Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Items of note

A couple of things to note on this chilly fall day.

First, Slate has an interesting forum starting up on the novel in the internet age. The two contributors are novelists Walter Kirn and Gary Shteyngart. I hope people are not reading my opinion about online manuscripts to mean something like what Walter Kirn describes here:

Of course, one way to cope with Net America is to strip it clean of clutter in the way that Cormac McCarthy has done in his new post-apocalyptic novel, The Road: destroying all antennas, fiber-optic cables, Wi-Fi routers, and LCD screens and denuding the land of everything but dusty paths across the desert trod by laconic barefoot Nietzscheans seeking some phantom last gallon of potable water. The trouble is, this can only be done once.

I'm not that extreme... am I?!

I have to say, I preferred today's installment from Shteyngart.

The questions may well be: Who has the patience and inclination to read these (often lengthy) works, when so many Americans are already involved in their own electronic, Wikipedian journeys? And in a society driven by selfishness and the need to stand out on the false bright stage of reality television or on the pulsating Nintendo or MySpace screen, who has the empathy to travel into another person's mind?

Amen brother, my concerns exactly. There are no answers in this forum, mind you, but I like the dialogue happening. How do we stop this selfishness? Do we remind people of Darfur, of Zimbabwe, of floods and starvation and war-torn countries? Do YOU want to be that Debbie Downer who never gets a click, whom no one links to?

I was discussing with colleagues the changes in newspapers. It was one thing for a paper like the Boston Globe to allow reader feedback to their online edition, but that feedback has now crept right into the physical paper! The horrendous Sidekick section of the paper has a daft feature called "You're Up!" in which idiots with screen names like Daffy45 give their opinions. I don't care. I'll say it. I want you to be able to vote, I want you to be able to blog, I want you to be able to speak freely without persecution, but I am not paying to have you in my paper. I want paid journalists who know what they're doing filling these pages - NOT tons of ads masquerading as articles and NOT random opinions from people only identified by their screen names, sprawled out wherever the layout has room. Letters to the editor are entirely different, as people identify themselves and their locations, thereby taking responsibility for their opinion, and those are limited to opinion pages. Now reader feedback on inane topics - how do you feel about the Red Sox pitcher's haircut or some such - is actually considered a marketable inclusion!? This "need to stand out" is exhausting to witness, and deeply pathetic.

In other interesting - and by that I mean infuriating - news, we have this gem of synergy. It seems the corporate behemoth known as HarperCollins - publishers of Regan Books (thanks for Nicole Ritchie's li'l gem!) and many other subsidiaries - has teamed up with Starbucks to promote their 14 year bestselling book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This was a book that a manager once told me, when I worked in a Borders bookstore, was a perenially request from shoppers. Well to continue its incredible sales, Starbucks is now going to run a quote from this meditative book on its cups - 5 million of them.

I find this truly repulsive - too much product is involved in this, and too little book. But the quote in question really REALLY made me crazy:

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life.There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure.Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. Your silent heart will guide you. Be silent now. It is the possibility of a dream that makes life interesting. You can choose between being a victim of destiny or an adventurer who is fighting for something important.”

A beautiful ode to capitalism, wrapped up in the fuzzy, fluffy illusion of spiritual wisdom. Kill your competition - look at Starbucks. Follow your dreams, just like Janice Dickinson, Regan author. Order your vente mochiato and then be silent while we prepare it on a machine that does everything for the barrista so the coffee tastes a bit like old dishwater. And then fight for something important, like James E. McGreevey, newly out former governor of NJ who has a new book... from REGAN!

When Walmart starts running Rumi lines on their plastic bags, I'm on the first ship out of Boston harbor. Good god.


Gramps said...

I read an interview with Melissa Bank, or was it Stephen King, either way, both writers relayed a common mantra: get rid of your TV. Blasphemy, some might say. Rather, they might say, 'Aint gonna happen...' But overall, I agree with the Slate Commentary, we're living in a selfish world. People feel more entitled than ever, to be heard. But which came first, the medium, or the need. Did Blogs create one's need to pontificate, or was one's need always there, and only now has found an easy accessible medium?

Anonymous said...

Why are you so hot to burn Mr. Coelho? He can't help it if his book remains a best seller! I sense some jealousy?


Leave the boy alone, if he motivates people to follow their dreams why would you want to speak so poorly of him? Do you know him?