1. Does anybody out there believe Macmillan wants to sell electronic books? I don't think they do.
There was an exciting and dramatic showdown this weekend between Amazon.com and Macmillan, the parent company of many top book publishers including Farrar Straus Giroux, Times Books and Tor. Amazon wants to price e-books at $9.99. Macmillan wants to price e-books higher and introduce tiered pricing so that an e-book costs more when it's new. Amazon tried to kick Macmillan where it hurts by suddenly refusing to sell their books on Amazon.com, cleverly timing this surprising move for a weekend so as to blunt the press response. Macmillan held strong and Amazon gave in on Sunday afternoon.
Most of the commentary has followed the "Amazon blinked!" line. Obviously their gambit failed, and their strategy in threatening access to Macmillan's books does not seem to have been well-chosen. Their strategy in pulling this stunt on a weekend failed too, because this is the weekend between the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl and the suspenseful Amazon/Macmillan standoff only provided the gridiron battle football fans were missing. Still, I'm not joining the anti-Amazon cheering section today, because I believe a $9.99 price point will help e-books flourish. Book publishers are wary of e-books, and may use higher price points as part of a strategy to discourage and delay customer acceptance of electronic publishing.
If you've been around here a while, you know where I stand on book pricing. I think premium-level/tiered pricing is an archaic and dysfunctional tradition that discourages impulse buying and customer experimentation. I don't understand why Amazon thought this weekend's showdown would work, and I also don't understand their use of the word "monopoly" to describe Macmillan (of course a book publisher has a monopoly on its own titles!). But Amazon is trying to create a new electronic marketplace for books, and Macmillan's action to tightly control e-book pricing amounts to a chokehold for this marketplace. I'll ask it again: does anybody out there really believe Macmillan wants to sell e-books at all? Sure, just as much as record companies want to sell MP3s instead of CDs.
This was a fair battle and Macmillan won, but the e-book pricing situation reminds me of Barack Obama's smart question about health care reform during this week's State of the Union address: "does anybody have a better idea?". Macmillan's victory is a victory for traditional premium/tiered book pricing. MobyLives's closing line above says it best: "this ain't over yet".
2. I'll be part of a panel discussion titled "The Oldest Media Goes Social" this Wednesday at 12 noon in New York City, along with author A. J. Jacobs, publicists Natalie Lin and Meryl Moss and BlogAds.com entrepreneur Henry Copeland.
3. Notable novelists playing cards. Shut up and deal ...
1. So the New York Times is going ahead with a payment wall for its website. I still say this is a bad business decision. Newspapers have always made more money on advertising than on sales, and newspapers that force readers to pay for online content will significantly harm their advertising numbers without bringing in a lot of subscription revenue. The New York Times is about to get much smaller.
I still haven't mentally returned from vacation, still haven't gotten back into the LitKicks swing. I've been running around a lot, actually, as well as working hard behind the scenes on a new software platform for the site that has so far only succeeded in breaking the Action Poetry pages (they will be back soon, I promise). More soon! Till then ... links:
1. I first spotted New York City "character poet" Bingo Gazingo at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2002 doing a crazy improvisation about his lust for an R&B singer named "Mariah Canary". I then caught many more unhinged performances at the Bowery by this elderly Queens rhymer, who, I'm sorry to hear, passed away on New Years Day. The world of poetry may not long remember Bingo Gazingo, despite a brief long-ago moment on MTV, but I hope every poetry nightclub in the world has a weird old geezer like him around to liven up the room.
2. "We are not slumming here, or surrendering to the carnival of the web. Quite the contrary. We are hoping to offer an example of resistance to it." Really! Just by showing up, they're going to do all that? The New Republic has launched it's new book section The Book with a big blast of self-congratulation.
5. Jim Morrison's favorite beatnik cafe.
7. Rani Singh, an old friend, has finally published a book about the oddly great Harry Smith.
10. Scott Esposito ponders writers vs. commentators.
11. The Millions asks a few bloggers to name the best literary readings they'd ever attended. It's a good question, and I had to pause for about three seconds before coming up with my own answer. Then I remembered seeing Allen Ginsberg. The kind of full-body, whole-soul performances he delivered -- funny, dead serious, totally in the moment -- set a standard for me that no other performer has yet matched.
There's a short story by Max Beerbohm, published in 1919, that sometimes comes up in philosophy classes. "Enoch Soames, a Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties" tells the story of Max Beerbohm, the author-as-character-within-the-novel, and his encounter with Enoch Soames, an unsuccessful writer and hanger-on in the London cafe scene in the 1890s. Enoch is frustrated that no one recognizes his genius, so he makes a deal with the devil to go forward in time and read about himself in the future where, he is sure, history will vindicate him.
In due course he and Max meet the devil himself in one of the cafes, and Enoch disappears, to pop up in 1997, where he searches the British Library to find out what we've thought of him. Some time later, he reappears back in the cafe, despondent. Before the devil spirits him away he explains to Max that he found only one reference to himself, in a work of fiction -- a short story by Max Beerbohm! And then he and the devil disappear. Max-the-character explains that he feels compelled to write this story about Enoch, as it will be the only way his friend will be known at all, despite the fact that it will be classified as fiction. He begs us to take it as biography.
The philosophical problem is, who and what is Enoch Soames? Within the framework of the story, are we to take him as fictional (as we do, and as the author-as-author does), or as "real," as both Enoch and the author-as-character insist that we should? The logical knots in this seemingly simple puzzle have yet to be fully untangled.
1. A Gulliver playground in Valencia, Spain.
2. Beat poet Andy Clausen on YouTube.
3. Amazingly, the Velvet Underground will be reuniting at the New York Public Library, though I'm not clear if this will be a talk, a musical performance or both. It's sad that late sweet-toned lead guitarist Sterling Morrison will be missing, but it's a nice surprise to see the reemergence of Doug Yule, who is widely disliked for replacing the great John Cale on bass after Reed kicked Cale out, but who helped them record their best album.
4. Jerome's Niece, a Buddhist poetry blog.
5. Onetime Heeb writer Jason Diamond offers a "Kaddish for Jewish Zines".
6. In the end, after a sluggish start, Electric Literature's much-discussed experiment with Twitter fiction turned up an excellent Rick Moody story about relationship anxiety, thwarted love and people who cling to their phones on dates. An excellent Rick Moody story, that is, but not necessarily an excellent Twitter story. Moody focused on the 140 character limit, but I think Twitter's most distinguishing feature is not its character count but its pacing and easy interpersonal immediacy (note: you can follow me on Twitter here). It became clear why Moody missed this when he revealed in an interview that he'd taken on this project because Electric Literature had asked him to, not because he had any actual interest in Twitter. There are many writers who do get Twitter -- say, Colson Whitehead, who is marvelous at it -- and I hope Electric Lit will turn to one of these writers for their next foray. Overall: great publicity, moving story, well done all around.
7. There will not be a Literary Kicks Best Books of 2009 list. Please excuse my grumpiness, but I mostly find these aggregate lists annoying and unremarkable. I do like to read personal lists of lifelong favorites by smart readers, but I don't care for annual lists or lists put together by groups.
8. Henry Rollins visits Bhopal, site of a chemical plant disaster 25 years ago.
9. For database techies, here's NoSQL. Elsewhere, here's just plain No.
10. I don't agree with this. I'm amazed at how good "The Office" manages to be, season after season. Sure, there are ups and downs, but this is one of those rare shows -- like "Twin Peaks", like "The Honeymooners" -- that represents television's ascent to the realm of literature. I will watch it until Jim and Pam drop dead.
1. I'm not sure I'm feeling the new Rick Moody "Twitter novel" that has begun appearing on Electric Literature and will continue for two more days. Some Contemporary Characters is a noble experiment by a good writer, but after the first day it feels more like a proof of concept than an integrated work. The tweets are written in a rarefied, elegant tone, as when the characters are bowling: "An ungodly strike, an indisputable strike, one pin teetering at the rightmost margin like chastity itself toppling with a dramatic sigh". Okay, but do people really talk like that on Twitter? Maybe Moody is focusing on the artistic potential of the 140-character sentence, but that's only half of what this work needs to do. It must also feel natural on Twitter, must reflect its setting in terms of identity and plot as well as character-count. This novel still feels like a text placed on Twitter rather than born there.
Why not write a Twitter novel as a variation on the epistolary or diary-form novel? We should believe that we are reading one person's actual tweets, and should feel engaged in piecing a mysterious story together from the available evidence. This could really work, and I was hoping to see that kind of realism here. Carolyn Kellogg doesn't seem convinced by Moody's new work either. Well, it's worth sticking with; there's still time for it to turn into something.
2. It's been established that James Joyce inadvertently invented the word 'blog', and now it seems that Vladimir Nabokov quasi-invented the smiley. Very cool.
3. Ed Champion reviews the new film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I detest McCarthy's books and would probably steer clear of this pity party even if Ed liked it, but it's a notable fact that Ed didn't.
4. Stephen Sondheim is writing a memoir.
5. I recently suggested that New York Times Book Review chief and conservative critic Sam Tanenhaus ought to review Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. Indeed he has done so, though for the New Yorker instead of his own publication. It's a good piece. In other NYTBR-related news, the film based on critic Walter Kirn's Up In The Air is getting excellent reviews. I plan to see it soon and will surely tell you what I think.
6. More film news: Schiller: Rebel of Arcadia is a new film biography of classic German Romantic author Friedrich von Schiller. The Last Station features Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy, and a movie based on Chekhov's Ward Six has debuted in Russia.
7. Brian May of Queen has written a book, A Village Lost and Found, about antique stereoscopic photographs.
8. P. G. Wodehouse channels Franz Kafka, according to this observer (via Books Inq).
@MAOrthofer: NYTBR doesnt even believe in '3%' - out of '100 notable books of 2009' http://bit.ly/5YJC9z only TWO are translations
That's pretty pathetic, and Orthofer elaborates on this point here. What the hell? Is this the New York Times American Book Review, or the New York Times Book Review? Because, I know some readers are interested in American literature, but I hope most of us are just plain interested in literature. Two out of a hundred?
Partly to protest this, but really because I'm in the middle of a busy Thanksgiving family weekend and am feeling lazy, I'm only going to comment on a single piece in this weekend's Book Review. Ken Auletta's naysaying business book Googled gets treated by Nicholson Baker, still my favorite writer even though I didn't love his last book, and even I can't be so lazy as to skip a Nicholson Baker piece. Baker is fonder of Google than Auletta, and provides his usual flourishes in telling us why:
Because, let me tell you, I remember the old days, the antegoogluvian era. It was O.K. -- it wasn’t horrible by any means. There were cordless telephones, and people wore comfortable sweaters. There was AltaVista, and Ask Jeeves, and HotBot, and Excite, and Infoseek, and Northern Light -- with its deep results and its elegant floating schooner logo — and if you wanted to drag through several oceans at once, there was MetaCrawler. But the haul was haphazard, and it came in slow. You chewed your peanut-butter cracker, waiting for the screen to fill.
As always, Baker dares to be imperfect -- for instance, I'm offended on behalf of my severely peanut-allergic son that Baker would pick a peanut-butter cracker, of all things, to represent a universal edible, when a Fig Newton or Ritz cracker would have worked just as well. But that paragraph is followed by this remarkable image:
Then Google arrived in 1998, sponged clean, impossibly fast. Google was like a sunlit white Formica countertop with a single vine-ripened tomato on it.
Yes, yes, yes. The rest of this weekend's Book Review is a bunch of other articles about a bunch of other books. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.
1. This expressionist portrait of Joyce Carol Oates is one of many interpretations of modern authors by Swedish artist Carl Kohler, who died in 2006.
2. If you prefer cute to modern expressionist, here's John Pupdike on Etsy.
3. Sarah Palin's new memoir appears to be a hit, enraging many Americans who dislike her, but I think it's time for many of us to lighten up about this clever charmer. Palin is clearly not qualified to be President -- but then neither was George W. Bush and he actually got elected, whereas Sarah Palin does not seem interested in playing it safe and is really very unlikely to even get her party's nomination in 2012. I strongly disagree with almost everything she stands for, but I think it's a waste of effort for liberals to focus their anger on the one funny and brash big talker in the conservative gang, instead of on the countless bland mumbling nobodies selling similar platforms, like Mitt Romney, Joe Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Dick Cheney.
I do thank God that John McCain and Sarah Palin did not win the last election, but I honestly believe that Sarah Palin was the less dangerous part of that ticket, if only because she appears to have no foreign policy agenda at all, unlike John "blood and guts" McCain, who wanted to be a war hero so bad he probably stormed the beaches at Normandy every night in his dreams.
Anyway, I do think a Jonathan Safran Foer vs. Sarah Palin cage match is great idea. And Tom Watson also semi-defends Sarah Palin here.
4. The American Library Association is looking for your essays about libraries.
5. Electric Literature will be tweeting a new work by Rick Moody. I have watched a few "tweeted novels" fly by, usually in disjointed reverse-chronological sentence fragments that repel any attempt at reading. Will these apparently clued-in folks find the formula that works? Hint: we write our tweets forward, but we read them backwards. Hint #2: if you're tweeting a novel and you can't make your sentences work at 140 characters or less, you're really not tweeting a novel.
6. I like these classic British rock stamps a lot.
7. A robotic version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the other hand, just creeps me out.
8. Despite being billed as "best writing tips ever", Allen Ginsberg's newly published writing tips aren't quite as great as his friend Jack Kerouac's. But they are pretty good.
9. Maud Newton is related to Pretty Boy Floyd.
10. Was Nietzsche pious? Maybe so, maybe so.
11. Frequent LitKicks contributor and Proust expert Mike Norris on being an ESL teacher in Paris.
12. Some good literary agents who are looking for new writers.
It's almost November and we're starting to see the usual "Best of 2009" lists (best books, best songs, etc.), which seems strange since there's a whole lot of year left in 2009. I won't try to name a best book or movie or song of the year today. However, I have just read an article on Slate that is so bad, so incorrect and so unnecessary that I'm going to go out on a limb: "Message Error" by Chris Wilson is the dumbest article of 2009.
This article's young author is attempting to take down Barack Obama's new whitehouse.gov on account of the software the site uses, and he's in way over his head. The level of journalistic ineptitude here makes a typical anti-Darwin or 9/11 truther pamphlet look downright fact-checked by comparison.
Chris Wilson says that the popular open source Drupal software package used to build whitehouse.gov sends the wrong messages and is "a disaster waiting to happen". In fact, Drupal is widely regarded as the best general purpose web publishing package out there today, and is certainly growing faster than any of its competitors.
1. A creepy publicity stunt involving flies carrying little paper advertisements at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Doesn't this make you feel bad for the flies?
2. San Francisco Beat/hippie poet Lenore Kandel has died at the age of 77. Here's an appreciation of her work by John Yates.
3. Carl Jung's awesome visual side.
4. A detailed financial biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (And why not? Money was certainly among his major themes).
5. East Village poetry legend and perennial Presidential candidate Sparrow and LitKicks poet Mickey Z. are creating a poetry anthology together and they say:
Calling all feminists, wizards, Queer theorists, ex-Black Panthers, Christians, Green activists, avant-gardists, Kabbalists, vegans, Hawaiian nationalists, kickboxers, Punks, Hip Hop evangelists, New New Leftists, pink-haired emo warriors, organic gardeners -- submit your work for "The Big Book of Revolutionary Poetry," edited by Sparrow and Mickey Z. Send up to 3 poems to: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Go for it, I say.
6. Guernica Magazing is turning 5! Jonathan Ames, Howard Zinn, Katie Halper, Mia Farrow and David Byrne will be joining the party this Wednesday, October 28. Wish I could make it (but I can't).
7. The eternal philosophical battle over the real-life ethics of German intellectual Martin Heidegger goes on. Personally, I don't agonize over Heidegger's Nazi past, because I never thought much of his work. You can find the same message -- the utter immediacy of existence -- in Nietzsche or Kierkegaard or Sartre, and with a lot more finesse and humor.
8. Building a brain inside a supercomputer. And here I am just trying to get Drupal to work.
9. I recently posted about Fall 2009 books I'm looking forward to; little did I know that Orhan Pamuk and Kurt Vonnegut books were coming out too ...
10. Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid is rocking the cash registers. My stepdaughter reads these books and I think they're hilarious.
11. I love this, from McSweeneys: YouTube Comment, of e. e. cummings?.
12. HTMLGiant on Glimmer Train: "Winning one of their ubiquitous contests is like winning $2 on a $2 scratch ticket or a free small soda during McDonald’s Monopoly promotion." They also admit that Glitter Train was once "a decent, if not rather traditional literary magazine". I used to read them, but I don't read print literary journals much at all anymore.
13. If you've been reading my memoir, some of these events will be familiar: A History of the Internet from 1969 to Today.
14. Speaking of bygone times, one-time high-rolling community website GeoCities is shutting down. Caryn is sad about this, and xkcd posted a tribute.