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5 Famous Books That Were Originally Self-Published

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The reputation of self-publishing—at least in the pre-internet era—wasn’t that great. There’s a reason that publishing houses catering to non-professional writers were called “vanity presses.” Your stereotypical self-published author was a little old lady with a briefcase full of messy manuscript pages, paying thousands of dollars to produce a poorly proofread doorstop that no one read.

And yet some of the greatest creators of all time have ponied up their own cash to see their works in print. Why? Let’s find out.

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

Under intense stress (a mortgage payment was due and his wife was expecting), the iconic British author wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. But he was frustrated with his publishers, Chapman and Hall, over poor sales of his most recent book, Martin Chuzzlewit, and decided to pay them to print the book—with proceeds going directly to him. Production problems plagued the book, and the whole process cost Dickens more than he expected. Even though the first printing sold out, he only made £137 of an anticipated  £1,000.

2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)

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This quintessentially American author didn’t just pay to publish the first edition of Leaves of Grass, his defining poetry collection. He also helped set the type. That first edition was only sold in two stores—one in New York and one in Brooklyn. Several more editions followed, adding many more poems (that first version contained only 12 poems, no titles, and no author’s credit).

3. The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer (1931)

Newly widowed and staring the Great Depression in the face, Irma Rombauer zigged where others may have zagged. Rather than hunkering down and attempting to survive on some $6000 in savings, she instead put together a collection of recipes. She titled it The Joy of Cooking and had her daughter create a baffling cover illustration (apparently the dragon being slain represents pointless toil in the kitchen). And she spent virtually all of that $6000 to publish the book. Sales of that first edition carried her along until a substantially reworked version was issued by Bobbs-Merrill in 1936 and entered the American mainstream.

4. 114 Songs by Charles Ives (1922)

Ives, a pathbreaking composer (and insurance executive) had no natural place in the sedate world of early 20th-century classical music. But his business success allowed him to compose whatever he wanted, and whenever he saw fit—until the muse deserted him in the early 1920s. As a way to explain himself (and possibly get some performances), he summed up his creative life with this self-published volume. By the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, he was all the rage.

5. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (1913)

The Remembrances of Things Past author found no takers for the first volume of his autobiographical masterwork. As a matter of fact, the rejections were stinging: ”My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep,” read one. Proust had money, though, and paid publisher Editions Grasset to print the book. After the first volume was issued, Nobel Prize-winning writer and editor Andre Gide, who had rejected it, saw the error of his ways and published further volumes

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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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