Monthly Archives: September 2008

Classic Yachts #1

Today we bring you our first guest post by America’s Cup winner, Classic Yachts contributor, and man of style Gary Jobson: a rumination on the “sea-kindly boats of yesteryear.”

What is a classic yacht?

When one refers to a “classic” it is a word that is worthy of attention, and respect. A classic yacht is one that sails into our affections because it stands the test of time.  It is amazing to me that classics get better looking with age. If a car is a classic it can also be referred to as a jalopy, but not a yacht. And during our age of flat-out racing machines, the sea-kindly boats of yesteryear are far more comfortable to sail. For these reasons classic yachts are worthy of preservation and honor.

A classic yacht connects the generations in the way that old movies remind us of life in the past. And when you watch actors on the big screen you come away with an appreciation for the way people lived and thought. But it is hard to relive the past. Happily we can understand what it was like to sail the mighty boats of days gone by, simply with a sail. But for many, getting a berth on a big classic is a hard invitation to secure. This is why Classic Yachts is a treat for our eyes. Thanks to the images shot by Gilles Martin-Raget you can watch from the water, from the air, and on board, and feel you are part of the action. What a special thrill!


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The Great Debate: E-Readers

Booksquare and Medialoper have been weighing in recently on the most important debate of our generation—by which we mean, of course, the debate as to whether or not the e-book can supplant the regular book, not the presidential foofaraw that took place last Friday. (Which we did watch, though, and watch in style: Times Square bar, libations, pounding of tables, the whole shebang.) Booksquare seems to be less wary of the e-future than we are; Kirk Biglione* laments in their latest post the impossibility of “reading Pynchon on a Kindle”—not because the device is uncomfortable or inadequate to the purpose, but because Pynchon’s novels are currently unavailable for download. Their commenters have suggested that this may be because, like J. K. Rowling, Pynchon himself has insisted on keeping his work available in print only. We’d be willing to believe it, and considering the staunch forty-year stand he’s taken against leaving his house, we doubt he’ll bend on this one, either.

As well he shouldn’t. Any writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, or large-scale imaginative work in general should be cautious of the e-reader, for the following simple reason. As soon as you turn all books into miniature computers, you lose the style of reading that books nourish and encourage. Nicholas Carr’s much-discussed recent essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (The Atlantic, July/August 2008), was the first to put a finger on the disturbing way in which the online world of hyperlinks has made our collective reading habits more, well, hyperactive. As Carr puts it:

I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle…My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

Assuming you’re still reading this post, you can see where we’re going with this. Even if e-texts aren’t hyperlinked (and we suspect they inevitably will be), the availability of 15,000 other texts within the same hand-held device will virtually ensure the same flighty, superficial reading habits. That spells trouble for an author hoping you’ll make it through Gravity’s Rainbow—or any work that depends for its effect on what John Gardner called the “sustained fictional dream.” If readers are constantly lured away from immersing themselves in such dreams, the value of a great many books will be lost. Again, we’re not militating against e-reading devices; we’re simply suggesting that they have a place within the larger book market and are not (or should not be) the future of the market entire. And you know who agrees with us? THOMAS PYNCHON. So there.

*Correction 9/30: Our original article incorrectly cited Kassia Kroszer as the author of this post. Thanks to Ms. Kroszer for pointing out this rare evidence of our fallibility, as well as for her thoughtful response to the article in the Comments section.


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Friday Bonus: Brooklyn Book Drive

Occasionally we’re told about fun book- or art-related events happening here in the city, and when that happens, good neighbors that we are, we like to pass the news along. Today just such a bulletin landed in our inbox. Here’s the skinny: 


“The Great American Book Drive” Kicks off

National Campaign in Brooklyn


Better World Books Hosts Day-Long Community Fundraising Book Drive at Brooklyn Public Library



Better World Books hosts the “Great American Book Drive,” inviting area residents and community members of all ages to clean off their cluttered bookshelves and come out to donate used books to help raise money for Brooklyn Public Library’s collections and programs. 


Musical guest Lost in the Stacks will perform for the crowd from 11AM-1PM.


The event will also include green arts and crafts activities for kids, and a used book sale.


The event kicks off a national Better World Books program to raise money for literacy through local community book drives.



4 October 2008

10 am – 3 pm

(Band 11 AM-1 pm)



Brooklyn Public Library, Outdoor Plaza

10 Grand Army Plaza

Brooklyn, NY 11238 

Apart from the worthiness of the cause, the best part of this is obviously the band name. I only hope Lost in the Stacks plays their old ballad, “Dewey Decimal Dreams,” which I remember crooning to my baby back in high school whenever we’d rendezvous in the library, section 536.

Better World Books also keeps a book blog that is worth checking out. “Book Drives For Better Lives!” says its motto. Yes! As you might expect by looking at their Category list, some of the best posts can be found under “Antiquarian Ramblings.”

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Courbet Prudishness!

The Abbeville blog has MOVED! You can find this post here.

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Whitney Museum Hijinx

Arbiter of Style Austin here, reporting to you in the first person. I spent this past Saturday wandering the Whitney Museum, a place that I teased earlier this year for the impenetrable curatorial writing that accompanied its Biennial exhibition, but that is by and large one of the best American art collections out there. Their current special exhibit surveys the work of Buckminster Fuller, the great American inventor, engineer, and eccentric responsible for, among other things, the geodesic dome and the word “tensegrity.” The concept of engineering-as-art was a pretty successful one, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of tetrahedrons, but I have to say that some of Fuller’s grandiose ideas seemed to hold more water than others. For example, the exhibition credits him with inventing the “4D house.” That sounds pretty stylish, but Bucky, doesn’t my house already exist in four dimensions? Don’t all houses? Oh well, at least you gave us EPCOT.

After the Fuller exhibit it was on to the fifth floor for the heart and soul of the Whitney: its permanent collection. This is a source of many permanent delights, including the good old American sun-drenched unfulfilled longing of Edward Hopper, and the electrifying, still-futuristic Futurism of Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge. (My museumgoing companion, an artist and writer herself, declared the Stella painting a better evocation of its subject than Hart Crane’s poem “To Brooklyn Bridge.” I ardently demurred. Compare them here and here and leave a comment to let us know what you think.) Along with all the classics, I was especially taken by a work added just last year: Robert Morris’s wall sculpture Hand and Toe Hold (1964), which consists of two horizontal metal bars mounted parallel to one another, each with clay embedded in the center. The clay contains the imprint of two hands and two feet apparently scrabbling to maintain their grip on the bars. The desperation evoked by the piece could be variously interpreted, but I saw it as primarily artistic: the struggle of the artist to maintain an intellectual and emotional hold on his work before it slips from his grasp—and ends up either failed and forgotten, or enshrined in the public limelight of a museum.

I think it’s a struggle Morris won. But if you haven’t been to the Whitney lately, go judge for yourself—and feel free to ardently demur.

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We’re Back! With Wombats

The Arbiters of Style apologize for being MIA yesterday; we were all a little peakèd after the New York Is Book Country show on Sunday. (One of us may even have taken the day off.) We hope that, in our absence, your Monday didn’t suffer from a catastrophic deficiency of style. Just in case, we’ll do our best between now and Friday to boost your reserves with a double infusion.

Though tiring, the NYIBC show was a happy success. Books were sold, catalogs were distributed, mini-art kits and dinosaur finger puppets were tossed to the masses (and a few hoarded for ourselves). Christmas in September! We also reveled in the sultry late-summer sunshine, the graceful Central Park greenery, the crisp smell of new books heralding the crisp autumn weather soon to come…sorry, Book Country brings out the nostalgic patriot in us.

Anyway, it’s good to be back, and to make up for our absence, we’d like to share with you one last Australia photo that Arbiter of Style Lauren has been keeping up her sleeve. Its subject dovetails nicely with that of our Dante Gabriel Rossetti post from a couple of weeks ago (which, to answer our commenter Sara, we swear we were not making up). Yes, folks, it’s a wombat. Eat your heart out—he certainly is.

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We got an email today from one of the editors of, informing us that they had linked to our Manual of Style. Who are these strange and generous people, we asked ourselves, then checked out their site and were instantly very flattered! Turns out they’re a new “online magazine rack” that aggregates the best sites and blogs from around the Web, groups them by topic, and displays the top headlines from each in a visual format so appealingly simple that it’s almost a waste of words to describe it. It seems we’ve made the cut for their new Publishing section, along with many of the other fine sites we’ve enjoyed and recommended over the past year (GalleyCat and Booksquare among them). Humbled as we are, we have to admit, we think we’ve got by far the coolest headline among the current crop: “Spontaneous Vehicular Combustion.” Take that, Yahoo! Finance: Publishing—Book Industry News!

Anyhow, many thanks to the editors of Alltop, and we encourage our readers to visit the site frequently to get their fix not only of Publishing news, but of Art and Book news as well. And hey, if you’re the type who can never read too many Textiles or Zoology blogs, they’ve got you covered too.

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Book Country is Our Country

New York Is Book Country is one of the city’s premier book festivals, and one of Abbeville‘s favorites. We like the bravado of the show’s title; we’re glad that New York considers bookishness something to brag about, despite our most prominent magazine’s just having announced that “book country” will soon become as mythical a land as Narnia. No matter—Abbeville will be out at the festival in full force, selling our brand-new wares and spreading goodwill. Generous discounts are guaranteed, plus we think we heard someone mention free balloons! Come stop by our booth (#23), browse, pick up some swag, and say hi to your friendly local Arbiters of Style. The show takes place this Sunday, September 21, from 10 AM to 5 PM, in Central Park between Literary Walk (naturally) and the Bandshell. See you there!

P.S. In case you missed it, our fireball of breaking news was picked up by Gothamist yesterday. Citizen Erin also filed a news report on, where one buzzkill commenter pointed out that technically, the motorcycle didn’t “spontaneously combust.” Well, maybe not, but it didn’t take its time combusting either.

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Spontaneous Vehicular Combustion

Things are usually pretty quiet here at Abbeville, but every so often working in SoHo affords us the opportunity to see crazy things. There’s the annual Halloween parade, for example, which starts near our building, or the protests against the construction of Trump SoHo (currently mounting Babel-like toward the sky right across the street from us). But nothing prepared us for what happened just now, when a loud boom from the street was followed by a puff of dark smoke outside our windows. This being New York, we were all legitimately frightened for a second before rushing to the windows and seeing—a flaming motorcycle parked at the curb below!

(photos courtesy of our own Erin Dress)

No one was injured because no one was near it, and the cause of the explosion remains a mystery. Fortunately, a couple of fire trucks were already making their way through traffic, so one of the firemen leapt out and hosed down the blaze in a matter of seconds. The smell of inexplicably burnt motorcycle dissipated slowly.

And now back to fixing comma splices.

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"The End"?

It’s been a week full of economic woes here in New York, so the good folks at New York magazine have decided to cheer us up with an article heralding the death of our industry as we know it. It’s hardly the first such article to appear recently, and the doomsday scenario is pretty familiar by now. It seems that in the next few years people will stop reading physical books entirely, and assuming they read at all, will walk about with their eyes too glued to an e-reading device to notice that greedy, nefarious Amazon has swallowed up every publishing house in existence. Meanwhile, Malthusian food shortages will precipitate a Darwinian struggle for survival among the world’s nations as ominous alien warships throng the skies.

Well, perhaps. There’s no doubt that the industry is undergoing a major shift in the Internet age, and the fallout, though impossible to predict, will be damaging to many. Still, as we said in a post long ago, what the digital reader can never fully re-create is the beautiful, well-made book—the book with lavish illustrations and cloth binding and glossy smell—and around Abbeville that happens to be our specialty. Even an attempt to reproduce one of our volumes in electronic form would be the book equivalent of the Uncanny Valley: the result would be so freakish and disappointing that you would long for the genuine article. We’ve heard it smugly prophesied that books will soon become mere decorative items, no more tied to their original purpose than modern-day candles are used to light the home. To which we say, first of all, “Not without a fight,” and second, if that dark future ever does arrive, Abbeville will be right there with it, still turning out the most beautiful “shelf ornaments” money can buy. (And hey, future generations: if you’re bored one day you might even enjoy what’s between those beautiful covers, too.)

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