Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Depressing

Maybe it's not depressing as much as maddening, annoying, frustrating, etc...

It's this irritating blog entry on the perennial "print is dead" argument. The post is jumping of Print is Dead the book, much of which is or is going to be posted online here. I'm not taking issue with that project, per se, but this entry by David Rothman, posted on the Publishers Weekly website. It's full of interruptions and asides and bad jokes - which is a general problem, I find, with e-writing, if you will. I'm probably even guilty of this error, if my contention that it is somewhat inherent to online writing has any merit.

My larger problem, with this post and the concepts endorsed therein, is still the same: I worry for the quality of the writing being published electronically. As I've said, I don't spend a ton of time on these posts, for example, as it's so easy to publish them. I spoke to someone interested in posting his manuscript online as I work to publish it in print - something that does not entirely worry me - but he complained about the "snail's pace" of print publishing. But there's value in fixing errors before text goes public. There's also value in presenting it in the best way possible. We can put things out electronically in various ways but that should not lessen the quality of the writing and the presentation of the text. Spoken like a true editor, I suppose.

I also worry about the opportunities for corporate involvement - also seen in this creepy post. Rothman says:
So how can publishers still turn a profit off e-books and related technologies such as print on demand? Jeff's book is more diagnostic than prescriptive. However, I actually see an upside in his accurate observation that few Americans are serious readers or heavy book buyers; that's all the more opportunity for our industry to grow. As an example of gaps begging to be filled, check out my thoughts on Wal-Mart's disgraceful book-DVD ratio and the dearth of bookstores in small-town
America. I offer some specifics on how the chain could merchandise p-books better, to the advantage of shareholders.

Oh good, you're thinking of shareholders! Then we're all set! I have to run off and infect some villagers in a developing country with an experimental "bug" but once I'm done, let's talk more about how to help these shareholders, 'kay!

Yes, folks, he has found a way to make publishing work for... Wal-mart. It's just astounding. But then again, I don't read business books. I get the impression that such thinking in this field is standard, though it is not often discussed quite so graphically and crassly in publishing circles.

I'm sure there is a way to e-publish and p-publish - ?? - and still make a bit of change, but I'd like to see a model where there is enough money going around - and not just to Mac and Sony - to fund the proper production of these texts - editing, copyediting, text design. If an author has no interest in that then fine, let them just hammer out words and get them into consumers' grubby little hands. But is there room for something more polished? Because I think the more polished work is what will more likely stand the test of time.

Is it so wrong to consider preservation in this discussion? It's like email versus letters. Is it worthwhile to take the time and exhibit the patience necessary to type up and mail a real letter when email is so much easier and faster? Would anyone in the future find value in the email exchanges of two great writers, like they do now in great literary figures' letter?

PS - I just have to add, from Publishers Lunch, in today's email, this sad note:

Learning Annex president Bill Zanker paid people to line up outside the BN store on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street yesterday for a signing by Donald Trump of their joint book THINK BIG AND KICK ASS IN BUSINESS AND LIFE. Zanker dispensed $100 each to the first 100 people in line, $50 each to the next 100, and $10 each to the next 1,000 or so people.

Link here. Now *that* is crass, embarassing, and just... hilarious in its absurdity. Pathetic!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

NBA - I feel somehow obligated

Even though I find it a rather boring list, I feel I should let anyone under a rock who only has access to this sad li'l blog know about the National Book Award finalists for this year:

FICTION
Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown & Company)
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Jim Shepard, Like You’d Understand, Anyway (Alfred A. Knopf)
Fiction judges: Francine Prose (chair), Andrew Sean Greer, Walter Kirn, David Means, and Joy Williams.

NONFICTION
Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying (Alfred A. Knopf)
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA)
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf)
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Doubleday)
Nonfiction judges: David Shields (chair), Deborah Blum, Caroline Elkins, Annette Gordon-Reed, and James Shapiro.

POETRY
Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin Company)
Robert Hass, Time and Materials (Ecco/HarperCollins)
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard St. (Louisiana State University Press)
Stanley Plumly, Old Heart (W.W. Norton & Company)
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (W.W. Norton & Company)

Poetry Judges: Charles Simic (chair), Linda Bierds, David St. John, Vijay Seshadri, and Natasha Trethewey.

Kinda boring, no? And Joshua Ferris? I wrote about this book here, and I cannot believe it's getting this kind of distinction. I have yet to hear justification for its presence on the NBA finalist list.

Maybe I'm just out of touch.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hate to hear conservatives cry

I really do. The whining...

Par example, Roger Ailes as quoted in a WSJ article which was in turn discussed by Jack Schafer in this Slate Press Box. He's discussing how one gets published, at a most basic level:
You can't sell a book in America if you don't dump on Bush. That's the cheapest shot in the world. You cannot get an advance, and you can't sell a book because the publishers are all people who hate Bush and hate Republicans.

Oh puh-lease. This is so pathetic. And check out Regnery if you don't believe me.

But even that far right insane press aside, there are plenty of books that do not necessarily talk trash about our Commander-in-Chief. These conservatives are mad because Greenspan is doing Bush ugly - as if he's some leftie nut. Hardly! That man is not on my side. But he's smart enough to see the damage Bush has done, and so he's branded The Enemy and dismissed as riding another publishing trend right to the bank.

I can appreciate that the Bush bashing gets old, but should people have let up on ol' Nixon?! So Bush is reaping what he's sowing - don't kill the messengers. (Don't torture them either, okay?)

Having said all that, I'm glad I don't have to acquire and publish books that are just anti-Bush screeds. They're worthy books, but they can be tiresome, and editing one after the other would probably make my eyes cross. There, I said it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

As the kids say, :-(

Did any other Boston Globe readers out there catch this story tragically headlined, "Bookmobile's Final Chapter?" Oh bookmobile...



As most of you smart folks can probably figure out, the article is about the end of the bookmobile, those roving vans full of books that typically travel to places where people cannot easily get to a local public library - rural areas, low income areas, and senior centers especially. I was heartbroken by this story, but truth be told, they had me at the photo of driver Linda Caravaggio from Beverly's Bookmobile, above. Look at the interior of that vehicle! Ah, sweet, sweet chaos...


I guess the luddite in me still resists seeing the internet and its technology as the savior of the future, resists giving online communities the same value as in-person communities. Like farmers markets, bookmobiles and libraries give people the opportunity to talk to, ya know, other people. As online reviews and tagging replaces handselling and word-of-mouth, there seems to me so many possibilities for covert corporate involvement. Am I sounding all conspiracy-theory-ish? I don't mean to. I just trust Caravaggio, on sight, a lot more than a pop-up.

Sociable