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7 Books That Will (Probably) Never Be Printed Again

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In an age where readers can get their book fix via downloads or overnight shipping, it can be easy to overlook the fact that not everything is available on demand. Thousands of titles remain off-limits in both digital and analog form for a variety of reasons—some controversial, others due to the author's wishes. Take a look at seven titles you’re unlikely to find on shelves anytime soon.

1. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH // CAMERON CROWE (1981)

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Screenwriter and director Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous) began contributing to Rolling Stone and other music publications when he was still a teenager. At the age of 22, he convinced Clairemont High School in San Diego to let him enroll as a student so he could chronicle the experience of a senior class. Fast Times, which changed his classmates' names to maintain a semblance of privacy, was adapted into the 1982 film starring Sean Penn.

Despite the name recognition of both the title and its author, Crowe has resisted any attempt to put it back in print. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2011, Crowe said that he “likes that there’s one thing that’s not readily available … I like it too much as a kind of bootleg.”

2. RAGE // STEPHEN KING (1977)

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In the late 1970s, horror novelist Stephen King—who was often chastised for being too prolific—decided to adopt a pseudonym in order to release more of his material without the accompanying criticism. Writing as Richard Bachman, he published seven books. One, Rage, was written while King was in his late teens and concerned a high school student who kills his teacher and takes his algebra class hostage. By 1997, at least three adolescents who had brought weapons to school and killed or injured classmates had admitted to reading the book or had it found in their possession; one said he modeled his behavior directly after the book’s lead character.

A distraught King convinced his publisher that the book was a “possible accelerant” and had no place on shelves. They complied; King has said that “I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.”

3. PROMISE ME TOMORROW // NORA ROBERTS (1984)

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While Roberts might not be as celebrated as King, her success in the romance genre is impressive by any measure. As of 2011, she had over 400 million books in print. The lone exception: Promise Me Tomorrow, a title she wrote early on in her career. Though Roberts had already finished well over 20 books by the time Promise Me Tomorrow was released, it doesn’t appear she’s eager for people to revisit it. In 2009, Roberts told The New Yorker that it was full of clichés and committed the most egregious of romance-novel sins: an unhappy ending.  

4. INVASION OF THE SPACE INVADERS // MARTIN AMIS (1982)

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British novelist Martin Amis took a jarring detour in 1982 when he authored this slightly tongue-in-cheek “guide” to the arcade games of the era, which was part gamer’s travelogue and part critical essay of the industry. The unlikely pairing of author and subject was enough to entice Steven Spielberg to write the introduction, but not enough for Amis to ever consider revisiting it: When a writer for The Guardian suggested it should resurface, Amis stared at him and offered no response at all.

5. SEX /// MADONNA (1992)

By the time Madonna committed to shooting a coffee table photography book of herself and models (including Vanilla Ice) in various compromising positions, the world had gotten fairly used to her provocative behavior. Nonetheless, when Warner Books released Sex in 1992, it promptly sold through half of its million-copy print run inside of a week. Intended as a limited-availability collector’s item, the publisher has never expressed interest in returning to it; BookFinder, which releases an annual list of the most sought-after out-of-print titles, regularly places the 132-page book at or near the top of the heap.  

6. ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITTANICA (1768-2012)

The venerable reference volume taxed its last particle-board bookshelf in 2012, when Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc. decided to cease publication of its analog information library. At 129 pounds, the $1395 collection sold just 8000 copies, a far cry from the 120,000 sets the company moved in 1990. The advent of online resources like Wikipedia and a prohibitive cost led Brittanica to focus on online strategies. A total of 15 volumes were released through 2010.

7. THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS // BARBARA NEWHALL FOLLETT (1927)

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Book critic Wilson Follett’s love of words may have been hereditary: His daughter, Barbara, was consumed with them early on, pecking away at a novel at the age of eight. When she was 12, her father assisted her in completing The House Without Windows, a novel about a girl who disappears into the woods and finds companionship with animals. Follett passed the manuscript on to his contacts at Knopf, who published it to widespread acclaim in 1927.

In 1939, the former child prodigy was unhappily married. She left her home with a small amount of money and disappeared, never to be seen again. According to a relative who maintains a web presence for her work, Knopf has not acknowledged who might hold the copyright to the book. It remains available only via secondhand sellers.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

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