Tag Archives: book trivia

The Most Prolific Author in the World

atkins-bookshelf-booksLegendary science fiction author Isaac Asimov published more than 506 works during his lifetime; British romance novelist Barbara Cartland published an even more impressive 722 novels in her career. She also set the record for most novels written in a year: 23. But those numbers pale in comparison to the world’s most prolific author, Philip M. Parker who has written a truly astonishing 200,000 books! So why haven’t we heard of Parker? Certainly he hasn’t made the rounds on the talk show circuit, nor has he been profiled in any of the major literary magazines.

The main reason that Parker keeps such a low profile as an author is that he really isn’t an author — he is more like an editor, or to be more specific, a compiler of data. Parker is the chaired professor of management sciences at Insead, a business school with campuses located in France and Singapore. His contribution to the world of publishing is the development of a powerful computer algorithm that searches and collects information on the internet that is in the public domain, formats the data, and quickly creates an ebook or print-on-demand book. Working with a team of six to seven programmers utilizing 60-70 computers, Parker is able to create a book within 13 minutes that would take a team of researchers several months to complete. Interestingly, Parker does not go for low-hanging fruit — he pursues rather esoteric or obscure topics. Type his name in Amazon’s search field and you get a very long list of books with soporific titles like: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and Genome Researchers (for $28.95), and The 2007 Import and Export Market for Stripped and Stemmed Tobacco in Spain (for $629.86). Needless to say, none of Parker’s books have ever made any of the established best-seller lists.

In an interview with the New York Times, Parker compares himself to Henry Ford, who automated car manufacturing. Parker elaborates on his book publishing system: “[Our team deconstructed] the process of getting books into people’s hands; every single step we could think of, we automated. My goal isn’t to have the computer write sentences, but to do the repetitive tasks that are too costly to do otherwise… Using a little bit of artificial intelligence, a computer program has been created that mimics the thought process of someone who would be responsible for doing such a study [of a particular subject].” Ford would be very impressed with Parker’s efficiency — each book costs Parker about 12 cents in electricity (and zero cents in creativity).

Parker and his team have also published thousands of crossword puzzles written in many languages, as well as scripts for computer animated game shows, and acrostic poems. Next on the horizon for Parker is creating romance novels: “I’ve already set it up,” he announces proudly. “There are only so many body parts.” Is the world ready for a monumental book series titled, 10,000 Gradations of Gray?

Read related posts: The Most Expensive Book in the World
How Many People Read Books?
The Benefits of Reading
Daily Rituals of Writers: Isaac Asimov

For further reading: nytimes.com/2008/04/14/business/media/14link.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Banned Books that Shaped America

atkins-bookshelf-literatureIn the age of the Internet, empowered by intelligent search engines and billions of pages of digital content (including millions of scanned books), we take for granted that we have access to anything that has ever been written. However, that has not always been the case. As Nicholas Karolides, co-author of the Banned Books series, writes: “Twenty-first century society continues to deal with a restraint that has inflamed passions since humanity began to keep a physical record of history — that is, the censorship of important ideas and truths accepted by many, yet offensive to a vocal few… For centuries, books have been banned, suppressed and censored because of political, religious, sexual and social reasons according to the tastes and beliefs of an era or a locale.”

Each year in September, the national book community celebrates Banned Books Week (their tagline is: “Celebrate the freedom to read”) to focus on the problem of censorship in America. Banned Books Week was established in 1982 in direct response to the pronounced increase of challenges to books in schools, libraries, and bookstores that occurred in the late 1970s. Surprisingly, even in our enlightened and sophisticated modern society, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since the organization’s creation.

In honor of the authors and publishers who contribute to humanity’s intellectual life, the editors of bannedbooksweek.org highlighted the 29 books out of the 88 books that the Library of Congress selected for its exhibition on “Books that Shaped America. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, each of these burned books enlightens the world.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1956)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville,1851)
Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971)
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey (1948)
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947)
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
The Words of Cesar Chavez by Cesar Chavez (2002)

Read related posts: Books that Shaped America
The Best Love Stories
Books that will Change Your Life

For further reading: 120 Banned Books by Nicholas Karolides (et al), Facs on File (2005)

Typos in Books

Typographical errors, commonly referred to as typos, are the bane of every writer, editor, and publisher. No matter how many times a manuscript is proofread and spellchecked, the pesky typo taunts the best of proofreaders. Throughout the centuries, the typo has haunted writers and publishers, a lasting symbol of man’s inherent fallibility. In most cases, typos are rather innocuous, some are even wickedly funny (revealing a Freudian slip); however some lead to great embarrassment or worse — costly reprints. For book collectors it is a precise way of identifying first editions. Here are some notable typos in famous books.

The King James Bible (1611)
The word “she” is missing an “s” in Ruth 3:15 — “and he went into the city.” This edition of the bible is known as the He Bible.

The King James Bible (1631)
The word “not” was mistakenly left out of the 7th commandment — “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Although most people — especially the clergy — were horrified, politicians were absolutely thrilled. This edition of the bible, published by Robert Baker and Martin Lucas, was referred to as The Wicked Bible or the Sinner’s Bible — still, the most popular bible in Washington D.C.

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (1922)
On page 103 the word “position” was printed as “sposition.”

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck (1931)
On page 100 the word “fleas” was printed as “flees.”

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1934, 2nd ed)
A slip that read “D or d, cont./density” instructed the typesetter to add the word “density” as one of the words that could be abbreviated with “D” or “d.” Instead the typesetter mistakenly added a completely fake word (known as a ghost word) into the dictionary: “Dord” defined as a synonym for density. The mistaken word was not detected for 6 years.

Moonraker by Ian Fleming (1955)
On page 10 the word “shoot” was printed as “shoo.”

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1961)
The word “idiot” was printed as “idots.”

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1988)
The word “than” was printed as “that” — “then I’m dumber that an eight-year old.”

The Pasta Bible (2010, Australian version)
A recipe for tagliatelle called for “pepper” while the printed version called for “salt and freshly ground black people.” Needless to say, 7,000 books were destroyed and the book was reprinted with the proper ingredient.

For further reading: The Dord, The Diglot, and an Avocado or Two by Anu Garg, Plume (2007) 

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