Is the not-for-profit newspaper the only way to save journalism as we know it? Listen, there are plenty of things wrong with journalism as we know it, and I don’t really care to see the tree sucking print papers survive, but I do want good reporting and j-ethics to survive (somewhere other than here, obviously), so I’m willing to have some taxes go that way.
The brave new media world will be one of tunnel vision and self-selected expertise, in which reported pieces are increasingly devoid of human interaction or human stories, often written by individuals who do not pretend to have a neutral stance. Raw, non-mediated video or audio will provide primary stories to anyone who is interested in them. In this imagined future, the New York Times will have died and only one or two wire services will still have reporters in, say, Gaza. In lieu of edited stories will be video interviews with Gaza inhabitants, as well as commentary and analysis from a vast army of experts, semi-experts and kibitzers. Consumers can set one info-dial to “Middle East primary feeds,” set a commentary dial to “expert,” “kibitzer” or “shuffle,” set yet another to a targeted archival search of every academic paper written about Gaza. It will be feast and famine: There will be far less primary reporting done by professionals and far more information available to ordinary citizens.
This brave new info-world will have some advantages. So far, the Internet media revolution has been a huge net plus for journalism. It has greatly increased the quantity and quality of available opinion and (to a much lesser degree) news. Trying to figure out what the truth is about any given subject means reading about it from as many perspectives as possible, and exponentially more perspectives are accessible now. From foreign newspapers to brilliant bloggers, the Internet has given a voice to countless talented and informed people who would otherwise have no platform. It has empowered readers, created an army of bloggers who provide much-needed fact-checking and criticism of the entitled mandarins of the establishment press, and provided powerful counternarratives to the bland, centrist pablum so often served up by the “respectable” media.
Moreover, bloggers can also be valuable reporters, albeit ones who generally don’t wear out much shoe leather. As Slate writer and media critic Jack Shafer has pointed out, some bloggers have done significant research reporting, digging through FOIA documents or unearthing official secrets.
As for the old media, it has not exactly always done a bang-up job of capturing reality. All too often it has been sclerotic, incompetent and driven by hidden corporatist, nationalist or reactionary agendas. The press’s catastrophic failure to question the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq is the most glaring recent example, but there are many. “Professionalism” can be a vice, evidenced by the pathologically cozy relationship between many bigwig Beltway reporters and their government sources. Huffing and puffing about interloping amateurs all too often conceals the fact that those amateurs know as much or more about the subject as the professionals, and are not subject to being bamboozled by “insiders” with an agenda. Academic Middle East analysts, most of whom probably never picked up the phone in their life, but know the region’s language and its history, were resoundingly right about the Iraq war. The professional journalism brigade, with its access to high-level sources and people on the ground, was disgracefully wrong. And the Internet has greatly empowered such academics.
The MSM’s less than stellar record explains why in online forums and threads about this subject, many posters welcome the impending end of the media universe as we know it. But those who are calling for the demise of traditional media are throwing the baby out with the bath water — and the baby is reporting.
- RIP: Al-Tayeb Saleh, Sudanese novelist, dead at 80
- Of all the people who wanted to kick the shit out of Christopher Hitchens, I’m kind of sad it wasn’t one of the many, many I know
- Yet another half-finished piece of scribbling cashed in on by Tolkein estate
- Memoir faker defends Holocaust book
- Andrew Motion says no to Oxford Chair…! Yes, go back to writing, Andrew! Live! Live for all of us who can’t! Or even just me… Sniff…
- Political humour in the age of Obama … (It’s been hard to link to the CBC lately because their books coverage is almost completely gone (as noted by a commenter recently). What’s up?) But if you want poltiical humour and can’t take making fun of President Dreamy yet, try making fun of everyone else instead. This headline almost made me do a spit take: “Head Lice Going Around Senate“
Is there a way to succeed in publishing without, you know, selling books? Yes. But don’t expect to get rich off it. I like the idea, as a niche form of charity work, but traditional publishers might not.
Here’s a crazy idea for these financially straitened times. Why not set up a small book publishing business where everyone works for free, from writers and editors to designers and printers, then give the books away. Insane? Maybe, but that didn’t stop American novelist Stona Fitch.
“I just woke up one morning and told my wife I’d come up with a new way for writers not to make money,” he laughs. “The idea was to produce beautiful, interesting new books and give them away, then ask people to give money to charity instead of paying for them.”
“I didn’t know when we started whether people would go for it, but the response has been incredibly encouraging,” says Fitch. “I believe firmly in the power of the book, not just to entertain, amuse and enlighten but to connect with the reader. By giving away these books, it encourages readers to take action. As for writers, they just want to get their work out to readers. We’ve already got our next novel lined up for publication in May, and we’ve got several more in the pipeline after that.”
The response from the book industry has been less enthusiastic. “It’s a threatening idea to publishers. A couple have said it’s the death of the business and I should stop immediately,” Fitch laughs. A tiny not-for-profit organisation is not about to topple the bestseller list or reduce J K Rowling to begging on the streets. But it is trying to effect a change in attitude, something reflected in the website’s strapline: “Free their books and their minds will follow”.
Commonwealth shortlists include some Ninja favourites: Malla and Endicott among them… Few independent presses on the list though, but it’s nice to see Freehand and Vehicule there… (thanks, Sara)
It’s so bad here I can’t even get to the CBC studio for my Q spot this morning, so I’ll have to do it by phone. This also means my legs are surrounded by underdeveloped bipedal beings who want me to do this “parenting” thing that’s apparently all the rage these days. Well, I GUESS…
- Tony Burgess talks about adapting his awesome zombie novel Pontypool Changes Everything for the screen (Tony, I like the grey, man… I haven’t seen you in forever)
- That’s a whole lot of overdue books… British libraries lose 13 million books in six years…
- Dan Brown has apparently finished work on his DaVinci Code sequel
- Thomas Pynchon: mystery writer?
- The Chinese do it online
- Atwood pulls out of Dubai festival to protest censorship
- Len Deighton profile
- Ang Lee to direct adaptation of Life of Pi?
Hi guys and gals. I’ll be on CBC Radio One’s Q tomorrow morning to kvetch about the Scholastic Books catalogues your kids get at school (as previously reported here). A group in the US is calling for them to smarten up their selection, and I largely agree, though I take a more moderate approach. Hopefully you can tune in and let me know what you think afterwards.
Despite all the crime, war, poverty, environmental and economic crises, hatred, bigotry, religious fundamentalism, and otherwise general abuse, the world gets slightly better every time someone mods a book like Pride and Prejudice to include rampaging zombies or, in this case, makes it into a movie including alien hunters. Sigh. Just dreamy.
It might prove something of a boon to those who reach for the remote control when yet another costume drama comes on television: Elton John’s Rocket Pictures is developing a new spin on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this time featuring a nefarious seven-foot extraterrestrial with hideous mandibles and a penchant for human blood. Yes, it’s Pride and Predator.
Will Clark, best known for his award-winning gothic comedy short The Amazing Trousers, will direct the film, which is being produced by Rocket partners Steve Hamilton Shaw and David Furnish.
“It felt like a fresh and funny way to blow apart the done-to-death Jane Austen genre by literally dropping this alien into the middle of a costume drama, where he stalks and slashes to horrific effect,” Furnish told Variety.
American publisher, dead at 90.
After attending Union College for three years, he was inspired by the Veronica Lake film “I Wanted Wings” to join the United States Army Air Force, which called him up in December 1941. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his work in the 446th Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force, rising to the rank of captain. (Union awarded him a B.A. in 1945.)
When he was discharged, he telephoned his father, who asked what he planned to do for a career. “I guess I’m going to work for you,” he said, and did. In 1952, he married Alice Laine.
Buy a robot to do it for you! That’s right, no more intimate cuddling and chatting while reading. Who wants all that slobber and stink anyway? You’ve got email to check and a stock portfolio to obsess over! Once you set up a playpen, an automatic toddler chow feeding and watering system, a TV with Baby Einstein playing on a loop, and a camera trained on the little bugger, you’ll never have to see him again, except through the safety of a CCTV screen in your office. Baby-handling tongs sold separately. (From Moby)
LeapFrog has announced a new learn-to-read product for the younger set, Tag Junior. As you probably know, the Tag Reading System is a fantastic tool for kids 4+ who are learning to read. The new Tag Junior, which will come out this summer, is designed for kids age 2-4.
The chunkier Tag reader has a frog-like look and a front speaker that reads to kids, much like the current Tag system. It sounds as if Tag Junior will work the same way that Tag does, in that parents will buy the specially inked books, then download the story content to the Tag Junior.
- Dick’s last wife has finished his last novel and will self-publish it
- Obama innauguration speech in a tidy little package from Penguin
- British author banned from Dubai book festival for gay character
- Louis Reil’s handwritten poetry on display
- The Beeb will remake The French Lieutenant’s Woman
- Pakistani authors rising as country falls
- Has Facebook become Big Brother? (Seeing how it was rumoured to be a spin off from a CIA project to begin with, I can’t see how this is a surprise…)
- On the historical value, if any, of email as opposed to letters (I love the veiled references at the end to possible pr0n stashes…)
The amount of gesturing a toddler does is linked with the size of his/her vocabularly later in life. (Of course, key in all of this, more than gesturing, I would suspect, is the level of income and, therefore, advantage.) If this is the case, Baby Ninja will be a veritable EB White when he grows up. He’s constantly grunting and gesturing at things. He’s like a little, fat, consternated caveman. “Oohg?” he says, pointing at the stereo. “Gah!” he says, waving at the window.” “Ah-oh?” he says, and holds his hands apart as his toy rolls under the couch. Ninja Boy as well. Both of them are/were using baby sign and pointing and gesticulating from a young age.
To study the differences in gesture among families, Goldin-Meadow and Rowe, a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University, studied 50 Chicago-area families from diverse economic backgrounds. Their results are reported in the Science article, “Differences in Early Gesture Explain SES Disparities in Child Vocabulary Size at School Entry,” for which Rowe is lead author.
They recorded video of children and primary caregivers for 90-minute sessions during ordinary activities at home. The researchers found that differences in gesture appeared early among children; moreover, differences in child gesture could be traced to differences in parent gesture.
“It is striking that, in the initial stages of language learning when SES (socioeconomic status) differences in children’s spoken vocabulary are not yet evident, we see SES differences in child gesture use,” Rowe said. “Children typically do not begin gesturing until around 10 months. Thus, SES differences are evident a mere four months, and possibly even sooner, after the onset of child gesture production.”
Fourteen-month-old children from high-income, well-educated families used gesture to convey an average of 24 different meanings during the 90-minute session, while children from lower-income families conveyed only 13. Once in school, students from higher-income families had a comprehension vocabulary of 117 (as measured by a standardized test), compared to 93 for children from lower-income families.
While we were talking the other day, Ninja Boy said in an exasperated voice, “No, Dad, I don’t mean “in general”. I was referring to a particular incident! ” I can’t for sure say these things are correlated, but I can say, Okaaaaaay… Back away slowly, Child of the Corn.
In the folklore of English letters, the literary friendship between the four dominant voices of the modern British novel – Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes – is already the stuff of legend. That was even before we learnt that for two of them the bond even extended to offering safe haven against the threat of state-sponsored assassins.
Twenty years almost to the day after Rushdie had a death sentence declared against him by the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, it has been revealed that he was offered shelter by McEwan in a cottage in the Cotswolds. There the two writers hid away shortly after the fatwa was issued on 14 February, 1989.
Apparently Twitter is the way to go—so much so, it’s becoming it’s own form of writing. Sigh. You can tell you’ve been around too long when new techs like this pop up and you just can’t bear to get involved. Dude, you think, I’m already blogging my fucking arse off. ANOTHER time sucker? I can’t do it. I just can’t. But there’s always someone new-to-everything in line behind you, ready to steal your readers with a pared down version of what you’re doing. Sheesh. I feel like a newspaper. So out of date and verbose.
Twitter has quickly become the preeminent way to go about “micro-blogging,” sending short real-time comments to the world (if it’s looking) and especially to anyone who signs up as a follower.
When the service was introduced in 2006, it was ridiculed as the latest narcissistic way to waste time online.
Last year, minds began to change. Twitterers tapped out tweets during the earthquake in China while the ground was still shaking and live during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. One of the first pictures of the airliner downed in the Hudson River last month, picked up by major newspapers and magazines, was “tweeted” by a 23-year-old tourist with an iPhone who happened to be aboard a ferry sent to the rescue. Suddenly, Twitter has become a venue for “citizen journalism,” a way to learn what’s happening sometimes even before news organizations themselves could find out.
“News no longer breaks, it tweets,” blogged Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley-based technology forecaster, last November during the Mumbai attacks. “If newspapers are the first draft of history, then blogs are the scratch pad. And in front of blogs are tweets,” he added in a phone interview last week.
Twitter is a classic example of the “law of unintended consequences,” says Matthew Fraser, who tracks the world of online social networking. At first, he says, people shared the “micro-banalities of life” such as “I’m at McDonald’s having a Big Mac.”
But Twitter now has “morphed” into something with real value and utility, says Mr. Fraser, coauthor of “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World.”
An interesting piece on the “art” of marketing books outside the traditional flack sheet and poster campaign.
Imagine if brands such as Persil, Flora or Cadbury had pages of editorial dedicated to their every variant launch. If this were the case, then it’s unlikely they would feel compelled to spend the millions they do on advertising. Books are in just that fortunate position through the column inches newspapers and magazines allocate to reviews. Despite this, publishers invest significant sums in marketing for books and their authors.
This is because the market is controlled by large retailers such as Waterstone’s, WH Smith, Amazon and Tesco. Before agreeing to stock a book, retailers want assurances that it will be promoted. Although a certain amount of each marketing budget goes towards discounts when you purchase – such as “three for two” offers – publishers do put money behind traditional advertising and online campaigns.
As a rule, there is no real art to book advertising. It’s more often than not a poster for the latest sex-and-shopping romcom, thriller, cookbook or celebrity autobiography. Apart from the particular look associated with each genre, the ads almost always fail to tell me very much about their subjects. Also, books can only really do well if they are any good, so word of mouth is the most effective way of advertising them.
Are there jetpacks?!? Oh. The web? Don’t you mean “libraries of the recent past“? (Talk to me when there are jetpacks.)
A group of fifth graders huddled around laptop computers in the school library overseen by Ms. Rosalia and scanned allaboutexplorers.com, a Web site that, unbeknownst to the children, was intentionally peppered with false facts.
Ms. Rosalia, the school librarian at Public School 225, a combined elementary and middle school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, urged caution. “Don’t answer your questions with the first piece of information that you find,” she warned.
Most of the students ignored her, as she knew they would. But Nozimakon Omonullaeva, 11, noticed something odd on a page about Christopher Columbus.
“It says the Indians enjoyed the cellphones and computers brought by Columbus!” Nozimakon exclaimed, pointing at the screen. “That’s wrong.”
Well, small pox was a KIND of early mass communication technology… wasn’t it? I mean, how better to communicate we’re here to destroy you all, take your land and plunder your resources?
McGraw-Hill has cancelled the publication of a book it was set to publish next month—a book critical of Standard & Poor’s, which is a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies, reports Publishers Weekly. The publisher and author disagree over why the book was dropped.
Mary Skafidas, v-p of communications and marketing for McGraw-Hill Education, said Bailout Nation: How Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy by Barry Ritholtz “needed extensive corroboration, and we could not agree on a unified approach with the author. He is free to have it published elsewhere”.
However, Ritholtz said nearly all of his sources are available online, and tells his side of the story on his blog, The Big Picture. “I came to the inescapable conclusion that this was an attempt by the McGH corporation to water down my content,” he writes.
- Authors line up with hands out to Google for digitization cashola — get in on the bonanza of free googbucks here
- Robert McCrum says if you want to help a struggling writer, you should borrow their book from the library. Seems like the PLR people in Britain might have hired a new communications person
- Everyone’s talking about how publishing can survive the economic recession… what happens if another world war breaks out? Look to the past
I joined the Writers’ Union a couple years back because my friend Alie wanted to join at the discounted rate, but also because Susan Swan was the president (pictured here looking a little more impish and demure that one might expect — she’s the perfect synthesis of nurturing and shitkicking in real life), and for my money the best president the Union’s seen in a while. She’s a person who gets things done and I’d follow her anywhere, so, despite my years of carping that the Union was basically a listserv for dilettantes to exchange recipes and gardening tips, I joined. That said, with my book tour over, I never availed myself of any of the meagre benefits the Union had to offer (reading support being first and foremost among them for me) and when it came time to join again at full price and with Swan gone, I thought, why bother? Now it looks as though there might actually be a point to joining, if you make a good percentage of your income from writing.
According to Statistics Canada, a Canadian scribe on average makes only between $18,000 and $22,000 annually from his or her writing – and this includes royalties from book sales as well as income from grants, giving readings and workshops, writing, say, reviews for magazines and newspapers, and earning a yearly stipend from the Public Lending Right Commission.
It is, in short, a hard life, fraught with long, lonely hours of work, occasional feasts and many famines (in 2005, an estimated 3,000 Canadian authors – 11 per cent of the total 27,500 who identified themselves either as self-employed or salaried writers – reported no earnings from their writing), not to mention the agony of public indifference.
But this life just might take a turn for the better starting this spring. Which is when the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists Fraternal Benefit Society expects to roll out its Writers’ Coalition Benefits package.
The package will offer writers, editors, translators – “basically anybody in the writing industry,” according to Deborah Windsor, executive director of the Writers’ Union of Canada – access to the insured extended-health-care services most salaried employees take for granted, such as basic dental and vision care, subsidized prescription drugs, accident insurance and physiotherapy. (Pensions are also on the long-term wish list.)
“To those who would deny that genetic drift is responsible for a branching evolutionary tree of increasing biodiversity amid changing ecosystems, we say, ‘Look upon the face of Darwin!’” said Jeanette Cosgrove, who, along with members of her microbiology class, has maintained a candlelight vigil at the site for the past 72 hours.
“Over millions of successive generations, a specific subvariant of one species of slime mold adapted to this particular concrete wall, in order to one day form this stain, and thus make manifest this vision of Darwin’s glorious countenance,” Cosgrove said, overcome with emotion.
Is there enough excitement in publishing to write a successful novel about it? Industry in peril, lunches in brown bags, long knives in darkened rooms (because the lights have been turned off to save money), laid-off publicists gluing photocopies of their own asses to sales charts… It’s ripe for the picking! When all other avenues fail, turn back to the navel!
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Ortenberg said he believes strongly that life in the publishing world deserves to be written about and described no less than any other human experience.
“I think art can be made of it, absolutely,” Mr. Ortenberg said. “When Six Feet Under was a great hit on HBO, people could have said, ‘Who gives a shit about undertakers,’ too.”
He said the book business is “almost Shakespearean”—”it’s been hanging off a cliff by a fingernail for quite some time”—and if done right, a story told with it as its backdrop could be poignant indeed.
“People write articles about publishing in The New York Times as though it’s a really sustainable, viable, powerful industry, and it’s really not,” Mr. Ortenberg said. “There’s something kind of sweet about that, in a way.”
From Obama-oriented black history month book lists to theatre company perss releases trying to drum up interest in Shakespeare, everyone seems to be trying to make a buck off the popularity of president Obama. Hopefully this will help the economy in some way.
It doesn’t quite take the biscuit for presidential tie-in cheekiness: first biscuit there ought to go to the man who wanted to open a “Sweet Home Obama” bar on the site of the Prez’s childhood home in Jakarta. Then there’s the “Presidential Heritage Safari” in Kenya, which charges to take you to the village where Obama père was buried, and the “Obama Bar” hygiene product sold under the slogan “The Audacity of Soap”.
But, only a few weeks after the Royal Shakespeare Company circulated a press release asking “Is Obama an Othello for our times?” and inviting “artists, politicians and broadcasters to question the links between the journey of Barack Obama and the story of Othello” (one wonders what the famously-still-alive Mrs Obama would make of this) the second-hand books website AbeBooks is making its own crass bid for sales with a mailout inviting readers to stave off the recession blues by reading the “novels that blazed a trail for Obama”.
The times are a-changing. Should our definitions change to match? One guy thinks we should redefine what “book” means.
Bob Stein, executive director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, opened Tuesday at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference calling for a redefinition of the book. In a talk entitled “A book is a place…” Stein argued that the traditional conception of a book as an object “used to move ideas around time and space” is no longer accurate.
He argued that a reader’s ability to comment on a text suggests that the hierarchy between the writers and readers is false. By commenting on a text, either scribbled in a bound book or as a comment posted online to a digital text, the reader places him or herself in a parallel role to that of the author. Stein proposed the new definition of a book as “a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate.”
Why has the book, particularly ANY book, become the symbol for wholesome activity? Is indiscriminate reading valuable?
There is a presumption that if the worst, most delinquent tearaways would just put down their machetes for a moment and sit down to read a good book, they would instantly see the merit in a well-tailored pair of galoshes, join the world Scout movement and behave with stiff-upper-lipped decency at all times forthwith. It is for this reason that Oxford University Press have launched Project X, aimed at getting boys to read. Its main tactic is to make books resemble video games and therefore appeal to today’s corrupt and tech-headed youth. Presumably, the first chapter runs along these lines: “Reader, the outside air was crisp. Above me the clouds floated. Small turtles rode them while attempting to drop bombs on my head. I was not to be defeated. I was a plumber with a dream.”
But I wonder why books – lumped together into a single medium, individual content unspecified – have come to be seen as the natural catalyst for wholesomeness? A book is as neutral as any container, but what’s inside might be explosive. When did we stop believing books were capable of corrupting young minds? To me it seems sad that indiscriminate “reading” is now seen as such an innocent activity: an indication that the power of literature has diminished.
- Cyrano would be proud, the rest of us slightly nauseated…
- …And in related news, personalized smut
- Church encyclopedia “dechristianized“?
- Stephen Rubin, cut loose from Doubleday, returns to Random as publisher at large
- Should prisoners be allowed to read books about escaping prison?
- Five books to see you through the impending loss of your job…
Sometimes you read a book that everyone but you seems to like, from friends and colleagues to critics and reviewers. In all likelihood, you’re probably not alone, but with the tide of print opinion against you, you kind of feel isolated. Apparently, to be fulfilled you just have to find your people, the morlocks of literature who dwell below the surface of popular opinion. But where are they? The Amazon.
Generally, I don’t write about books I didn’t enjoy. Why waste your time telling you not to read something? But I’ve read my share of books that disappointed me, and an astounding (to me) number of them have been darlings of the literary-industrial complex. Sometimes I think it’s an elaborate practical joke by critics and judges on us ordinary readers.
Amazon makes it easy for you to find your affinity group, although the positive reviews aren’t nearly as much fun to read. On-line critics award from one to five stars (many readers resent that they aren’t permitted to give zero — or even negative — stars). You can click right to the one-star (or any other star) reviews, and wallow in other people’s censure.
The sun’s actually shining here today, but I feel like a sack of snot (which is what happens when your own sickness coincides with that of your child. You manage to forget you’re sick until they get better and then your body says, alright, chump, enough’s enough).
Side note: I couldn’t help but notice that Toronto is under “weather warning” alerts for both wind and rain. 40km/h and 1-3 mm? Wow. Gee. Here’s hoping nobody breathes heavy or spits while they talk in Toronto. It would be time to call in the army for help.
- Hello! does literary heroine makeovers…
- Two authors share one prize for book two separate books about one man
- Big auction of collected Hebrew texts at Sotheby’s
- Baboon Metaphysics, F**k It, and The Industrial Vagina compete for book award…
- YippyKaiYay! Elmore Leonard gets love from Western Writers
- Batwoman shows lesbians how to live: high heels, big hair, and lipstick … gritty realism
- Freedom to Read Week in Toronto has a good lineup for its 25th anniversary celebration
- Arthur C. Clarke Award long list (from SFSignal)
A poem safe enough to be reprinted on butter packages is not likely to set your mind churning. But is it supposed to? (Thanks, JP)
McGrath, who is Cordon Bleu-certified in Tuscan cooking, actually writes a great deal about food.
”I have a friend who’s a well-known novelist who calls my poems ‘Leslie’s food porn,’” she says with a laugh. “I’ve written sex poems about food, breakup poems, elegies.”
The poem that won her the 2004 Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry was called “Hot Chocolate.” It was about a bridal party she saw in Quebec one winter. The groom took his bride’s face in his hands and lifted her face as if he was about to kiss her. The gesture looked, to McGrath, as if he were going to drink from a cup of hot chocolate, so she used that as a metaphor for their love.
”Food to me is the center of life. We all need to eat, and the act of gathering food and touching it with your hands and transforming it into something that becomes your loved ones’ bodies and thoughts and behaviors is the most profound thing a person can do,” she says.
As for the finished poem, she says, “I will freely admit that it basically sounds like the butter version of ‘Goodnight Moon.’ … If you’re writing for the public, you have to have something that is understandable and meaningful and comforting, especially on butter packages.”
Forget for a moment that text-to-speech doesn’t copy an existing work. And forget the odd notion that the artificial enunciation of plain text is equivalent to a person’s nuanced and emotive reading. The Guild’s claim is that even to read out loud is a production akin to an illegal copy, or a public performance.
If a machine reading a book creates a derivative work, why not a person reading a book?
- Ancient Bible’s age debated (as is, likely, its content, but we won’t go there today)
- Page 6’s 50 Hottest Bachelors list contains some literary types (but being neither hot, nor a bachelor, yours truly is absent… rather I can be found on Parent Magazine’s list of the 50 Most Not-Completely-Repulsive Repetitive Anti-Nose-Picking Reminder and Baby-Climbing/Boke-Receiving Units)
- Scientists testing for blood on Pushkin’s sofa (in related news: Dust Buster testing for Doritos on Murray’s office futon)
Are you teh suks at spelling? Apparently most of us are. But there’s a glimmer of hope: it might just be your bits keeping you down. If you’re dangly, you’re less likely to be able to spell anything but “liaison”. Huh. I wonder why that is. If you’re American an male, it looks like yer fukked. So move and get reassignment surgery and you should be just fine. Biological essentialism for the win!
Are you embarrassed by your spelling? If so, you’re not alone. More than half of us cannot spell “embarrassed” — 54 per cent have trouble with it, according to a poll of 1,000 adults. Even more troublesome is “millennium”, which 60 per cent get wrong.
The poll, commissioned by the Spelling Society, compared abilities in Britain with those in the US.
Adults in the US performed less well. The only word that the Americans definitely spelt better than the Brits was . . . “definitely”. In both countries men performed less well than women, except on one word — “liaison”.
Only a quarter of adults in either country thought they had a problem with spelling, yet a third said they relied heavily on computer spellcheckers.
Lance Fensterman, industry v-p and show manager for BEA, said the changes have been put in place in response to industry needs. Publishers in particular have been calling for ways for BEA to become more relevant and less expensive. The new schedule cuts one full day out of the BEA timetable. “To put it simply, our goal in planning the show this year and beyond has been on quality, not quantity,” said Fensterman. By keeping the show in New York, BEA executives hope to lower the costs for the major publishers as well as boost media interest in the event; an increase in media coverage was one of the major improvements publishers said they would like to see at the show.
An interesting study says many librarians self-censor in their book buying for fear of getting complaints. So it’s actual challenges that bring down individual books, but a culture of fear that affects the process as a whole. Great news.
Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.
“It’s probably fairly widespread, but we don’t have any way of really knowing, because people who self-censor are not likely to broadcast it,” says Pat Scales, president of the Association of Library Services to Children and author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library (ALA Editions, 2009). And since most people think librarians are the best champions of books, adds Scales, their jobs give them the perfect cover.
Why do some librarians reject books with edgy content? In the first survey of its kind, School Library Journal (SLJ) recently asked 655 media specialists about their collections and found that 70 percent of librarians say they won’t buy certain controversial titles simply because they’re terrified of how parents will respond. Other common reasons for avoiding possible troublemakers include potential backlash from the administration (29 percent), the community (29 percent), or students (25 percent), followed by 23 percent of librarians who say they won’t purchase a book due to personal objections.
Most-frequently-stolen-books. When I was working at Coles as a teenager there was a section of books that we kept behind the counter because they were stolen so often. I can’t for the life of me remember what those titles were.
At one time, Waterstone’s plastered a quote from Günter Grass across its plastic bags: “Even bad books are books, and therefore sacred.” Perhaps this was meant to deter book thieves, who might be more influenced than the average shoplifter by Grass’s words. If so, it probably didn’t work. An estimated 100 million books – a black market worth about £750 million – are stolen from bookshops in the UK every year.
The author wrote the Endpoint suite, as he approached death and in one poem, Requiem, he speculates on the public reaction to his passing.
The verses were sent to his publisher only weeks before the author’s death.
Updike’s UK editor, Simon Prosser, hopes the “beautiful and very moving sequence” will be on sale here close to US publication date of March 21.
“They are almost diary-like in the way that they reflect on his cancer diagnosis, the things and people he loved, his history and experience as a writer, and the world around him”, Prosser added.
A lot of criticism is being levelled at the culture component of the Conservative budget, but I think much of it is misdirected. People are concentrating on flogging the proverbial dead horse of last year’s new:s the cuts to PromArt and Trade Routes. Yes, they were stupid cuts that were politically and ideologically motivated; yes, they were a slap in the face to working artists; but Harper and his cronies have paid for it, in some regards. Despite all their cock-grabbing, they had their pants pulled down in the election by the culture vote and all their wee budgies were exposed to the world for what they are: flaccid, ugly little things you can’t run a flag up unless they’re getting hard off hurting someone else.
That said, I would point to a real issue: despite their inflated estimates, there’s only $160 million of “new” money here: $100 million for “festivals” and $60 for infrastructure. So I have two main comments: 1) even this “new money” ain’t necessarily spending in culture, and 2) there’s no “new money” that will actually reach Canadian artists to improve their quality of life in a time of economic crisis.
1) They’ve sneakily broadened what they’re defining as “culture” to include some questionable new categories. So the money for festivals could end up going to a soccer festival or a beer garden somewhere. I’m all for funding beer, but if that garden isn’t at a music or film or craft or dance (etc. etc.) festival (and doesn’t serve Guinness, the most artistic of beers) it’s not new money for culture. This money is really about the APPEARANCE of funding the arts rather than helping art get created. It’s highly visible outcomes make it look like the gov’t is spending lavishly in the sector when all it’s doing is providing places for photo ops.
2) There’s money for infrastructure, but it’s unclear how this will be spent and why. The $25 million in new money for artists is actually only for foreign artists to compete in a kind of American Idol contest. Classy. Now, despite that, I’m largely for the exchange of culture between countries, and would be more supportive of this prize in some ways if it weren’t at the expense of the funding of art on the ground here.
(While we typically don’t get the same level of Joe Blow from Woodbridge vitriol that the CBC and Globe do in the comments after these kinds of posts, I’m sure I’ll hear from a few of you self-hating artist types who seem to like supporting a goverment who’d spit in your face and kick you in the nads in a heartbeat if they didn’t think a camera was rolling. Have at it. Oh, and while I’m at it, listen here, “Average Canadian”: before you tell artists to “get a real job” in those Globe/Ceeb comments sections, remember that it’s increasingly likely that, unless the government props up your sector, you’re out of one too. Artists pay taxes and culture makes money for the country. Why shouldn’t it also expect to get bailed out with whatever-scrap-of-dignity this process can offer?)
Prurient gossip-oriented reader Claire points to this article about Rushdie dating a woman half his age (and, apparently, twice his height….) — an actress playing Condoleeza Rice in a Londan stage production. I just had to link to it, if only for the photos…
Here’s the feel-good story of an author who went the extra distance to address a reader complaint, submitted via Amazon review. Hats off to this dude, who cannot possibly have kids.
When Wittenberg University professor Dan Fleisch read on Amazon.com that Michel Cuhaci of Ottawa had received a flawed copy of Fleisch’s book “A Student’s Guide to Maxwell’s Equation,” he posted a comment, identifying himself as the author and promising Cuhaci he would try to send the book via overnight courier.
The only problem was, it was Christmas Eve.
“I called (parcel services), and getting it delivered was out of the question,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘OK, maybe I can find a bookstore that had it in stock.’ ”
No luck — most bookstores had closed early.
“It got to be late afternoon. I couldn’t find anyway to get it to him.”
His next thought — he’d drive to Canada and deliver the $26 book himself.
Somebody once complained about something in one of my books and I did something similar, in that I made sure they got a copy of the book … spine first, right between the eyes.
Hell yes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m so sick of this shit that I’ve started hiding the flyers when they come into the house. They get filed under blue moments after they come out of the bag. Or, if Ninja Boy sees them first, he gets to keep them, but refers to them as his “magazines”. I feel like he’s losing IQ points just by browsing that catalogue o’ schlock. Apparently a group in the US feels much the same way.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group based in Boston, said that it had reviewed monthly fliers distributed by Scholastic last year and found that one-third of the items sold in these brochures were either not books or books packaged with other items.
Based on a review of brochures in Scholastic’s Lucky Club for children in second and third grade, and its Arrow Club for fourth through sixth graders, the group said that 14 percent of the items were not books, while an additional 19 percent were books sold with other trinkets like stickers, posters and toys.
Susan Linn, director of the campaign, said she had received complaints from parents who were concerned that their children were being sold toys, games, makeup and other items under the guise of a literary book club that is promoted in classrooms.
“Marketing in schools is a privilege and not a right,” Ms. Linn said in an interview. “Scholastic is abusing that privilege.”
I love this part:
“We work with teachers to make sure that items are O.K. to put out in their classrooms,” Ms. Newman said. “In a class of 24 kids, some of them will be turned on by a game, and it helps kids engage in the book club process.”
Very revealing. Um, how about helping them become engaged with BOOKS instead of “the book club process”? How about teaching them to love words instead of to become mindless consumers?
Amazon is, as you know, launching it’s new Kindle, and Gizmodo is there with the analysis. But in the wings new competition waits for its chance to get bought out. DLJ of MobyLives points out the largely unreported implications of announcing this kind of technology in a LIBRARY. Meanwhile, Stephen King now apparently writes ad copy for his corporate masters. Take THAT Stephanie Myers! Yet, despite all the hoopla, the Guardian wonders why ebooks aren’t really taking off yet (they aren’t?). Their answer? The web hasn’t yet offered a critical mass of readily available pirated versions.
The real reason that the music industry came around to the idea of downloads wasn’t because they had a startling insight into the future, or even because Apple forced the issue by building a clever ecosystem around the iPod (it didn’t launch the iTunes store until 2003). It was because customers were choosing to pirate instead.
To put it less glibly, the publishing industry isn’t being forced to confront a radical shift in consumer behaviour caused by technology, because that scenario just is not happening. Customers aren’t forcing the issue by choosing to abandon books and read pirated text instead. And this means the problem isn’t there to be confronted.
James Adams looks at the new face of publishing in Canada, with trends towards publisher/author hybrid relationships and sneakier forms of marketing and promotion. The days of being treated like a star are over. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to get some extra papercuts if you want your book to find readers. Welcome. We poets have been waiting for you to arrive. We saved you a spot over in the corner by the cess pool. Don’t talk to the rat. He’s crazy.
Joked Margaret Atwood during a recent interview: “The term ‘relentless self-promoter’ used to be an insult in publishing circles. Now it will be a necessity.”
For the many writers who lack “a little Barnum” in their bones, what they see as an abdication of responsibility by publishers is not good news. In the words of one veteran non-fiction author: “The publisher now seems to feel his duty to the writer is fulfilled when the writer has his book in hand. After that, the book must find its way in the world, like the seed off a poplar tree blowing in the wind.” Another, a novelist, sees a “steady erosion of [publishers'] services toward creators. … [They] no longer edit or proofread as they once did, buy advertising, employ a sales force … and tour authors as they once did” – and this at a time when the books they publish have climbed in price to “the edge of affordability for most readers.”
Tellingly, both writers made their comments on condition of anonymity. One has a book out this year, the other is finishing one. Neither wishes to be seen as biting the hand that might still semi-feed them.
Sigh. I loves it. John Sutherland looks at Spender’s translation legacy and the award that now bears his name.
Spender believed passionately that translation was not merely a matter of pouring words, like so much engine oil, from one linguistic container to another. Poetry, he believed, was a sign of how human beings could aspire to a universal language.
Not everyone agreed. Dylan Thomas’s path crossed Spender’s in Italy, in 1947. “I met Spender in Florence, a few weeks ago,” Thomas wrote. “He is on a lecture tour. It is very sad. He is bringing all the European intellectuals together. He said in a lecture, ‘All poets speak the same language’. It is a bloody lie: who talks Spender?”
Naive as it might seem, Spender believed the bloody lie. They might not talk Spender; but they talked Shakespeare, Goethe, Racine and Tolstoy. Like his friend Auden (born in England, became American, died in Vienna), he loathed frontiers. His whole life was a rebellion against them. It went beyond words into action. Literally “translation” means “carrying across” – physically. Transporting. Spender and Auden were instrumental in transporting from the USSR into the West another persecuted poet, Josef Brodsky, in the early 1970s. An act of “practical translation”, one might call it. Brodsky told Spender’s son, Matthew, as the two men stood over the poet’s coffin, “Stephen is my family”. Neither Spender nor Auden would win the Nobel prize. Pasternak and Brodsky did. Spender could take some personal credit.
There’s been a lot of love and hate floating around for Updike since his death. This article in the LAT covers the divide. Which side do you fall on?
Updike’s death last week was met with the usual fulsome praise and sighs of sadness. But the writer, who was regarded as a gracious, decent man, was not unanimously loved or respected in the literary world. Over the years, he had become a symbol of the out-of-touch, tweed-wearing realist to younger, more experimental writers.
Whether he was or wasn’t is open to debate. He’s been attacked by figures from the cultural right (Norman Podhoretz, Tom Wolfe) and left (Sven Birkerts, Cynthia Ozick). Harold Bloom damned him as “a minor novelist with a major style,” while James Wood, possibly the most influential critic of his generation, slashed the “provincial” and “complacent” Updike every chance he got.
Are UK writers still feeling the effects of the Rushdie fatwa? Twenty years later, the world pauses to remember just how utterly fucking ridiculous that whole situation was and what it’s done to contemporary fiction.
How far has the fall-out from the fatwa chilled the literary muse in Britain? From time to time, extreme reactions from self-appointed guardians of faith do hint at a tinder-box mood of outrage without and caution within. Last September, the publisher Martin Rynja suffered a crude incendiary attack on his London home after his Gibson Square Press had agreed to publish in the UK Sherry Jones’s contentious novel about the Prophet’s young bride Aisha, The Jewel of Medina. Not surprisingly (after three arrests under anti-terrorism laws), Gibson Square pulled back from publication.
Rynja’s plight lies at one pole of the post-fatwa landscape. The novel under threat sought, like Rushdie’s, to re-imagine elements of the Koran and its traditions. And its publisher felt the wrath of zealots – about whom we still know very little. Bryan Cheyette, the professor of English at Reading University who has studied the long reverberations from the Rushdie affair, concludes that “We are now in a culture where the taking of offence is the norm, rather than the exception, and this certainly applies to all religious groups in Britain”.
But he points out that “it is crucial to distinguish between the effect of the fatwa on writers and on the publishing industry. The fatwa… was aimed both at Rushdie and his publishers, and therefore resulted in the death or injury of Rushdie’s translators in Japan, Italy, Turkey and Norway”. For Cheyette, “It is the sentencing to death of Rushdie’s publishers and distributors, rather than Rushdie himself, that has had a narrowing effect”.
Stephen King calls Stephanie Meyer an uninspired hack. King used to be a hero of mine, back when much of of the dermatological real estate of my face was first being gentrified by beard hairs bent on pushing out the indigenous acne. Perhaps it’s time for a revisit.
Stephenie Meyer dreamed up Edward Cullen, a vegetarian vampire who sports a beige jacket and poloneck, while Stephen King gave us Kurt Barlow, the ancient master vampire who wreaks havoc on the town of ‘Salem’s Lot. The two bestselling authors were never going to see eye to eye over their portrayal of bloodsuckers, but this week King went so far as to rubbish Meyer’s writing abilities in an interview.
King compared the Mormon author to JK Rowling, saying that both authors were “speaking directly to young people”. “The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good,” he told an interviewer from USA Weekend.
King also drew a comparison between Meyer and Perry Mason mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner. “He was a terrible writer, too, but he was very successful,” he said, going on to criticise prolific thriller author James Patterson – “a terrible writer but he’s very successful” – and fellow horror author Dean Koontz, who although he “can write like hell”, is sometimes “just awful”.
It’s so hard to tell what he really means sometimes when he pussyfoots around like that.
UK children’s laureate Michael Rosen doesn’t have kind words for books on the cirriculum. But he’s not just complaining about the government dulling the desire to read with sterile programming, he’s also trying his hand and making things better.
Books are low-tech, portable packages of the widest range of human experience, presented in a format which gives time to grasp complex ideas or to spend time in imaginative worlds. Children who “get” the reading thing have the best possible platform for “getting” the trick of school learning, as well as a resource for the rest of their lives.
This makes the current situation, with “reading” compulsory, but reading books optional, discriminatory. If schools don’t make books important then children who come from homes with no books, and who don’t visit libraries, will never find their way into this vital way of presenting ideas, feelings and knowledge.
But just how difficult would it be to get schools currently teaching “literacy” to teach a genuine love of reading instead? The BBC challenged me to turn an ordinary school, that was doing all the right things as far as “literacy” was concerned, into a book-loving school in 10 weeks.
- Shaughnessy Cohen Prize shortlist for political writing includes Newfounlander Marie Wadden
- More on book dealers going to jail
- A new British poetry chapbook award looks promising (thanks, JC)
- HarperCollins got kicked in the financial nads last quarter (and Rupert just had his eye on that 10th ivory backscratcher…)
- Guardian quiz: test your spelling
- Oy gevaldt! Yiddish dictionary suddenly online
- Amazoogle driving up contact lens stock prices by bringing more books to your cell phone
Jonathan from the Times writes in to tell us about their new web tool “Book Scraper“. Looks like fun. I can see myself wasting some time here.
It basically lets you search a massive archive of the world’s most famous books and learn a bunch of cool things about them and their authors, like the fact that:
-Shakespeare’s vocabulary was about 24,000 words
-Jules Verne’s longest word was ‘pectinibranchidae’ (It’s a type of mollusc.)
-The book which used Jesus second most often was Ulysses
Anyway. Take a look and let us know what you think.
Hill Strategies, an independent research org, released a statistical study of the arts and culture sector in Canada. I got handed this in a meeting on Wednesday, right after it came out and I my eyes bulged. Some really interesting useful stuff in here. Of course, nothing will silence the hateful comments after every article in the Globe and Ceeb about how artists should get real jobs. But what can you do. Those people actually believe they don’t consume any cultural products whatsoever. The takehome message? Artists outnumber autoworkers. And we’re coming into the suburbs in the night to ciphon gas from your SUVs, steal 20s from your wallets, and convert your children into dirty hippies.
This report shows that there are 140,000 artists in Canada who spent more time at their art than at any other occupation in May 2006. The number of artists is slightly larger than the number of Canadians directly employed in the automotive industry (135,000).
The report reveals 10 key facts about the working lives of artists in Canada.
1. The average earnings of artists are very low.
2. A typical artist in Canada earns less than half the typical earnings of all Canadian workers.
3. Artists’ earnings decreased, even before the current recession.
4. There are more female than male artists, yet women artists earn much less than men.
5. Aboriginal and visible minority artists have particularly low earnings.
6. Economic returns to higher education are much lower for artists than for other workers.
7. Many artists are self-employed.
8. There are relatively few opportunities for full-time work in the arts.
9. There has been substantial growth in the number of artists since 1971, but the rate of growth is decreasing.
10. Artists, as a group, are becoming more diverse, older and better educated.