1. S. A. Griffin, a Los Angeles poet, actor, beatnik and longtime friend of LitKicks, is going to be filling the shell of a bomb with pages of poetry and touring the USA with it in 2010.
2. Here's another bombshell: the conglomerate that publishes Kirkus, a book review magazine, has been unable to sell it and will shut it down instead. Kirkus has a big presence within the book industry because it publishes early capsule reviews of many books, and is only known to most readers as the source of countless back-cover blurbs. It's unclear where publishers will now go to fill this back-cover blurb space. Here's more on the Kirkus shutdown from one of their freelancers.
The New York Times Book Review could surely have found someone who knows something about poker -- say, me -- to review James McManus's Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker. Some common tipoffs that a writer doesn't know anything about poker are that he thinks Texas Hold 'Em actually has something to do with Texas, that he gets a kick out of funny names like Crooked Nose Jack McCall, or that he's more interested in listing which US Presidents played poker than in discussing the game itself. Another tipoff is that he gets lots of facts wrong, and apparently nobody at the NYTBR copy edit desk knows anything about poker either, because this article is a train wreck. First:
The friendly game, with a limit on bets (sometimes doubled for the last round), usually allows the dealer to choose the game, with an emphasis on the old, traditional stud and draw variants rather than the hyper-charged hold 'em, which in tournament play is no-limit, meaning a player can go "all in": betting all of one’s chips at once.
Eco-Libris, a company dedicated to positive environmental practices in the book publishing business, is currently sponsoring a Green Books Campaign, a blogger event designed to call attention to green publishing in which 100 blogs will simultaneously review 100 green-published books.
I'm not completely sure what exactly "green publishing" means, but I like this organization's entrepreneurial focus and I was happy to join in once I saw the array of fairly freaky book titles available for review, including Hope and the Super Green Highway, Adventures of an Aluminum Can, Raw For Dessert, Listening to Trees, Ethnic Knitting Exploration and Sleeping Naked Is Green. I picked a title called Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts, a book about fishing with poet Ted Hughes.
This book looks like a regular slim hardcover, and if I hadn't been told the book was "green" I would never notice a difference. Is there actually a difference? It's printed on recycled paper, but that doesn't seem to me to go far enough. There are lots of reasons to wonder if there is any substance to "eco-friendly" publishing at all -- MobyLives recently asked some probing questions about this.
The biggest concern for eco-friendly book publishing is not the small run chapbooks but the mass-market titles, and when it comes to these I think the book industry will have to do much more than print on recycled paper before they can wear a "green" stamp. I'm mostly thinking about the obscene amount of waste produced by the bad habit of printing massively hopeful over-runs of expected supersellers in bulky hardcover, shipping them on giant container ships from the third-world countries where they are manufactured to the chain stores near you where they are often displayed for a few days, forklifted back to the warehouse, packed off to discount outlets and eventually pulped.
Like every modern industry, book publishing will have to do some real soul-searching before it can credibly start wearing green. Still, any spot is a good place to start.
And none of this has anything to do with the eco-friendly book I will now briefly review, Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts: In The Wild With Ted Hughes by Ehor Boyanowsky, published by Douglas & McIntyre of Vancouver, Canada. This is a book about two things: fishing and poetry. The author indulges ecstatically in both, preferring the Pacific Northwest territory near Vancouver as his stomping grounds. Years ago, his infectious enjoyment of both arts caught the attention of renowned British poet and former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. Boyanowsky brought the British poet to his favorite rivers to bond with a certain type of fish known as steelhead salmon, and this book is the account of their sport and their conversation.
Boyanowsky is an elegant and sensitive writer expressing unabashed joy at finding himself with his two favorite things in the world -- a great poet and some great salmon -- at the same time. The truth is that I don't particularly love either fishing or the poetry of Ted Hughes, but it's Boyanowsky's powerful voice that holds me and makes me like this book.
There are also dark currents in this book -- naturally, since Ted Hughes was the husband of two women who committed suicide, one of whom was Sylvia Plath, and since their son Nicholas Hughes, another enthusiastic nature scientist, committed suicide just this year.
Nicholas Hughes appears several times in this book, usually with fishing gear in hand. But like his father, many of the fish in this book, and nature itself, his secrets remain mysterious.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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.
(This is chapter 26 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
The day I began working at iVillage was the first day I ever found myself truly excited to meet the president of a company I worked for. But there has never been, and probably never will be again, a CEO like Candice Carpenter.
This wiry and fierce woman was one of the most controversial figures in the Internet industry in the early months of 1999. Her company's IPO was widely expected to succeed, despite the fact that many industry commentators considered her a bewitching fake. It was true that she could thrill a crowd (I had become inspired to join iVillage myself after hearing her speak), and she was obviously thrilling Wall Street as well, even though iVillage was the epitome of a money-losing, big-spending dot-com, with a highly uncertain financial future.
To those who wanted more substance in their dot-coms -- more e-commerce revenue, more advertising dollars, fewer press releases, fewer TV commercials -- iVillage represented the worst of hype-crazed Silicon Alley. I guess that's why I thought Candice Carpenter was so cool.
She would take the criticism and spit it back in their faces. On talk shows and newspaper or magazine interviews, Candice Carpenter would insist that iVillage had a great business model and true staying power (despite the current lack of revenue), and I never heard her back down or hedge this bet. She always spoke with style and verve, often while wearing skin-tight leather dresses, pink jungle-print mini-skirts or other truly strange outfits, and was known to say outrageously philosophical things about the true meaning of work, about why people are afraid to compete, about the business world as a character-building exercise. Most of the things she said made sense to me.
1. I'm glad to hear the New York Times will probably not put its core news content behind a payment wall after all. Instead, they're test-marketing some extraneous "gold" and "silver" plans that I hope New York Times loyalists will pay up for, though the author of the article linked above is skeptical that such loyalists exist.
But the comments to my previous posts on this topic indicate that the Times does have its loyal enthusiasts. Meanwhile, one of these posts is apparently causing John Williams to wear out his neck muscles shaking his head in disagreement. He quotes novelist Katharine Weber's response to me, as follows:
But Levi. Could you have reasonably refused to read the NYT twenty years ago if you had to buy it at a newsstand or pay for home delivery instead of just having free copies handed to you on the street or dropped in your driveway? ... Much has changed, yes. But has the economic rule which used to be as certain as the laws of gravity, the rule of paying for things of value, really begun to vanish? How is this not a zero sum game?
Williams calls Weber's comment "succinct and totally sensible", and says:
I'm still waiting for a substantive response to this line of thinking. 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.
I can't turn down a direct challenge, so I'll try to offer a substantive response to the idea that we must pay for things of value. However, I find the idea almost too childish to entertain. First of all, 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.
If we want to examine this classic "rule of paying for things of value", let's consider one of the many masterpieces of nature: the orange. This weekend I bought an entire bag of delicious fresh Florida oranges -- marvelous, ingenious, healthy and beautiful things, really -- for about two bucks. Taken purely for its value, a single orange could easily be worth five dollars. Likewise, taken purely for its value, a bottle of corn-syrup-flavored orange soda shouldn't cost more than ten cents. But these hypothetical prices don't correspond to the real world. We never actually pay for things according to their value. We pay for things according to the law of supply and demand.
When John Williams declares that we pay for things according to their value, he is doing no more than expressing a keening wish. Declaring that we pay for things according to their value is like declaring that we will stay young forever, or that there will be no more crime. It's nice to think such things, but they never were true and they're still not.
I wonder if John Williams will consider that a substantive response. If he does, maybe he should pay me.
2. Here's a really sweet story about the married couple on the 'Woodstock' album cover.
3. Speaking of the New York Times, Gregory Cowles has uploaded a particularly good essay on Nabokov's Lolita to the Paper Cuts blog.
4. Scott Esposito on Intense First Person (a narrative stance I tend to use a lot myself).
5. Way back in 1935, Walter Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein.
6. Basil Wolverton was okay, but if you're talking about classic Mad Magazine you're talking about Harvey Kurtzman.
7. Nicholson Baker ponders the Kindle in the New Yorker and, not surprisingly, the essay soars above most of the other commentary on this hot topic. "I changed the type size. I searched for a text string. I tussled with a sense of anticlimax." It's no surprise to anyone who's read Baker's previous works on library science and antique newspapers that he will ultimately not choose to embrace the Kindle.
8. Speaking of the New York Times (and their home delivery problems) again: hah.
As did my post yesterday about the possibility that the New York Times may begin charging for web access. I wrote that I would stop reading and writing about the New York Times if they began restricting their content to paying subscribers -- a perfectly reasonable stance, I think, since there is plenty of excellent content out there that is openly available to readers around the world which I can read and write about instead.
But I got a strong negative reaction to this statement (via comments, twitter and email), and am honestly surprised to discover that many of my own friends are excited that the New York Times might pioneer a new payment framework for web articles. One reason, of course, is that these people are not only readers but are writers or publishing professionals themselves, and therefore don't like the "free" model for online content any more than the New York Times does.
There's a lot to be said on this topic. Today, I'd just like to respond to a few things I've heard, and explain my side of this debate better. Here's what a few of you have said, and what I'd like to say back:
Why aren't you willing to pay for the New York Times?
I am very, very willing to pay for the New York Times. I already pay about $35 a month to get the print edition delivered to my doorstep every morning.
I never said I wasn't willing to pay for the New York Times, or even that I wouldn't be willing to pay more to help the New York Times survive. I'd happily pay $5 a month more if I felt it would help anything. But I don't.
I believe the decision to put NYTimes.com behind a payment wall would be a bad and short-sighted decision. The New York Times should consider itself to be in the global news business, but this move would marginalize it to the world outside of its own subscriber base. Becoming unavailable to the worldwide community of readers would irreparably harm the paper's position as the most widely referenced American newspaper. It would be the beginning of a slow and painful nose-dive into global irrelevance, because other newspapers would certainly move in to take the Times's place. This is why I'm against the proposed payment plan -- it has nothing to do with my own willingness to pay $5 a month.
Advertising alone cannot support an expensive operation like the New York Times.
Nonsense. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. If this were true, the New York Times would have folded in 1895, because the Times has always made more money on advertising than on newsstand sales and subscriptions. So do almost all newspapers and magazines.
I may have mentioned it elsewhere that from 1995 to 1998 I was manager of advertising technology at Time Inc. New Media, which ran websites for Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Life and Fortune. I worked closely with the advertising department and learned a lot, including the fact that every Time Inc. magazine makes more money on advertising than on sales. So do most other magazines, and so does the New York Times and pretty much every newspaper.
You can't support excellent content solely through advertising? Somebody better warn the television industry, and the radio industry too. They've somehow managed to thrive all these decades.
It's a simple fact: advertising is big money. The reason the New York Times is suffering now is that they haven't yet figured out how to sell ads online (where they regularly get their ass kicked by Google, which has figured out how). Another reason is that there's a big recession going on, and ad sales is down. That's why a decision to put NYTimes.com behind a payment wall is short-sighted: as soon as the economy picks up again, the Times is going to want those pageviews back. I guarantee it.
(And, again, I been around this online ad sales industry a while. They will want those pageviews back -- I guarantee it).
Instead of convincing newspaper readers to pay to access the website (a hard sell, except apparently to my friends and a few other eager New Yorkers), the Times should be bringing their advertising strategy into the 21st Century (hint: figure out which publishers are selling ads online, and learn from them). They should also be convincing their investors and potential investors of the long-term revenue potential for the most trusted journalistic source in America. The long-term potential is enormous, and that's why a retreat behind a payment wall would be such a shame.
The problem with private/dedicated payment plans is mechanical. We need a payment system that works.
This I agree with. Putting the Times behind a payment wall is clearly a desperation move, and a diversionary tactic. The numbers just don't add up -- this idea will not bring in enough revenue to equal a healthy online sales operation.
However, here's the kind of idea that might work: figure out a way people can pay $10 a month or $20 a month and get privileged levels of online access for every major newspaper in the world. Some consortium or third party provider should then need to figure out how to chop that money up and dole it out correctly to the individual publishers. This is a formula -- the cable TV model -- that could actually work. I'd pay up, why not? Make it easy for us, and we'll be in.
But even if this does happen, guess what? The $10/$20 splits won't support the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. They'll still need advertising revenue to survive, just like they always did.
Advertising has supported some of the most innovative entertainment and publishing of the last 100 years. That's the funny truth about all this faddish talk about "free" as an innovative new content model: free has been around all our lives. It was "free" that made Lucille Ball and Elvis Presley and Walter Cronkite and the Beatles and Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson and Jerry Seinfeld. As far as content/publishing goes, there's nothing new about "free". It's what always made the world go around.
(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.