters Daily?


The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has owned the website Arts & Letters Daily since 2002, has released a statement regarding the death of founding editor Denis Dutton and the future of the online journal.

Dutton died of cancer on Tuesday in New Zealand, where he made his home. "Denis was the creative force behind Arts & Letters Daily and wrote all the items on the page himself, even when he was on vacation. He is nearly irreplaceable," Phil Semas, president and editor in chief of The Chronicle, said in the statement. "Even so, we intend to continue Arts & Letters Daily in the spirit in which Denis created and nurtured it."

When it started in 1998, Arts & Letters Daily stood out. As Blake Eskin writes in the New Yorker's news blog:

Denis was the intellectual's Matt Drudge. Like the Drudge Report, aldaily.com has a retrograde design that has barely evolved over the years; Denis said he modelled it on the eighteenth-century broadsheet. Nevertheless, it became the home page of professors, students, editors. To be featured on Arts & Letters Daily meant your work would be read and discussed, whether you were Christopher Hitchens or a struggling neophyte, whether your piece appeared in The New Yorker or an obscure site with six regular readers. ...

Through Arts & Letters Daily, Denis helped prove that the Web could be a platform not only for fast-paced celebrity gossip and pictures of cute animals but for long and serious writing and the exchange of complex ideas.

At Three Quarks Daily, founding editor S. Abbas Raza writes:

Arts & Letters Daily, of which Denis was the founder and longtime editor, was one of the main inspirations for my starting 3 Quarks Daily. Indeed, the "Daily" in our own name comes in imitation of Denis's site, which had set the gold standard that we have aspired to match in our own curating of slightly different intellectual content on the web. Despite the fact that we were competitors of sorts, Denis was kind and supportive to me personally, and added 3QD to the "favorite websites" section of A & L Daily within weeks after I had started this site in 2004 (and we retain that honor to this day).

Over the years, Denis and I corresponded frequently about various subjects, including the Dutton School which he started in India (my mother started a school in Pakistan, so this was a common interest), his academic work, and, of course, our websites. He once called 3QD "a brilliant web resource and a terrific accomplishment," which gave me quite a thrill.

But 12 years is a long time to be curating links on the internet, and Eskin points out, rightly, that Arts & Letters Daily had become less of a must-visit Web destination. Part of this may have been due to Dutton's sometimes contrary ideas; part of it can likely be chalked up to the fact that the site never incorporated some contemporary Web bells and whistles (no likes, no Twitter, yadda yadda). "The Chronicle will announce further plans for the continuation of Arts & Letters Daily after the holidays," its spokesperson confirmed to me via e-mail. Maybe its future will include a little sprucing up.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image credit: Arts & Letters Daily

Denis Dutton dies; author, philosopher, brother to L.A. booksellers

Denis Dutton, the author, academic and philosopher who saw the Web as a place where intelligent ideas could flourish, has died in New Zealand at the age of 66, according to New Zealand news sources. Dutton was raised in Los Angeles and was the brother of booksellers Doug and Dave Dutton of the legendary Dutton's Bookstores in Los Angeles.

Dutton was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. In 1998, he founded the website Arts and Letters Daily, an aggregator of intellectual Web content that swiftly caught worldwide attention. His most recent book was 2009's "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution."

Our reviewer Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, wrote, " 'The Art Instinct' is an important book that raises questions often avoided in contemporary aesthetics and art criticism. ... His arguments against major figures in the philosophy and anthropology of the arts are often devastating -- and amusing."

Dutton was at times considered a contrarian; in our opinion pages in 2004, he wrote, "[Peter] Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' represents the victory of special effects over dramatic art. ... I have never looked at my watch as often during a movie as I did in "The Return of the King." Toward the end, I found myself desperately cheering on the giant spider in hope of getting home early. Eat Frodo! Eat him!"

In February 2010, he gave a TED talk on the philosophy of art. "I try to figure out -- intellectually, philosophically, psychologically -- what the experience of beauty is," he began. Though most TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) talks feature the author speaking on stage, Dutton's video includes a collaboration with animator Andrew Park, illustrating his ideas of the hallmarks of beauty.

Dutton's work, contrary or inspiring, encouraged a multiplicity of ideas. "It's a grave mistake in publishing, whether you're talking about Internet or print publication, to try to play to a limited repertoire of established reader interests," he said in a 2000 interview with Salon.com. "A few years ago, Bill Gates was boasting that we'll soon have sensors which will turn on the music that we like or show on the walls the paintings we like when we walk into a room. How boring! The hell with our preexisting likes; let's expand ourselves intellectually.

He told the interviewer, "We'd love Arts & Letters Daily to be the meeting place for critical thinkers from all over the map."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Denis Dutton, right, at the L.A. Public Library's ALOUD series in January 2009. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times


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