1. According to Rolling Stone, Gus Van Sant's film version of Tom Wolfe's 60s-culture classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test will start shooting soon, and may feature Jack Black (bad idea) or Woody Harrelson (slightly better) as novelist and psychological adventurer Ken Kesey. Woody Harrelson might actually make more sense in the role of Beat legend Neal Cassady, who drove the bus called Further during the real-life cross-country journey chronicled in Wolfe's book. He seems too old to play then-young Ken Kesey in this story, while Jack Black would have to severely rein in his comic instincts to avoid overpowering the role. I hope Gus Van Sant knows what he's doing here.
2. Meanwhile, George Murray of BookNinja gives a hopeful nod to Steve Jacobs' soon-to-be-released film version of J. M. Coetzee's powerful Disgrace, starring John Malkovich.
3. A Bertrand Russell comic? Okay, though Russell was mostly bested by his star student Ludwig Wittgenstein.
4. The story of William Warder Norton, founder of the influential book publishing firm that bears his name.
5. Philip K. Dick and Jack Spicer.
6. Denis Johnson's newest novel is called Nobody Move.
7. The earlist known dust jacket for a book has been found.
8. New Directions has a blog.
The New York Times Book Review keeps a bench of dull and competent specialists like Alan Light, including John Leland, who gets called up whenever there's a Beat Generation-related title to review. I don't know why they can't find a writer with some panache or maybe an original viewpoint to review these books instead. Leland's summary of The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, Paul Buhle and others in today's Book Review could not be more rote and mechanical. He hits all the standard points in the standard history, and even dishes up Kerouac's quote about "the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live". But there are no new ideas or angles in this article; it may as well have been generated by an algorithm. I read the Pekar/Piskor/Buhle comic-format book myself, was pleased by a few of the tangential chapters towards the end but disappointed by the flat aspect at the book's core. Leland doesn't even touch on the book's real deficiencies, instead delivering a sniffy complaint about clunky prose before winding up for a weak conclusion: "Here was a group of writers who hoped to change consciousness through their lives and art ... They rocked."
Supposedly every snowflake in the world is unique. Can't the New York Times Book Review find writers who will make sure their reviews maintain the same standard?
The problem may be intrinsic to the Book Review, because even the thoughtful Walter Isaacson seems to strain for insight in his review of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman. He points helpfully to the book's new emphasis on the role played by a South Carolina politician, Charles Pinckney, but even so his article feels surprisingly conventional (a little pun there, if you think about it). The drafting of the US Constitution is not exactly fresh material, so the main thing the review needs to do is explain why this book is important enough to deserve a full page in this publication. After finishing the article, I'm barely convinced.
Luckily, there are several examples of excellent writing and original thought in today's Book Review. Arthur Phillips' novel The Song Is You is on the cover, and here's reviewer Kate Christensen first sentence:
If novelists were labeled zoologically, Arthur Phillips would fall naturally into the dolphin family: his writing is playful, cerebral, likable, wide-ranging and inventive.
Now we're getting somewhere. Christensen's intense level of engagement gives this article life, and so does David Kirby's in his consideration of poet Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno's Slamming Open The Door. Michael Meyer's endpaper essay about how book publishing advances have evolved over the centuries is extremely informative and useful, but a strong point of view also buttresses the piece, conveying a sense of relevance and conviction that makes the piece not only useful but memorable. I hope the Book Review will run more examinations of book publishing practices (a hot topic that gets much better coverage in the blogosphere) in the future.
I always like anything Liesl Schillinger writes, even though she unwisely kicks off today's review of A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff with an utterly pointless generalization:
Do you remember how bored we all were a decade ago? The cold war was over; the stock market surfed a rising wave; President Clinton had announced a national budget surplus; and good fortune was so rampant that rich neurotics paid therapists to be reassured that it was O.K. to be happy. Belatedly, we've learned how lucky we once were to live in uninteresting times.
Hmm, well, as my memoir-in-progress will shortly show, I was personally going through a terrible divorce and a painful work crisis a decade ago, so "uninteresting times" is hardly the phrase I would use myself to describe 1999. I imagine many other readers of this article will react the same way, since we do not measure out our memories by news headlines but rather by events of personal importance, making generalizations like this one rather silly. Still, I would read a Liesl Schillinger review over an Alan Light or John Leland review any day, and her coverage of A Fortunate Age gets better when she explains the novel's intriguing parallel to Mary McCarthy's The Group.
The Great Weaver from Kashmir by Halldor Laxness and Leaving Tangier by Tahar Ben Jelloun get some attention from Alison McCulloch in a fiction roundup, and Michael Beschloss offers fresh thoughts following Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. This all adds up to a satisfying Book Review in a Sunday New York Times that also includes a Deborah Solomon session with Joyce Carol Oates and a Wyatt Mason profile of poet Frederick Seidel in the magazine. There's also a searching piece by David Barstow on the mystery of Sylvia Plath's son Nicholas Hughes's suicide on the front page of the news section.
(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.
2. Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press has kicked off a promising new book-biz blog, Black Plastic Glasses, with a provocative argument: e-books must fail, because the pricing structure cannot support the production of books on the same scale as the current print-based model. However, Schnittman paints the current state of publishing as a near-disaster, rife with inflated advances and high return rates. He describes a brisk business in hardcover mass shipments that bring in cash flow even though the publishers eventually have to return the money for unsold inventory, which sounds like the same kind of pyramid-scheme con game as securitized subprime mortgages or credit default swaps. What's Schnitmann up to here? His article seems to be trying to bury the current book publishing model even as it pretends to praise it.
3. I enjoyed participating in (and telling you about) a Vol 1 music/storytelling event at Matchless Cafe in Brooklyn last year. The next installment takes place April 9 and features a six-word story (memoir) slam. Should be something to see!
4. The folks behind HBO's under-appreciated Def Poetry Jam are trying a new angle. Brave New Voices, a reality show about competing poetry slam teams from around the USA, debuts on April 5.
5. The Morning News' 2009 Tournament of Books, always a rousing encounter, ends with a surprise victory for Toni Morrison's A Mercy, narrowly beating out Tom Piazza's City of Refuge. I guess I'll have to read A Mercy now. I liked Beloved more than I expected to, and I expect I'll like this one too.
6. Get a personalized Penguin Classic paperback (like, say, this one). Neat.
7. John Updike's Pennsylvania.
8. Oxford University Press's list of obscure literary terms offers some nice surprises. I now know that I've experienced jouissance, that I dislike the use of adynaton, that I've been writing a feuilleton, and that hapax legomenon is the pre-Internet version of googlewhack. Good stuff.
9. Andrew Sullivan is absolutely right that the legal harassment of marijuana smokers, many of them honorable and hardworking citizens "in the closet", is an abomination that needs to end.
10. Barnes and Noble Review reviews Harvey Kurtzman's Humbug, also featuring Will Elder, Arnold Roth, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee.
I sell ads through BlogAds.com, a service whose Internet-grown principles and homespun values I trust. You can buy LitKicks ads for $20 and up on BlogAds, and they send me payments through PayPal once a month. I had a very good month in October of last year ($500.63), though I was disappointed in the Christmas season follow-through ($300.51 for November, $235.99 for December), which probably suffered due to general economic slowdown. But sales picked up in January ($403.00), dipped again in February ($210.95) and will hopefully be up again for March.
My regular advertisers include the wonderful independent book publicist M. J. Rose, whose brand of Buzz Balls and Hype usually includes a healthy dose of blog ads for her clients, and the Print On Demand publisher XLibris, whose highly varied offerings I always look forward to seeing here. I click through on every blog ad purchased on LitKicks -- every webmaster who sells ads should do this, I think -- and I have seen some excellent and surprising titles (as well as some admittedly less promising ones) in the mix. It makes me very proud to be able to help self-published and independent authors contact the readers they are looking for on these pages.
This pocket cash sure doesn't enable me to quit my day job, but it comes in handy and it feels good. It's a nice feeling to be paid for my writing, and for my ability to select other good writers for the site (I have experimented in the past with paying these writers, and will hopefully be able to do so again).
It's a very modest successful business that I'm running here -- but I take some solace in the fact that I probably earn more money each month than many established literary journals, and I take even more solace in the fact that several larger content organizations consider web advertising a failure (as Eric Clemons' TechCrunch article indicates) while I consider it a nice little nut. Maybe this is because these failing sites feature shallow content, overeager writers with untrained voices and shaky convictions who don't know how to build and keep an audience. Many hopeful content companies also spend way too much in pursuit of web ad dollars, and often don't include "patience" in their business plans.
I know a bit about patience myself, because my modest success selling ads on LitKicks caps a long series of frustrations that almost had me giving up at several points. In 2002, unemployed and broke, the dot-com economy a wreck, I urged an independent book publisher and rare book seller to be LitKicks' sole sponsor, with a graphic ad on the bottom of every page, for $100 a month. This arrangement lasted exactly one month before the publisher backed out. Later in 2003 and 2004, when I was even more broke and desperate, I initiated a custom LitKicks ad sales program, the "LitKicks Visibility Program", selling ads that looked something like BlogAds' ads would eventually look, for $75 a pop. This earned me more than a thousand dollars in its first year, but the revenue trickled in too slowly and unsteadily for me to consider it a success, and I was happy to dismantle the program and switch to BlogAds in 2005.
Web advertising, like any other honest business, is a hard grind. But the fact that fools rush in does not mean the business model is flawed. I believe the TechCrunch article that's making the rounds today tells only half the story. Web advertising isn't making me wealthy, but it'll pay for my lunch today, because after years of effort and mistakes I've gradually figured out how to do it right. That's what good business is all about, isn't it?
As for Soft Skull's future, Eric Rosenfield twittered that he can't picture Soft Skull without Nash, but this only proves that Eric is young, since Nash is not the first but the second charismatic leader in Soft Skull's exciting history. But, yeah, Sander Hicks and Richard Nash ... that's two tough acts to follow. I'm curious to see if anyone will turn up with the heart to try.
2. Adam Begley, who will be writing a major biography of the late John Updike, says "My principal aim in writing his biography will be to illuminate for the reader the nature of his character and of his greatest accomplishments". Ahh, cut the sanctimony. If that's all the book does, nobody will want to read it. Updike's artfully self-referential work revolved around the core topic of love, marriage, adultery and sex -- has he ever written a story or novel that was not a love story? -- and we want to know the real life juicy facts behind all this juicy fiction.
3. The fact that Michiko Kakutani hates Jonathan Littell's much-hyped The Kindly Ones means absolutely nothing to me. The fact that Michael Orthofer hates it means much more. E. J. Van Lanen posts a dissenting opinion, as does Steve Mitchelmore. I haven't even seen the book yet, but I sure am curious whether I'll join the fan club or not.
4. Via Mike Palacek's New American Dream, a play about Dorothy Day.
5. A really beautiful text visualization of literary St. Petersburg is featured at the New Yorker's blog. The Mercedes-Benz ad that pops up when you view the page is much less beautiful.
6. More Leningrad visualizations: Superimpositions of war and peace.
7. And even more Russian stuff: Cecil Vortex conducts the Brothers Karamazov deathmarch.
8. Musings on Damon Runyon.
9. Christopher Nolan, author of Under the Eye of the Clock and Dam Burst of Dreams, has died.
10. Greg Sandow of the Wall Street Journal says The Arts Need Better Arguments to gain a better share of public funding.
11. Mental Floss will be listing The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years.
12. The Oxonian Review on The Collected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Synder.
At Conversations in the Book Trade, blogger Levi Asher is interviewed; he does less than well, I'd say. He claims that 'There is no decline in reading,' that electronic content 'will soon dominate the publishing field' and argues 'You can see a movie or download a record album for about ten bucks. That's the correct price point. New books come out with price tags between $24 and $30 and then they wonder why the whole industry is suffering. Somebody's out of touch with the consumer here . . .' He's been banging this expensive drum for a while. Put the first assertion and the last together, and try to make some sense of it in the context of every reputable study being done that shows a decline in reading in America; Levi is either fooling himself or trying to will the world into the image of his choosing. Aside from that, the average price of a CD in 2008 was $12.95 so Britney Spears' album was that price; the equivalent of Ms. Spears would be, say, a Grisham novel, and The Innocent Man (2007) has a list price of $7.99 in softcover. Newer and less popular albums cost more, as it is with books. Hardcovers are pricey, and for a smaller market, but books are not generally too expensive. And as long as used books are $3.00 or so, and the library is free, digital readers are still a ways off.
Not so quick there, Daniel. First, a Britney Spears CD costs $12.95 when it's new. A John Grisham novel costs between $24 and $30 when it's new and getting media attention, and then drops in price a full year later, after reviewers and award committees have forgotten the book exists. This self-defeating "buzz-kill" effect doesn't exist in music publishing or any other industry -- in fact, some music publishers wisely release CDs at reduced prices to increase their chances of building audience momentum. Movie tickets cost slightly more when a movie is brand new, but the difference is small relative to the total price. Sorry, Dan, but you're wrong on this one.
Also, there is no contradiction between my first point that reading remains widely popular and my second point that the mainstream/corporate publishing industry is suffering. "Reading" and "publishing industry product" are not the same thing. The literary publishing industry in the USA is clearly unable to find the right format and price point to appeal to consumers, and consumers are increasingly bypassing the mainstream/corporate publishing industry's preferred formats for this reason. Does that mean we're not reading? Hell no, hell no, hell no!
According to Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, quoting a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers:
Adult hardcover sales were down 10.3 percent in December and down 13 percent for the year, but adult paperbacks saw a 12.5 percent increase in sales for the month and a 3.6 percent increase for the year. Adult mass market sales, though, are reported as down 3.0 percent for the year, and we can't help but wonder if that has anything to do with the 68.4 percent increase in electronic book sales in 2008 and certain genre reading tastes.
See what I'm saying, Daniel? Sorry, but I'm claiming myself as the victor in this argument. And there's plenty of good stuff happening on the affordable paperback books front -- see my recent post about Jason Epstein and the Espresso Book Machine.
2. A superb recent Words Without Borders panel discussion featuring Edith Grossman and Eduardo Lago on Don Quixote reminded me how much I'd enjoyed Edith Grossman's translation (it's not like I've read any other translation, but you know what I mean) of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In the Time of Cholera. The film version of this great novel recently turned up on a cable channel and I sat through it. Awful, horrible, seriously not good.
3. A few favorite literary New York City personalities have been releasing good new stuff lately. The spooky and moody East Village presence known as Edgar Oliver, whose written and theatrical works I've enjoyed in the past, got a great review from Ben Brantley of the New York Times for his East 10th Street: Self-Portrait With Empty House. Poet Simon Pettet has a new book out, Hearth. And, here's the YouTube debut of New Jersey poet Eliot Katz reading his poem "Death and War".
4. Some cool new Poe graphics via Books Are People Too (yes they are).
5. Poet W. S. Merwin on Design Observer: Unchopping a Tree
6. I was admonished via email to pay more attention to independent bookstores and link to Indiebound.org. I'm not as obsessed with indie bookstores vs. chain bookstores as some other book-lovers are for two reasons: I'm allergic to cats, and Barnes and Noble/Borders restrooms can sometimes really come in handy. Still, I'm down with the cause.
7. This just sucks: the Times Square Virgin Records mega-store (which also had good restrooms, and a basement bookstore!) is closing down. Shea Stadium, now this.
8. Katharine Weber at Readerville: Dear J. D. Salinger.
9. Nigeness contemplates The Wine-Dark Sea.
10. John Updike, cartoonist fanboy.
11. Roald Dahl's Writing Hut.
12. Daniel Scott Buck's The Kissing Bug gets some 3:AM praise.
13. Barnes and Noble review gets visual with Ward Sutton.
14. Dan Green's literary blog The Reading Experience has launched the blog equivalent of a Greatest Hits album, TRE Prime.
15. I'm looking forward to Summertime, apparently the next J. M. Coetzee novel. When Coetzee writes about summertime, you can just bet the living will not be easy.
16. The Shirley Jackson Awards committee is holding a lottery. Though they picked the wrong month -- remember: "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".
17. Via Q-Tip The Abstract, of all people, this Mars Volta performance on David Letterman is something special.
My second day at O'Reilly's Tools of Change electronic book publishing conference kicks into high gear in the early afternoon with Kassia Krozser's "Smart Women Read eBooks" panel. It's fascinating to hear from Malle Valik of Harlequin that this romance publisher has long ago figured out how to profit from electronic books, and is patiently waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up. Another good speaker is Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books, who lays out in clear and concise terms what she wants from book publishers (digital, available, open, now). There's a lot of substance to this panel, because these panelists are not pondering a future with E-books but instead actually use them now.
After a coffee break I take my seat for four afternoon keynote presentations. I'm happy enough with Jeff Jarvis's perky pep talk and Sara Lloyd's impressive record of achievement at Pan Macmillan. But I'm less impressed by the third speaker, Jason Fried, who offers a very lackadaisical prescription for success in e-book publishing: you just, kinda do it, just throw a PDF up there, and then a million people will buy it. Easy!
The problem is, this little trick only works if you run a software company that has a million customers. Most of us, unlike Jason Fried, do not run a software company with a million customers. So if we "throw a PDF up there", a million people will not show up to purchase it. It's really difficult to see what practical business lesson Jason Fried intends this hungry audience to gather from his success story, though the success story gets a hearty round of applause.
I'm much more impressed by Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House, co-founder of the New York Review of Books, author of an excellent publishing memoir called Book Business and now a technology entrepreneur with his Espresso Book Machine. Epstein is a feisty octogenarian who manages to insult USA's Middle East policy and environmental policies several times during his excellent speech, in which he also argues for a writer's privacy, and speaks up (Cory Doctorow be damned) for the fairness of DRM. He mostly talks about his company's new Espresso Book Machine, a portable device that produces perfect individually selected paperback books from digital files in multiple languages at a low cost.
After the speech I go to see a demo of this machine and find Jason Epstein standing quietly with a companion, so I introduce myself and try to find out if he has any memories to share of his friend John Updike. Epstein quickly changes the subject, asking me what I think of his Espresso Book Machine. I tell him I'm very impressed by it, and can easily see the practical benefits of affordable, portable on-demand book publishing. I also tell him that the machine's bulky appearance seems to be turning some people off (I want to say "it looks like something from The Office", but I don't know if Jason Epstein watches The Office). He then asks me how I can make a living as a blogger (I don't, I explain), and then I take his picture and blubber a bit about how much I enjoyed Book Business and how cool it was that he founded the early paperback house Anchor Books until he gets tired of me and waves me away.
An evening of enjoyable and friendly conversation at a downtown TOC party is rudely followed by an alarm-clock morning, because I want to be back at the Marriot Marquis by 8:45 to catch Neelan Choksi of Lexcycle, the software company that created the iPhone application Stanza, currently the most popular mobile platform in the world for e-books (sorry, Kindle, but Lexcycle does release its numbers, and they're good).
I'm very fond of Lexcycle's business model, and in fact I predicted their success here fourteen months ago, seven months before Stanza was launched, when I wrote this:
Here's a hint (a hint worth more than $400) to those companies looking to profit from electronic books. Forget standalone devices. Consumers want their devices to serve multiple purposes -- camera, music player, internet browser, phone, organizer -- and that's the way we're going to want to read electronic books. If you want to succeed in the e-book business, find ways to make full-length books look good on existing high-end devices (iPhones, Blackberries).
Neelan Choksi is a charming and relaxed speaker with a strong technical background, and his rundown of Stanza's past, present and future is refreshingly sensible and bullshit-free. When he opens it up for questions I get my hand in the air before anybody else and ask my question: "I'd love to use Stanza, but I have an LG Dare". I wave my phone in the air, as if to show that I am not ashamed to admit that I'm not rocking an iPhone like everybody else at this damn conference, and Neelan consoles me by saying that the tech team is working on this right now. As a team of enterprise Java developers, he explains, they are all too happy to move off the iPhone's Objective C language for a while. Good answer, I think, because as much as I like the idea of Stanza, I just don't see why I should have to switch phones and phone providers to use it.
Second keynote speaker Nick Bilton of the "New York Times R&D Lab" is next. He's a very funny and engaging speaker, he bursts with confidence, and he's one of the only presenters at this conference who actually bothers to make his slide show look good. I'm amused to hear that the New York Times has an "R&D Lab" (and something tells me this "R&D Lab" is just Nick Bilton's office), but this smart and energetic person is probably the best choice for the thankless task of evangelizing technology at the New York Times, and I'm sure the Times is spending their money well on him (until they lay him off). Bilton's main thesis is that media companies must adapt to serve the needs of the growing generations, who demand instant media gratification at all times. Makes sense to me. I wonder what they think of Nick over at the Book Review.
The eponymous Tim O'Reilly, humble and rumpled hero of the venerable O'Reilly technical publishing firm, is the last keynote speaker this morning. He doesn't have to say much to impress; there are few book publishers in the world right now whose stature matches Tim O'Reilly, who began by cornering the market in serious Unix expertise two decades ago, and has been an evangelist and a success model ever since. O'Reilly basks in the glory for a few minutes, wrestles with his Powerpoint presentation (not his most impressive technical moment, but let's move on), and fields questions from Cory Doctorow, who is still pissed off that anybody involved with E-books would even contemplate DRM.
Because I care very much about the potential of electronic book publishing, and I believe that 2009 will be a year of remarkable success in this area, this was the right conference at the right moment. Sure, there was plenty of fluff (did we mention that Jeff Jarvis was there?), a few cookie-cutter presentations (did we mention that Jeff Jarvis was there?), some demographic weirdness, and one or two dull moments as well. Still, what I value most are the conversations I had with others who are as fascinated by this emerging technology as I am.
Also, I finally got my picture taken at a GalleyCat party. Hah.
1. It's fitting that O'Reilly's electronic book publishing technology conference Tools of Change is happening at the Marriot Marquis in swirling Times Square, still the publishing bellybutton of this city, with the New York Times toiling down the street, Conde Nast fretting across the block, Simon and Schuster, Time Inc. and Random House not far away. Well, are the smartest people in publishing here on the 6th floor at the Marriot Marquis today? Time will tell.
The big news at the conference when I arrived at noon was the earlier nearby Amazon Kindle 2.0 announcement, complete with an amusing Stephen King fly-by. The buzz about the Kindle is not positive among this crowd (closed single-vendor technologies do not play well here in O'Reilly country). My afternoon session turns out to be a grueling but satisfyingly information-packed three and-a-hour introduction to E-book formatting specifications and methods. Many of the attendees were sweating or looked pale by quitting time at 5 pm, but we all felt smarter. I was most impressed by Garth Conboy's evangelism for the open EPub format, which seems to be emerging as the much-needed industry-wide digital publishing format. I enjoyed Keith Fahlgren's helpful real-world tips for E-book publishing, as well as his Kindle-bashing. One of the three speakers, Joshua Tallent, was a Kindle expert, and I enjoyed his presentation as well, though it seemed like divine justice for the Kindle's intrinsic isolation model that his presentation on Kindle publishing crashed halfway through. Why? The projector didn't have the Kindle-specific fonts. Ah ha haaa ... anyway, it was a moment of levity that this audience of tech-exhausted publishers and technologists didn't mind.
Tools of Change goes into full swing tomorrow with presentations by Bob Stein, Jeff Jarvis, Cory Doctorow, Laurel Touby, Kassia Krozser and Jason Epstein.
2. Chasing Ray tells us about a children's book about Gertrude Stein, Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter.
3. Bad news in the magazine biz as a major distributor ceases operations.
4. Are the creators of Twitter living in the last Dreamworld?.
5. Three Percent is getting angry about funding cuts.
6. Will Self ponders W. G. Sebald.
7. Let xkcd explain the mysterious base system. Funny.
8. Like many a Long Island kid, I grew up listening to Jackie Martling on Bob Buchmann's morning show on WBAB. He was always terrible, but in a really good way.
9. My old boss's boss Walter Isaacson has written a rather surprising article about micropayments for online content, and he's on Jon Stewart right now speaking about this same proposal. There may be long-term possibilities here, and I like it that Isaacson is thinking outside the box. However, his proposal lacks immediate appeal, especially since online advertising remains a perfectly viable support system for many content websites. If Isaacson thinks this idea is ready to take off right now, I think he may be reading too many books by Bruce Judson (but that's an inside Pathfinder joke).
10. Saturday night's benefit for humanitarian aid in Gaza at McNally Jackson was a surprisingly moving event, featuring readings from Mary Morris, Wesley Brown, Alix Kates Shulman, Elizabeth Strout, Dawn Raffel, Melody Moezzi, Beverly Gologorsky, Chuck Wachtel, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Robert Reilly, Jan Clausen, Barbara Schneider and Humerea Afridi, and I was proud to be a part of it. I also heard an exciting update from organizer Leora Skolkin-Smith (reading, below), whose novel Edges: O Israel O Palestine will soon begin film production in (remarkably enough) Jerusalem and Jordan. Tools of change? We can hope.
1. I like Burger King's weird Angry Whopper thing. As far as anthropomorphic fast food goes, this is far more interesting than, say, McDonald's Hamburgler. It also involves onion rings and I want one.
2. I love everything O'Reilly does (I was just reminiscing about one of their early books) and will be attending most of Tools of Change, their three-day conference on publishing and technology in New York City next week. I'm looking forward to hearing from Kassia Krozser, Jeff Jarvis, Laurel Touby, Bob Stein, Peter Brantley, Cory Doctorow, the distinguished Jason Epstein (author of Book Business and a great choice for this conference), the equally distinguished Tim O'Reilly himself, Joe Wikert, Kevin Smokler, Ron Hogan and Chris Baty on topics like e-books, XML, digital convergence, Kindles, Stanza, and survival techniques for writers in the digital age. It's a big agenda, the timing is right, and I will certainly be filing a report or two from this conference.
3.I'm looking forward to participating in a benefit reading for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip this Saturday, February 7 at 7 pm at McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho. This is to raise funds for the International Red Cross, though I'm not kidding myself that we're going to raise Warren Buffett/Bill Gates money in a downtown Manhattan bookstore on a Saturday night. I think the real value of an event like this is that it gives a chance for angry and concerned people to share ideas and express hope together.
4. On Friday, February 13 at 7 pm McNally Jackson is also presenting How History Was Made: Books That Inspired A President, a panel discussion about the admirably literary roots of our current President, featuring Laura Miller, Colm Toibin and Eric Alterman.
5. The February Words Without Borders features graphic fiction from around the world. WWB is also sponsoring a discussion of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote this Thursday, February 5 at Idlewild Bookstore in New York City, featuring translators Edith Grossman and Eduardo Lago.
6. I get interviewed by Finn Harvor at Conversations in the Book Trade.
7. TRUTH FAIL. I am being very careful to keep my memoir entirely truthful, but I've already had to fix two minor mistakes after searching through old paperwork to verify my facts. I confused my salary and job title in 1994 (after I got a big promotion and raise) with my salary in 1993, and I also confused two book publishers I worked with in the 90s -- it was McGraw-Hill who offered me a contract to write a book on client-server programming with Sybase SQL Server, not Manning (which would eventually publish my book Coffeehouse: Writings From the Web).
The first mistake was caused by rewriting: I had originally set a scene in 1994, and after I decided to reset the scene in 1993 I failed to adjust certain details accordingly. The second mistake was simple confusion: my friend Len Dorfman had been the book scout responsible for both this book contract and my later one with Manning, and I remembered incorrectly that he only scouted for Manning, when in fact he also worked with McGraw-Hill. This truth stuff is harder than I thought! Interestingly, author Tim Barrus (a friend of LitKicks, who got a lot of attention after publishing an award-winning memoir as a Native American named Nasdijj) has posted some provocative comments to one of these posts about the ideal of truthfulness in autobiography. This a complex and fascinating topic (I've also written about it with regard to Bob Dylan, JT Leroy and Ishmael Beah), but I pledge to uphold simple and strict standards with my memoir, and am embarrassed to have had to fix mistakes so quickly after beginning the project. I hope this disclosure is sufficient punishment.
8. I didn't realize that Sara Nelson, the highly-regarded but laid-off recent chief of Publisher's Weekly, came up at Inside.com. Inside.com is one of the Silicon Alley companies that will show up in later chapters of the above-mentioned memoir, since I had many conversations about content management technology with Deanna Brown when she was founding the company at the height of the dot-com boom in late 1999 and early 2000. I almost joined the Inside.com team but, as strange as this sounds, I was too busy. I probably would have made more money if I had gone, and I would have gotten to work with Sara Nelson too. Hmm!
9. Yahoo music blogger Rob O'Connor's attempted put-down of Bruce Springsteen's Super Bowl performance is weak. "You may find this hard to believe," he begins before letting the insults roll, "but I am a Bruce Springsteen fan." Yet this "fan" is surprised that Bruce cajoles the audience, slides into the camera, pulls hokey comedy routines and "kills us with show-biz overkill". Actually, overkill is the essence of any Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band concert. He's an extremely dynamic and energetic performer, which is one reason he can sell out stadiums for dozens of nights in a row. Rob O'Connor was apparently expecting Bruce to stand still and whine into a microphone while fondling a guitar like Jason Mraz, which only proves that he has never been within fifty miles of a Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band concert and should stop lying about being a fan.
10. Popular author Jennifer Weiner would like to freshen up literary coverage in newspapers. Here's just a sample of her good suggestions:
As matron of the arts, here are some things I don’t want to read about: new books by Philip Roth (I prefer the old ones, which were funny). New books by Cormac McCarthy. New books by any male writer prone to complaining about the indignities of old age, either general or prostate-specific, or or having his male protagonists do the same.
New short-story collection by Alice Munro. Instead of wasting eight hundred words, just say it’s every bit as wrenching and finely wrought as the last short-story collection by Alice Munro, and be done with it.
11. The politically conservative Pajamas Media blog ad network has gone out of business, and is falling over itself on the way down. Just in case anybody thinks this means the blog ad format is to blame, I'd like to point out how happy I am with BlogAds.com, the company that sells ads for LitKicks. I make a couple hundred dollars every month via BlogAds -- sometimes more, sometimes less, but the business model appears to work just fine when sensible and realistic expectations are applied.
12. Tom Stoppard on his Cherry Orchard (via Maud).
13. Justin Taylor of HTML Giant appreciates a George Saunders short story, and explains exactly why.
14. From Boing Boing, this is your brain on fiction. Or maybe on an angry whopper.