1/28/2010 5:10:01 PM
If anything, all the chatter over the Apple Tablet (I refuse to speak its name) only amplifies the question that has been haunting the publishing industry for a decade or more: What does the future hold for e-books? Canada’s Quill & Quire reports on some of the trends coming out of the industry—mostly models that resemble the iTunes or the surge in the movie industry of DVDs loaded with special features. Publishers such as HarperCollins and Penguin are revamping their backlist titles with features like web links and imbedded video and audio, hoping to target consumers who already own print titles and lure them to add a digital edition to get the enhanced features.
A spokesperson for Random House of Canada says the company has “observed parallels between e-book and music downloading habits,” and thinks that in the same way music lovers purchase entire album collections when they discover a favorite new artist, e-books will encourage users to nab an author’s entire works with a single click.
Another industry insider predicts that once e-books hit their zenith we’ll see an entirely new trend: She envisions some consumers purchasing what she calls “disposable reading”—titles you might buy at the airport before boarding a long flight—in digital format, and serious works—titles you might want to reread some day or pass along to your kids—in print editions. “In some respects, the book will go back to being an objet,” she hypothesizes, “[a] beautiful, expensive edition that people want to pay for [and keep], almost the way [books were treated] in the 16th and 17th centuries.”
Which, in the end, leaves us right back where we started.
Source: Quill & Quire (article not available online)
Image by timonoko, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/28/2010 5:05:19 PM
What happens when a prolific writer visits the former home of an American literary legend? Does she feel a connection, or find inspiration, or see a writerly ghost?
In Anne Trubek’s case, none of the above. In the new issue of The American Prospect, Trubek, an English professor at Oberlin College, describes her visit to a dilapidated house in Cleveland where Langston Hughes once lived (for a whopping two years). A community development corporation recently bought the foreclosed house for $100, with the intention of fixing it up, having it designated a historic landmark, and, hopefully, selling it to somebody who would open it as a Langston Hughes museum.
Sounds nice, right? Such a museum would, potentially, “honor a writer, preserve the cultural legacy of the neighborhood, and bring in tourist dollars,” Trubek writes. “But investing in writers’ former homes is not a development tactic with a great track record. There are about 55 writers’ houses open to the public in America. Most are owned by civic organizations, and many lose money.” They tend to become very expensive to maintain, as “their curators continually have to perform the same tasks all homeowners of aging houses do,” Trubek writes. “These houses only grow older and, thus, more costly.” Furthermore, she explains, many of these museums struggle to attract visitors.
The neighborhoods that surround these house museums, including the former Hughes home [in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood], provide a snapshot of American demographic trends. Not surprisingly, many of our revered dead writers lived in the areas of the country that drew immigrants to agricultural and then industrial jobs—areas that have been hit hard by economic changes. New York City would seem to be the ground zero for literary tourism, but the only writer’s house museum in the five boroughs is the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, in the Bronx, which is currently closed for renovations. Until a new wave of famous, city-dwelling authors die, writers’ house museums will continue to be clustered east of the Mississippi. At least we can all look forward to one day taking the Dave Eggers home museum tour in San Francisco.
Source: The American Prospect (excerpt only available online)
Image by szlea, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/27/2010 4:25:10 PM
The birdfeeder industrial complex is raking in cash, inviting controversy, and may be changing the genetic structure of bird populations. Writing for The Smart Set, Jesse Smith pecks at the multi-billion-dollar bird-feeding industry and finds rampant consumerism, scientific data fights, and a hobby that is altering the course of life itself. According to research cited by Smith, the predominance of bird feeders in England has shifted migratory patterns for some Central European blackcaps, causing some of the birds to stay in England for the winter and others to venture on to Spain. The different groups are already showing genetic adaptations suited to the two different climates, and could lead the birds to split into two separate species.
Source: The Smart Set
Image by Scorpion0422, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/26/2010 4:15:52 PM
The chaos and destruction caused by Haiti’s earthquake are difficult for anyone to articulate, especially for a teenager. Global Voices points to two teenage bloggers who have provided eloquent first-person views of the earthquake and the emotional and physical devastation that it has caused. Before the disaster, a 16-year-old calling herself Krizkadiak wrote about singing and dancing alone on a Friday night. Afterwards, she wrote this:
I saw my school fall in front of me.
I saw people running covered in dust, hearing that their houses fell… sometimes with people in them.
I saw a refugee camp, as they are on tv… people praying, people alive but not really…
I saw a baby half dead, covered in bandaids…
I saw a friend at the cemetery burying his little cousin.
I saw the oldest and prettiest houses of jacmel reduced to nothing.
I saw pickup truck filled with corpses…
I saw my teacher walking to the cemetery behind the car where his wife’s dead body was…
I saw kids from my school, people i KNOW, at the refugee camp…
And lots of stuff… i hear about dead people every second, tsunami alerts when i know i leave at the beach, stupid people trynna take profit, no gas, no water no food.
But what I didn't see though… Is the haitian police and the Mayor. shame.
Source: Global Voices
Photo by the UN Photo/Marco Dormino, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/20/2010 9:06:18 AM
Mark Twain, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jack Torrance from the Shining, believed that typewriters would help them write. At some point, however, they all lost control of their typewriters, Rob Giampietro writes on his blog, Lined & Unlined, and the simple machines took on lives of their own. “Nietzsche feared his own typewriter might outproduce him,” Giampietro writes. In the Shining, the final evidence for Jack Torrance’s insanity came when his wife discovered that he had been writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeatedly using his Adler typewriter. According to Giampietro, “Jack isn’t using his Adler typewriter; the Adler is using him.”
For Twain, the typewriter was something he wanted to keep secret. The typewriter itself attracted too much attention. After the Remmington company approached the famous author for an endorsement of their product, Twain wrote:
Please do not use my name in any way. Please do not even divulge the fact that I own a machine. I have entirely stopped using the Type-Writer, for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to anybody without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only describe the machine but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc., etc. I don’t like to write letters, so I don’t want people to know that I own this curiosity breeding little joker.
Source: Lined & Unlined
1/15/2010 5:25:33 PM
In a literary experiment that perhaps only The Believer could have dreamt up, critic Justin Taylor accepts a challenge to review a book—stripped of identifying marks. Check it out:
A few months ago, the editors of this magazine asked if I would be interested in being part of an experiment in criticism. They were curious what would happen if we inverted the standard “anonymous review” formula—if instead of the reviewer having the cloak of anonymity, we were to keep the book under review anonymous from its critic, and thereby shield it from any and all prejudice—whether positive or negative, whether directed at the author, the publishing house, the blurbers, the cover art, etc.
I swore several oaths to stay true to the project (Eds.: “No googling”), and soon enough a book arrived at my house. Its covers, front matter, and endpages had all been stripped, and the spine blacked out with a Sharpie. I didn’t know what it was called or who wrote it or who was publishing it or when. I didn’t know if it was the author’s first or twenty-first publication. Fiction? Nonfiction? Genre? Self-published? I didn’t know anything (and at this writing, I still don’t) except that it wasn’t poetry.
What could I do? I began to read.
Intrigued? Read Taylor’s account of the anonymous reading experience that prompts him to conclude: “Every reviewer—every reader—should hope to be so lucky.”
Source: The Believer
Image by j/k_lolz, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/15/2010 9:34:32 AM
Thirty-two years ago, a very stoned college student was charged with picking up George Plimpton, the legendary journalist and Paris Review benefactor, and depositing him at the campus where he was scheduled to give a talk. Through his multi-drug-induced haze, said college student successfully, if a bit creepily, completed this task, and managed a handful of odd run-ins with Plimpton in the years that followed. There’s more, and it’s very funny, but I won’t spoil the punchline.
This student grew up to be Dinty W. Moore, a well-known writer of fiction and nonfiction in his own right, and he recounts this tale of accidental stalking in a Google Maps essay called “Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge.” As you’ll quickly see if you click, the essay is literally written in a Google map, and the smart, quirky folks at the literary magazine The Normal School figured out a way to translate the piece—with all its map-embedded charm—into print, which is where I first spied it.
It’s an interesting format, and with a different story or a different writer, I might have thought it gimmicky, but it really works for Moore’s short, suspenseful, somewhat geographical piece. I also (unfortunately) can identify with this problem: “As is so often the case when one picks up a famous writer, I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t stop talking.”
Source: The Normal School
Photo by MDCarchives, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/14/2010 10:50:53 AM
In the annual Tournament of Books from the Morning News, 16 books remain alive, but only one can emerge victorious. The goal of the contest is not to choose the definitive book of the year, but rather to be the most fun and transparent book award on the web. The contest judges, including blogger Jason Kottke, C. Max Magee of the Millions, and Alex Balk of the Awl, admit their biases. According to the website, “we’ve had judges who flipped coins. So has the National Book Award—but the National Book Award won’t tell you that.” And right now, readers can chime in to vote for their favorite book from the list of survivors. It’s literary “blood sport” at its best.
Source: The Morning News
1/13/2010 12:18:11 PM
There’s a promising new book review site created by the good people at The New Republic. Introducing The Book: An Online Review, executive editor Isaac Chotiner writes: “The slow and steady transfer of people’s attention to the web is a fact of our culture. And the absence of any site for the serious consideration of serious books is also a fact of the web.”
Jacob Silverman over at the Virginia Quarterly Review takes issue with Chotiner’s diagnosis, and does us all the favor of collecting some of the best book review websites:
Although they may not have the institutional prestige of The New Republic, nor always the resources to pay writers, here are some web-only outlets that show a deep intellectual engagement with books and literary culture:
I urge Isaac Chotiner and Leon Wieseltier to take a look at these sites, if they are unfamiliar with them. They all publish excellent work—too much, perhaps, for one person to keep up with—and many of them feature very talented writers who are sometimes paid in nothing more than advance reader copies. (I’d be remiss for not mentioning The Complete Review, which over the years has led me to several of these sites. There are also, I’m sure, many sites I’m missing that deserve to be on the above list, including some, like Bookforum, that publish a print edition as well.)
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review, The Book
1/8/2010 5:52:22 PM
“In reading, we perform the nearly oxymoronic feat of seeking surprise,” Chris Bachelder writes for The Believer. Meditating on the pleasure of the unexpected, Bachelder connects the “vivid surprises” of good literature with those of childrearing, fusing the two kinds of wonder into a delightful short essay. Behold:
Life with young children is full of such unusual associations and combinations, both joyful and disquieting. (I once clipped a tiny sharp crescent of my daughter’s toenail directly into my eye; my daughter once called a tampon a cheese stick; my wife once unknowingly spilled some olive tapenade on our daughter’s infant head and then thought, for a horrifying instant, that the child’s brains were leaking.) It may sound paradoxical, but these peculiar moments with my daughter often feel familiar. The reason, I’ve come to suspect, is that the vivid surprises of child-rearing seem so similar to the vivid surprises of good literature.
Donald Barthelme wrote that “the combinatorial agility of words, the exponential generation of meaning once they’re allowed to go to bed together, allows the writer to surprise himself, makes art possible, reveals how much of Being we haven’t yet encountered.” Is there a better one-sentence defense and explanation and manifesto of art? It is combinatorial agility—not just of words, but of sentences, paragraphs, images, objects, events, concepts, and characters—that generates, startles, and reveals.
Source: The Believer
1/8/2010 5:41:33 PM
Word-nerds should spend some time playing around at Visuwords, a website that beautifully displays not only a word’s definition and immediate relatives (synonyms and antonyms), but the whole extended family, including other parts of speech and broader associations broken down specifically: “pertains to,” “is a part of,” “is an instance of,” and so on. (You’ll see a very tiny version of the Visuwords map for “fresh” above.) It’s a really interesting way to convey information, and though it’s certainly no substitute for a dictionary or thesaurus, it is a very cool tool for thinking a bit radically about a word’s meaning(s) and possibilities.
(Thanks, Magers & Quinn.)
1/7/2010 11:05:49 AM
Last August William Zinsser gave a talk, “How to Write English as a Second Language,” to incoming international students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Reprinted in The American Scholar, his advice on how to write well is shrewd and funny—and just as apt for native English speakers, even non-journalist types.
Read the whole piece—Zinsser gives vivid examples of great writing, plus all the elements of a perfect sentence—but here’s a sample. He has just railed against Latin words, generally “long pompous nouns that end in -ion,” and is moving on to what pleases him:
So if those are the bad nouns, what are the good nouns? The good nouns are the thousands of short, simple, infinitely old Anglo-Saxon nouns that express the fundamentals of everyday life: house, home, child, chair, bread, milk, sea, sky, earth, field, grass, road . . . words that are in our bones, words that resonate with the oldest truths. When you use those words, you make contact—consciously and also subconsciously—with the deepest emotions and memories of your readers.
Source: The American Scholar
1/6/2010 11:56:21 AM
Was Alex Strum really “trying to get some homework done before going to work” as his Facebook status suggested? In an article for The Smart Set, Strum hired an ombudsman correct some of the inaccurate and misleading information he has spread about his own life through Facebook. The fact checker responded to the status update about homework, writing:
It should be noted that there are discrepancies with what Alex was actually doing. Although his schoolwork was present and in the open, his attention was mostly focused on the television, where Point Break was airing again on the USA network.
Source: The Smart Set
1/5/2010 3:17:05 PM
Some of the most hotly anticipated books slated for publication in 2010 are by authors who are already dead, according to The Millions. Ralph Ellison headlines the list, with his long-anticipated novel Three Days Before the Shooting scheduled for publication this month. Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño also makes an appearance, as does Stieg Larsson, Henry Roth, and David Foster Wallace, whose final, unfinished novel may be released in 2011.
A litany of living literary rock stars are also scheduled for publication in 2010, including Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Jose Saramago, and possibly Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen. The Millions breaks the list down by month, so literary aficionados know what to look for and when.
Source: The Millions
1/4/2010 11:38:12 AM
Harriet Bell penned a quaint little piece in Gastronomica called “The Secret Lives of Recipes,” in which she shares her affection for old recipe collections, and her musings about the lives of those who once owned the cards. Bell starts by sharing how she came to acquire her mother’s recipe box when she died and explains, “like my mother’s, these well-worn boxes with food-stained cards offer clues to what American women were really cooking for their families and friends, and often glimpses into more personal aspects of their lives.” Here’s a little taste of what she means:
“The red-and-white metal box is the saddest in my collection. This woman (Polish, perhaps, because of the shorthand recipes for chrusciki [cookies] and paczki [doughnuts]) divided her recipes in alphabetical order by recipe title, rather than by category. Each divider has a letter handwritten in script and Roman…much like the embroidered samplers from earlier times. That first divider has penciled subway directions (“New York City to John’s”) that read, “Take the BMT Broadway line at Times Square…” John lived on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. I’m guessing the relationship didn’t work out: There’s an almost-full packet of blank index cards in the back and not more than ten handwritten cards. Did John dump my heroine, or was it the other way around? Was her heart so broken that she couldn’t continue with her recipe box? Hey John, you missed out on Meaty Ring, Choc Mayonnaise Cake and those Polish goodies!”
Source: Gastronomica (article not available online)
Image by prettytypewriters, licensed under Creative Commons.
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