I know there’s all sorts of shit going down in the lit world while I slack off this week, but if you were at all privy to the unfolding narrative of my life you’d tell me to take a break. I haven’t even been able to take the ads down from May. And by the way, I forgot to mention. I stopped selling ads. Too much hassle, man. I just haven’t figured out what will go there.
So I’ll be back Monday. Bookninja turns seven in mid-August and we’ll see if we can’t find a way to celebrate. Go look at Moby, and set your RSS feeds for here, or check back occasionally in case I do find the mental space to post something. See you then.
Margaret Atwood interviewed at the Globe where they speculate in the lede about whether her dystopian visions could come to pass. More important, I suggest to figure out whether or not some of them HAVE come to pass.
You’ve described The Year of the Flood as the blueprint for a possible future, a warning. Is it correct to describe this as a form of activist writing?
What is activism? I’m not an activist by nature. I’m a rabbit in the Eastern astrological chart, and we like to stay in our burrows and lead quiet lives. In the Western astrological chart, I’m a Scorpio, and we like to spend our time in the toes of shoes, and we’re quite happy there unless somebody puts their foot in. [laughs]
I mean, some people are professional activists. That would be Naomi Klein and other people. It’s their métier, it’s their business. So I would say that it’s not activist writing in that sense, since there is no “one thing” that I want the reader to do.
I don’t want you to come out from the book and sign a petition. I don’t want you to invent a disease that will wipe out humanity. I would say activist writing has a goal in mind, a very specific goal that they want the reader to do.
Why, exactly, can’t you give the gift of Kindle? Why can we send a printed book through the mail but not yet give someone an ebook on the Amazon platform?
I’m surprised that Amazon, which has managed to find ways to sell (and upsell) just about anything to anyone, would want to make it easy for Kindle users to buy each other books as gifts. Yes, they’d have to revamp their routing system for e-book downloads, so you could send a book to a Kindle you don’t own. Yes, they’d have to figure out how to deal with Kindle book gifts sent by mistake to people who don’t actually use a Kindle or Kindle app. And they’d have to solve other problems.
But we’re talking about Amazon.com, paragon of online retailing.
And while we’re carping, what about used e-books? When’s that coming?
It does sound a bit like a bad gag or a swindle. My somewhat less than saintly grandsire would have sensed an opportunity – and if you were happy with that, he had some farmland in Wiltshire you might like to buy, and so much the worse if it turned out to be an artillery range. And it’s true, to a point: why would you sell an ebook for less just because you’ve owned it for a while? And if it weren’t reduced, why would you buy from some random person rather than from Amazon or Apple?
What’s actually happening, of course, is not the transfer of a physical object, but the transfer of access rights or data. Data don’t depreciate, so there’s no real reason to discount the product because it’s been used. The straight transfer is therefore rather dull: person A yields it to person B for the same amount he or she paid for it, and person B gets the file via bluetooth or similar rather than via Whispernet or broadband download. Um. No measurable benefit to anyone. Or, yes, you’d end up with a market where people would discount in order to make some money back, and ultimately drive down the value of the book. Not great news.
- Bookseller of Kabul author forced to pay damanges to bookseller’s wife
- Is Apple paring pr0n out of the iBook bestseller lists?
- Alan Moore engages in some spoken nerd
- Text book rentals are finally here
- Curious George gets serious about literacy
- Pre-season trade has Evanovich leaving SMP to play centre, or perhaps winger, for Random
- You know what would go well here? Something about some young guy doing well….Or a piece on Dan Brown eating up yet another transport truck of money
- Enid Blyton gets translated from English to English
- Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (Faber and Faber)
- Room by Emma Donoghue (Pan MacMillan – Picador)
- The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (Penguin – Fig Tree)
- In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Books)
- The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury)
- The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Publishing Group – Headline Review)
- C by Tom McCarthy (Random House – Jonathan Cape)
- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre)
- February by Lisa Moore (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
- Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Penguin – Hamish Hamilton)
- Trespass by Rose Tremain (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
- The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Grove Atlantic – Tuskar Rock)
- The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner (Random House – Jonathan Cape)
Jane Austen’s Fight Club. You heard me, mofo.
Pale Fire is centred around Pale Fire, a 999-line poem. Can it stand scrutiny separate from its attendant novel? And what does that reading do to the work itself?
Over the past two decades, more and more Nabokov scholars and readers are crediting the novel as perhaps his best, surpassing Lolita, The Gift, and Ada. But there has been one persistent unresolved schism among them, and it centers on the aesthetic status of the eponymous poem within the novel.
From the beginning, there has been a debate among readers and critics over the relationship between the poem and the novel. Actually, that’s not quite true, now that I think about it. From the moment I read the novel and read about it, I somehow took for granted what everyone writing about it seemed to take for granted: That there must be something wrong with the poem, since the novel gives so much weight to a madman’s misguided obsession with it.
And then as I read and reread the novel, and sometimes just the poem, it began to dawn on me. Maybe the poem wasn’t meant as a pastiche, a parody, an homage to Robert Frost. John Shade refers to his reputation with characteristic modesty as being “one oozy footstep” behind Frost, but that doesn’t mean we should take his self-deprecation as gospel.) In fact, I must admit Frost has always left me cold, so to speak. And when I started asking myself what other American poet of the past century has done anything comparable in its offhand genius to “Pale Fire,” I could only think of Hart Crane, the Hart Crane of White Buildings.
Once it dawned on me that the poem might not be a carefully diminished version of Nabokov’s talents, but Nabokov writing at the peak of his powers in a unique throwback form (the kind of heroic couplets Alexander Pope used in the 18th century), I began to write essays that advanced this revisionist view of the poem. It was actually one of these that came to the attention of Dmitri Nabokov who seemed to indicate this was his understanding as well: That his father intended the poem to be taken seriously.
Awesome agent Samantha Haywood writes at Open Book Toronto about the vagaries of ebook shopping. Why’s it so damn hard to find anything? Hear hear.
Have you tried “browsing” for ebooks lately? My own experience has left me worried that unless you are specifically searching for the title you already know you want, you aren’t going to actually find anything new or undiscovered online via the Sony, Kindle or Kobo sites.* Which, I think, was the hope, that somehow ease of search would result in a democratization of how books are displayed and sold. Instead, it seems that only the blockbuster bestsellers are selling as ebooks because readers have already heard about them and are perhaps seeking places to buy them cheaper. All of which may lead to the end of the paperback, I’m told by New York publishing friends, but let’s leave that for a future column.
The problem, as I see it, is the ebook retailers’ suggested reading lists and categorization, or lack thereof. In order for ebook publishing to live up to its potential of bringing new readers to new books, we need to replicate (simulate?) the physical act of book-store browsing in these online spaces. Browsing for new reads is what feeds publishing. Why else would publishers pay through the nose for prime table-top co-op? So your book is the first thing the consumer sees upon entering the store. Impulse can sell books, so why aren’t online retailers taking every advantage they can to appeal to readers beyond prizes and bestseller lists? And as our physical (read: independent) bookstores disappear at an ever alarming rate, more than ever we’re craving human interaction at the online check-out. Are we burying our treasures too deep where no one can find them?
The Authors Guild of America responds to Wylie: publishers brought this on themselves:
To a large extent, publishers have brought this on themselves. This storm has long been gathering. Literary agencies have refused to sign e-rights deals for countless backlist books with traditional publishers, even though they and their clients, no doubt, see real benefits in having a single publisher handle the print and electronic rights to a book. Knowledgeable authors and agents, however, are well aware that e-book royalty rates of 25% of net proceeds are exceedingly low and contrary to the long-standing practice of authors and publishers to, effectively, split evenly the net proceeds of book sales.
FT calls the Wylie split “a bad omen”… Time to consult the chicken bones and tea leaves, methinks:
It is not the first omen about the potential end of the publisher’s role as middle man in the books business. The role of the music label, in much the same way, has been threatened by the internet.
Stephen King released his most recent novel Blockade Billy as an e-book a month before the hardcover version in North America. Ryu Murakami, the popular Japanese author of Coin Locker Babies, plans to publish his next novel on Apple’s iPad digital tablet, with music composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Academy Award-winning composer.
But Mr Wylie’s action struck a deeper chord: His agency represents a roster of 700 clients including Martin Amis and the estates of Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson.
Meanwhile, as the hysterics flail in the streets, pointing fingers, tearing their hair, and cracking open each others’ skulls to feast on the goo inside, Penguin opts for some perspective (maybe this is why Penguin is doing so well?)
However Makinson said Penguin was taking a different stance. “On principle we will not acquire physical rights to new books unless we have e-book rights. And it’s very important that the work of our authors is made available in as many channels as possible,” he said. “Wylie’s Odyssey venture strikes at those two principles because it separates the exploitation of digital and physical rights and enters into an exclusive relationship with Amazon.
“Are we comfortable with it? No. At the same time, we need to keep it in perspective. We are talking about a very small number of backlist authors where the ownership of those digital rights is either ambiguous or owned by the author or the estate.”
- The Pope, no really the Pope, writes loans his name to a children’s book… unfortunately it’s not a manual for dealing with his grabbier pals
- People on the street respond to ebooks burying hardcovers at Amazon
- Why do Americans like reading about gangsters so much? Know thy government…
- London’s best-read taxi driver gives you summer reading advice
- Sometimes the giant penis-looking thing is just a giant penis-looking thing: Harold Pinter
- It’s that time again: trot out the Hemingway lookalikes!
- Stan Lee is the Hugh Hefner of nerds: always got his old man fingers all over the latest hot young thing
Laura Miller investigates the art of recommending books to others. I find it quite artless and mercenary. See? No, but seriously, I’ve been recommending ex-Ninja Peter Darbyshire’s The Warhol Gang mostly. I see it as required reading. So buy it. (Also, buy the aphorisms… I just finished reading them and they’re pretty damn good! That guy may be on to something.)
As Pearl sees it, four “doorways” allow readers to enter into any work of fiction or narrative nonfiction: story, characters, setting and language. “The difference between books is often a difference in the size of those doorways,” she explained. Someone who agrees with statements like “I stayed up late to finish the book,” is drawn to story, while someone who picks “I am in awe of the way the author could put words together,” cares more about the beauty of the prose.
The ideal book, of course, excels in all four aspects, but such works are rare. (Pearl lists “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove,” and “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner as her fail-safes — that is, recommendations likely to please readers of any taste.) “For a recommendation to mean something, the book has to have a door that matches the person you’re recommending it to,” Pearl observes. “You can like a book that doesn’t have your doorway, but you’re going to have a harder time getting into it.”
Human shitstain Steve Gibson, pictured here, is trying to make a business out of suing bloggers who repost articles from newspapers. I say shitstain because regardless of the legalities, morals, and ethics, anyone who makes their living broadcast-suing people in hopes of scaring them in to settlements is a carrion-eating piece of human garbage.
Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements. Since Righthaven’s formation in March, the company has filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his first client.
Now he’s talking expansion. The Review-Journal’s publisher, Stephens Media in Las Vegas, runs over 70 other newspapers in nine states, and Gibson says he already has an agreement to expand his practice to cover those properties. (Stephens Media declined comment, and referred inquiries to Gibson.) Hundreds of lawsuits, he says, are already in the works by year’s end. “We perceive there to be millions, if not billions, of infringements out there,” he says.
Remember yesterday when uber agent Andrew Wylie announced that he was going to start a company to publish e-versions of his clients’ work? Well, yesterday evening, well after this far east coast Ninja had given up the suit-and-tie of his role as a blogger, Random House freaked-the-fuck-out. Seriously. Yes, they’re taking their ball and going home. And by ball I mean money and product.
“The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor. Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.”
Oh, it is ON, bitches.
- Big publishers say Amazon ebook/HC claims not far fetched
- Meanwhile, across the pond, more bad news for paper books
- Publishers looking to get even more slick and oily
- 72 ways to become a better writer (according to Someone!)
- This article seems to be suggesting that novellas are the skanky club slut of literature: perfect for those afraid to commit
- Larsson’s e-sales move into seven digits
- How long can the celebrity memoir plague last?
- Scholastic doing well with their catalogues full of brain-rotting shite for children
Presumably as a result of being unable to get what he thought was a fair deal, Andrew Wylie will start Odyssey Editions to publish ebooks of his authors’ backlist titles. Other than their dislike for agents in general and Wylie in particular, I’m not quite sure why the publishers decided to force his hand on this. Now you get a cut of nothing, pubs. But likely I’m just missing some industry minutiae here.
Mr. Wylie, whose agency has more than 700 clients, has made it clear that he is frustrated with the terms that mainstream publishers have offered for digital rights. In an interview with Harvard magazine that was published in June, Mr. Wylie said his negotiations with publishers over his clients’ e-book rights were currently on hold.
Odyssey Editions will begin modestly, with 20 titles that have never been available in e-book format. Among them are “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer, “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” by Hunter S. Thompson.
All of the books will be priced at $9.99 at the Kindle store, said Russ Grandinetti, the vice president of Kindle content for Amazon.
Are saccharine sing songs what’s best for kids? Robert Pinsky investigates and offers some examples. I’m loving Pinsky’s presence at Slate.
I have heard the superb writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak say that he does not set out to make works for children: He tries to make good stories and pictures. As someone who has read aloud to children many times, I feel grateful to Sendak and to Margaret Wise Brown and Dr. Seuss and other writers who have rescued me from the shallow stuff marketed as “for children” that I sometimes have found myself reading aloud.
In poetry, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is often cited, correctly, as a masterpiece of the nonsense genre. I’m inclined to quibble with “nonsense” as a term: The nature of all language is to combine meaning with its opposite. Everything we say or write has a component of sense and a component of nonsense. It’s the proportions that vary, the kinds of meaning and nonmeaning. When Shakespeare has King Lear say the word never five times to make a line of blank verse, part of the repetition’s power comes from the arbitrary or accidental nature of a word’s sounds: the nasal N at the beginning, the upper teeth at the lower lip on the V, the R lengthening the final vowel. These sounds are part of the meaning, and part of Lear’s agony, not intrinsically but as a physical part of the word—a bodily, potentially inert accident made meaningful by the playwright’s art, including the repetition that intensifies and conveys the word’s “nonsense” along with its “sense.”
Ninja Boy, aged 7, likes poems that are either silly and slightly off colour, or have some narrative to them.. At 3, he had memorized Jabberwocky, though I don’t think he could recite it now that Pokemon have invaded our world. We have a book of Ted Hughes poems for kids and there’s one that used to scare the crap out of him, about a kids’ aunt who gets eaten by a thistle. It’s awesome.
- Kafka box to be opened to public… and contains NEW STORY!
- Canadian Government, such as it is, launches “review” of publishing sector… For the benefit of non-Canucks, “review” is typically Canadian Conservative code for “pre-sector-gutting-spin-brainstorming-exercise”
- Sentenced to reading… (Of course, some manifiestations of this punishment will be crueler and more unusual than others…)
- I’ve completely missed this bruhaha over at the LRB, like I’ve missed most of the LRB these last few years, unfortunately… apparently they ran an article on the blog that is being decried as racist, and they’re now apologising… a good lesson in internet publishing and instant feedback, I guess
- Borders throws caution to the wind and enters online textbook market
- Publishers love them some of the Twitter, mm-hm
- Heaney makes Forward list, but Walcott doesn’t… I’d have liked to see Paul Durcan here for his magnificent selected Life is a Dream, but alas…
- Woody Allen finds new way to be less irrelevant
- YA author compares his own work to cocaine… no, really (”I’ve worked really hard to make it absolute cocaine for my son – something he couldn’t put down. He’s been a really useful filter for what I could and couldn’t do to keep his interest”… Note to author: You probably shouldn’t be using drug metaphors in your line of work. In part because you’re talking about 11-year-olds, and in part because you’re wrong. Addiction isn’t interest; it’s what stands in for interest when the will shuts down… Damn, that one’s going in my next book of aphorisms.)
- Novelist designs tour to preach to choir… literally
To round out the day, from the Twitter stream of @AshleighGardner comes actual one star reviews found on Amazon from Time Magazine’s list of 100 best novels (1923 – present). Some classics, including:
Imagine this: You are a poet and The Paris Review accepts your work. You tell all your friends, break out the bubbly and update your bio. But then, what if you received a note from the editor taking it back?
Such a letter was sent by the new editor, Lorin Stein.
Recently I replaced Philip Gourevitch as editor of The Paris Review and appointed a new poetry editor, Robyn Creswell. Over the last month, Robyn and I have been carefully reading the backlog of poetry that we inherited from the previous editors. This amounts to a year’s worth of poems. In order to give Robyn the scope to define his own section, I regret to say, we will not be able to publish everything accepted by Philip, Meghan, and Dan. We have not found a place for your [poem/s], though we see much to admire in them and gave them the most serious consideration. I am sorry to give you this bad news, and I’m grateful for your patience during the Review’s transition.
The kicker, of course, is that The Paris Review only accepts submissions by snail mail. We wasted saliva on a stamp for this? I hope those poems will find a better home.
In our ongoing commitment to all things libraries, today’s feature comes from NPR who thinks that libraries might be the next big thing.
Why? A few highlights:
Bookclubs have sprung up all over the Internet. They come in many flavours.
Some, provide witty banter and interesting insights, like The Afterword Reading Society. Others, including the club hosted by Hannah Sung at CBC and the grassroots club on goodreads, which has a membership of over 7,000 strong, suggest books for members to buy. You can join Chatelaine’s book club, or those run by Doubleday and Penguin that offer discounts on books that are bought directly from the publisher. This is just to name a few.
Now, literary communities are getting in on the act. The Rumpus and The Nervous Breakdown have recently announced subscription-based bookclubs. For a monthly fee, you are mailed a book and encouraged to chime in. Both are working with like-minded publishers to get new books into the hands of eager readers. Subscriptions, of course, are slightly more for ‘international’ readers (that’s us).
Do we need a Bookninja bookclub? When George’s prorogue is over, I’ll have Steven ask him.
Highlights (full report):
Bookcourt, an bookseller based in B(r)ooklyn, tweeted the other day: ‘Just sold a teenager his first Vonnegut book.’ I thought this was lovely as my first Vonnegut was Breakfast of Champions in high school. I distinctly remember opening the book and skimming. Vonnegut had me by the first asshole.
Over at The Millions, Jacob Lambert had a similar experience and isn’t embarrassed to say:
It’s a testament to his skill that in the years since, I’ve never become embarrassed by that mania. There’s a tendency to disown one’s teenage enthusiasms, to feel that our supposed refinement has made us somehow wiser. To be sure, I’d rather sand off my nose than read Skinny Legs and All to the strains of Jethro Tull. But Vonnegut, though best-loved in the days of beanbag chairs and Escher prints, is different. Unlike Pirsig or Meddle or Jäger, he transcends the collegiate—too sternly pissed to be relegated to a rash and eager past.
Escher prints I’ll agree with, but Jethro Tull isn’t cool? In that case, I’d better not mention my Mötley Crüe phase*. If this post has put you in a Vonnegut frame of mind, I’ll recommend the Paris Review interview.
*Still in it.
Over at the BookOven blog, Hugh McGuire has posted a note he received from the Director of Book Publishing Policy and Programs about a review of the Canada’s foreign investment policy for the book industry:
The first step of the review process is to invite interested parties — from the reading public to businesses from all sectors of the industry — to put forward their views on the subject. A Web site has been launched that offers relevant background information and that provides a forum for public comment (www.pch.gc.ca/bookconsultation). Submissions received through the Web site will help inform the Minister’s decision on whether and, if so, how to revise the policy.
Please take the time to spread the word and submit. September 18 is the deadline.
Stephen Harper, Chad Kroeger and I, Claire Cameron, have voted to prorogue Bookninja. George has been discontinued, but not dissolved, for the day. He will be back tomorrow.
In the meantime, anyone looking for a summer read? That’s good, because the editors at every news outlet wanted to, for once, leave early last Friday, so decided to run the summer reading feature:
Bookninja needs a reading list too. Have you read anything good this summer? Please add your recommendations in the comments.
No, not the advance for your latest book—the classic books you haven’t read. Every few years this comes about, a round of laughing aloud at what we fake our ways through. I know a prof who got a degree in American Lit without ever reading Moby Dick. She teaches it, but hasn’t read it to this day. It’s a point of pride now. I also once won Michael Ondaatje’s shirt from Andre Alexis while at Michael Redhill’s house simply because I admitted I’ve never read Proust. Easy score, that one. Robert McCrum fesses up. What’s your weak spot?
In his 1970s campus comedy, Changing Places, David Lodge invents a memorable literary parlour game called Humiliation in which players confess to embarrassing gaps in their reading. One of the characters in the novel, in his determination to succeed, becomes so obsessed with winning that he admits to never having read Hamlet – as a result of which, he is promptly fired.
Let’s face it: when it comes to reading, everyone lies a little. Mostly, we exaggerate. Yes, we’ve read Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. No, we prefer Proust in the Vintage not the Penguin translation. Yes, we’ve read the latest Booker prize short list … and so on. Full disclosure: I’ve certainly referred, in newspaper copy, to books with which I have, shall we say, a fairly distant relationship. Now I’m going deeper into the confessional.
Seriously, it’s hard to find anything to link to today that isn’t about Amazon’s staggering claim (see below). So here’s a bunch of shit I found floating around looking forlorn, like younger Brady sisters complaining they don’t get any attention.
- Penguin releases video game masquerading as Ken Follett ebook
- Penguin launches reading picture campaign charity
- Have you looked at SFSignal lately? Why the hell not? It’s awesome
- This is some seriously fucked up stuff — brain cells in petri dish “taught” to keep time
- The “real” Old Spice guy on libraries:
Basically everyone is freaking the fuck out and writing about nothing today other than Amazon’s announcement that ebook sales have overtaken hardcover sales on its site. But shrewd old Moby digs deeper than the press releases looking for some skepticism.
But of course, Amazon — as ever — offered absolutely no proof of its claims. As the WSJ report noted, “the statistics that Amazon shared were all relative—it didn’t share actual sales figures. The company has never said how many Kindle devices or e-books it has sold.”
Still, that didn’t stop some geniuses on Wall Street — you know, like those wonderful folks who brought us the Recession — from making influential forecasts based on no known reality: “That is dramatic evidence of how powerful the e-book is now,” Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney tells the WSJ, “…. and Amazon is extremely well positioned to take advantage of it.”
But not everyone in publishing is buying this as a death knell for print, or even necessarily the historic moment Jeff Bezos is claiming. Random House president Madeline McIntosh says, “Our conclusion is that there’s no data to prove any connection—good or bad—between growth in e-books and the growth or decline, in trade paperback sales.
The library your library could be like.
Small booksellers are trying a new tactic: positive thinking. (Is this one of those “The Secret” things?) Either Nathan Whitlock or Nathaniel Whitmore, depending on whether you read the wee intro or byline , writes about the future of bookselling (ack). Even the big box stores were asked, with a straight face, no less, about how they feel about the future. Inclusive!
Pessimism is often thought to be bred right into the genes of booksellers, who, after all, often watch helplessly as their charmingly shabby neighbourhoods go upscale, dragging rents up with them, or as the building they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars maintaining is rendered obsolete by behemoth online retailers who need never worry about either leaky plumbing or unsold stock. Even worse, they must listen as the very item they have handled, recommended, sold and loved for so many years – the bound book, the gift of Gutenberg – is given its terminal diagnosis over and over again. No one wants to be the last store specializing in 8-track tapes.
Ben McNally of Toronto’s Ben McNally Books McNally says he is “unbelievably optimistic about what I do for a living.” The reality is, he says – contra Cress –”nobody would be in this business at all if they were not optimistic by nature.” Though he admits that he is “notably unable to see into the future,” he does offer the possibility that non-digital books “are going to become more expensive and better produced. And they may, in fact, end up being produced in smaller numbers.” What the bookselling needs to do in the face of that, he says, is to end the practice of discounting. “The sooner we get back to letting people know that books are great value at regular price,” he says, “the better off everything’s going to be.”
Gary Shytengart writes at the NYT about getting hooked on the iPhone and escaping to a carrier abyss to rediscover himself as a human and artist. Hmmmmmmmmm….. Nah.
Since fiscal year 2008, I have been permanently attached to my iTelephone. As of two weeks ago, I am a Facebooking twit. With each post, each tap of the screen, each drag and click, I am becoming a different person — solitary where I was once gregarious; a content provider where I at least once imagined myself an artist; nervous and constantly updated where I once knew the world through sleepy, half-shut eyes; detail-oriented and productive where I once saw life float by like a gorgeously made documentary film. And, increasingly, irrevocably, I am a stranger to books, to the long-form text, to the pleasures of leaving myself and inhabiting the free-floating consciousness of another. With each passing year, scientists estimate that I lose between 6 and 8 percent of my humanity, so that by the close of this decade you will be able to quantify my personality. By the first quarter of 2020 you will be able to understand who I am through a set of metrics as simple as those used to measure the torque of the latest-model Audi or the spring of some brave new toaster.
Heading upstate in the summertime with a trunk full of books, watching Roosevelt Island sweep by in a rainstorm, I wake up from the techno-fugue state and remember who I am, the 37 analog years that went into creating this particular human being. Upstate I will train for my vocation, novel-writing, by tearing through the Russian classics that gave me my start, reading up on those frigid lovelorn Moscow and Petersburg winters while summer ants crawl up my shins. In the meantime, I will start conjuring my next book, one that with any luck may still be read on paper by live human beings five years from now. In my quest for calm, I have a surprising ally. As far as I’m concerned, American Telephone & Telegraph has done more for the art of reading and introspection than all the Kindles and Nooks ever invented. Because up in the exalted summer greenery of the mid-Hudson Valley, completing an AT&T call is like driving a Trabant from New York to Los Angeles: technically feasible but not really going to happen.
Bret Easton Ellis, who I will hence refer to as BEE, has set the Guardian abuzz by saying he wouldn’t be an artist if his daddy hadn’t smacked him around. You know, I can relate to this. I’d probably have been a computer programmer if I hadn’t wanted to write angry prose about my batshit crazy mother. Sigh. I’m one lighter-handed maternal figure away from being happy and rich.
“Mostly, in my case, writing comes from pain, confusion, stress,” he says, before helpfully reciting a list of motivations: “I have father issues. Somebody didn’t love me. I became famous too young…”
Mostly, though, his writing seems to centre around those pesky paternal issues: Ellis’s property developer father, Robert, was an abusive alcoholic who died in 1992. “I hated my father,” he says blankly. “If you’re a dude and you’re super-successful, the chances are you have something to prove to Daddy… would I have become an artist without my father’s influence? No, I probably wouldn’t.”
There’s apparently a “digital revolution” going on in kids books. Huh. Revolution? I thought kids’ narrative interests had already bridged the digital divide with the advent of that hideous little parenting surrogate called the “Nintendo DS”. And Scholastic has been selling plastic/electronic shit in place of books for some time now. Hardly a hardcore “revolution”. Take off the R, maybe.
Although children’s book publishers are pretty confident in the long-term survival of printed books for children—”Children are still going to have a bookshelf,” says Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books—they are far from ignoring the elephant in the room. Katz admits: “They’ll have shelves with many other things, too.”
On those shelves no doubt will be plenty of electronic gadgetry, and children’s publishers are working to determine what defines a book, which devices to embrace, how to handle digital rights (and who has them), and how they can make money with e-products.
Certain trends are already emerging, chief among them being interactivity. “We’re entering into a new interactive art form,” says Rick Richter, formerly the president of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing and now a digital media consultant. Freed from rules about page count and paper weight, digital creators enjoy great flexibility. In the process, they can appeal to nonbookworms, such as computer and game geeks. “If anything, it will lead a lot of kids to books,” says Richter. He’s not alone in this belief. “Early reports indicate that this content is not replacing traditional books. It’s replacing games,” says Kristen McLean, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children. “Parents would rather see their kids engaged in book content than in game content.”
- Cover for Larsson book took about 45 more tries than BP plug, but kills 95% fewer seabirds
- FSG pulls back curtain the entire literary process, finds small man working levers
- Billy Collins is sure something other than Billy Collins is ruining poetry
- Singapore arrests UK author for writing book about Singapore
- Man mistakes books in library for urinal cakes, no word on which titles
- Disgraced historian Orlando Figes settles, has tail permanently stitched between legs
- NEA’s Big Read evolves, through the magic of economic Darwinism, into NEA’s Not-So-Big Read
- A hand up for new comics writers
- Kafka trove opened to Geraldo-like display of drama and greed
- Harlequin “non-fiction” line doing well… (in quotes because I find it odd to refer to diet books/self-help as “non-fiction”)
- Unpublished Twain memoir reveals his true thoughts about contemporary society
- On applying for Indian citizenship Naipaul told to prove heritage
I’m more concerned about slow writers. See article below. But seriously, I’m a slow reader from way back. At least with prose. It can take me upwards of ten hours to read a novel. This translates to years when I’m trying to write one, apparently. Anyway, slow reading is a “movement” (whatever that means) to stop skimming. Admirable. Noble. Unlikely. Don’t worry. I’ll keep the posts short so you don’t feel guilty about skimming.
If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.
The problem doesn’t just stop there: academics report that we are becoming less attentive book-readers, too. Bath Spa University lecturer Greg Garrard recently revealed that he has had to shorten his students’ reading list, while Keith Thomas, an Oxford historian, has written that he is bemused by junior colleagues who analyse sources with a search engine, instead of reading them in their entirety.
So are we getting stupider? Is that what this is about? Sort of.
“Digital Book World” talks 2 it’s constituments abt wether or not they needs editors anymore. (It’s kind of like watching someone try to answer the question “does my ass look fat in these jeans?”… It’s probably easier and less awkward if you just let them walk around like that and we can all just turn away when they come near….)
Editors are seen as an unnecessary step in the content process. “All they do is make it hard to publish what we want to publish on the Web.” I’ve heard it many a time; a few times from a person pointing the finger squarely in my direction. As much as I try to show that I’m just trying to help, that my efforts are just trying ensure that my company’s brand is represented in the best possible light, it doesn’t work. Somehow editors are viewed as an extra cog in the machinery. “When we go to a lean six sigma process, we will be able to eliminate editors.” That is just the latest in cost cutting models editors have had to defend themselves against.
Anyone who has ever written anything for publication can cite chapter and verse about how they have been saved by a good editor. Even if editors don’t make changes, having a second set of eyes with a different perspective on the audience allows writers to relax and create better work. But measuring their value is another story.
Thanks to Claire Cameron, who totally unasked and without permission, hacked the site with her 1337 skillz to provide you with two days of outstanding links. I have alerted the RCMP and they are on the case already, and Claire was last spotted on a boat in cottage country, presumably rowing for China. She’s only just out of range of my snipers, which is too bad, because I’d hate for this thing to drag on. That said, I do really appreciate her intervention during my time of trouble, and I intend to show my gratitude by using my connections in the penal system (oh, I said that) to ensure her an attractive cell mate.
- Oprah’s iPad to boost ebooks sales/make Orpah seem attractive in lavender?
- A Great Gatsby videogame?!?!? Pleasepleaseplease tell me this is a FPS!!! (for those keeping track, Darren Wershler’s first video game column was promised to me for Sept….)
- Get lectured by William Faulkner
- Does Shirley Jackson rock your world?
- Library pr0n (no, not the good kind)
- Philly spares the libraries
- But things not so good in UK
- Rowling back in lawsuit defence mode
- Jessa ruminates on herstory (see what I did there?) of lesbians in lit
- Dudes, what do you think of crowdfunding? I propose we try an experiment in it here on Bookninja. Okay, so you go buy my book, and I’ll use the money to write another one…. I’ll write up a report on the endeavour in a couple years. Now go! We’ll do this TOGETHER! In the name of SCIENC!! #winwin
On Lake Success:
In a speech in May to graduates at his alma mater, Princeton University, he recounted a childhood memory: when, driving with his grandmother, a heavy smoker, he calculated by how many years her addiction would reduce her life expectancy. Announcing the result from the back seat, he expected praise for his deft math. But his grandmother just burst into tears.
My friend Steven —–> just whispered that he doesn’t think my headline is fair. He suggests, ‘It’s okay to make your grandmother cry’ instead. What do you think?
I know many authors say that a pint of blood has gone into a book, but few take this metaphor literally. I bring you Sachin Tendulkar who has mixed in a pint of blood:
The coffee table book dedicated to Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar contains something special, a pint of his blood was mixed with paper pulp to create the signature page for the book dedicated to his career. The special page appears in 10 limited-edition copies, which cost $75,000 each and according to the WSJ, have already sold out. (via The Luxist).
Blood is the ingredient we need to prop up prices, eh? Can you include blood with an e-book? If we could mix in a pint with the pixels, I bet Amazon would drop this $9.99 price point for good.
I’ve just got the weekly fishing report. It looks like the Bass is picking up on Lake Billy Chinook. Other highlights:
OCHOCO RESERVOIR: Anglers are reporting improved fishing over past years. Opportunities for 12- to 20-inch rainbow trout should improve with the warmer weather.
ODELL LAKE: The kokanee have gone a bit deeper but are still being caught in good numbers. Please note that all bull trout must be released unharmed.
TAYLOR LAKE: Should offer anglers a good opportunity to catch bass and bluegill. It’s also a great place to catch carp on the fly rod.
THREE CREEKS LAKE: This small lake near Sisters was stocked in late June and fishing has been very good for both stocked and holdover fish.
Needless to say, I’ve got a few things to do. I’ll be back this afternoon with further updates. In the meantime, please keep Chad and Steven —-> entertained for me. I will be sad if they are gone when I return.
Yesterday, I wrote about the #dearpublisher hash tag on Twitter (here if you missed it). There is also a good summary at The Bookseller. The ‘conversation’ continues, so I thought I’d post some of my favourites from the past 12 hours:
@Irisheyz77 #dearpublisher please encourage yours authors to comment/email bloggers when they like a review. It gives us the warm fuzzies.
@DanGleibitz #dearpublisher Please get authors to have PayPal buttons so I can pay them direct for the ebooks I stole when you wouldn’t let me buy them.
@tehawesomersace #dearpublisher People of color don’t all live in the ghetto or have abusive parents or wish they were white. Why can’t we be vampires?
The trend is spawning. You can now spend your day chewing on unsolicited advice regardless of who you might be. A few new hash tags:
#dearhusband (I made this one up, but he did forget to put out the garbage…)
Chad, Steven and I wish you a good morning. The three of us miss George, who is currently at large in Toronto and suffering from public transit related sticker shock. In Ninja G’s honour, we bring you a bit of news that’s decidedly slanted in favour of the librarians.
Mark over at the Index // mb blog does not mince words about the metadata used by Apple in the iBookstore. Apparently they are using the classification inhereted from Apple’s relationship with Audible:
Frankly they should know better but years after their takeover by metadata-kings Amazon, Audible still has a non-fiction category where you find all nonfictiony books unless they are business books, history books, non-fiction classics (?), or biographies. Those all have categories of their own. Sounds straight forward right? Audible puts biographies in the Biography and Memoir category unless of course it is a celebrity biography. Those go in Arts and Entertainment. You get the idea. A jumbled mess.
It’s worth a visit to Mark’s blog as he illustrates the problem with a simple spreadsheet.
A solution suggested by Siva Vaidhyanathan after looking at the similar problem of metadata in the Google books settlement — librarians! Google should defer to the large professional class who make book metadata their jobs.
E-books sound like a good fit for poetry. Easier to distribute and more readily accessible, perhaps they will help more poets will find an audience? Not so fast, says poet Billy Collins, who recently had the unpleasant surprise of viewing his collection on a Kindle:
Royalty disputes, philosophical objections and suspicions of technology are keeping countless books from appearing in electronic form, from “The Catcher in the Rye” to “Gravity’s Rainbow.” But for poetry, the gap is especially large because publishers and e-book makers have not figured out how the integrity of a poem can be guaranteed. And a displaced word, even a comma, can alter a poem’s meaning as surely as skipping a note changes a song.
“The critical difference between prose and poetry is that prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into to. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break,” Collins says.
(via Paul Vermeersch)
Though especially critical for poets, this is a problem in other forms as well. I know novelists who pour over line and page breaks to get them just right (looking at you Alissa York). It is truly heart breaking, and line breaking, to see that work undone.
I felt sad for George when I read his note and decided, as my log in still works, to step in for a day or two. Our thoughts are with you and your family George.
Hopefully I won’t stain the carpet or let the dog out by accident…should I feed him four or five times a day? And hey, what could go wrong if I’m sharing screen space with Chad Kroeger and Stephen Harper? —->
This will be good. I promise.
Do you remember the two grumpy critics, Statler and Waldorf, who heckled the Muppets?
I’ve always fancied Steven Beattie, if he grew a mustache, as Canada’s own spitting image of Statler. Beattie, not Statler, wrote a nice little piece on the Quillblog, Sh*t Some Publishers Put Out, the other day.
There is a new apparently unstoppable literary trend poised to join the ranks of carbon-copy publishing: “Sh*t My [Blank Does]” books. This one kicked off with Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says, a memoir loosely structured around the gut-level wisdom of the author’s father, who amuses the Twitterverse with daily bon mots such as, “I lost 20 pounds…. How? I drank bear piss and took up fencing. How the fuck you think, son? I exercised.”
Following Halpern’s lead, Julie Haas Brophy has landed a deal for a book based on her Tumblr blog, Sh*t My Kids Ruined, which invites people to submit photos of their children engaging in the titular activity.
Beattie has a good point (and Statler would if you asked). While the world did need one book like this (it’s very funny), a slew of copy-cats need not follow. I’m reminded of the late-great Neil Campbell, author of the best-selling textbook Biology, who I worked with when I started in publishing many years ago. He always used to lament that we, as publishers, were always following rather than leading. He’d pound the table and say, “skate to where the puck is going to be!” Indeed.
If you are a publisher looking for some unsolicited advice, I have the hash tag for you. Yesterday, according to GalleyCat, HarperPerennial got the ball rolling with this message on Twitter:
@jennIRL you should start a hashtag trend. we’re listening! #dearpublisher.
Since then a flood of comments directed at publishers from just about everyone has chimed in. To read the comments, you can use the Twitter realtime results. Some of my favourites so far:
@katrinalantznov: #dearpublisher Combine ebooks with hardcovers, but please don’t stop printing books ever. The book is not dead. It just had babies.
@VintageAnchor: Reading all the #dearpublisher suggestions. Is this what God feels like when he listens to people’s prayers?
@beoliu: #dearpublisher I don’t envy your query pile.
I’ll be attending the funeral of a family member in Toronto today and tomorrow, so there won’t be new posts until Friday. See you then.
YouTube is ready for authors, but are authors ready for YouTube? Find that hairbrush, spray on some tan and haul yer arse to the studio. We got a trailer to shoot! YeeeHAW! Stop playing with your fingers. No blowing bubbles from your tongue. I don’t care if you call them “concentration bubbles”. They’re disgusting. Look, just keep it together and act like a normal human being for 15 minutes and we’ll do the rest by CGI.
For those who were movie stars, motivational speakers or mayors of small Alaskan towns before marshaling their ghostwritten tomes onto the best-seller list, appearing in the de rigueur trailer is just another gig. “But people who spend their whole lives writing and people who are good on video turn out to be two very different sets of people,” said the best-selling author Mary Karr, who last year starred in her first book video for her memoir “Lit.”
When, at her publisher’s request, Ms. Karr created the trailer, “I looked like a person in a studio who had never been in a studio.” She scrapped the footage and asked her son to shoot her in their living room instead. The final version opens with Ms. Karr drawling, “I’m Mary Karr and I’m here to talk about my new book, ‘Lit.’ ” She goes on to say, in her trademark twang, that the book “took me seven years to write, and believe me, I would have made more money working at McDonald’s.” Featuring Ms. Karr’s languid wit and reluctant half-smiles, punctuated by family photos of the author, the trailer is actually pretty good.
But don’t tell that to the author. “It is, in a word, humiliating,” Ms. Karr said.
Still, you got to get it together and get your ugly mug online, peoples.
The vague and elusive goal is for videos to go viral. Yet according to a June survey of 7,561 book buyers by the Codex Group, a marketing research firm, only 0.2 percent discovered their last book through a video book trailer, and another 0.1 percent were persuaded to buy their last book that way.
This may shift with the next generation. According to a 2009 online survey by Teenreads.com, 4 in 10 teenage readers said they liked to see book trailers on book-related blogs and 46 percent watched book trailers on YouTube. Even more startling, 45 percent bought a book after watching the trailer.