1. In honor of the Knack's lead singer Doug Fieger, who passed away on Valentines Day, here's Sherman Alexie's tribute to "My Sharona". It was a pretty good song, and the best use of an octave in a riff since Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze".
2. I'm enjoying watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics on TV, but I often sense something basically unwholesome about the amount of buildup and tension that underlies this approach to competition. How is it good for an athlete to train for four years to lead up to a performance that lasts, in many cases, less than a minute? This leads to an emphasis on perfection, a dreadful and unnatural fear of error. This doesn't strike me as a mentally and emotionally healthy approach to sport, and I hate to see the look of shame that follows an excellent achievement marred by a single mistake. Personally, I prefer a more organic, holistic attitude towards competition. Maybe that's why baseball is still my favorite spectator sport. With 162 games a year and three hours per game, we get to know and appreciate the whole athlete, mistakes and quirks and all. Perfection, in my opinion, is rarely worth pursuing. That's what I think.
1. What on earth are these little kids doing on this "Kiddie-A-Go-Go" 1967 TV show? Is it the Pony? The Frug, the Watusi, the Mashed Potato, the Alligator? It's pretty cute and weird, whatever they're doing.
2. Friend of LitKicks (FOL) Tim Barrus at Electric Literature! What a combination.
Oh, he had to go out last night and meet this television writer for a drink downtown, in the Village and all. That's what started it. He says the only people he ever really wants to meet for a drink somewhere are all either dead or unavailable. He says he never even wants to have lunch with anybody, even, unless he thinks there's a good chance it's going to turn out to be Jesus, the person -- or the Buddha, or Hui-neng, or Shankaracharya, or somebody like that.
-- J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
The Zen bard of Cornish, New Hampshire has died, according to his son.
Please read, if you have a moment, his latest response to my latest post, which several of his commenters have heartily agreed with. I'd like to address his points one at a time:
a) Yes, it was wrong of me to call your presumed belief that prices are based on value rather than supply-and-demand "childish". However, your first original post to me was slightly derisive as well ("I know I'm 35 going on 95, but this still makes me shake my head ..."). In other words, "you started it". But I will be more careful with my words from now on.
b) I'm sorry but I think your main thread of logic in this post makes no sense. We are arguing over whether or not it makes sense for the New York Times to put a payment wall in front of its website, which is currently advertiser-supported. You originally said:
There have been plenty of cultural developments that I love in the past 10 years: Netflix, iTunes, The Wire. One way or another, I pay for all of them.
To which I said:
Just as we can name things of value that we pay for, we can also easily name things of value that we don't pay for. "The Office". Music on the car radio. Outdoor sculptures and great urban architecture. Oh yeah, and then there's free news and commentary on the Internet which, plain and simple, we are already not paying for.
And now you say:
I wasn’t trying to imply that consumers have to pay money for everything of value. Though I will say that in the case of everything Asher listed, someone gets paid. The architects, the builders, the actors, the DJs, the car-radio manufacturers—even, in the case of the web, the most prominent news bloggers (most of whom are simply aggregating news from more traditional sources, like the New York Times).
But the fact that we indirectly "pay" for free advertiser-supported content does not support your argument in any way, because the New York Times currently is advertiser-supported -- not just the website but the newspaper as well. Both the website and the newspaper make most of their revenue from advertising. Our main argument here is subscription revenue models vs. advertising revenue models on the web.
I feel as if you're trying to caricature me as some Chris Anderson sign-carrying information hippie, which I may even be when I feel like it. But it's wrong for you to suggest that I am arguing against economic common sense. I'm simply saying that a subscription-based model is the wrong choice for a property like the New York Times.
New York Times management knows that a web paywall is a bad business move right now. The market is not strong for paid content and there is no foreseeable way they will profit from this. Erick Schonfeld from TechCrunch ran the numbers, and his findings are quite conclusive. Even in the best case scenario, the added revenue from a few hundred thousand annual subscription fees will not add up to a significant amount on the New York Times balance sheet. And it certainly will reduce pageviews.
Meanwhile, the major Long Island newspaper Newsday's recent payment plan has just been inadvertently revealed to be a disaster. 35 subscriptions sold. Total.
I say the New York Times is fronting with their paywall press release. They have no plan for really risking their advertiser revenue, for exactly the reasons TechCrunch states above. The real goal of their press release was the press release itself. They wanted to "throw down", to make a statement, to appease loyal readers (like you, John Williams) who would actually want to pay a subscription fee to support the New York Times. Maybe they even hoped to inspire a rush to the barricades among the smaller newspapers.
Forget the symbolism -- run the numbers. Read the TechCrunch piece. It seems highly unlikely that the New York Times will put a payment wall up over a high-traffic portion of the site anytime soon, because pageviews are the hot currency right now and they won't have the heart to give up their pageviews. So it's a phony press release. This is why they've been has so hilariously vague about timing. Sometime in 2011? They already have the technical infrastructure in place -- they could switch a payment wall on next week if they thought it would work.
Look, maybe web payment/subscription models will succeed someday. That's fine with me if they do. But the New York Times executive staff knows this is a loser plan, and I'm calling them on it. Don't listen to what they say -- watch what they do.
c) Okay, maybe I'm "throwing down" myself when I say I'll end my lifelong relationship with the New York Times if they put up a paywall. I'm trying to be provocative, to make a statement. And I'm speaking as a blogger, not as a reader.
As a reader: sure, I'll pick up a copy now and then. Sure, I'll browse that rag they run every weekend, the something something Book Review. I definitely will not subscribe online, though, and I don't think I'd continue to devote time to writing about them on Literary Kicks.
But on the personal level, the Times will always be my hometown paper. Also good for wrapping paint cans, lining gerbil cages, etc.
1. Forest Hills. I don't know these people but I feel like I do.
Fourteen days into the new decade, tastemakers and hipsters are already buzzing about two groundbreaking artistic sensations that may define the current generation: MTV's "Jersey Shore" and Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed. What I'm really concerned about is that I've sampled both and I like "Jersey Shore" a whole lot better.
I've really been looking forward to checking out the Nook e-reader, Barnes and Noble's new major competitor to Amazon's Kindle. I had the most positive attitude in the world last week when I showed up at a big new Nook demonstration booth on the ground floor of the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Union Square in New York City. One reason I've had high hopes for the Nook is that I haven't been impressed by the Kindle's physical specifications or its price, and I'm just waiting for some company to develop a practical, affordable, compact, ergonomic device that will blow the electronic reader marketplace open.
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. 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.
Some of my literary/blogger friends have taken to tweeting their literary links. Not me -- I'm holding out for the blog format, just like McSweeney's is holding out for newspapers. Here's another roundup involving great writers and other finds ...
1. Nature magazine goes way back.
2. Orhan Pamuk's real-life Museum of Innocence.
3. The many facets of Roberto Bolano.
4. The many quirks of William Golding, who originally wanted Simon the Christ symbol to actually witness the arrival of God in his great Lord of the Flies.
5. PopMatters interviews Nicholson Baker.
6. Gregory Maguire, whose Wicked novel is much better than the Broadway musical created from it, joins in on an open publishing experiment.
7. Holocaust victim Horst Rosenthal had the idea for Maus before Art Spiegelman.
8. Jessa Crispin tells it like it is.
9. I had no idea that Stanley Kubrick got "Daisy" from a real singing computer.
10. In my opinion Nick Cave sang the best "Stagger Lee".
11. Bill Ectric presents an excerpt from Tamper.
12. Probably inspired by Clarence Clemens's enjoyable and funny new book Big Man, Bruce Springsteen may write an autobiography. All the newspapers are blubbering about the size of his advance, but why shouldn't he get $10 million? He's that good, and I would love to read this book.