Friday, April 30, 2010

A new campaign is needed!

I have written about the painfully stupid publishing deals made for "books" that start as websites, as blogs, as Twitter accounts, but now someone else, with a better platform has made the case. Head over to this CQ article by Sean Fennessey, who rightly calls out publishers for acquiring utter crap. As he states outright at one point, "Tumblr and Twitter book deals are completely out of control."

We clearly need to start a movement to end these deals, which are filling the world with bad books. Such publishing lessens the values of books as a whole, as consumers wonder why they would buy the book when the internet offers THE SAME CONTENT for free. They then think, "why buy ANY books?!" This is unacceptable. If we care about "the survival of the book," we must end such acquisition abuse.

We need a campaign to end such acquisitions. Perhaps we here at SotB should work on coming up with a clever acronym and start tracking this trend - and naming names. Watch this space!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Breaking news: Crown parts knocked down, moved around, and put back up

It is a study in corporate intrigue, full of egos, strivers, and just plain desperation, to see what happens when these big corporate publishers "restructure." Breaking news is Crown Publishing Group's restructure.

Here's the breakdown - try to follow it, if you can!! It's all smoke and mirrors, it seems.

As usual, we here at SotB just hope that our colleagues in the company manage to hold onto their jobs or get good packages, if they are forced to look elsewhere for work. (The only folks leaving as mentioned here are Diane Salvatore, former VP and publisher for Broadway, and Broadway Senior Editor Lorraine Glennon.)

I can't imagine what authors published by this complex monster must feel.

Famous Novelists, and the Paradox of Satire

A few weeks ago, I visited Titcomb's Bookshop out in East Sandwich, MA, on the Cape, and walked out with a copy of How I Became a Famous Novelist, a novel full of irony and satire by Steve Hely, who was a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman and American Dad. In this novel, a young Boston man named Peter Tarslaw decides he can beat some very commercial novelists at their own game, so he writes a complete crap novel and watches as it makes its way higher on the bestseller list, often for completely bizarre reasons having to do with marketing, bad media, and author notoriety. (The made-up books on that list are pretty hilarious, by the way, including "Cap'n Jay & Us by Matt McKenna (Osprey, $22.95) A newspaper columnist and his daughter learn lessons from a mischievous squirrel" and "Jockstraps Aren't for Eating by J. D. Preggerson (St. Martin's $29.95) The former Mississippi coach offers advice and anecdotes about football and life.")

Obviously Hely includes plenty of satire about writing and publishing, some of which is spot-on and some of which is a bit dispiriting. I mean, I don't want to think creative writing is a fool's game, and some could walk away thinking as much. But the jabs at the NYC publishing industry are biting and amusing, if sometimes cheap.

For example....

Pete Tarslaw has a friend who is an Editorial Assistant at a big publishing house owned by some British company. He sends her his novel and she knows it's crap, but thinks this is the crap that will sell, and before that, will get her promoted. When she says she's sure her company will publish it, he asks if she thought it was good. "I can't tell anymore," she whispers to him. She then goes through the sheer size of the slush pile, and then says no one knows what's good anymore (forgive me for condensing this, from pages 124-126):
"I can't tell. I thought I could. I thought I knew good from bad. I'd find these incredible, touching books, and I'd say how great they were, and the editors would toss them. Or they'd publish them, and they'd sell like fifty-four copies. Literally. Fifty-four copies... The bad ones! These bad ones - terrible ones, ones that don't even make sense and have adverbs everywhere and made-up words - they sell ten million copies and they make movies out of them. I used to cry, every night, literally, I would get a milkshake and put vodka in it and cry because I thought I must be stupid... And I thought I was gonna quit. But then I sort of got it. Nobody knows. None of them. Editors, writers, agents, nobody. You know like when a kid is just screaming and screaming, and the mom just keeps throwing toys at it, but the kid keeps screaming, and it looks like mom's about to cry to?... That what it's like! The editors are the mom! Readers are the kid. And the editors just keep throwing stuff at them, but they don't know what to do!"
She then goes on to say her boss makes her do ridiculous things in an effort to find new authors.

You see what I mean, though? Part of me can laugh and recognize some small part of that, of not getting what works according to the editors in charge, and then part of me can laugh at the fact that big commercial NY houses are struggling to find the next big thing - kitties in libraries! old people mentors! - and publishing some utter tripe in the process. Then part of me gets a little bit sad at the state of things being satirized here.

I suppose satire always has that double edge, of humor but also actual impact. Hely pulls this off pretty well. But I may need to read a new book now that reminds me of people doing good work in publishing, to remind me why so many us stick with it!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Just a quote...

First, my apologies for not posting. Christopher has done a nice job keeping content flowing, and I have not. I will resume posts soon, I promise!

In the meantime, I came across this charming quote from Yeats, which admittedly is self-serving as it seems to be to justify the existence of us editors:

"It is hard for a writer, who has spent much labour upon his style, to remember that thought, which seems to him natural and logical like that style, may be unintelligible to others. The first excitement over, and the thought changed to settled conviction, his interest in simple, that is to say in normal emotion, is always I think increased; he is no longer looking for candlestick and matches but at the objects in the room." - W. B. Yeats

Right? But lovely all the same.

And now a brief history of how I came upon this quote.

I have started receiving Poetry Daily's email with a new poem introduced by a poet or critic each day, and one day a few weeks ago, poet C. Dale Young chose "The Second Coming," by W. B. Yeats. (About Young: "I currently practice medicine full-time, serve as poetry editor of theNew England Review, and teach in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers." He also three books of poetry published, as listed on his blog - follow the link!) Young provided charming commentary on the poem, about its power in and of itself but also how he came upon it and how it impacted him. He made mention of the book in which the poem originally appeared, and how odd that book was. (Sorry to say I cannot find a link to Young's commentary on Poetry Daily's site.)

The book is Michael Robartes and the Dancer, published originally as a chapbook by The Cuala Press in Ireland in 1920 (Press archives may be preserved digitally at site linked, though down at time of posting), reproduced in a photo-lithography edition by Irish University Press in Shannon, Ireland in 1970 - the edition I found in the library. This quote is from Yeats' Preface in that book.

Here is the full text of the poem, by the way, which is always worth a read:

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Copyright Goes WRONG!!!

It is a little tongue in cheek at the beginning but it is just about the best film about the issues surrounding copyright I have found. It is certainly easier to watch than that Disney thing we posted a week or two ago.

- CV, Ed.

Boing Boing:

Ben Cato Clough and Luke Upchurch's When Copyright Goes Bad (from Consumers International) is a great, 15-minute mini-documentary on what copyright can do, what it is doing, and what it needs to stop doing. Appearances by Fred Von Lohmann - Electronic Frontier Foundation; Michael Geist - University of Ottawa Law School; Jim Killock - Open Rights Group; and Hank Shocklee - Co-founder of Public Enemy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Orange Prize shortlist announced

From The Guardian:

Two debut novelists will take on the seemingly unstoppable might of Hilary Mantel and Wolf Hall for this year's Orange prize for fiction, judges said today.

A shortlist of six was named for what is the only annual UK prize specifically for fiction written by women. The winner will be chosen from Mantel, Rosie Alison (for The Very Thought of You), Barbara Kingsolver (for The Lacuna), Attica Locke (for Black Water Rising), Lorrie Moore (for A Gate at the Stairs), and Monique Roffey (for The White Woman on the Green Bicycle).

The two first-timers are Locke and Alison. Alison's book, a love story, tells the story of a young girl evacuated to Yorkshire during the war who ends up seeing things not meant for her eyes. Its success is all the more striking as she has yet to have her novel reviewed by a national newspaper. She recently told the Guardian that the lack of reviews was a relief: "It would be very easy for a cynic to write it off in a few dismissive lines."

Locke's novel is striking in a different way. It's a thriller – a genre that rarely makes to the finishing line of leading literary prizes. The Guardian's reviewer described it as "a powerful and skilfully constructed conspiracy thriller – Chinatown without the air of despairing fatalism." The New York Times called it an "atmospheric, richly convoluted" debut.

Locke, a screenwriter named after the 1971 upstate New York prison riot, is one of three American writers shortlisted. The other two are Moore and Kingsolver, the latter nominated for her sixth novel, The Lacuna, which moves between 1920s Mexico and the story of artists such as Frida Kahlo, and the US, focusing on the McCarthyite witch-hunts of artists. Her best-known work, The Poisonwood Bible, was shortlisted for the Orange in 1999.

Moore, best known for her short stories, is shorlisted for her third novel which was praised by Geoff Dyer in the Observer: "She's on fire for 300 pages!"

The shortlist has been whittled down from a longlist of 20, with novelists including Sarah Waters and Andrea Levy falling by the wayside. To exclude Mantel, however, would have had literary prize observers falling off their breakfast bar stools. Her evocative doorstopper, telling the story of Henry VIII's fixer Thomas Cromwell, has already won her the Man Booker, and was shortlisted for the Costa novel of the year.

Roffey is shortlisted for her second novel about an English couple settling in Trinidad.

This year's Orange jury is chaired by TV producer Daisy Goodwin. She said: "This shortlist achieves the near impossible of combining literary merit with sheer readability. With a thriller, historical novels that reflect our world back to us, and a tragicomedy about post-9/11 America, there is something here to challenge, amuse and enthral every kind of reader."

The judges have chosen their six from the 129 novels that were originally put forward for the prize. Goodwin has commented already on how gruelling the process was. "There's not been much wit and not much joy," she told the Guardian last month. "There's a lot of grimness out there."

The shortlist was announced this morning at this year's London Book Fair at Earl's Court. The other judges were Rabbi Baroness Neuberger, journalists Miranda Sawyer and Alexandra Shulman and the novelist and critic Michele Roberts

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Writers versus Editors

I hesitate to write this post just now, as traditionally, when I have settled down to write a post on a Sunday night, no one reads it. Not Sunday night, not Monday. But here I am again, writing about something that I read Friday, no less! 2 days ago - that's years old by today's 24-hour news cycle.

Alas, I write anyhow.

In the January/February issue of Mother Jones, Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways wrote a controversial (to some) article on literary magazines with the headline, "The Death of Fiction?" He opens by saying editing such a product, to most people, "seems... only slightly more utlitarian than making buggy whips or telegraph relays." A good line, to be sure. The question he raises is whether literary magazines have fallen so far from their heyday that they are not serving their purpose anymore, and if that's the case, where and how should we all find good writers, and writing?

I appreciate Genoways' consideration of these points as I often wonder the same as people carry on about the wonders of the internet, which provides a platform for so many more writers without us know-it-all editors getting in the way by acting as an overly restrictive gateway to publishing. As Genoways says of his role as editor, "The reality is that not everyone can be a doctor, not everyone can be a professional athlete, and not everyone can be a writer. You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can't express your individuality in sterling prose, I don't want to read about it." Here here!

Genoways then gets into some dangerous territory, by talking about the insane rise in MFA programs - "Last summer, Louis Menand tabulated that there were 822 creative writing programs. Consider this for a moment: if those programs admit even 5 to 10 new students per year, then they will cumulatively produce some 60,000 news writers in the coming decade" - alongside the severe drop in the print runs for literary magazines - "the average literary magazine now prints fewer than 1,500 copies." It seems everyone is training to be a writer, but no one is particularly bothered about being a reader. Genoways feels writers have lost perspective, unable to write about big issues that concern a large number of readers such as war, in a creative way. Instead, we are flooded with supposed eye witness accounts of things, which are far more exciting to a wide number of readers (ie, blockbuster potential, in publishing terms).

Genoways rightly says now is the time for university presidents to step forward and not just continue supporting their literary magazines, but boost the resources for their presses of all sizes so that directors and editors can make exciting, innovative choices, getting new, compelling voices out into the world without fear of being punished by the market. Writers will have to take up the challenge, working to "swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world." This is a rallying cry to a community, not just to one segment, and it's one very necessary to raise discourse and spread intelligent, creative, challenging writing to an audience far and wide.

Suffice to say, not everyone agrees.

Jay Baron Nicorvo of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, takes Genoways to task in an article from this month's Guernica. I am not entirely convinced by Nicorvo's opening point about MFA programs producing great readers. Isn't this what a sound liberal arts undergraduate education is about? MFA programs do not seem necessary for this skill and should not be sheltered from criticism, as some of them very well may be seen as cash cows by universities looking for more degree programs to attract students. I greatly appreciate that MFA programs allow writers to find steady, paid jobs - with insurance - but Nicorvo's defense seems a bit feeble.

Regardless, Nicorvo quickly moves onto editors, jumping on Genoways point regarding the "blockbuster mentality" of publishers. Here, Nicorvo states what is often stated on this very blog: editors at commercial presses too often chase the obvious and fear the innovative. In Nicorvo's words, "They attempt to herd the mob because they no long know how to reach the reader." The system of marketing and publicizing books has changed, but commercial publishers are frozen, and just keep throwing the same crap down the line without making changes necessary to reach readers. Editors acquire for the widest possible readership for fear of losing their jobs. I have to give Nicorvo credit for using John Maynard Keynes throughout this article to damning effect. He's spot-on regarding editors at bigger houses, I'm afraid.

Nicorvo puts out the terrifying but far too accurate theory of the third degree:
In order to win, competitors are forced to select the outcome most selected by others, whatever their personal preference. “It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree, where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.” If there’s anything that’s killing American fiction, it’s not MFA degrees and the institutions that bestow them. It is this: the third degree.
Youch. No one applauds winning the quest for mediocrity, but that does seem to be the game in commercial fiction.

Nicorvo, then, places the blame on feckless editors afraid to follow their own projects based on their own judgement. He doesn't even seem to feel "university-affiliated publishers" are able to really stretch their judgments, due to scarce government resources. Instead, our only hope lies in "the more limber, light-on-their-feet publishers - those not tied to state institutions funded by tax revenue."

I'm all for non-profit publishers and can certainly support Nicorvo's call to those editors at non-profit houses to buck up (remember when we used to say that rather than the ridiculously sexist "man up," or wait, is "buck" as in the deer? d'oh.). I'm not convinced that we can't match this with Genoways' call to university presidents to support literary magazines and presses at institutions so they, too, can take some risks.

So, guys, c'mon.... chill, and realize we're all in this together. Let's work together as a community of readers, editors, writers - none of which are mutually exclusive categories - and support presses of varying kinds who are taking up the cause of literary fiction - and progressive politics, if I may throw that in - and finding informed, brave, fascinating new voices that will expand all of our thinking. Onward and upward!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blogger Abroad: Washington, DC

As our own Christopher heads off to London for the London Book Fair (where we can all hope he takes notes and then posts a great big post about the trip), I wanted to report on a much more minor trip I recently undertook: a long weekend, for an academic conference, in our nation's capital.

In general, Washington, DC isn't all that different from Boston, where I am now, though it is of course larger. Boston x 2 or 3 perhaps. Part of me, however, thinks Boston has more of a tradition of creativity - arts and letters - than DC, and that such arts are visible in the city's culture in a way that isn't true in DC. But then again, there are the bookstores...

DC, as it turns out, is one helluva bookstore town. Of course, as I wrote earlier, the incredible Lambda Rising, one of the nation's first LGBT bookstores, closed down recently, which was - and is - very sad news. (The storefront remains empty.) But just a bit down the same street, Connecticut Ave, Kramerbooks & Cafe remains hopping. (Please note audio that starts when the store's website opens!) I went by the place on a Friday night and could not really look at the books - the book space was filled with people waiting for a table, beers in hand. I loved the site of beer drinkers amongst the books, but 1) I worried for the book jackets, as a former bookseller who was taught not to use books behind pads of papers while writing notes for fear of putting indentations into the jackets, and 2) I wasn't convinced many people were buying said books. I walked by during the day and the book section was being more used, as more than a waiting area.

This bookstore brought to mind Boston's own Trident Booksellers & Cafe, which has a bit of a sub-par selection of general books but has a very good magazine/journal selection, quite a bit on Eastern religions/philosophy, and very good food.

Later, I headed over to the amazing Busboys & Poets. OMG. The restaurant looked incredible, the clientele was both gorgeous on the whole and diverse, and the books.... left-leaning literary wonders, my friends. The events listing made me want to move to DC stat. Now *this* place I'd like to see replicated in Boston.

For used books, I wandered into Second Story Books in DuPont Circle, which had a mixed selection that reminded me a bit of the old McIntyre & Moore in Davis Square, with fairly old books, skewing a bit academic (maybe not as much as M&M), and a quiet or sometimes a bit surly staff. I found my current reading selection at this store: Henk Van Woerden's The Assassin, a book I'd never heard of which has proven to be as fascinating as it appeared when I found it on the shelf. Well played, Second Story.

Lastly, I happened by a store that was closed at the time - it was late at night - but also looked pretty amazing: Books for America, also near DuPont Circle (where the conference was, hence...). The website has as its mission, "Building and improving libraries in Washington, DC area schools, shelters, prisons and more; supporting reading programs; and providing children in the Nation's Capital with their first take-home books!" I can get behind all that.

I didn't get to it, but someone else recommended Idle Time Books for a good used selection. And of course, there are most likely millions of other places I didn't see, so pardon any neglected great stores - or just add them in the comments section!

Washington, DC: Go for the cherry blossoms and memorials, stay for the books. Back to you, Christopher.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Killing Books Softly, and Great News!

For those of us devoted to smart, important books that inform considerations of social justice, race relations, sexual politics, environmentalism, and more, sometimes it's hard to see deal news on Galleycat.

That explains why I threw up a little upon reading this morning that a silly li'l website called Hipster Puppies got a book deal with Danielle Perez at NAL/Penguin. (I should note it will be written by Christopher Weingarten, a man who organized a Twitter conference, in case you still had your lunch in your stomach.) I have nothing against the site, but I have something against corporate publishers pursuing sites that work perfectly well as blogs - Awkward Family Photos, for example, which is just fine in this format. Stuff White People Like would also have been fine, as a BLOG. Why do these publishers rush in with acquisition dollars to reproduce what is freely available online in some book that, as others mentioned on this site (celebrity bios!), are simply destined for Borders' bargain bins? I mean, HarperStudio made a book from This Is Why You're Fat, and look where it got them! Have we learned nothing?!

Sometimes a blog is just a blog, folks.

BUT WAIT! I have to add to this post (despite already posting, now editing).

The 2010 Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded, and for books, I'm thrilled that Paul Harding won the fiction category for a novel called Tinkers, published by the very independent Bellevue Literary Press. Fantastic! (Haven't read the book yet, admittedly, but know Bellevue has done some great work since starting up in 2005.) In poetry, Ray Armantrout won for Versed, a collection he published with Wesleyan University Press - which has incredibly strong lists in poetry and in music.

Consider my faith in publishing renewed. Thanks Pulitzer! Now I best go get that copy of Tinkers...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Wow! Does this ever look cool...too bad I will be in England drinking lots of beer.

As part of the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the London Review of Books we are presenting a series of events in New York. Tickets are on sale now for all of these events.

The Author in the Age of the InternetThe Author in the Age of the Internet

Saturday, 24 April at 7 p.m.

A panel discussion with John Lanchester, Andrew O’Hagan,Colm Tóibín, Mary-Kay Wilmers and James Wood

Tishman Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street, New York

Developments in the internet and electronic publishing are revolutionising the way books are sold and read. Not since Gutenberg has there been such a profound change in the transfer of knowledge in our society. What effect is this having on authors? Is it changing the way they write? If the physical book dies out, how will this alter the nature of fictional and non-fictional texts? With the decline of print newspapers and the fragmentation of the reading constituency, how will classics be identified and reputations made?

John Lanchester, Andrew O’Hagan, Colm Tóibín, Mary-Kay Wilmers and James Wood will discuss these and a host of related issues with special reference to their own practice as writers.

Book tickets for this event online or telephone 212-279-4200, noon to 8 p.m.

Tickets: $15 (Students $10)

Pssst, hey kid, can you spare 10 minutes for a film about copyright?

From our roving reporter in the field:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Salinger Betrayed!

Are you, gentle reader, like me? I love J.D. Salinger. No, he's not the best writer to have ever come along and he might not even be one of our 25 best writers ever but I still have a super soft spot for him. To his credit, I will say that he writes dialogue--how people actually speak including interruptions, half-finished sentences, digressions--better than any writer we have ever produced so he's got that going for him.

Assuming you have made it this far, you, too, must have been intrigued several years back when Orchises Press of Virginia erroneously announced that they were going to publish the "next" Salinger book. The publishing world had a collective gasp! It was to be a book version of the 50-page New Yorker magazine story titled "Hapworth 16, 1924" which appeared in the June 19th, 1965 issue (New Yorker subscription required to read the story). That issue, by the way, has become a cautionary tale as to why one should never throw out old magazines because you might just be tossing J.D. Salinger's last known published work. At the time I was totally excited for this because when I went to my local libraries in a search for the story I had learned about from a professor of mine-The Jones Library in Amherst as well as the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass-I was profoundly dismayed to see that someone had stolen both copies of that specific issue of the New Yorker. (This was, duh, before I was Internet savvy at all.) So, I had no choice and waited for the book to come out.

And waited...and waited...and finally gave up thinking that Salinger had lived up to his grumpy, "I hate the publishing industry" ways and put the brakes on the whole thing. It turns out, he did but not because he wasn't willing to have the book come out. It turns out that the editor of Orchises Press, Roger Lathbury, fumbled the ball inside the 5-yard line. In a piece published in New York Magazine on April 4th, Mr. Lathbury finally tells just us what happened. Do yourself a favor and read this great piece on how Mr. Lathbury "scored the publishing coup of the decade: his final book. And then I blew it."

Totally amazing!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Some people out there in happy book land still have HOPE.

Bad news is all around us in the publishing world. Even though it might seem like Brian and I are always bringing you the next closing this (today it was the closing of HarperStudio because they hate Brian) or the most recent fired that, we actually do still have some sense that the publishing industry will make it through all the upheavals and settle into a nice, comfortable niche of our collective culture. However, the lean times haven't stopped some enterprising people from giving it a go with three new ventures you, the 54 of you who check in on a regular basis, oughta know about. Survival of the Book is delighted to let you know about Vintage Magazine, Remedy Quarterly, and Writer 2.0. Since self-discovery is the best part of the interweb, I am not going to go on and on about each of these ventures. You, dear reader, should surf on over to each of them and take a looksie. I would, though, like to say a little bit about all three to prepare you for your experience.

First, Vintage Magazine.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;

Indeed. From the first second you touch Vintage Magazine you know something is different about it. It doesn't feel like any magazine you've ever held before. The magazine looks like a watercolor painting that you read instead of look at. It is hard to explain because we are so used to the glossy, thin ultra-vivid color magazines that currently populate the newsstand racks. In our world where everything is always "the newest, the coolest, the hottest, the shiniest," this magazine feels like an anachronism and with good reason: the overall design and feel is an homage to the famous post-war magazine Flair (do a Google search).

As for the rest of the physical presentation, I'll let our friends at Cool Hunting describe it:

For all of us out there who still love turning the printed page, the premier issue of Vintage Magazine, printed on various card stocks and boasting an open spine bound with red ribbon, is a joy to hold and explore.
The title Vintage hints at an era when we still read magazines, but also at a future when gorgeous magazines and art books will become rarities to treasure. Founder Ivy Baer Sherman Sherman explains, "the magazine uses the term 'vintage' in its broadest sense--focusing on the excellence of, the finest of things...aiming to do so both in content and in presentation."
Vintage Magazine was modeled on the legendary Flair Magazine (1950-51), a publication that the New York Times called "one of the most extravagant and innovative magazines ever published." Flair featured die-cut covers, fabulous foldouts and illustrations, and contributions from the likes of Salvador Dali and Tennessee Williams.

Uh oh. There was one little thing in that quote above that makes me dread for the future ofVintage Magazine. The publisher and founder Ivy Baer Sherman Sherman explains, "the magazine uses the term 'vintage' in its broadest sense--focusing on the excellence of, the finest of things...aiming to do so both in content and in presentation." The "excellence of, the finest of things" is a bit troublesome for this reader. If I remember back to my Radcliffe Publishing Course training some 10 years ago (I am still waiting for Ann Godoff to christen me an "editor" by the way), I would say that this new magazine falls into the "General Interest" category which, at least when I attended the course, was the kiss of death for any fledgling magazine. Specificity was the thing and, I think, it still is in the magazine business. Here is my problem: a quick look at the table of contents reveals an essay by Gary Giddens about the jacket art of the 78, 45, and the 33 1/3 record. You know the sleeve work, etc... A few pages later is an essay titled "Barbie Complex" about one woman's reckoning with the iconic doll and few pages after that is an essay on "sugar refining in 19th century New York." (I'm not kidding about that one.) The sugar piece is proceeded by a fluff piece on the "rise of the wedge." A wedge being a woman's shoe of some type. If that weren't schizophrenic enough, smack in the middle of the magazine is a photo of SS officers loading Poles and Jews into a cattle boxcar. The photo accompanies some poetry on a preceeding page by the delightful poet Esther Schor but is badly out of place here-both the poetry and the photograph. Turn the next page after that photo and there is a one page photo/essay about the "story of the floating barn" whatever that is.

(Deep breath)

At this point you may wonder just what the hell is going on in this magazine? You'd be right to be confused. Who is the audience here? Who is seriously interested in record art, barbie dolls, the wedge shoe, sugar refining, poetry of the holocaust, and floating barns? At the risk of the folks at Vintage Magazine taking Survival of the Book off their mailing list (oh, I guess I am duty bound these days to say that they sent us-at my request-a copy for review) I must say that there is just too much "stuff" here. I simply don't believe that they will get someone to subscribe for $32 for a year's subscription of two issues when the subject matter jumps around like a drunken grasshopper. I wish them all the best and I sincerely hope it works but in my experience when something is trying to be all things to all people, it ends up being nothing to anyone. That written, it is the most beautifully designed magazine to come along in decades. Truly. It is visually stunning.

Which brings me to the great and good folks of the new food journal, Remedy Quarterly. Now here is a group that understands the importance of focus and specificity. The first issue of the journal is out now ($7.50) and it is just lovely. The tagline for the journal is "stories of food, recipes for feeling good." Within that, they play with all the possibilities that such a focus provides. The editors, Jillian, Ari, Kelly, and Aaron, set up the table of contents to read like a menu and their perceptive choices for the first issue are a breath of fresh air in a field which can get too...too...Gastronomica on us (or at least me). Gayle Rana draws us in with a piece about her grandfather's black bean soup. We all have a recipe like this in our family history and Gayle's short piece (with the actual recipe) is a perfect welcoming entry to the whole journal. It is followed by an essay about "food as reward," then with an interview with up-and-coming chef Will Gilson of Cambridge's Garden at the Cellar restaurant, and much later a piece about author Stacy Slate's grandmother's "funeral cake." The writing in this journal is spry and clever and the editorial focus of the first issue is on the intersection of food and human interaction. A real delight to read. Here's hoping the make it, too. If you'd like to support them, they are on Kickstarter...just tell 'em that the old losers at Survival of the Book sent ya. Too many words? Check out their video about the magazine:

Last but certainly not least is Pagan Kennedy's new web magazine Writer 2.0. Ignoring for a moment that they may be direct competition for the hearts and minds of the Survival of the Book readers, Pagan has created a new space to explore:

[T]he death and rebirth of the publishing industry.

What will the word "book" mean in five years? Who will pay for newspapers? Can long-form literary journalism survive? How will writers make a living in the new economy?

Sounds interesting, right? I know that Brian is seriously thinking of doing a longer post on Pagan's new venture so I am not going to step on his toes here (that and one of my clients is a close friend of Pagan's and I don't wanna say anything that might get my ass in trouble). A quick look tells me that it is going to be a website to watch and hopefully down the road Writer 2.0 and Survival of the Book will together move to the fore in the fight to keep "a thing with pages and a cover from electronic destruction."

Ok, that is it for now...consider yourself part of the in-crowd.

HarperStudio, RIP

News today that HarperCollins will close imprint HarperStudio, which made a lot of noise under the leadership of Bob Miller, with its insistence on lowering advances and raising royalties to get authors more involved in their books' marketing. (Miller is moving to Workman, which we knew.) I am now awaiting the lengthy article from some intrepid publishing reporter on what really happened here. It was just a year ago that I admitted to coming around to the imprints' ethos, and now, kaput. Was it something I said, or didn't say? Did "the board" at HC get fed up with this experimenting editor types? Did the books just not work?

As usual, I hope the good team assembled at the Studio lands on their feet and finds great jobs elsewhere.

And now for some book history lessons, in this great article at the Smithsonian by Anne Trubek on "how the paperback novel changed popular literature." E-book lovers, begin your tongue-wagging...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Two More Points for Print

Here at SotB, we sometimes try to downplay the print/digital divide. Sure we want to save printed books, but we don't want to necessarily put up some huge wall that keeps all things digital from prospering. We want to promote print, not demote digital.

But I can't pretend I didn't feel some sense of smugness upon reading two recent articles, which in different ways, dispel the notion that digital is greener. Maybe books are printed up on dead trees, but how do you think that laptop/iphone/tablet runs?

Don Carli's article over at MediaShift takes this question right on, opening with all the things we hear - "please don't print this email if you don't need to" - and then asking the tough questions:

What's implied is that digital media is the environmentally preferable choice and that print media is the environmentally destructive choice. But is it possible that digital media could be more destructive to the environment and a greater threat to trees, bees, rivers and forests in the United States than paper-making or printing?

Yikes, right? It seems our magically paperless offices are not any greener for it. From the energy needed to run and store all this media - hello coal, mountaintop removal - to the metal and plastic needed to manufacture the products, digital media can be deadly for the environment.

Then tonight, I find Dave Gilson's article from Mother Jones with the oh-shit headline, "The Scary Truth About Your iPhone." Very Dateline, and I generally object to such scare tactics. But Gilson reveals plenty of facts about the now ubiquitous devices that are, in fact, already being used as readers for books.

I think I'll spend this weekend on the Cape shopping at one of my favorite used bookstores (Isiah Thomas Books in Cotuit) and feeling good about reusing a paper product.

She's a beauty!

Just a quick post to link to Ariel Kaminer's story in the NY Times about the new amazing library in Battery Park City. How could I not link it when this is the opener:

You, over there, mouthing off about the death of print. Keep it down; this is a library. Not just any library: This is Battery Park City’s public library branch, the city’s newest, greenest one yet, and it’s quite a sight to behold.

Pretty good, Kaminer.

Be sure to check out the slideshow. This "green" building is pretty spectacular! (Giving you a run for your money, huh Seattle? Watch yourself...)