1. How delightful to learn that James Joyce may have invented the word 'blog' during a typical conversational ramble in Finnegans Wake! Here it is in context:
Now from Gunner Shotland to Guinness Scenography. Come to the ballay at the Tailors' Hall. We mean to be mellay on the Mailers' Mall. And leap, rink and make follay till the Gaelers' Gall. Awake ! Come, a wake ! Every old skin in the leather world, infect the whole stock company of the old house of the Leaking Barrel, was thomistically drunk, two by two, lairking o' tootlers with tombours a'beggars, the blog and turfs and the brandywine bankrompers, trou Normend fashion, I have been told down to the bank lean clorks? Some nasty blunt clubs were being operated after the tradition of a wellesleyan bottle riot act and a few plates were being shied about and tumblers bearing traces of fresh porter rolling around, independent of that, for the ehren of Fyn's Insul, and then followed that wapping breakfast at the Heaven and Covenant, with Rodey O'echolowing how his breadcost on the voters would be a comeback for e'er a one, like the depredations of Scandalknivery, in and on usedtowobble sloops off cloasts, eh? Would that be a talltale too? This was the grandsire Orther. This was his innwhite horse. Sip?
Enough puns for you there? I assume that "blog" is a play on "bog" (and in fact the word "blog" has always seemed to carry an appealing sort of Joycean phlegmatic physicality). Pictured above: an Irish peat bog.
(This is chapter 20 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I went to San Francisco in March 1998 to attend the Webby Awards. Literary Kicks was a nominee in the Print/Zines category. I was up against Salon (a well-financed new content venture), the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (exciting stuff!), a compendium of electronic literature known as Labyrinth, and, finally, alt.culture (my friend Nathaniel Wice's site, hosted by Pathfinder).
It felt strange to be up against a site edited by my friend and hosted by the company I worked for, but Nathaniel and I both agreed that alt.culture didn't have a chance, and neither did Litkicks. Salon, a darling of the new media industry since its highly publicized introduction, was the clear choice to win.
I flew out to California to attend the awards ceremony at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, bringing the Enterzone crew, Christian and Briggs and Martha and Rich, as my guests. We showed up to the event in an ironic mode, enjoying the hyped-up red carpet atmosphere though we knew my site would lose, and feeling dubious about the crowd of fashionably dressed dot-commers that filled the auditorium. It wasn't until the Print/Zines category was presented and I saw an image of the Litkicks front page on the large theatre screen that I suddenly realized I wanted Litkicks to win.
This sudden epiphany that I wanted to win was quickly followed by the announcement of the winner: Salon. Dammit.
The second time, in 2007, I got invited to the parties but didn't know what to do at the parties once I got there. I walked the convention floors feeling excluded.
This time, it was my own friends hosting the parties, and I walked the convention center floors feeling entirely comfortable. So now I have finally adjusted to Book Expo -- the one USA book industry convention that the entire industry actually shows up for -- just at the moment that many in the industry began to question whether a radical shift towards digital publishing will become necessary in the next year, whether book publishing is in permanent decline, and whether or not there will even be another Book Expo next year.
Attendance is down and fewer galleys are available, but the spirit of innovation is up. I'm sure the economic problems currently obsessing booksellers have more to do with poor consumer spending and less to do with the digital revolution, and so I couldn't stand to sit through a Saturday morning panel discussion about whether large commercial book publishers "still hold the keys to the kingdom", or a later one about how book reviews are changing. The probability of hearing a single fresh thought at either event seemed slight, so instead I saved my event-going for a panel called 7x20x21, organized by Ami Greko and Ryan Champan and offering free-form inspiration from Lauren Cerand, Chris Jackson, Pablo Defendini, Debbie Stier, Matt Supko, Jeff Yamaguchi and Richard Nash. At 7 strictly-timed minutes per speaker, nobody had time to do anything but speak from the heart. Let's forget about the future of the book for a moment and talk instead about the future of the panel discussion: 7x20x21 is a good template for other event organizers to follow.
A "blogger book signing" sponsored by NetGalley.com was a real hoot. I enjoyed sharing my hour with Sarah Johnson, who writes about historical fiction at Reading the Past. I had never heard of several other literary bloggers I shared this schedule with. I gather that many of them specialize in specific genres or areas, and that several are more obsessed with the constant stream of newly published books than I am (personally, I'm also excited about what books are coming out next year, as long as next year is 1863).
But most of these sites also feature the characteristic I value most in a literary blog: an authentic human voice. Here's the whole gang, for your checking-out enjoyment: The Book Maven, Presenting Lenore, Follow the Reader, Maw Books, GalleyCat, Tools of Change for Publishing, Books on the Nightstand, Beatrice.com, Booksquare, Jenn's Bookshelf, The Swivet, Book Club Girl, Booking Mama, My Friend Amy, The Friendly Book Nook, Beth Fish Reads, Pop Culture Junkie, She is Too Fond of Books, Hey Lady! Watcha Readin'?, Reviewer X, My Cozy Book Nook, Book Reviews by Jess , Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Personanondata, Sharon Loves Cats, Janicu’s book blog, The Big Picture, The Olive Reader, Literary License, Stephanie’s Written Word, Bookrastination, Every Day I Write the Book, Reading the Past, Literary Kicks, Wands and Worlds, Mother Reader, Teleread, Laura’s Review Book Shelf, The Tome Traveller's Weblog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Bat Segundo, The Abbeville Manual of Style.
I could say more about Book Expo 2009, but I can't compete with the Twitter tag for currency. Is the book biz in trouble? I just don't think so, based on the enthusiasm I've spent the last three days soaking in.
After I left BEA Sunday morning I was exhausted and slightly sick of the scene, but I found myself at Penn Station an hour and a half later with some time to kill. Naturally, I spent the next twenty minutes in a bookstore.
It's so cool that Book Expo 2009 is taking place, literally, in a crystal palace, otherwise known as Jacob Javits Center in New York City, alongside the Hudson River where only recently a pilot made these words famous:
"We're gonna be in the Hudson."
Indeed we are. Captain Sullenberger is at the Book Expo, so is Clarence Clemons and Steve Tyler and Tina Brown. I'm in there somewhere too -- I'll be part of the blogger book signing at the Firebrand booth, Sunday morning at 10 am. Please come down and say hi if you're at the Expo.
I'll be posting a full report this weekend, and here are just a few thoughts in advance:
• Dedi Felman (co-founder of Words Without Borders and former Simon and Schuster editor) and Richard Nash (former Soft Skull chief) are apparently launching some kind of new media publishing venture together. I missed their event so I don't know the details, but I know this is a power-packed team.
• I see there's a panel called "Book Format Fusion: Why Trade Paperbacks are the Format to Embrace". Well, well, well. What a crazy idea. I wonder who practically held his breath till he turned blue saying the same thing a year and a half ago.
• I'm looking forward to the unveiling (advance copies only) of the next Katharine Weber novel, the follow-up to her Triangle. She'll be signing at the Random House booth on Friday.
• Lev Grossman is appearing on Friday in a panel discussion blandly called "Discussion on the State of the Publishing Industry", along with Steven Johnson, Tom Standage and Chris Anderson. Lev Grossman's upcoming novel is apparently called "The Magicians" and is about a boy who is suddenly enrolled in a magical school. Come on, Lev. I don't mean to get on your case because I know there's a good writer inside you. But your last novel Codex wanted to be Da Vinci Code, and your new one is trying to be Harry Potter. Please tell me high school vampires aren't next.
Anyway, if I run into any LitKicks readers at the conference I hope you'll say hello. I'll also be at a so-called "Tweetup" downtown on Friday night. And if you're not at the Expo but want to join the discussion you can follow and comment on the events on twitter, or just follow me if you only want the choice bits.
1. Author J. G. Ballard has died.
2. Pankaj Mishra is angry about the "Tandoori-Chickenisation of the literary palate in the west", or the "vastly increased preference for 'ethnic' literature among the primary consumers of literary fiction: the book-buying public of western Europe and North America." As an enthusiast for sites like Words Without Borders and festivals like PEN World Voices, I suppose I should feel chastened, but I don't. I seek out international literature because it's my own literature. Who is Pankaj Mishra to tell me that I might not have more in common with, say, Alain Mabanckou or Indra Sinha or Wen Zhu than I do with the guy who lives next door? He may as well tell me to stop eating Indian food (because I don't really understand it). A clever article, but in the end it's a familiar complaint and a cheap shot.
3, Don Gillmor investigates the history of Harlequin romances.
4. Jill Lepore on Edgar Allan Poe, whose work had "this virtuosic, showy, lilting, and slightly wilting quality, like a peony just past bloom".
5. A Japanese author invokes Poe with a pseudonym: Edogawa Rampo.
6. About Last Night locates a true record of a popular Louis Armstrong myth.
6. Updike on Africa.
7. William Patrick Wend on N. Katherine Hayles' Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary.
8. Emma Bovary, c'est online.
9. Alleged Internet-hater Andrew Keen is just a big softie. His latest article suggests that "blogs are dead" but then quickly devolves into a rundown of some exciting new WordPress real-time/social features. Even in this new mini-era of Twitter, the only thing blogs are dying of is popularity.
10. TechCrunch says web innovators should band together and stop the hype cycle. I agree, but we have a better chance of solving global warming.
11. LitKicks poet Mickey Z. will be participating in "Earth: A Wake up Call for Obama Nation" in Washington DC on April 25.
1. Some Internet memes are meant to last more than a day or two. Like everybody else, I watched the moving Susan Boyle performance on YouTube earlier this week, and then I watched it again and again. What makes this so special? The quality of her singing alone doesn't account for the craze (and maybe that's why there's already a backlash brewing). What makes the performance so magical, I think, is the transformation we are allowed to witness. Before Susan Boyle sings, she appears dowdy, foolish, out of place. Then the music starts, her spine straightens and she becomes a different person, beautiful, elegant, confident, before our eyes.
Screw the backlash; I plan to watch this video at least ten more times. And thinking about Susan Boyle's televised metamorphosis makes me realize how often the appeal of music has to do with the excitement of transformation. With that in mind, here are a few more recent notes on music, literary and otherwise.
2. Inspired by an apparent nod from Bob Dylan, I've now begun reading Southern writer Larry Brown, who I'd previously only occasionally read about on a blog. I couldn't find the short story collection Big Bad Love in my local Borders, but I did find a novel called Dirty Work and it's excellent. It's very easy to imagine why Dylan would like this writer (the highly literary singer has also been reading and talking about Barack Obama's book).
3. I get many review copies of books in the mail, and not nearly as many CDs. A publicist for the Decemberists sent me their new CD Hazards of Love because it was supposed to have lots of literary content. After several intrigued listenings, I still can't quite make out the story (which seems to involve a rake's progress and a twisted love affair) but I love the music. It reminds me of nothing so much as vintage Jethro Tull -- dynamic, lilting and appealingly histrionic -- with a touch of late-period David Bowie, and I sure as hell do mean that as a compliment. Check it out for yourself.
4. There's nothing wrong with Neil Young's new automotive-inspired CD Fork in the Road either. Shades of Rust Never Sleeps, except now it's an ecologically-minded LincVolt rather than a sedan that's being delivered.
5. The new Jadakiss record includes "What If", a sequel to his great track "Why" that features a guest verse by Nas. I wouldn't mind two or three more verses, but Jadakiss has never been one to wear out his welcome.
6. He got erased from history in the otherwise good film Cadillac Records, but late great Chess recording artist Bo Diddley has another distinction: Malia and Sasha Obama's dog is named after him.
7. Xeni Jardin points to the always transformative Patti Smith on Easter Sunday.
8. An archived Ramones performance from Steve Wozniak's 1982 California bash the US Festival.
9. A new David Lynch video meditates upon Moby.
10. A four-year-old kid channeling Keith Moon.
11. A bunch of girls jumping rope.
If not one of these various offerings manages to transform you, I don't know what to say.
1. Beat poet Gregory Corso has made the cover of this week's Economist. Some clever illustrator has formatted the opening of a recent Barack Obama speech about nuclear disarmament as an homage to Corso's great 1958 poem Bomb (though I couldn't find a Gregory Corso credit anywhere in the magazine). Also, I bet you anything the Economist illustrator cribbed the layout from this LitKicks page, though I couldn't prove this in court. Via Stop Smiling.
2. Amazon.com made a really stupid decision to de-rank books with gay/lesbian content, and suffered through an Easter Sunday twitter tornado for it. Can you imagine what our great literary legacy would look like if all gay/lesbian-related books were subtracted? Forget about it. Amazon has apologized for the "glitch", but the success of the spontaneous #amazonfail movement on Twitter will certainly inspire other protests to come.
3. The unforgettable Beverly Cleary just celebrated her 93rd birthday!
4. When the Flock Changed is an excerpt from Maud Newton's upcoming novel.
5. Jay Thompson on Marcus Aurelius and Stanley Kunitz at Kenyon Review blog.
6. Mike Shatzkin on a racial showdown at circa-1950s Doubleday.
7. Yeah, I post about John Updike a lot. More to come. Via Books Inq, here's On Easter and Updike by David E. Anderson.
8. The Onion on Beckett.
9. Bill Ectric attempts to singlehandedly resurrect the career of Charles Wadsworth Camp, author (and father of Madeleine L'Engle).
10. A celebration of the chapbook.
11. Carolyn Kellogg on John Fante.
12. City Lights (a bookstore that would never de-rank books with gay/lesbian content) has published Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds, the record of a creative writing program for "juvenile detention facilities, homeless shelters, inner-city schools and centers for newly arrived immigrants" (more here).
13. Okay, real quick, here are a few things I don't like about The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar, Paul Buhle and Ed Piskor. Pekar's drawings are rather ugly; I yearn instead for the affectionate emotional shadings of Robert Crumb. The section on Jack Kerouac seems to be based on a close reading of Ellis Amburn's biography Subterranean Kerouac, the only major biography that claims to find closeted homosexuality at the center of Kerouac's life and work. As I wrote when Amburn's book was published, this interpretation really doesn't illuminate the work very well at all. Conversely, the biographical section on Allen Ginsberg all but ignores the crisis Ginsberg endured as a child when his mother went insane, which actually does illuminate the poet's work considerably. The book also suffers from chronological problems and all-out mistakes, as when the book claims that the Jewish Torah is equivalent to the Christian Old Testament (actually the Torah is only the first five books, the books of Moses). However, The Beats: A Graphic History does have some excellent material on lesser-known Beats towards the end.
14. What the hell is up with a cheezy-looking book called City of Glass (by Cassandra Clare)? We already had a perfectly good City of Glass.
One thing you have to say for Little Brother, Cory Doctorow's recent book for young adults (now nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel): it's ambitious. It is an adventure story about teenage terrorism that's also a screed on the importance and meaning of the right to privacy and a guide to bad government practices and how to fight them, a novel made manifesto and handbook.
The book tells us, for example, why anti-terrorism measures like ramped-up airplane security are bad, or how to safely destroy the RFID tag in a passport. It's useful. It's also pretty blatant propaganda, and it is its nature as a work of propaganda that ultimately undermines its effectiveness as a work of fiction.
In the wake of a terrorist bombing of the Bay Bridge in San Fransisco, teenager Marcus Yallow and his friends are rounded up by Homeland Security for no apparent reason and put into a Guantanamo-style prison on nearby Treasure Island. Once released, Marcus embarks upon a dangerous campaign to combat the government's anti-terrorism efforts in San Francisco and otherwise publicly humiliate and embarrass his former tormentors. He is a "Little Brother", fighting with tooth and nail the efforts of "Big Brother" to take away our rights and keep us all under a watchful eye.
I heartily agree with Orthofer's emphasis on the importance of unchanging URLs on this ever-changing web of ours, and I am glad to hear that he expects to keep running the site pretty much the same way for at least another decade. Salut!
(This is chapter eleven of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
The big idea behind Pathfinder.com was to turn Time Warner's top magazine brands -- Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Life, Money, Entertainment Weekly, the always incongruous Vibe -- into the best and most professional website in the world. If all went according to plan, Pathfinder would dominate the Internet the same way Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin's earlier venture Home Box Office had come to dominate cable TV.
The Pathfinder plan was an aggressive one, with a lot of money and corporate muscle behind it, and many people expected it to succeed. That didn't mean many people wanted it to succeed -- in fact, several of my web developer friends hated the idea of Pathfinder so much they reacted with horror when I joined the team in June 1995. I took a lot of heat on my tech/art mailing listantiweb and on rec.music.dylan after I proudly announced the new job change.