Books Archives

NO SPOILERS! Harry Potter and the Shipping Wars

So, I’ve never read a Harry Potter book. Maybe I will, one day. If ever I fall victim to a strain of influenza that confines one to bed but leaves one capable of sitting up to read, 3,500 pages of continuous narrative about adolescent wizards might be just the ticket. For the time being, though, I have a lot of other unread books on my shelves.

However, as a symptom of my ongoing fascination with cults and their adherents, I am endlessly fascinated by the subculture of “shipping.”

As in, transporting copies of the new Harry Potter novel to bookstores or customers, you ask? No. A “ship” is a relationship, romantic or sexual in nature, between two* characters from the Harry Potter universe. Writers of Harry Potter fan fiction, of whom there are thousands, have spent a great deal of time arguing about which characters ought to hook up, and writing stories in which the characters they are “shipping” enact their loves and lusts.

If you don’t believe me, Google it; because “shipping” has a more common and less insane meaning, you’ll get some irrelevant results, but you’ll easily find plenty of material. (Try “shipping wars” in the search to narrow it down.) Read this, for example:

Some people ship exclusively het; others like a healthy mix of het and slash, and still others prefer only slash. Some people are fond of the possibilites of pairings between minor characters, and nevermind the R/Hr vs. H/Hr debate.

...and then try to tell me there is any hope for humankind.

Anyway, I gather that in the new, final Harry Potter novel, some of the commonly “shipped” characters actually pair off by the end, which would tend to render moot all the fervid speculation about which characters “might” or “should” pair off. I haven’t yet had a chance to investigate how the shipping community is reacting to these developments, but I look forward to doing so, and reporting back.

Yes, I realize the irony here: I’ve spent multiple hours reading online discussions about fan fiction about the world of Harry Potter, yet only a few minutes glancing at said fan fiction, and zero time directly immersed in the world of Harry Potter (except for seeing some of the movies, which were decent). Go figure.

(I’m also intrigued by the weird outrage exhibited last week by Rowling fans who couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that the New York Times reviewed a book prior to its publication date. For the last word on that whole imbroglio, see Daniel Radosh here and here.)

* Or more. Wouldn’t surprise me.

Denizens of LibraryThing and Maine, Take Note

I’ll be reading from The End as I Know It tonight (Tuesday, 3/13) at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, at 7 PM. My old friend Tim Spalding, founder of the wildly useful and popular LibraryThing, and his wife Lisa Carey helped us set up this event. After the reading, there will be a party at the LibraryThing offices nearby in Portland.

Please come by and meet not only me but Tim and the other folks responsible for LibraryThing, which was recently written up in the New York Times.

The ARC of the Covenant

In the course of my obsessive self-Googling online travels since the release of The End as I Know It, I’ve come across a number of the book’s bound galleys, or advance reading copies, for sale.

The term “galley” is an artifact from the bygone days of movable type (not to be confused with Movable Type). I can’t speak confidently about the historical usage of “advance (reading) copy” versus “(bound) galley,” but my impression is that they’re generally synonymous these days.

One copy on eBay in particular caught my eye. It was billed as a “SEALED ARC.” The seller, in fact, seems to specialize in these. His store features dozens of “UNREAD NEW CONDITION SEALED IN PLASTIC” ARCs, each listed with the boastful challenge:

If YOU can find another SEALED proof copy let ME know where!

This sounds good, right? I mean, if you happen to be in the market for an advance copy of a book, wouldn’t it make sense to go with a sealed one over an unsealed one?

There’s only one problem. Publishers don’t seal these copies in plastic before sending them out. The galleys of my book certainly weren’t individually wrapped in anything, and I’ve never heard of pre-publication copies of any book being treated this way. In other words, this guy is just getting his hands on advance copies of books, not necessarily unread or even in mint condition, and shrinkwrapping them himself. YOU can’t find another SEALED proof copy because SEALING proof copies is sort of a WEIRD thing to DO.

I should point out that he doesn’t appear to be misrepresenting the books’ condition, nor is he asking or getting large sums for them. But the remainder of the boilerplate listing for each book, even if not strictly misleading about the item itself, paints an interesting picture of the book-editing process.

For those of you who don’t already know, the rarest form of a published collectible is an uncorrected, unedited, advance proof. These hard to find collectible proofs are only sent to editors or reviewers.

Plus bookstores, parents, in-laws, friends, aunts, uncles, and my landlord. And as for their being sent to editors—at least in my case, the text of TEAIKI had already been fully edited, revised, and copyedited by the time the galleys were produced. I’m sure there are non-fiction books, and maybe a handful of novels by perfectionists, that undergo more substantial changes once in galleys, but they’re hardly “unedited.”

These books are sent to editors, the language is cleaned up, the stories are toned down or eliminated entirely.- many of them are written in (not this one) and then many of the copies are destroyed.

Emphasis mine. I don’t think any editor, proofreader, or author would be too happy about having to make corrections, let alone the sort of freewheeling censorship and wholesale rewrites implied here, in the margins of a bound paperback book. I was sent “page proofs,” identical to what went into the galleys but printed on letter-size paper, so I could make any final revisions. And again, by that time the changes were few and very small, and my editor and copyeditor (only one of each) had long since finished their work.

Finally let me stress that because so very few proof copies are made the price on a rare proof (marked and stamped as such with pre-publishing data etc.) can only go through the roof. (A Harry Botter [sic] proof copy recently sold on Ebay for over $1000- the first edition of the same book is still available in bookstores for around $12).

Well, for one thing, the Harry Potter books are (famously) kept under lock and key and relentlessly embargoed to prevent their contents from leaking out before the publication date, so I’m betting there aren’t a lot of galleys floating around in the first place. For another thing, they’re the most popular books in the world. Somehow I don’t see my ARC of, say, Get in the Game by Cal Ripken, Jr. ever fetching a similar price. Despite the value-added shrinkwrap.

Bid now!! Before it’s to late!!

It’s a paperback copy of a novel you can now purchase in hardcover for a few dollars more!! And it has typos!!

Library of Congress Classifications

When I first saw the copyright page at the front of the finished version of The End as I Know It, I was amused by the Library of Congress subject headings the book had been assigned.

1. Puppeteers—Fiction. 2. Year 2000 date conversion (Computer systems)—Fiction.

The second one came as no surprise, but it had never occurred to me that my book might be pigeonholed as a “puppeteer novel.”

As for the other Y2K fiction, I actually own most of the novels listed, as well as a few others. (This was the first I had heard of Format C:, though.) I sought out and ordered them in 2002 when I started working on TEAIKI. As you might imagine, they were quite affordable on the used-and-remaindered market—I believe one or two of them were selling for literally $.01. The designers at Doubleday did a great job using the covers of several Y2K books as a background for my title page and section heading pages. I’ve at least attempted to read all the pre-millennial novels I own, although a couple proved unreadable. It’s an interesting short-lived subgenre that I may write about in more detail at some point.

But back to the puppeteers. It’s not exactly a rich literary tradition I’ve joined; there are two (2) other books listed in the category. One of them is a romance novel called—wait for it—Heart on a String. The other one is The Furies by Fernanda Eberstadt. Before you read about it on Amazon, take a look at its full set of LOC subject headings, which I must say do a slightly better job than TEAIKI’s classifications at communicating the novel’s content:

Married women--Fiction. Inheritance and succession--Fiction. Interfaith marriage--Fiction. Marital conflict--Fiction. Puppeteers--Fiction. Jewish men--Fiction. Divorce--Fiction. Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)--Fiction.

This thing writes itself!

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