Saturday, July 31, 2010

Drink What You Know

In The New York Times, there's an essay that examines how the rules for drinking are very similar to the rules of writing.

From the piece...

Equally, I knew from reading Dorothy Parker that three martinis would put me under the table, and four under my host, long before I’d had even one martini. And I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have so much affection for the gimlet if I hadn’t discovered it in Raymond Chandler’s “Long Goodbye” as a symbol of loss, melancholy and tarnished ideals. I also know, thanks to Hunter S. Thompson, that if I ever make a savage journey to the heart of the American dream, I should load up the trunk of my car with a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, and a pint of raw ether, among many other substances.

Of course, you could argue that if the lives of Parker, Chandler and Thompson prove anything, it’s that writers might be better off not drinking at all, but that’s one piece of advice that’s never going to fly. In some cases it would leave them with nothing to write about.

That unredeemed drinker Jack Kerouac did offer one excellent piece of advice, “Try never get drunk outside yr own house,” a clear case of do what I say, not what I do. However, this wasn’t a rule for drinking: it was a rule for writing, attached to his list of “essentials of spontaneous prose.”

When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.

You could also substitute “drink” for “write” in these well-known examples of writerly wisdom. “An author ought to write for the youth of his generation” (Fitzgerald). “Write, damn you! What else are you good for?” (Joyce). “Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To leap. To fly. To fail” (Sontag).

Jon's Writing in Fine Books Magazine

Have you picked up a copy of the summer issue of Fine Books Magazine? Within it I write about the ever-growing interest in old school letterpress printing. As more and more technology is foisted upon us and more and more software is making it easier to publish than ever before, many artisans and authors are turning away from all that and returning to the old fashioned way - with ink and type and machine.

Word Strike

Authors are joining the ranks of Word Strike, a loose collective of writers opposed to Arizona's immigration law. Salman Rushdie, Jennifer Egan and Noam Chomsky are but a few of the writers, notes Media Bistro.

Congratulations, Ernest Hemingway Doppleganger

Of all the Ernest Hemingway dopplegangers, this Ernest Hemingway doppleganger was the Ernest Hemingway dopplegangerist.

Friday, July 30, 2010

J.D. Salinger, Unmasked

Are you ready for the J.D. Salinger documentary and the 800-page biography of the author? Newsweek discusses both secret projects, here.

From the piece...

Salerno’s disdain for inauthenticity—if a Kindle counts as such—is more or less his mission statement for what he calls “the very definition of a passion project”: writing, funding, and directing a two-hour documentary, Salinger, and an 800-page biography, The Private War of J. D. Salinger, co-written with David Shields. The pair of forthcoming works are as shrouded as their subject, but Salerno hopes they will be the definitive word on the writer. “We’ve been sifting through all this new material to contextualize this giant of American literature,” he says of the 15,000 pages of interview transcripts and more than 100 personal photos he’s amassed. “You’re going to see a very different Salinger than you’ve read about for five decades.” The Private War is arranged nonchronologically to help fill in the author’s “missing” years, and Salerno says both projects boast a variety of first-evers in addition to the photo collection, including interviews with Salinger intimates and former New Yorker colleagues, some of whom had never spoken about “Jerry.” “When you’re sitting two feet from someone who hasn’t spoken in five or six decades about this, there is just an electricity that surges through the room,” Salerno says—though, of course, he won’t name names.

Did You Know There's a Book of Poetry Based on Kylie Minogue

It's true.

Friday's Poem

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare, read by Alan Rickman:

Will Fart Jokes Make Boys Read More?

Raymond Bean hopes so. He's writing Sweet Farts books. Media Bistro recently interviewed him.

From the piece...

Ray, what inspired you to write the book?

I wrote Sweet Farts because I wanted to write a book that gave kids a good laugh. As a fourth grade teacher, I am always trying to help students learn to love books. For some students this is natural and they easily find books they love. More reluctant readers have difficulty finding books they want to read. My hope was to reach reluctant readers with a book that was funny and smart without being image heavy. I find that when young readers have fun reading a book they naturally want to read more.

I heard your students didn't even know you were the author. Why'd you keep it a secret?

Prior to deciding to self-publish I had read many comments online about independent publishing. A common criticism I read was that most self-published authors never sell more than a few hundred copies and those copies are generally sold to family and friends. I decided to take that criticism out of the equation and find out what the book was capable of selling on its own. It was a great deal of fun watching the book grow in popularity and knowing it was not being driven by anything more than reader interest.

You can find more about Raymond Bean and efforts to get reluctant readers reading on Omnivoracious.

The Book Depository Map

Whenever I'm out and about, and I see someone with a book tucked under their arm, or reading a small paperback at the bus stop, or lining up at Barnes and Noble to purchase something, I'm always curious as to what they're reading. I guess I'm not alone.

The Guardian takes note of the Book Depository Map.

From the piece...

Isn't that great? For those who resisted clicking the link, it's a nifty little plug-in on the website of the Book Depository, one of the internet booksellers snapping at Amazon's heels. What the Book Depository has that Amazon doesn't is what purports to be a live, real-time map of people actually buying books from them, right there and then, right across the world.

It's the ultimate book voyeurism. I can see exactly what someone bought without following them around the crime and thriller aisle for half an hour. I can relax with a cup of coffee and watch someone in Canada buying a book on quilting, someone in England purchasing a phonics textbook (no summer holidays in their house!) and an inordinate number of graphic novels being sold in Belgium.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Finally, Nepal!

I just wanted to thank my reader from Nepal. It's been a goal of mine to get a Nepali reader and now I have one. I appreciate your readership!


Jonathan S.

Mauritania's Hidden Manuscripts

Mauritania's desert libraries are vanishing. Will their holdings also disappear? This is the question the Guardian asks.

From the piece...

With a sudden decline in tourism, Mauritania is spending all available resources on security and combating al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The government has no time for heritage. "It's not been a priority in recent years," the arts minister, Cissé Mint Cheikh Ould Boide, acknowledges. Handed down from generation to generation the manuscripts, some of which date from the 10th century, still belong to families and are dispersed around four main centres, Chinguetti, Ouadane, Oulatane and Tichitt. The towns have been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1996. On the route of pilgrims travelling to Mecca and of caravans loaded with dates and salt serving a vast area from northern Mauritania to Sudan, the towns used to be a major tourist attraction. But visitors are scarce and the books are being forgotten.

"Until the colonial era they were the only form of reading matter, often consulted and sometimes copied. But with our modern ways they are increasingly regarded as mere relics," says Jiyid Ould Abdi, the head of Mauritania's Scientific Research Institute. To remedy this situation the government is planning a big event – Nouakchott, Capital of Islamic Art – for 2011. It hopes to form an international panel to select 35 projects and attract foreign capital. The scheme will focus largely on Moorish civilisation, disregarding black Mauritanian culture represented by the Pular, Wolof and Soninke ethnic groups.

The institute, located next to the National Museum in the capital, lacks the resources to protect the manuscripts.

The Memorial to Dickens' Ilustrator, Robert Seymour

The Guardian wrote recently about Robert Seymour, a man who killed himself after Charles Dickens let him goes as his illustrator after his Pickwick Papers.

From the story...

The scene on 20 April 1836 was horrific: the artist lay in a welter of gore on the floor of the summerhouse at his London home, his coat and waistcoat burning from the ferocity of the shotgun blast which had killed him.

Now, a century after Robert Seymour's memorial disappeared, the stone commemorating him is to be unveiled at a ceremony in the back garden of 48 Doughty Street, the museum in Charles Dickens' only surviving London home.

Seymour had taken his own life within 24 hours of a last meeting with the author Dickens, after completing the final illustration – named Death of a Clown – for the writer's first novel, the Pickwick Papers. Almost certainly Dickens had told Seymour he was being dropped as the artist for the serial, which when bound together would become his first runaway best seller and launch his career.

Jeff Buckley Meets Romeo & Juliet

Media Bistro takes note of "The Last Goodbye: A Musical Adaption of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet" that will be staged next month at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. Why the interest? The production will use 15 songs by the late singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley.

Here's my favorite "To be or not to be" soliloquy:

And here's Jeff Buckley's "Grace":

The Masterpiece of Batwoman: Openly Gay Superhero

Popmatters praises "Batwoman: Elegy" a new comic book on Batwoman, the first openly gay superhero.

From the piece...

The reinvention of the modern Batwoman has been a major achievement. Only tangentially connected to the Batman mythos, Kate Kane’s story holds in tension all the themes of identity, trauma and vengeance that are at the dark heart of the Dark Knight narrative. Suffering through standard issue superhero childhood trauma (with a twist), Kate Kane hoped to find fulfillment in the army and came close with a sterling career at West Point. The military’s altogether stupid and embarrassing policy regarding “homosexual conduct” ended her career but opened the way for her to find a new one.

Que cape and cowl, plenty of gadgets and a secret bunker under her house. All of these wonderful toys are provided by her army colonel father, an incredibly charming character whose bond with Kane becomes the most moving element of this tale.

Greg Rucka’s Batwoman is not the first openly gay superhero, although you don’t need the fingers of one hand to count the rest. However, this is no after-school special (not that American doesn’t need one on the topic). Kate Kane has become much-beloved by fans and critics because of Rucka’s well-known ability to add depth and dimension to his characters. Rucka builds in dialogue that drags you, delighted, into the narrative. He combines realism and an ear for current idiom that gives his fantastic world a lived-in feel.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Facial Expressions in Literature

The Free Dictionary has plenty of them.


# Face harsh and wrung and savage beneath the springing tears like sweat —William Faulkner
# Face is still calm, as though she had a cast made and painted to just the look she wanted —Ken Kesey
# Face laced tight as a shoe —Lorrie Moore
# (When he came … her) face lighted up as if he had been sunshine —William Makepeace Thackeray
# Face like a buttered scone, dripping complacency —Helen Hudson
# Face lit up like a sunburst —Max Shulman
# Face lit with a kind of radiant pain, as if she’d been bitten by a miracle —Sharon Sheehe Stark
# (Icy anger tucked behind his) face, locked up like a store after hours —Lorrie Moore
# Face looked all stiff, as if he were afraid the features would fall off —Helen Hudson
# Face puckered and fierce and jowly and quizzical like a Boston bulldog —George Garrett
# Face … rigid, like the face of a man in the grip of a barely controlled rage —Wallace Stegner
# (Tiny’s) face sagged like an old pillow propped against a headboard —Harold Adams
# Faces all knotted up like burls on oaks —William Carlos Williams

Ten of the Best Nameless Protagonists in Literature

The list, care of the Guardian.

The First Underwater Photo Ever Taken

This is it. Learn more at a great site I recently discovered, Iconic Photos.

Tracy Kidder, Interviewed

The author of The Soul of a New Machine and Strength in What Remains sat down recently with the Bygone Bureau to discuss writing.

From the piece...

What are some of your thoughts on young writers interested in going into MFA programs and the like?

I do think that it is a little bit analogous to music. If you want to learn how to play a musical instrument, you go and get some lessons from someone. I’m not sure if those programs will give you a leg up on trying to get a job. I mean, I think trying to make a living as a writer is always hard in this country. Maybe in every country, I don’t know.

What do you think it was about how you went about it? Was it, obviously was it talent, luck, subject matter, I mean, it’s difficult to say, I know.

Well, I think any writer who makes a living in this country writing and doesn’t admit to being extremely lucky is probably deluded. I know some wonderful writers who never had any real luck, you know. So I think I was mostly really very lucky. I had a great professor in college, a literary person named Robert Fitzgerald who talked about the luck of the conception. I didn’t go out to write about this team of computer engineers because I was interested in computers, it just seemed like something that might be interesting. I didn’t foresee about what was going to happen.

But I think that that was probably a pretty lucky choice for two reasons: one was that it was a really good story that I wandered into — that’s the biggest reason — but also because it was a really good story that happened to coincide with a really interesting subject. Largely because these companies were minting money, I mean, this had become an enormous source of wealth, manufacturing computers.

Anyways, talent… I’ve never understood what that really is. There’s no question that some people have real literary talent. It doesn’t necessarily track with other kinds of intelligence, though. It’s interesting. I think it’s curious.

As a writer?

Yeah. I don’t think that all really good writers are very smart in a sort of academic way. In fact, some seem downright stupid. (laughs)

Allen Ginsberg's Photos

He had a knack for it, the Beat poet did. CNN takes a look at Ginsberg behind the camera.

Why Has Sherlock Holmes Endured?

That's the question the Telegraph asked. Easy answer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a good writer.

From the piece...

In a convincing article on Holmes last Christmas – when Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock, a more traditional, less witty, Victorian version, came to the cinema – A N Wilson argued that Holmes was such a unique creation that he grew beyond Conan Doyle's control; that he developed characteristics beyond those planned by his creator. Wilson was – like Steven Moffat – convinced that Holmes is gay, even if Conan Doyle didn't intend it that way.

Whether this is or isn't true hardly matters. The thing is, it might be true. Conan Doyle created such a mysterious character – who also had such a range of distinctive characteristics – that he is recognisable in any age, and yet can also be easily moulded into the habits of that age.

There's great pleasure for Holmes buffs, too, in spotting how that modern moulding is done. When Cumberbatch is consumed by a case, it's not a "three-pipe problem" but a "three-patch problem" (he's as keen on cigarettes as he is on cocaine). The Victorian Holmes spotted that Watson's brother was a drunk because there were scratches around the lock of his pocket watch, where he'd tried to open it under the influence; Cumberbatch works it out because there are scratches all around the charging socket in a mobile phone.

Any writer who observes the repeated details of the human condition as closely as this can jump the ages. And any character with universally desirable qualities – like Holmes's powers of deduction – remains eternally attractive.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is Just to Say That I'm Tired of Sharing an Apartment With William Carlos Williams

Will, you are a dick. You're goddamn right I was saving those plums for breakfast.

Fine, it's not like they're my favorite food in the world, but I mean, they're a seasonal fruit, you scumbag. Buy your own food for a change. All you do is sit around the house all day writing about red wheelbarrows and junk.

This is like the millionth time I've come home to an empty fridge. And no, leaving a note does not cut it anymore. I don't care if you put one of your idiotic poems on there. I grind my fingers to the bone all day. I'm a stenographer—that's serious work. I type over 250 words per minute!

So begins a humorous bit on the always humorous McSweeney's.

Walt Whitman and the Meteor of 1860

Year of meteors! brooding year!

I would bind in words retrospective some of your deeds and signs,

I would sing your contest for the 19th Presidentiad,

I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair, mounted the scaffold in Virginia

So begins one of Walt Whitman's poems. More about Whitman and his interest in celestial bodies on the new Library of America blog, Reader's Almanac.

The Art of Filling Bookshelves

The New York Times Magazine has your back.

From the piece...

But I also want to add quite a few things to these shelves that aren’t books. I have a lamp, a sailboat and a few small pictures to incorporate among the literature. Attaching lights to the fronts of bookcases is great, and I love the metal lights Ahmad has used. In the Vitsoe shelves I will probably put a table lamp. Where he has used industrial lighting in such a residential space, I would like to do the opposite, placing a rather granny-ish lamp on very minimalist shelving.

Have fun with your bookshelves and keep everything moving.

Children Who Don't Read Grow Up Bad

That's the headline for a recent piece in the New Yorker highlighting the various bits of news of late, discussing kids, reading, how you can make them read, and, of course, fart and poop books.

What It's Really Like to be a Copy Editor

The word is douche bag. Douche space bag. People will insist that it’s one closed-up word—douchebag—but they are wrong. When you cite the dictionary as proof of the division, they will tell you that the entry refers to a product women use to clean themselves and not the guy who thinks it’s impressive to drop $300 on a bottle of vodka. You will calmly point out that, actually, the definition in Merriam-Webster is “an unattractive or offensive person” and not a reference to Summer’s Eve. They will then choose to ignore you and write it as one word anyway.

I know this because, during my three-plus years as a copy editor, I had this argument many, many times.

So begins this tale in The Awl.

Stan Lee and the Super Seven

Stan Lee is in the pantheon of comic book gods. He's thought up Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor, amongst others. Does the 87-year-old still have superpowers in creating indelible comic book characters? Quite possibly. He just unveiled, according to the New York Times, the Super Seven.

From the story...

The new characters range from a teenager — Kid Kinergy, action addict, has telekinetic powers — to a ladies’ man called Lazer Lord. “You’re not sure if he’s good or bad,” Mr. Lee said. “That’s to keep the readers worried.”

Mr. Lee said he endowed other characters with powers never seen before; for example, “Think chubbiness as a weapon.”

Super Seven will take traditional comic book form by the end of the year, with online and television extensions rolling out later, said Andy Heyward, the chief executive and co-founder of A Squared. Talks are under way with toy retailers, and related motion pictures are the ultimate goal.

“We’re approaching this like the Normandy invasion — all in,” Mr. Heyward said.

Mr. Heyward hopes to build a second Stan Lee Comics property around a character called Air-Walker, who first appeared in comics published by Marvel, where Mr. Lee spent most of his career, ultimately serving as its chairman. (It was at Marvel in the 1960s where Mr. Lee, along with the artist Jack Kirby, created the likes of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.)

Wired also takes note of Lee's new creations.

And, speaking of comic book gods, one can't not think of Watchmen creator Alan Moore. He, too, has developed something new - Unearthing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

55 Years Later, Culture Still Cries Out for "Howl"

The Washington Post recently discussed the ever-growing importance of Allen Ginsberg's poem, "Howl."

From the piece...

There's a bit of a "Howl" boomlet going on -- books, photographs, an upcoming movie starring James Franco and, most immediately, a "Howl in the City" series of readings and music Friday and Saturday in Washington.

The timing of the convergence is mainly coincidental, the fruit of projects launched around the 50th anniversary of the poem, which Ginsberg first recited to spellbound hipster audiences in the fall of 1955, at the age of 29. He published it in 1956. Then came the obscenity trial in 1957, which Ginsberg's publisher won, a free-speech landmark. Ginsberg died in 1997, at 70.

"When he first read this poem, it was a cultural intervention, and it continues," says poet Anne Waldman, a friend and collaborator of Ginsberg's. "It's a time bomb, and it's a time piece."

Ginsberg had a complicated relationship with his own creation.

"I don't read it often because it's too much of a bravura piece, and I don't want to get hung up on it," he said when he and Waldman were onstage together in the mid-1970s at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the writing program they co-founded at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo.

"On the other hand," Ginsberg continued, "I also want to present my best."


Uncovered is a blog that is dedicated to have a revealing look at concealing design. Recently, they interviewed illustrated Tom Gauld whose work is seen above.

On My Shelves

Sometimes I wish I were that man in the Twilight Zone episode who finds himself in the ruins of a public library, with lots of food and all the time in the world to read all the books he wants.

So writes Charles-Adam Foster-Simard in an essay on the Millions.

He writes...

As for the organization of the books, well, I must say that in its current state the classification is far from optimal. Most of last semester’s books are still on the shelf above my desk and deserve integration with the rest of my collection, instead of groupings by course reading material. My French books are all together in the Billy bookcase, which results in separating the Penguin edition of Chekhov’s Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, 1892-1895 from the French translation of Chekhov’s (or, as it were, Tchekhov’s) plays, published by Folio in two paperback volumes.

Similarly, the current state of my books creates rifts between ideas and eras, or tensions where there shouldn’t be any. For instance my enormous paperback of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems lies on a shelf above my desk because I was too lazy to make room for it in the cubes. Thus Ginsberg is a room apart from his friend Kerouac (if their belonging to the Beats shouldn’t be enough to bring them together, Ginsberg even took the pictures on the cover of On the Road, which I think calls for neighboring spots on my shelves). In the cubes there are other inconsistencies: Junot Díaz is between the single volume Chronicles of Narnia and Anne Michaels; Hemingway shares his shelf with Amitav Ghosh, Toni Morrison, and Nabokov — I can’t think of any reason why those authors should rub covers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eight Literary Works that Deserve the Graphic Novel Treatment

The list, care of Paste.

Has the Internet Killed Professional Book Reviewing?

That's the question PopMatters recently asked.

From the story...

And then the blog came along. The power of blogs lies in their everyman-ness. Blogs are like critics-in-a-box: anyone with access to a computer can sign up with WordPress, Blogger, Livejournal, even Diaryland, write up their thoughts, and hey presto! instant critic. Instead of being forced to read half a dozen review pages in search of the perfect book, readers can now pick a genre (cozy mystery, pop science, YA) or demographic (stay-at-home mom, clock maker, dalek) and find reviews written with their interests in mind. But blogs are just the top book in the stack. The real threat to professional reviewing is a lot more insidious: time.

Blogged reviews, like professional, in-paper reviews, take time to read, and time away from reading. Sure, reading a review can prevent you from buying a bad book and save a few dollars. But scrolling through a 1000+ words of in-depth review eats, at best, four minutes’ worth of time. If the review leaves you undecided, it could be another four minutes before you find a second review, and another four minutes for you to read it, bringing the total up to twelve minutes. If we consider that most novels run 250 words to a page, then you could have read about 12 pages—a short chapter—in the time it took to decide if you want to read the book. But never fear: social media is here.

Art Before Life

Sonya Chung, for the Huffington Post, discusses motherhood and writing.

From the piece...

At 37, this question is now pressing for me. At 31, in 2004, when I began writing my recently-released novel Long for This World, it wasn't. And yet, a primary character in the novel, Jane Han, is in her late 30s and grappling with motherhood(s) - her mother's, her own, her Korean cousin's. Many readers have shared with me how moved they were by these portrayals and have expressed surprise to find that I have/had no personal experience in parenthood. But if you'd have asked me back then and throughout the writing of the book if it was something I personally worried over- the question of becoming a mother or not- I would have said no, not really (primarily, I was worried about writing a novel).

Story-telling as catharsis, dredging up past experiences and endowing characters with your own angst or unfulfillment as a kind of emotional purging, is a familiar course. But writing as a way of being apprised of one's desires, fears, etc., not just those of the past, but also those that live in the present or might develop in the future, suggests how art precedes consciousness, and how it is prescient as much as it is reflective.

Now that I've "caught up" to Jane, it seems clear that, back then, in some corner of my (sub)conscious mind, I was struggling with something parenthood-related; intellectually at first, and then (through the process of getting to know Jane), emotionally and spiritually. To avoid spoilers, I won't reveal too much about Jane's journey in this regard. I will say however that, now -- with some distance from the character and the writing, -- I myself find it interesting that Jane is spared the conundrum that middle-class women my age, who don't feel the baby tug in a clear or overwhelming way, must confront: that is, again, the question of how one even approaches the decision, what are the "right" questions to ask?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Poetry in Hell

Poetry in Hell is a web site dedicated to the poets, both in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere whose poetry, under the leadership of Emanuel Ringelblum, was secretly collected by the members of the “Oneg Shabbat Society“, preserved and buried in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

Who Owns Literature?

The Guardian takes note of a recently found Percey Shelley poem. The manuscript is owned by a bookseller. Should the contents of that manuscript be theirs alone as well? The Guardian thinks not.

From the piece...

As the dust settles after all the to-ing and fro-ing over Kafka's papers, it seems a good time to ask some questions about who, exactly, owns literature.

In most countries, property law means that people can take possession of manuscripts and, in some circumstances, a lone copy of a printed text. In these cases – where only one copy of the work exists – the owners of the manuscript also find themselves in possession of its literature. Yet the two things ought not to be conflated. We can easily envisage an owner owning a manuscript while we collectively own and know the piece of literature it contains. But in the case of the works of Kafka that are lying in those safes, we're not allowed to do that. Both the manuscripts and the literature are in the possession of the owners.

And of course, it's not the first time.

The Trouble with Amazon

The Nation has an in-depth look at's business practices. You've been warned.

From the piece...

Dennis Loy Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent Melville House, is one of the few publishers who have dared to speak openly about Amazon's bullying. His story is far from atypical. In 2004 a representative of the retailer contacted Melville's distributor demanding an additional discount. Such payments are illegal under antitrust law, which precludes selling at different prices to different customers. Large retailers circumvent this restriction by disguising the extra discount under the rubric of "co-op," money paid to the bookseller for promotional services, often notional. In this case the distributor did not bother with such niceties, describing what Amazon was after as "kickback."

Johnson resisted Amazon's pressure and complained to Publishers Weekly about what he saw as the retailer's capo-like tactics. What happened next evidently still rankles. "I was at the Book Expo in New York and two guys from Amazon came to see me. They said that the company was watching what we were doing and that they strongly advised us to get in line. I was shocked at how blatant the pressure was." Within a couple of days Johnson noticed that the buy buttons for his books had been taken off Amazon's site, making Melville's titles unavailable.

In the end Johnson, faced with an offer it was nigh impossible to refuse, agreed to the co-op. His books' buy buttons were reinstated. Today Amazon is Melville House's biggest customer, and though Johnson still regularly flays the company on his popular publishing blog Moby Lives, he also concedes that it is highly effective at bookselling: "They make buying so easy. It's impossible to resist."

Another man who recently lost his Amazon buy buttons is John Sargent, head of Macmillan, the US arm of German book giant Holtzbrinck, home to many authors familiar to Nation readers, including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ehrenreich. In January Sargent confronted Amazon over its insistence on setting the prices of e-books it sold on its site, generally at under $10. This was a concern throughout an industry worried that low prices of electronic versions would undermine profits from printed books and generally lower the perceived value of the product. Sargent informed Amazon that he wanted to move Macmillan to an "agency agreement," meaning that he, as the publisher, could price books at whatever level he chose, paying Amazon a fixed discount.

Amazon reacted with characteristic distemper: bye-bye Macmillan's buy buttons. A face-off ensued. Amazon was vehement that its stand was on behalf of customers looking for bargains. A gallery of cynics openly suspected it had more to do with securing the future of its proprietary e-book reader, the Kindle, in the face of Apple's imminent launch of the competing iPad.

Something had to give, and a few days later it did: Amazon gave in with a statement revealing contempt toward the very idea of a publisher.

Mad Men: Your Definitive Reading List

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Talking about "Mad Men," the New Yorker does, particularly how its made waves in publishing circles.

From the piece in which Natasha Vargas-Cooper, author of Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America, is interviewed.

You obviously did quite a lot of research for the book. Can you talk about this process? Any exciting discoveries?

I started with a list of a hundred and twenty-six topics I was going to write about, inspired by things from the show. My plan was to write a mini-essay on each of them, and then it became eighty-six mini-essays. It’s very difficult for me to take on a writing project without feeling like I can walk around in the universe that I’m writing about. One of the things about blogging is that it’s pretty ephemeral—you want to get something up on Sunday night. Because it’s an instant medium, the challenge becomes “Find the coolest shit as fast as you can!” I’m really good at finding cool shit fast, and I already have a reservoir of this historical information in my head, so that helped. But with the book, I decided to treat it like a real book, not a blog-to-book. I spent a lot of time at the Cal Arts archive. I did a tremendous amount of historical photo research. All of the big ad heavies—Draper Daniels, George Lewis—they all wrote autobiographies and they’re all a delight to read; they’re all quippy and tell the same story over and over again, along the lines of “They said I could never make it, but I took them by the cojones and the boss said ‘I like your cojones.’ ” Over and over again, the same story.

What do you make of the show’s bookishness? And what do you think the characters will be reading this season?

I think it’s awesome in the sense that no medium is inherently better at storytelling than another; I like that nod. I think of the show as a visual novel. I don’t know what will happen this season, and I’m not sure entirely what they’re going to be reading. But look at the Cheever, Updike, and Philip Roth books that come out at that time. Well, I’m just going to tell you that little Gene Draper doesn’t have a chance: in all those books, a baby dies. I do think that in terms of the literature, if there is one strain that will cross over to the show, it will be the idea that these people have repressed their feelings, and there eventually will be a terrible consequence—say, like what you have in “Revolutionary Road.” I think it’s going to get really dark. Baby Gene is definitely marked in some way; I think we have an “Omen” on our hands.

5 Children's Books That Hollywood Should Tackle Next

The list, care of Moviefone.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday's Poem

Louise Gluck's "The Wild Iris":

Do Typefaces Really Matter?

Yes! No! Maybe so!

From a piece on BBC News...

When Avatar, the biggest grossing movie of all time was released, one section of the audience was immediately outraged.

Graphic designers hated it. Why? They didn't like the font that director James Cameron had chosen for the subtitles.

"I hated it on the posters and then threw up a little in my mouth when I realised I would have to read that ugly font throughout the film in the subtitles," one blogger commented.

"After the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on CG effects, did he just run out of money for a decent graphic designer?"

And yet fonts are not just for geeks. Otherwise why would organisations around the world spend so much time and money changing their typeface?

Who Are the Best Publishers on Facebook?

Media Bistro lists them for ya'.

From the introduction to said list...

Facebook counted 500 million users today, prompting us to finally create a GalleyCat Facebook page. Stop by and say hello--we will use the new site for event listings, literary contests, and publishing debate.

Discovering the keyword "publishing" turns up 17,000 pages, we realized that we can't navigate this sea of content alone. So we've decided to build a reader-curated directory of the best publisher pages on Facebook--to help us build our Facebook network and help our readers find the best Facebook content.

We've started the list below--a directory that barely scratches the surface of the publishing scene on Facebook.

Sebastian Junger on War

What draws him to conflict? What makes him want to write about war. He answers these questions, and more, on the Daily Beast.

From the piece...

The horrors of Latin America were the product of Cold War paranoia, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall others took their place. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces rounded up 8,000 men and boys from the city of Srebrenica and machine-gunned them into pits, then used bulldozers to bury them. It was the last straw in a war that had claimed a quarter million civilian lives, and it helped trigger a three-week NATO bombing campaign that quickly shut down the war. Back home, the right wing was upset because we were risking our soldiers’ lives—though not one died during the intervention—and many on the left were upset simply because the U.S. Air Force was once again dropping bombs on people. Neither side seemed much concerned with the Bosnians themselves.

More and more, the focus of my journalism was to document and broadcast the suffering of civilians in war. Everyone agrees that war is bad, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, and the world’s most powerful nations are unavoidably left wondering whether they should intervene when it does. After Kosovo, I went to Sierra Leone, where tens of thousands of civilians had been killed or maimed by the Revolutionary United Front in what was essentially a war for diamonds. After three years of carnage, a single unit of British paratroopers stopped the war in its tracks. Only one British soldier was killed. A couple of years later, I found myself in Liberia during a rebel offensive that managed to drop mortars into a crowd of refugees in a U.S. Embassy annex in Monrovia. An American warship waited offshore, doing nothing, and in protest the locals piled the bodies of dead civilians in front of the embassy gate. I had never seen a pile of bodies before, and the only thing I could think to do was count them. There were 27, as I recall, though I think several children were hidden under the bodies of adults. I was the only foreigner in a mob of angry and traumatized locals, and I finally left when people began demanding why the U.S. wasn’t sending troops to stop the slaughter. A few weeks later, the Marines came ashore and ended the war not only without a single casualty but without firing a single shot.

Alphabet Books

The Private Library shows you the ABCs in alphabet book collecting.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bret Easton Ellis on Big Think

Jim Steranko: Comic Book Hero

For The Guardian, Jonathan Ross discusses the comic book work of Jim Steranko.

From the story...

Jim Steranko. Many of you will not have heard his name before, a dreadful truth that troubles me every day. If he were French they'd have his statue in parks, Italian he'd be on their stamps, Japanese and he'd be doing commercials for videogames and fermented soya bean soda. But in the English-speaking world, we still woefully undervalue these master storytellers who choose panels and word balloons to work with.

To my fellow enthusiasts he is a Genius, a Wizard, a Master, a God. A one-of-a-kind, self-promoting hipster/huckster with the finest hair I've ever seen on a man of his age. He is also one of the handful of pioneers who can be said to have genuinely revolutionised the art of graphic storytelling. Glimpse his work and, before you even know exactly how he's doing it, you instinctively know it is different – better – than the norm. You'll also be hopelessly hooked. For life. Non-comic addicts might think I exaggerate – but step away from my hyperbole, and allow yourself a little time with the examples we have printed here. The work should speak for itself.

The story of Steranko's early years – the son of first-generation immigrants who came to America and worked, worked, worked for their family and future, while young Jim studied the funny pages in the Sunday newspapers for escape – is not unusual in the world of first-generation comic-book professionals. But unlike his contemporaries, who headed straight into an art course or an apprenticeship with the older guys in the industry, Steranko went off and learned stage magic, fire eating, the jazzmaster guitar, escapology. He briefly plied a trade in all those fields, before his exceptional eye for design and a desire to tell stories and create whole worlds took over. He gravitated towards comics, and found himself at the self-styled "House of Ideas": Stan Lee's Marvel Comics in its pop-art, counter-cultural heyday.

The Collision of Classic Literature and Video Games

Flavorwire takes note of a couple literary-minded video games and suggests some of their own.

From the piece...

4. The Crucible
Yes, this play is morally appalling, what with the witch hunting and squashing people to death with giant rocks. But what if it were an RPG game à la World of Warcraft where the accused and the townspeople are different warring factions? It could be pretty satisfying.

And talking about video games, they matter. Recently Omnivoracious interviewed Tom Bissell, author of the new book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.

73 Ways to Become a Better Writer

The list, care of the Huffington Post.

From the piece...

27. Start your writing ahead of time - not hours before a deadline.

28. Listen to podcasts on writing tips.

29. Use simple, declarative sentences.

30. Avoid passive voice.

31. Limit your use of adjectives and adverbs.

32. When in doubt, cut it out.

33. Kill clunky sentences.

34. Be inspired by other art forms - music, dance, sculpture, painting.

35. Read your old stuff and acknowledge how far you've come - and how far you have to go.

36. Write for publication, even if it's only for the local newsletter or a small blog.

37. Make writing your priority in the morning.

38. Keep squeezing words out even if you feel uninspired.

39. Tell everyone: "I'm a writer."

40. Recognize your fear and overcome it.

Feminist Children's Literature

The Amelia Bloomer Project offers up some reading possibilities for kids, birth to 18, that have a feminist bent.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Libraries are the New Cupcakes

This, according to NPR.

From the piece...

Libraries are green and local.

This is where there's a lot of potential appeal for the same people who like organic produce and reusable grocery bags. You can pretty easily position a library as environmentally friendly (your accumulation of books and magazines you are not reading is fewer trees for the rest of us, you know), not to mention economical (obvious) and part of your local culture. This is the part of the potential appeal that's anti-chain-store, anti-sprawl, anti-anonymity, and so forth.

Libraries will give you things for free.

Hi, have you noticed how much hardcover books cost? Not a Netflix person? They will hand you things for free. That's not an especially hard concept to sell.

But I Want a REAL Princess: A Reading List

Shelftalk offers up some book suggestions for the youngsters interested in princesses.

My daughter was interested in real princesses for quite away. A brief snapshot of our conversations...

"Are there REAL princesses?"
"Of course."
"Like who?"
"Princess Diana was one. She was from England."
"How did she die?"
"She got into a car accident."
"Oh...Any others?"
"There was Princess Grace of Monaco!"
"How did she die?"
"Ah...well, uh, she got into a car accident and her car pretty much went off a cliff."
"Oh...hmmm... Do you know any others?"
"There was...well, Anastasia of Russia."
"How did she die?"
"She got shot."

The Digital Revolution in Children's Publishing

It's coming, notes Publishers Weekly. In fact, it's here.

From the story...

The challenge for publishers, according to Hirschhorn, is to enhance books and keep the content fresh, original, and high quality. Devices let publishers blend animation and text, so readers can use books that repeat back to them or let them follow the bouncing ball. "It opens itself up beyond formal reading," says Hirschhorn.

Children can now "literally participate" in a book, says Sharon Streger, owner of Sequel Creative/Sequel Digital, which develops interactive, sing-and-record kids' apps. "Why do a pan-and-scan version when you can actually put the child into the book for a complete experience?" she asks. "The iPad and other color devices like it will continue to evolve and form a new standard for publishing children's product that is a mixture of reading and activity." Callaway's Miss Spider's Tea Party app lets kids do everything from play matching games to color images on screen as in a coloring book, while Oceanhouse Media's Dr. Seuss apps, which include The Lorax and new releases Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and Gertrude McFuzz allow them to touch a picture and see the word pop out.

Still, some apps are basically scans of the pages, Streger says. Publishers are figuring out how to use apps to give novelty books, such as expensive lift-the-flaps, a new lease on life. So far it's not possible to make lift-the-flap, pop-up, or touch-and-feel titles, such as Pat the Bunny. But no one doubts that they're coming. "We have to figure that out!" says Umesh Shukla, chief creative officer for Auryn Inc., a Los Angeles developer of animated titles for the iPad and other app-based devices.

"We fundamentally focus on trying to make the content come to life," says Josh Koppel, co-founder and chief creative officer of ScrollMotion, which works with Sesame Workshop and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, among others. "We're trying to bolster what is fantastic and what we love about children's content, but only supporting it with technology, not creating something that is in any way foreign."

The Secret Trove of Kafka Papers

They've been forcibly opened, notes Mobylives. It might make for a good Kafka story, the wrangling of his papers, if it weren't so nighmarish.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Surreal World of Salvador Dali

Abe Books highlights the Spanish painter, by showcasing books by and about Dali.

Some of his work can be seen here:

The Duran Duran Book Club

First off, the book club is real (singer Simon Le Bon is a bit of a bibliophile).

Secondly, you can hear Simon read a couple passages of a new book - Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.

Thirdly, here's a video of "Save a Prayer":

Fourthly, here's some Duran Duran fan fiction!

Fifthly, here's a piece I wrote about Duran Duran for McSweeney's.

Sixthly, my neighbor growing up, Andy Golub, is now known as Durandy.

Seventhly, here's Duran Duran signing "Rio":

Look at Me! A Writer's Search for Journalism in an Age of Branding

There's an interest essay in the Columbia Journalism Review about a recent college grad finding their way in the world of journalism.

From the piece...

By this point, I had begun to develop a theory, partly by virtue of having experienced that one meaningful failure and one meaningless success, about generally what was wrong with the world and increasingly with the industry—journalism—that was attempting to convey it. I just didn’t know yet what I knew, and so this story stretches on for another nine years.

What I sensed was that while the laws of supply and demand governed everything on earth, the easy money was in demand—manufacturing it, manipulating it, sending it forth to multiply, etc. As a rule of thumb (and with some notable exceptions), the profit margins you could achieve selling a good or service were directly correlated to the total idiocy and/or moral bankruptcy of the demand you drummed up for it.

This was easier to grasp if you were in the business of peddling heroin, Internet stocks, or celebrity gossip; journalists, on the other hand, were at a conspicuous disadvantage when it came to understanding their role in this equation. In the past, newspapers had made respectable margins selling a non-inane product largely because people had little choice but to herald their sublets and white sales alongside the journalists’ tales of human suffering/corporate corruption/government ineptitude. The times were prosperous enough that much of the print media even chose to abstain from taking a share of the demand-creation campaigns of liquor and tobacco brands in the seventies and eighties. Indeed, journalism, it went without saying, was about delivering important information about the world—information people (and democracy!) needed, whether they knew it or not. That journalism’s ability to deliver that information—to fill that need—ultimately depended, to an unsettling degree, on the ability to create artificial demand for a lot of stuff that people didn’t actually need—luxury condos, ergonomically correct airplane seats, the latest celebrity-endorsed scent—was an afterthought at best, at least in the newsroom.

Journalists, by and large, had so little appreciation for their dependence on the larger engine of artificial demand that they were mostly blindsided when the Internet happened and they lost the benefits of that engine. A lot of them seemed to take it personally. They got insecure. Some started writing “trend” stories and giving over their column inches to celebrity newswires and sincerely talking about bylines (and politicians and everything else) as “brands.” They sold Time Warner to an absurdly overinflated dot-com. It’s not fair, of course, to blame only the journalists; there were mostly avowed capitalists in the corner offices of these places, and it is the fiduciary responsibility of capitalists to be as cowardly and uncreative as possible in times of fear and change.