Sunday, April 03, 2011

Op-ed versus blog post

When I post something on here, no one screens it for me. This is sometimes painfully obvious, as when I include a glaring error, from a misspelled word to something just plain wrong. But Christopher and I purposely use this space to mouth off about whatever annoys, amuses, pleases, or frustrates us. We try to balance it so we're not always ranting. I hope all of you out there appreciate that balance.

This morning, I read something in the paper that just plain pissed me off. (And yes, I still read a newspaper.) My local paper is the Boston Globe. You'd think this would be a good thing. Sometimes it is; other times, it's a damn shame. When news went out recently that they were laying off two great writers from their books/Ideas section - Amanda Heller and Katherine Powers - I was not a proud subscriber. Melville House director and general smart guy Dennis Johnson rightly called the Globe out on this move on MobyLives, stating correctly:

Under the helm of long-term book editor James Concannon, and now his replacement Nicole Lamy, it’s long been a bizarre boycott in a town that has more colleges per square inch — about 100 within the city limits alone — that is full of writing programs (at Harvard, MIT, BU, BC, Emerson, UMass and Northwestern, to name a few), is the home to numerous award-winning literary journals (such as Ploughtshares, Post Road, Agni, and others), and is generally, as my grandfather used to say, lousy with writers. It’s clear the audience is there, and a huge part of the newspaper’s demographic, but the Globe has clearly decided to ignore that part of its readership.

I mean, I'm planning on going to two great literary events in this fair city just this week: on Tuesday, Harvard's hosting an incredible event about Frank O'Hara, which will include O'Hara's sister Maureen, novelist Ron Padgett, and the John Ashberry. Then on Thursday, Irish writer Colm Toibin is speaking at Emerson College, first doing a q&a with novelist Christopher Castellani at 4 and then doing a reading at 6, on behalf of literary journal Ploughshares where he is guest editor. Pretty f'ing hot, right?

But the Globe is bored with it, I suppose. They can devote plenty of ink and pixel to the Red Sox but as little as possible to literary goings-on.

But wait! There was something just today in the op-ed page - not even in Ideas or in the official Books section - on books. Fantastic. It was an article about how books are dead. Yes, this is what annoyed me this morning, and this is why this post is going from joy - Toibin! O'Hara! yea! - to frustration.

The op-ed, charmingly entitled "The Last Chapter," is from Globe gadfly Tom Keane, who has been a reporter and an all around capitalist his whole life, it seems. And he uses as his jumping off point the fact that a large Borders is closing right in the Back Bay, a central neighborhood here in Boston. Now Keane takes this information and provides hardly any context. Instead, it conveniently serves as evidence of bookstores' collective demise, at least in Boston. Apparently Keane hasn't followed the annoyingly complicated reactions happening around the country as Borders locations close, as chronicled impressively by Shelf Awareness in the last couple of months. Nor has he heard my call for an indie in my own South End neighborhood in Boston, or my suggestions for groupthink on how to open a good non-profit bookstore. (One post with both here.) There are options.

He in fact announces simply, "The book is dead." Unfortunately, some of us keep getting out the paddles, I suppose, forcing the poor, sickly book to hold on another month longer. To those of us who like printed books, he offers a series of dismissive comments that I won't repeat. They're cheap shots, like jocks mocking the nerds with arrogance and swagger, with a sense of the inevitable. "It's done," he's saying, "so get with it and buy an e-reader."

Many people are saying this and we don't go after all of them, but this guy is saying it in the Globe. In fact, he writes for the op-ed page regularly. That's where I fit this into the Globe's larger disinterest in the literary world of Boston. How is this guy qualified to write this? And did he do any more research beyond noting that this specific Borders location is closing, and then getting sales figures on books from the American Association of Publishers, for ONE MONTH! (And it's January, the month after the holidays, no less.)

And I come back to my opening remark regarding this blog. We can shoot our mouths off all we want. We are not supported by any larger body here. But Keane is printed up (shocking!) and sent out over internet tubes with the Globe's branding all around him. Why are they letting this cheap shot become part of any conversation in their pages, online or off? This is just an ad for e-readers, nothing more.

And I'm again struck by the sense that some want to create this self-fulfilling prophecy to get us over the hurdle. It's okay now, it's okay, put your book down... there ya go... and here's a Kindle! Yes! Take it, hold it, it's okay... it's okay... click on something... And boom, now you're stuck with it. Now you must buy and read with it, and let Amazon track your purchases, and your files, and your highlighting. Anyone reading a printed book is a loser. It's a done deal.

Let Keane make this case as loud as he pleases, of course, but hey Globe? Ask your writers to do some work, and try to avoid these editorials designed only to alienate the few of us left who both read books and still read your paper.

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