I'm thrilled that the Library of Congress (basically, the literary arm of the United States government) will be archiving all of Twitter. And I'm surprised that several smart people out there are mocking or complaining about this announcement. Most of the conversation is on Twitter, of course.
If you've been hanging around here, you know I'm a big advocate of e-books and digital publishing. I don't consider myself an expert in this business, but I read and usually agree with knowledgeable industry observers who advocate for change, radical experimentation and quick adoption of digital technologies, such as Kassia Krozser, Clay Shirky and Richard Nash.
But I'm stepping out onto my own limb with today's digital publishing headline, and I'm surprising even myself, because it's not the kind of thing I'd expect me to say. I don't know if any of my fellow digital progressives will agree with me, but here it is: I'm starting to wonder if the e-book revolution is going to happen at all.
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.
There's something wonderfully circular about the fact that Walter Kirn's novel Up In The Air, originally published in 2001, is now a $7.99 airport paperback. Like the hit film version directed by Jason Reitman and starring George Clooney, Kirn's novel affectionately skewers the modern corporate mentality that thrives on airplanes, in airports or in airport "edge city" chain hotels. Hollywood has brought a literary novel to its intended audience.
The book is very different from the movie, of course. Date-flick fans who appreciated George Clooney's gentle, sad Ryan Bingham may be disappointed to meet the book's jittery and insecure hero. Admirers of the movie's warm, loving tone may be put off by Walter Kirn's distinctive DeLillo-esque chill. The plots are also different: there is no perky entry-level office foil in the novel, though there is a charming "Alex", a slick boss, lots of people getting laid off, a kooky family heading for a wedding. But beyond the usual Jack Davis/Harvey Kurtzman transformations, the book and the film do converge on a basic message: what happens if we travel so much and so fast that we becomes disconnected from reality?
1. Does anybody out there believe Macmillan wants to sell electronic books? I don't think they do.
There was an exciting and dramatic showdown this weekend between Amazon.com and Macmillan, the parent company of many top book publishers including Farrar Straus Giroux, Times Books and Tor. Amazon wants to price e-books at $9.99. Macmillan wants to price e-books higher and introduce tiered pricing so that an e-book costs more when it's new. Amazon tried to kick Macmillan where it hurts by suddenly refusing to sell their books on Amazon.com, cleverly timing this surprising move for a weekend so as to blunt the press response. Macmillan held strong and Amazon gave in on Sunday afternoon.
Most of the commentary has followed the "Amazon blinked!" line. Obviously their gambit failed, and their strategy in threatening access to Macmillan's books does not seem to have been well-chosen. Their strategy in pulling this stunt on a weekend failed too, because this is the weekend between the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl and the suspenseful Amazon/Macmillan standoff only provided the gridiron battle football fans were missing. Still, I'm not joining the anti-Amazon cheering section today, because I believe a $9.99 price point will help e-books flourish. Book publishers are wary of e-books, and may use higher price points as part of a strategy to discourage and delay customer acceptance of electronic publishing.
If you've been around here a while, you know where I stand on book pricing. I think premium-level/tiered pricing is an archaic and dysfunctional tradition that discourages impulse buying and customer experimentation. I don't understand why Amazon thought this weekend's showdown would work, and I also don't understand their use of the word "monopoly" to describe Macmillan (of course a book publisher has a monopoly on its own titles!). But Amazon is trying to create a new electronic marketplace for books, and Macmillan's action to tightly control e-book pricing amounts to a chokehold for this marketplace. I'll ask it again: does anybody out there really believe Macmillan wants to sell e-books at all? Sure, just as much as record companies want to sell MP3s instead of CDs.
This was a fair battle and Macmillan won, but the e-book pricing situation reminds me of Barack Obama's smart question about health care reform during this week's State of the Union address: "does anybody have a better idea?". Macmillan's victory is a victory for traditional premium/tiered book pricing. MobyLives's closing line above says it best: "this ain't over yet".
2. I'll be part of a panel discussion titled "The Oldest Media Goes Social" this Wednesday at 12 noon in New York City, along with author A. J. Jacobs, publicists Natalie Lin and Meryl Moss and BlogAds.com entrepreneur Henry Copeland.
3. Notable novelists playing cards. Shut up and deal ...
1. Welcome to Literary Kicks's new look. This latest redesign (the previous version is above, just for old times sake) takes advantage of some cool Drupal capabilities -- real-time tracking of popular and highly commented articles, a custom-built taxonomy-based "Explore Related" box on every article page -- and also includes improvements I've been jonesing for like share boxes and a liquid layout (finally!) that takes advantage of the full browser page size. I also tweaked the design specs a bit (I'm using a custom variant of the Fervens theme), and created a new version of the Paul Verlaine logo (just for fun).
Website redesigns often trigger the "Wow Effect", named after the word people say when a favorite website suddenly changes. This is often followed by the depressing realization that it's the same old website with different colors and fonts. Personally, I like to avoid the whole "Wow Effect" ordeal by releasing changes gradually, and you may have noticed some of the changes leading up to this redesign going up in the past few weeks. I'm still far from done, and will also be experimenting with Semantic Web features as well as some custom database algorithms I've been dreaming up for the various "featured article" lists.
I'm also going to completely reinvent the Action Poetry pages, but that'll take another month. Please bear with me as this proceeds, and please email me or post a comment if the pages do not display correctly on your browser or device -- thanks.
2. J. D. Salinger. Hmm. By any rational calculation, I'd be very drawn to J. D. Salinger, a brainy New York Jew who emerged in the 1950s, became a superstar, became a Buddhist, and retreated from the world. I admire Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and most of the short stories, though I never understood the gigantic appeal of Catcher in the Rye. On the other hand, my two daughters both like the book very much, and Elizabeth even wrote about him for LitKicks when she was 15.
Still, his work never fully grabbed me. What I can't relate to about J. D. Salinger is that joylessness, that dread of life. I can't relate to that at all. His Buddhism is clearly very different from mine.
As far as classic writers from the 1950s and 1960s go, I'll take the ecstatic Jack Kerouac over the morbid J. D. Salinger any day. Still, I salute an American original who certainly, if nothing else, stuck to his principles. I'll pay some attention if unpublished manuscripts come out. Till then, the New Yorker has a nice tribute display of several of his short stories originally published in that magazine. The Onion, meanwhile, must have had this ready in advance.
3. Somebody went to an art museum and fell into a Picasso. And not one of those late period Picasso lithograph cartoons that you see all over the place -- this was a serious Picasso, from the "Rose Period" just before Cubism. I always wanted to go to an art museum and do something like that.
4. Words Without Borders, which also has a new look, is highlighting Georges Perec.
5. Bookslut's Michael Schaub on the new Patti Smith memoir, about her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
7. Sure, I got some Beat Generation links. The movie Howl is coming out soon. This is a big deal and I wish the filmmakers would let me see a preview already. Then: Ginsberg's photographs, Gary Snyder communing with hardware, Jack Kerouac in Detroit, Ginger Eades's blog. Okay.
8. What the Los Angeles Lakers are reading. Nice to see 60s classics Edward Abbey and Eldridge Cleaver on this list!
10. Is somebody making money off of slush piles? Why shouldn't they?
11. Okay, I had something cool planned for today's redesign launch: an interview with Up In The Air novelist Walter Kirn. We talk about technology, careers, literature and how it feels to become a George Clooney movie. I decided to devote the day to Bananafish instead, so I'll be presenting this exciting interview (really) on Monday. Friday is hiphop day again.
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.
No New York Times Book Review coverage here this weekend, though you can find some at HTML Giant, where they seem to have picked up my weekend habit. I'm busy moving this website to a new host and new software platform. The data migration heavy lifting is now complete, which means I can now start in on the fun stuff: new navigation features, an updated design, bringing my game into the new decade. Goodbye WordPress (you treated me well) ... hello Drupal.
Action Poetry is not quite working yet, but other than that the site should be in good shape -- please post a comment to let me know if you find anything busted. Regular blogging resumes Monday morning.
So, what's next for the draft I've just completed? I'm very happy with the response I got from many of you, and I certainly think I've got a mandate to prepare a book proposal and seek a publisher. Some may ask, do I even need a publisher? Haven't I published it already, and isn't the book biz a total clusterfuck right now? Yes and yes, but even so I want to give this a try, and I wouldn't mind working with an excellent editor to bring out the very best in this material. My search for a publisher may also prove entertaining in its own right: I wrote the book out here "in full view", and I plan to handle the next steps the same way. Thanks again to everybody who posted comments, suggestions, feedback or advice, and you'll be hearing more about this soon.
2. I've got some busy days ahead -- as I work on this book proposal, I'm also hoping to relaunch Literary Kicks in Drupal. I've barely begun the work so I don't know if it will fly or not. Stay tuned, I hope.
I'm also planning to shut the site down for the rest of the holidays, and will shortly be putting up an Action Poetry Random Poem Selector like we like to do every year around this time.
Okay, enough about LitKicks ... here are a few more literary links you might like:
3. An informative look at the circumstances behind Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
4. PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah calls sentencing of Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo a "mockery" and a "scandal".
5. Beat-related videos by the excellent Laki Vazakas.
6. Was John Keats killed by a bad review?
7. Arthur Conan Doyle as Metafictionist.
8. Wizzywig, a hacker memoir by Ed Piskor.
9. Yay! Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe is heading our way soon.
10. A word cloud representing Houghton Mifflin's Best American Short Stories series.
11. Drawings from Moby-Dick.
12. Very nice: Pride and Prejudice in emoticons.
13. You know that Joseph Conrad classic. The N-Word of the Narcissus.
14. And, just to prove I have some Christmas spirit, here's a Christmas memory from Henry David Thoreau (via @geoffwisner).
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.