1. After a whole lot of passionate (and incorrect) guessing, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature (the dapper fellow above just announced it on a live webcast from Stockholm). I must admit that, while I once enjoyed hearing from this Peruvian novelist at a New York reading with Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie, I don't know much about his work as a whole. I'm looking forward to learning more. And, yeah, I do wish Ngugi wa Thiong'o had taken it. Maybe next year.
2. A Ted Hughes poem dealing directly with his wife Sylvia Plath's suicide has been revealed for the first time.
3. I like Julie Taymor and I really like William Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I'm pretty psyched about a new Julie Taymor film of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as a female Prospero, along with the likes of Russell Brand and Alan Cumming in various roles.
1. We told you about artist Malcolm McNeill's Ah! Pook Is Here, a vast extended collaboration with William S. Burroughs, two years ago. Great news -- the work is going to be published by Fantagraphics.
2. Sean Michael Hogan was one of the five winners of a writing contest we held on this site in 2003. He's an excellent writer, and also an opinionated sports nut, and he's combined both inclinations into an e-book, It's Not Just A Ballgame Anymore. Here, also, is a short story by Sean about the frustrations of being a writer.
1. Here's a really good piece by British novelist Tom McCarthy, one of the brighter literary lights of our time: Technology and the Novel: From Blake to Ballard.
2. Jackson Ellis interviews poet Diane DiPrima.
I always try to mix it up here on Litkicks, and I wrote about digital reading just yesterday. But this is an eventful week, so here's a quick wrap of some big new developments.
1. Amazon has announced the new Kindle, and I think it's finally a winner. I called the Kindle a "loser, loser, loser" the day it hit the streets, and I have explained my complaints with the device a few times since then. I saw three problems:
- At $400, it was way too expensive.
- It was too big to fit in a pocket.
- The Kindle format was proprietary.
Why do I call the new Kindle a winner? Because Amazon listened to me. They solved all three problems:
A little less than three years ago, Jeff Bezos of Amazon became the human face of the much-anticipated e-book revolution with the launch of the Kindle. The Kindle's launch was big news, but big sales did not follow, and the book industry gradually realized that software, not hardware, was the key to popular acceptance of digital reading. A complex equation of factors -- format, presentation, compatibility, pricing, DRM, rights and royalties -- would have to fall into place before the book publishing industry could revolutionize itself. Last week a well-known literary agent named Andrew Wylie made a big move to slash through the confusion and establish a new approach to e-book publishing. The reaction from industry insiders was swift and severe. Andrew Wylie is now the human face of the e-book revolution.
Many of the articles linked above vilify Wylie, for one big reason: his partnership with Amazon cuts traditional book publishers completely out of the equation. Wylie's company is a literary agency -- they represent writers directly, for a standard (usually 15%) agency fee. In the new arrangement, Wylie's own newly formed company Odyssey Editions will publish books directly with Amazon, using the Kindle format (which can be read not only on a Kindle device but also on computers, iPhones, Droid phones, etc.). There are exactly two parties in this venture: the literary agent (Wylie) and the bookseller (Amazon). The publisher has no place. No Random House, no Penguin, no Macmillan, no Simon & Schuster. Just an author, a store ... and, hopefully, a reader with money to spend. That's how the new system works.
1. I love it that the "Penguin paperback look" has become a design meme. BoingBoing points out that a set of album covers by Ty Lettau of Sound Of Design resembles the retro Penguin look. This calls to mind a more explicit recent implementation of the same idea by LittlePixel (great work, but there are way too many Simple Minds albums here).
2. Some of my friends in the book business think literary publishing is about to crash like a lead zeppelin. There was a tremendous uproar in the book world today: influential literary agent Andrew Wylie (Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, the estates of William S. Burroughs, John Cheever, John Updike and Vladimir Nabokov) has made a bold, unprecedented e-books deal with Amazon that will give Amazon and its Kindle format exclusive access to many important e-book titles. Exclusive access has (thankfully) never not part of the literary publishing industry tradition, and the major publishers don't like being cut out of the profit equation, which is why CEO John Sargent of Macmillan (who is emerging as an unofficial spokesman for the publishing industry when it battles with Amazon) and spokesperson Stuart Applebaum of Random House are planning to put up a fight. Many of my twitter friends seem to be lining up on the Macmillan/Random House side, objecting to Wylie and Amazon's audacious move. Me? I'll walk the line a little longer. I like audacity, and God knows the e-book marketplace can use a kick in the ass.
There was a lot of excitement in the e-book world this week after both Barnes and Noble's Nook and Amazon's Kindle slashed their prices to help them compete against the iPad, and against each other. For some reason, this has also led a few book industry pundits to suddenly declare that the Kindle is the big winner in the e-book technology face-off.
Oh, how I wish I could short the Kindle's stock. (Yes, I know I could short-sell Amazon's stock, but that's not the same thing). In fact, I'd short any e-reader's stock. I've lived through this kind of technology/money hype before, and I know how hollow the hype can be. Like the famous dot-com boom of the 1990s, the current explosion of interest in e-book technology is not based on actual consumer interest, but rather on the hope for a financial bonanza. How can you tell when a great new trend is a bunch of hype? When more people write articles about a new product than actually use or buy the product, that's a pretty big sign.
1. "Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real." A good Chronicle of Higher Education piece by Paul Bloom about what it means for humans to have the capacity to imagine. We often use terms like "imagine" and "dream" in a sort of gushy hopey way -- "follow your dreams" and all that -- but it's also worth pondering at the phenomenological level the fact that this mechanism, this remnant of existence called "imagination", has immense presence and power in our lives.
2. Very cool: a forensic astronomer has identified the meteor shower that inspired a poem by Walt Whitman. "What," Walt asks, "am I but one of your meteors?"
According to the research, which examines eBook reading and purchase behavior from print book readers who recently purchased either an eBook reader or an eBook, eBook sales went from 1.5% of all book sales in Q1 2009 to 5% in Q1 2010, with 33% of eBook buyers entering the market in the last six months. "We are expecting exponential growth," said Gallagher.
I'm just throwing this out there, because I'm at Book Expo where everybody's buzzing about e-books and the impact they'll have on the always turbulent publishing industry. I'm going to do a full #BEA10 wrap-up later, and tell you about the all fun I'm having (and some new novelists I've enjoyed meeting) at this crazy annual convention. But for now I just want to repeat something I said to a friend on Tuesday, because I think this is an important point about the future of print and electronic book publishing.
I want e-books to succeed. I have always been an e-book advocate. But there's a big problem with the product model, and I don't understand why the book publishing industry is now twisting itself up into a state of hysteria about e-book pricing and piracy and distribution without addressing this big problem with the product model. The problem is this: consumers don't like e-books.
Behold: a thing. Whatever else it is in this world, it is a thing. It may or may not have a name, it may or may not be identifiably unique, but it is an object, an instance of a class. When we talk about the future of the book (and, well, a lot of people are talking about the future of the book) I like to mention a word that I encountered a few years ago when I worked for a company in the litigation sector that made advanced search software: "immutability".
My job was to be, boringly enough, this company's expert in the PDF format, and I know a whole lot about PDF files. One thing I know is that PDFs are immutable, which is to say that they can't be changed. You can share or save a PDF file, but you can't edit or modify one. You could hack one, if you really wanted to, but doing so violates the basic principle of the PDF format: it is an unchangeable thing. This is why PDFs (and not, say, Microsoft Word documents) are the standard format for legal contracts.
Books, I believe, are immutable. Many entrepreneurs are doing (or planning to do) exciting things with the basic structure of the book -- Richard Nash of Cursor and Hugh McGuire of BookOven come to mind. A recent display of a possible future issue of Sports Illustrated rendered in the emerging HTML5 standard shows similar ingenuity with the familiar structure of magazines. But an issue of a magazine, just like a book, must be immutable -- it is a distinct thing, an object, an instance of a class. As we zoom through time and space with the next generation of browsers, will the boundaries of a text's identity itself become fluid?