Carrying a hard, gem-like torch

Reviews have started to come in for Only Child, to which Peter contributed a memoir-essay, "Postcards to Myself" (an excerpt is available at the Random House website), and a couple have singled out Peter’s essay in particular: Publishers Weekly recently called it one of the "gems" of the anthology, and this week Time Out New York wrote that it is "superbly and achingly sweet."

Attack of the blob


The Washington Post reported last week that crape myrtles and camellias have an easier time of it these days in Washington, D.C., thanks, at least in part, to global warming. According to a new revision of the National Arbor Day Foundation’s map of hardiness zones, if a tree likes it hot, it will find congenial temperatures considerably to the north of where it found them a decade and a half ago. "You could say D.C. is the new North Carolina," a botanist told the Post.

Streetsblog (which covers the human ecology of New York City, broadly considered) therefore speculates that New York City must be the new Baltimore. It is, as you can see above; the yellow-colored zone 7 handily includes both cities, as well as Tennessee, Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle. In fact, though, Baltimore and Brooklyn seem to have both belonged to zone 7 in 1990, as well. What’s new is that in 1990, the two cities were at the northern edge of the zone, and now they’re inside it by a large and comfortable margin. To see a neato animation of hardiness zones across the nation shifting northward, from 1990 to 2006, like a rising tide of particolored molasses, consult the National Arbor Day Foundation’s website. Then go buy a live oak for the front of your brownstone.

Offprints in a digital age

An article of mine about a nineteenth-century con man and kidnapper is in the latest issue of American Literary History, a scholarly journal, and this morning my offprints arrived. I don’t think the world outside academia knows what offprints are any more, if they ever did. I say this with some confidence because when I gave one to a very worldly and well-read acquaintance, he asked, a few weeks after reading it, what it was. Had I had my essay privately printed? he asked. And that was more than a decade ago. I would like to assure everyone that not even I am so nineteenth-century as to have my essays privately printed.

Offprints are unbound printed pages of an article, which a scholarly journal provides to the article’s author so that he may share them with colleagues. The protocol is — or rather, was — that when a researcher wanted to read an article that happened to appear in a journal he didn’t subscribe to, he would send a postcard to the author, care of his institutional address, asking for an offprint. And the author, as a matter of scholarly courtesy, would mail it to him free. My father is a scientist, and when I was little and collected stamps, most of them came from the postcards sent to him and the other scientists at his institution, requesting offprints. In those days, the 1970s and 1980s, the requests by and large came from developing countries, where the research institutions had less money for their libraries. The postcards came from all over the world, in other words, from countries I’d never heard of and imagined I would never see, and it gave me a thrill to see them, emblems of the glamour and global reach of the life of the mind.

It tickled me, therefore, when, upon the publication of my first scholarly article in 1994, I received a request for an offprint.



I mailed the offprint to India very gladly. It was, unfortunately, the last such request I ever got, as well as the first, even though I’ve published several more scholarly articles since then. I don’t know whether offprints are still traded for postcards in the sciences. But in the humanities, at least to my knowledge, the use of them has degenerated to attaching them to job applications or to tenure files. The only people who see them today, in other words, are people operating in a supervisory or fiduciary capacity; the sharing of research is done through online databases like ProQuest, Project Muse, and JSTOR. Offprints are now just prettier versions of a photocopy; including one in your file is roughly equivalent to printing your resume on cream-colored paper instead of on flat white. The romance, in other words, has seeped out of it.

I have two dozen of them on my hands, however. So here’s the proposal: send me a postcard, a real one, on paper, and I’ll mail you an offprint. There is a slight advantage to the paper copy, actually; I couldn’t get online rights for one of the images, so that picture doesn’t appear in JSTOR, only in the printed version. But by and large the only cash value of what I’m offering will be best appreciated by collector geeks, the sort of people who worry whether they’ve been sold an original of the first issue of n+1 or a reprinting. Or for people who, like me, economize on printer cartridges. While supplies last, then, send a postcard to [sorry—address deleted for now, November 2016], and I’ll send you an offprint. Don’t forget to include your own snail-mail address. (If by some miracle I run out, I’ll warn you here.)