Wednesday book news: Bezos, the Elsevier boycott and more

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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