Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fight it, fight it!

You should be sitting somewhere with a nice (printed) book, but then THIS comes along - Bookshelf Porn - and suddenly... suddenly...

Fight it!

yayeveryday:  Read more books than blogs

Thursday, July 29, 2010

So has the ipad changed the game?

I have been doing quite a bit of abstract thinking that may or may not form itself into a post. It involves capitalism, and the television show "Hoarders," and our culture of consumption, and Fahrenheit 451 (which I'm only now reading for the first time - I know, I know), and the future of books. There are many strands floating around that may or may not coalesce.

For now, I was interested to see today's article by Julie Bosman in the NY Times on e-books made for use on the iPad. Bosman covers new products, though publishers have not universally settled on a new term for such products:
In the spring Hachette Book Group called its version, by David Baldacci, an “enriched” book. Penguin Group released an “amplified” version of a novel by Ken Follett last week. And on Thursday Simon & Schuster will come out with one of its own, an “enhanced” e-book version of “Nixonland” by Rick Perlstein.
Now I have to confess that my sister now has an iPad. Her husband bought her one for their anniversary, calling me first to discuss. I did not steer him away from it and even talked about some of the positive features. I guess some part of me wanted someone close to me to buy it, play with it, and report back. She opened the gift last weekend and we talked about it on Monday. I told her how I sat next to a man on a plane from Houston to Boston who sat quietly flipping "pages" for the entire flight, his attention rapt. Near the end of the flight, he flipped the thing over and worked on some PowerPoint presentation. I also mentioned the article I linked to in my last post. I also emailed her information about the Dr. Seuss products available for the iPad - adapted from the books, for my six year old nephew. (It turns out he doesn't like Dr. Seuss, which may be insane, offensive, or awesome - I haven't decided.)

I chatted with her today and she said she's enjoying the iPad, but her experience does give one insight into its uses by someone who is not typically considered an early adopter of anything. They went through a ton of Youtube clips, some of which she said were hilarious but others of which confused her, in that they were painfully boring and tedious and yet highly rated and commented upon. Such is the world of the new, unedited media, hm? Thanks, crowd-sourcing!

But we also talked about this article, which I had just read, and about publishers embedding videos into e-books, and we agreed that those were two different parts of one's brain that would be competing. "Either I'm watching a video or I'm reading a book. I don't want both." She suggested maybe our brains are just trained that way because we have read so many books, and maybe younger people would find videos in books a lot more appealing.

In reading this piece, I see that Bosman mentions how,
Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette, released an “enriched” e-book version of Mr. Baldacci’s latest novel, “Deliver Us From Evil,” in April to coincide with the hardcover release. The e-book producers borrowed from the film industry and included “research photos taken by the author, deleted scenes from the manuscript, an alternate ending and other special features,” Hachette announced in March.
When I read that, I thought about how I do look to see if a dvd has "extras" when I'm thinking of buying it, even though I rarely sit and watch director's cuts, or commentary (except on John Waters' movies, which are always good). Are we now going to raise the bar with books, and demand that an author writing a narrative isn't enough? "Oh, her novel doesn't have a trailer, and 'writing-of' segment, a series of photos so I know what to imagine for various scenes? Forget it!"

I don't know, though. I admitted to my sister that I do go online to see author websites sometimes, and I have been known to read a Q&A with the author at the back of a Harper Perennial paperback. It does make one wonder if this is the way the publishing industry is going to change, by adding capacity by seeking out employees who can think up and create these extras. That would still be a creative enterprise in service to the author's work.

But this is all iPad related. We've all heard about companies coming forward to do this kind of work but they've been given a bigger market as the iPad has rolled out. As Bosman quotes in teh article,
Brad Inman, chief executive of Vook, said his company is working with 25 publishers to create multimedia books. “The iPad brought this to life,” he said. “Everyone knows now that they’ve got to put their toe in this water.”
So... where does this leave other readers, most especially the biggest and loudest of them all, the Kindle? Well, Bezos is now announcing a cheaper version, a "mass market" type of deal. As Geoffrey Fowler reports in the WSJ,
The new Kindle features a screen with increased gray-scale contrast, a battery that lasts for a month, and a slightly smaller size. It will come in two flavors: one with Wi-Fi and 3G Internet connections selling for $189, the other with Wi-Fi only for $139. The latter will be among the cheapest wireless-equipped e-readers on the market, at least for now.
Hm. Too little, too late? And everything Bezos says sounds sleazy. His quote here, "People will buy them for their kids. People won't share Kindles any more." It's like he's not sophisticated enough to code language so it's not quite so desperate.

But then, in explaining why the Kindle doesn't have the bells and whistles of a table like the iPad.... oh I hate to say this... Bezos makes my same point!
"For the vast majority of books, adding video and animation is not going to be helpful. It is distracting rather than enhancing. You are not going to improve Hemingway by adding video snippets," he said.
Oh God that smarts.

As Christopher and I have both said, at some point, I just think these guys are trying to tell me I want, or even need something that I really don't. You know what? When I watch a good movie, I don't need extras. And when I want to read a book, I don't need something electronic. I just need to grab something made largely of paper and open it, and sometimes stuff it in my bag or under my arm, and take it on a train or plane or on a walk. (My sister pointed out, "I'm not sticking this thing in my beach bag, that's for sure.") These stories fill the "pages" of our newspapers, but at some point, is it a bunch of noise about nothing?

I mean that on a happy note, but in case you're not happy yet:

Thanks to Adele Enerson at Mila'sDaydreams for this ridiculously cute "bookworm."

[PS I would be grateful if anyone in North Carolina, in particular Wilmington, can tell me why this post on the Kindle debates from last May keeps getting hits from your region. Any clues? Thanks!]

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quick Recommended Reading

Just wanted to point folks to Scott Kirsner's piece in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe today, with the headline, "Kicking Back with a good e-reader." Kirsner, who covers technology for the Globe as a columnist, takes B&N's Kobe, a Kindle, and an iPad on a weeklong vacation to try out each one, and makes some interesting finds. While I take issue with any journalist parroting back Amazon's press release regarding the number of e-books they've sold compared to hardcovers - self-serving stats to be sure - I do appreciate the overall level-head-ness of this piece. There were multiple times when, as I read it, I almost spilled my coffee and/or started sputtering various curse words, but generally, as I kept reading, I was calmed. One such example: when Kirsner says that, in keeping with this experiment, he was going to stay out of any bookstores, doing all his book purchasing online to have the full digital experience. But then he comes around as his son forces him into the Where the Sidewalk Ends bookstore in Chatham, on the Cape, and he also talks up the Harvard Bookstore back in Cambridge. Phew.

I appreciate his ultimate conclusion, but in fairness to him, I have to make you all read it to get there. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Poetry Recommendations

A few months ago, we posted a "contemporary poetry starter kit" as provided by Jeff Gordinier, which seemed to attract a fair number of readers. Nice for us, great for contemporary poetry! So recently, when a friend on Facebook put up the following status:

Hey poetry folks: Looking for a heap of new books to burrow through. Any recent favorites?

I thought I'd share the recommendations mentioned. I was very pleased to see someone whom admittedly I don't really know asking for new poetry titles. At one point, he specified, "Specifically, folks, I'm looking for brand new books of poetry by living, breathing, and most likely socially awkward writers. BOOYA." Keep that point in mind in looking at this list, though every rec may not meet that qualification. I put some covers in when I could, some of which (including Myles' and Kunin's) are fantastic.

Here 'tis:

My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer

Two Minutes of Light by Nancy Pearson

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City: Poems, New and Selected by August Kleinzahler (this one the original poster knew, and loved apparently)

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam (review here)

Geoffrey Nutter's Christopher Sunset
Christopher Sunset

Rachel Levitsky - any of her books, but especially Neighbor, pub'd by Ugly Duckling Presse (Q&A here - did Ugly Duckling disappear? website not working, which is sad as it's described as a non-profit art & publishing collective, but site seems to no longer exist - ??) (it does exist, and link works! see comments)

Amy Gerstler's Dearest Creatures
Dearest Creature

Eileen Myles' Sorry Tree (orig poster said this was his favorite books of her's)
Sorry, Tree

The Sore Throat & Other Poems

Elisa Gabbert - no title mentioned, but try the most recent, The French Exit

I personally am curious about Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, the Myles, and The Sore Throat. You?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Would you pay to use your public library?

This past Sunday, the Guardian, an newspaper online that you really should be checking in with every day or so, ran a short feature on the refurbishment of the legendary London Library. (How has it never occurred to me that there is a big library open and ready for exploration in central London?) Anyway, the article explains that the London Library has had to raise its annual fees and has asked its members to bear more of the share of the cost in the upkeep of the physical space which, as you might guess, hasn't gone over too well. It made me wonder: would Americans pay to use their local library? If so it could be a model moving forward for publishers, writers, and the hemorrhaging book business in that it could provide a solid and reliable stable of consumers for books and cultural products like magazines, videos, etc. It also could be a way to generate some revenue for our extensive library system so they wouldn't be so reliant on local and municipal funding. For £395 (or approximately $600), patrons get access to over a million books plus nearly every periodical released since 1841. I know that it isn't in our DNA to pay for the privilege of going to and using the library but maybe we need to rethink that model? If patrons and citizens joined in the cost of keeping their library open with both taxes and a yearly membership fee, perhaps we could keep most libraries and their branches from closing (or almost closing...I'm looking at you BPL). I realize this isn't a popular idea but maybe one who's time has come?

The finest place to find yourself in the whole of the capital is in the book stacks of the London Library, best of all on the metal staircase that runs between the topography, history and science and miscellaneous sections. A million books are within your reach: almost everything interesting ever written in English, and several other languages besides. The wonder of the place is that most of this great collection is on open access, and, unlike academic libraries, available to take home. You don't just use the London Library, you explore it. The clanking, slatted cast-iron floors; the long narrow passages; a layout that sends even old hands into literature by mistake when they were seeking biography; the warm, deep scent of carefully bound books; the fact that you can, if you want, read every copy of the Times ever published, on paper: all this is available in return for the membership fee, and can never be replicated by an online search using Google. There is nothing pompous about the place, though it is a private club and has a roll call of famous literary members running back to Thomas Carlyle, who helped found it in 1841.
Think of how chronically understaffed, underfunded, and overworked your local library seems when you go in. Have you ever heard a librarian say "I can't believe it. I have all this money to buy books that the question isn't which ones should I get but can I find enough titles to spend the budget this year?" A yearly membership at your local library could go a significant way toward alleviating all the ills that plague the American free library system. I know that this, by definition, smacks of elitism because there will be people who can't pay a fee at all, hence the natural advantage of a free system. But the system has become untenable and in every community across the nation the sands are starting to be washed away from the foundation of the system. Admit it, your local library isn't open as much as you remember it was when you were younger. With a little tweaking and some compromise (the true American gift) there would be ways for anyone who couldn't afford the fee to have it waived. How about 2 hours per month of volunteer time in the library for anyone who can't pay the fee? Every library I have ever set foot in could use some help shelving, alphabetizing, and straightening the shelves. A fee (and volunteer structure for those not able to pay) could go a long way in returning libraries to their rightful place as the cultural heart of a community.

Over many generations the London Library has been amassing books and periodicals covering every aspect of the humanities to give readers, writers and researchers the riches of a national reference library for use in their own homes or workplaces. The Library's founding principles remain a blueprint for providing the most direct and liberal access to knowledge.

It is a central tenet of the Library that, as books are never entirely superseded, and therefore never redundant, the collections should not be weeded of material merely because it is old, idiosyncratic or unfashionable: except in the case of exact duplication, almost nothing has ever been discarded from the Library's shelves.

Over 95% of the collections, which now number some one million volumes, is stored on some 15 miles of open-access shelves which may be freely browsed, and over 97% is available for loan. With books dating from the 16th century to the latest publications in print and electronic form, the Library has sought to be contemporary in every age.

Wait, what?!? "Almost nothing has ever been discarded from the library's shelves." That is awesome and the annual fee goes to directly support the acquisitions and maintenance of a collection which never shrinks. Think about that. Furthermore, assuming you join the London Library, you get to read here:

In any case, it isn't going to happen here but it might just be the panacea that would cure the entire library system in the United States. For now, I understand the value of the free public library system but sometime in the not too distant future there will be a reason to start instituting a yearly membership fee to guarantee the survival of these institutions. The notion of government support-from local to national-is under siege and it is not out of the realm of possibility that one day libraries won't be supported by the municipalities in which they are located. When that happens they will either shrivel up and die or find a new way to survive. If the library system dies, we're totally fucked.

The London Library

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More Shots at Amazon

Colin Robinson of the maverick new publisher OR Books does a nice job on GRITtv explaining how far Amazon's (bad) tentacles go into the publishing business:

Scary but important stuff. I really appreciate what these OR Books folks are up to, and look forward to seeing more.

PS - For those who prefer to read rather than watch, here is a fantastic article with the same point by Robinson, in the Nation. In addition, today's installment of the always-reliable Shelf Awareness includes a round-up of article's around Amazon's bullying tactics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I'm not posting from Texas, where I was not born but where I spent many years. (To be Texan, one can't just be born there, but must have family roots.) But I am posting upon returning back to the Northeast from a trip down to Texas, to Austin specifically. It was a good time - but hot... so effin' hot... why do you have to get so HOT, Tejas?

Anyhow, I'm happy to report that we did manage a trip to BookPeople while in town and it is as amazing now as when I lived in Austin over ten years ago. I have to commend this fantastic store for one thing in particular (though they do so much right): staff recs. Holy crap. There are great staff recommendations all over that massive store. You Austinites are lucky for a lot of reasons - bats, food, music - but never forget you have one of the best indies in the country right in your fair - very hot - city.

I also read Daniel Woodrell's novel Winter's Bone en route to Tx, in anticipation of seeing the movie this week (I hope). The charming novelist/poet Scott Heim recommended Woodrell to me and I immediately went out and got Tomato Red from the library, only to wonder why I hadn't read this guy. I then bought Winter's Bone and it was pretty amazing, folks. (Try to get the non-movie tie-in version, as the cover of the original paperback (right) is charming. In fact, they had it up at BookPeople as a staff rec!)

But there's more TX connection here!

It seems Tomato Red had somehow gone out of print. Fear not, good readers. An indie out of the Lone Star State has come to our rescue. Busted Flush Press out of Houston is reprinting the novel, and I highly recommend you grab a copy when they are ready. (The Press's blog said it was at the printer on June 30th.) It seems the Press was started up by David Thompson, assistant manager for Murder by the Book, an indie mystery book shop in Houston, to reprint crime classics, but they now also do anthologies and even original novels. Their selection looks mighty good - Woodrell got me looking, now others have me interested. This is a press to watch, folks. Thompson et al must be good if they are bringing some Woodrell back.

Politics aside, Texas ain't all that bad. Some great things come from there!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Economics for Publishing 101

I mislead with this headline. I'm not providing such a lesson, but rather require it. Please advise on good sources.

The reality is, everyone has their own opinion on how publishing can move forward in a way that is financially secure. 90% of it is probably bunk, or at least iffy conjecture. I certainly don't have an answer but find a certain logic, and/or perhaps comfort, in simplifying.

This article by John Standerfer in the Huffington Post (a high school classmate of mine!) raises the issue that corporations have become so efficient in modern-day America that they don't need as many employees. As we all wait to come out of the Great Recession, we have to stop staring at employment numbers and hoping the unemployment drops magically. He brings up this uncomfortable example:
According to their most recent annual reports, Amazon generated $24.5 billion in sales with 24,300 employees while Barnes & Noble had $5.8 billion in sales with 40,000 employees. Amazon is generating over $1 mm in sales per employee while Barnes & Noble is generating less than $150,000. Put simply, for every million dollars in revenue Amazon takes from Barnes & Noble, Amazon hires one person and Barnes & Noble lays off seven.
Yikes. No, I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it can't be good.

There are quite a few comments below this article debating its validity, as ever in our modern internet-based media, and some good points are raised. Manufacturing has shrunk so dramatically in this country, but it didn't just vaporize: it moved to developing countries, where corporations could find much cheaper labor and more lax regulation. This is a bit beyond the example provided here however, regarding Amazon and B&N.

(I kind of love this point by "worldsfairdesign" (whose avatar may be Herbert Marcuse?), which is just so cranky and, as someone happily not ensconced in corporate America, seems so true:
Bottom-line is that the vast majority of the American middle class hasn't produced much of anything of value for about 30 or 40 years. Don't tell me consulting for a marketing firm that handles PR for an entertainment company is valuable. It doesn't warrant making five figures any more than being a CEO warrants making six.
Apologies for the tangent.)

So what does this mean for publishing? I don't really know, but I do know this comes back to the point many have made about the value of humans in the whole publishing and bookselling world. There is something people appreciate about the anonymity of Amazon, and no one can question the convenience, and the endless incentives (free shipping, anyone?!). But it comes at a price. It isn't entirely increased efficiency - though Amazon has mastered that, as covered by Ted Striphas in his book, The Late Age of Print - but also the wonders of the internet, which cuts down the need for store space - and store staff. Yes people like the physical space of a bookstore, so often replicated in movies and tv shows, but are they willing to pay for it?

I know I've gone on and on about labor before, but it does worry me. And something not addressed here is the massive amount of accumulated wealth in this country - the rich have become much, much richer - and yes, I'm looking at you, Mr. Jeff "$4.3 billion worth" Bezos. It's time to DISTRIBUTE that WEALTH, billionaires! It's hard to look at that amount of wealth alongside struggling independent bookstores and important independent presses that are getting by on nothing, with employees making pennies (trust me, I speak from experience) and having to cut corners while fatcats question their bottom lines, telling them they should dry up and die if they can't find a market. That's not even to mention public libraries facing horrible cuts, to employees, to hours, to branches. I know this is simplistic but on some level, so is the problem: $4.3 billion here and bookstore or library closing there (or here or there), it doesn't take a math genius to find imbalance.

Well now I'm angry. At least I have BookPeople ("A Community Bound by Books" - great slogan) to look forward to for the coming weekend in Austin, TX. I'm also happy to hear of any used bookstore recommendations there.

Friday, July 02, 2010

One for the Road!

As we (Americans, anyway) all get ready to hit the beaches and parks and backyards to celebrate July 4th, I wanted to quickly post about something fun that caught my eye.

Stephen J. Gertz over at BookTryst posted here about Bibliopulp from the Heldfond Book Gallery in San Franciso. (Great site design, too.) These are faux pulp covers geared around book collecting, for the hipster geek in all of us. $25 for one of these bad boys!

My two favorites are this one:

and this one:

Happy July 4th!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Another Bookstore Model

In today's Shelf Awareness, there is mention of a new non-profit bookstore. The viability of this idea has come up on this site before. In lovely downtown Spartanburg, SC, it's happening, folks.

The Hub City Bookshop has now opened its doors, filling its 2,000 square foot space with new and used books. It's quite an operation, from the ways it's described in this article from the local paper (Trevor Anderson reporting). It is in the 82-year old Masonic Temple Building, which also includes a 275-seat auditorium that the store can use for events and will soon include the Little River Roasting Co. and a Cakeheads Bakery, making it quite a hub, indeed. It is associated with Hub City Writers Project, which sounds a bit like Boston's own Grub Street, with classes for new writers taught by published writers, events, and other community-oriented projects.

But back to the bookstore - from the article:
“As far as we know, nowhere else in the country is there anything like this,” said Betsy Teter, executive director of the Hub City Writers Project. “We think this could be a model for a new trend in the way to keep independent booksellers alive.”
I'll be curious to see how this works out, and I certainly wish the Hub City Bookshop the best! Now folks, I've been down to Spartanburg, and I can tell you... well, I'm just real real pleased to see a bookstore going in down there, because I didn't find a whole lot to love in the town. But hey, I was just there for a conference, for a few days... a few sweltering June days.

I wonder if there is anything else quite like this around...?