Monday, December 17, 2007

Someone else agrees

Here is another post on why Jonathan Franzen is completely wrong and annoyingly high-brow about ebooks.

Jonathan Franzen hates technology

Ok, maybe that is taking it a bit too far, but he clearly opposes the mingling of books and technology. I guess he doesn't want publishers, booksellers, and authors to make more money. He also doesn't want more people to read. In the LA Times last week, Franzen tried to develop an argument against ebooks:

"People who care about literature care about substance and permanence. The essence of electronics is mutability and transience. I can see travel guides and Michael Crighton novels translating into pixels easily enough. But the person who cares about Kafka wants Kafka unerasable. [...] Yes, in theory, words are words, but literature isn't data. The difference between Shakespeare on a BlackBerry and Shakespeare in the Arden edition is like the difference between vows taken in a shoe store and vows taken in a cathedral."

Well this is just ridiculous, for the following reasons:

1) Just because something is electronic doesn't make it anymore lasting than words in a book. If a piece of writing is deemed worthy of permanence in our society, it will naturally be preserved through reprints and reproductions, regardless of where the original text came from. Original texts from Shakespeare? Missing. Yet we still read his works because society as a whole has bought in to the idea that his plays and poems are worth reading. Is Jonathan Franzen worried that his own work might not stand the test of time?

2) Where is Franzen drawing the line between books that are acceptable to read electronically and ones we absolutely must read in print? Apparently he is proposing that we make some kind of distinction and prevent "literature" from being distributed and read in electronic formats. Clearly his own books must be preserved in print only.

3) Who cares how someone reads Shakespeare? With competition like Perez Hilton and YouTube out there, we're lucky anybody still cares enough to read him! Isn't it better to have more people reading through a variety of media rather than a few people reading printed books?

4) Franzen said himself, "words are words." Well, I don't really see how you can argue against that. We absorb the information the same way. Shakespeare takes your breath away even on a screen. "The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch" (Shakespeare, Othello, I, iii). Admittedly, I got a few goosebumps reading quotations online while looking for this one. Words work no matter how you read them.

5) We should expand, rather than limit, the ways people can read. Just because one person prefers dusty tomes over BlackBerry ebooks doesn't mean another person might prefer the ebook. Give them their books!

Jonathan, would it really be that offensive to you if someone read The Corrections on a Kindle?

Sleeper Hit of 2007

This season's unexpected hit has to be The Rest is Just Noise by Alex Ross. By New York Times music critic, this book investigates tracks common sounds throughout twentieth century music and how different genres are related to one another. Despite the high level of musical analysis, Ross's book is ultimately quite readable for music enthusiasts and average readers. This book is one of the NY Times "10 Best Books of 2007" (egregious self-promotion) and number 8 on's "Best of 2007" list.

Preliminary investigation reveals that this book is already difficult to get. Two B&N locations in the NYC area are out of stock, and sold out, too. More copies will be available on December 20. Same for Borders. Books-a-Million is out of stock with no word on when they will get more. On, only the audio version is available. Barnes & Noble seems to be the only place to get this book of the big online retailers. Good luck, intrepid shoppers!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sad sales number

The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz has consistently topped the "best of 2007" book lists, and book reviewers practically fell over themselves with joy at this book's literary quality and readability. However, according to AP's Hillel Italie, the book has only sold 27,000 copies to date.

In addition to confirming the decreasing popularity of literary fiction, it seems to suggest that the average reader does not read book reviews, or that they do not follow reviewer recommendations when buying books. Are we screaming into the void, or what?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dept. of Gross

During a discussion about Ancient Greece squabble show The View, co-host Sherri Shepherd asserted that nothing predates Christianity and that "Jesus came before [the Ancient Greeks]." You can't use scientific facts to argue with people like this. For example, stanch evolutionists might tell you that dinosaurs have been fabricated by the scientific community to refute God's Truth, or something like that. They might tell you that humanity cannot possibly understand God's plan and that things like carbon dating are our feeble and incorrect attempt to understand an impossibly complex world.

Ok, but even die-hard Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible have to admit that Judaism came before Christianity. Shepherd can't even get that right! Way to give ignorance a bad name, Sherri.

Best Translations of 2007

Get ready to revise your holiday shopping lists. Books are good presents, and these are some good books. From Three Percent, here is an end-of-the-year list of the best translations:

  • How I Became a Nun by Cesar Aira, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)
  • Amulet by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)
  • The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (FSG)
  • Christ versus Arizona by Camilo Jose Cela, translated from the Spanish by Martin Sokolinsky (Dalkey Archive Press)
  • Autonauts of the Cosmoroute by Julio Cortazar, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean (Archipelago)
  • Ravel by Jean Echenoz, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (New Press)
  • Guantanamo by Dorothea Dieckmann, translated from the German by Tim Mohr (Soft Skull)
  • The Little Girl and the Cigarette by Benoit Duteurtre, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (Melville House)
  • The Collected Poems: 1956-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert, translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz, Peter Dale Scott, and Alissa Valles (Ecco)
  • Today I Wrote Nothing by Daniil Kharms, translated from the Russian by Matvei Yankelevich (Overlook)
  • Sunflower by Gyula Krudy, translated from the Hungarian by John Batki (New York Review Books)
  • Montano’s Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Dunne (New Directions)
  • The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump by Aharon Megged, translated from the Hebrew by Vivian Eden (Toby Press)
  • In Her Absence by Antonio Munoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Other Press)
  • Day In Day Out by Terezia Mora, translated from the German by Michael Henry Heim (HarperCollins)
  • Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom, translated from the Dutch by Susan Massotty (Harcourt Inc.)
  • The Unforeseen by Christian Oster, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (Other Press)
  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born (Graywolf Press)
  • Ice by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell (New York Review Books)
  • The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition by Cesar Vallejo, translated from the Spanish by Clayton Eshleman (Univ. of California Press)
  • The Assistant by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions)
  • I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-ha Kim, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim (Harcourt Inc.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Free Book Freak-out

I decided to jump on the bandwagon and address an issue that all the cool lit blog kids are writing about. Galley Cat picked up on the Literary Saloon post and Scott Esposito's post about Chad Post's original post about giving book away. [Insert gasp of disbelief here] This is the original quote that sparked the storm:
The core of this idea can be extracted from the commercial marketplace and actually be evidenced in the world of nonprofits. Most nonprofit presses receive funding from the government (state and federal), from private donors, from foundations, with the goal of offsetting the losses that almost always occur when publishing literary fiction. And in the nonprofit world, we usually don’t talk as much about sales as we do about reaching readers, about finding a way to cultivate an audience for a book or author outside of the traditional marketplace model. So the idea of someone underwriting a book that’s truly just given away isn’t all that crazy . . . and would probably “only” cost $35,000 or so, depending on how many you wanted to give away.

Note the phrase "would probably 'only' cost $35,000 or so." Let's dust off our close reading skills from college here, paying careful attention to Chad's use of quotation marks, to uncover the real meaning. By highlighting the word "only" with quotation marks, Chad flags this word as sarcastic. Thus we can assume he believes $35,000 to be a significant amount of money, too much money to lose. While the rest of his arguments in the paragraph are valid observations of the publishing business, I do not think we can really read this as an earnest suggestion that nonprofit publishers actually give books away.

My two cents? Good job to everyone who responded to Chad's idea with thoughtful consideration because there have to be more ways of making money and funding literary publishing than what we have going right now. Maybe nonprofits should pull a Radiohead and offer pay-what-you-want ebooks of their new releases.

Amazon Kindle already out of stock

That's right, the Kindle is out of stock just in time for the holiday rush. It is that cool and great that more people want one than Amazon anticipated (or maybe Amazon played a marketing trick on us all by using the ol' econ lesson of less supply=more demand, those sly dogs).

Just so we're clear, I am pro-Kindle. I am pro-digitization. Since Amazon released Kindle in November, a litany of blog posts and news articles have swamped my Google Reader on the subject, commenting on everything from the hideous design to the relevancy of such a device among modern readers. Unfortunately, I can't argue that Kindle isn't ugly and expensive, but I disagree with the traditionalist readers out there that e-books are unnecessary and even potentially harmful to the book business. The digital wave has already washed over the economy, and because publishing has not successfully fought off its own technophobia, the industry isn't making as much money as it could (and everyone is underpaid for what they do).

E-books are not required, and they will not replace print books any time soon. What they do is represent another format for reading. I don't understand why people are so afraid of this. If you don't want an e-book reader, don't buy one. Let me address some of the typical arguments against digital books.

1) The book format is already ideal. Ok this is true, but e-books are not meant to completely replace the p-book, but rather provide an alternate format design for speed and convenience. You can still purchase those very special and sentimental tomes in print, then download a little light reading or reference manual. E and P can coexist in publishing, people!

2) Piracy will cause publishers and authors to lose money. Umm, has it occurred to anyone who makes this argument that piracy already exists among p-book readers? Once you buy a book, you have free reign to copy it, loan it to all your friends, whatever. If you buy an audio book on a CD, you can email the files to people, burn them onto new CDs, and share them online. How is an e-book any different? Just because there is no physical form backing up the file doesn't mean it will be a beacon to people looking to rip publishers off. We all saw the music industry fall to its knees because of piracy, but we should also acknowledge that the audience for e-books is somewhat different than MP3 users. Can you really imagine college kids pirating e-books in their dorms at 2 am?

3) Nobody will pay that much for a device that doesn't do anything else. The Kindle is the just first step. It is ugly and expensive, but Amazon got a few things right. They are going to pay for your internet connection so you can painlessly buy and download books. Like iTunes, Amazon understands that if it is easier to buy a file than to steal it, most people will buy it. Wait a year or two. I predict that the Kindle will be sleek, reasonably priced, and popular.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pardon... for my long absence from blogging. Let's call it a mental lapse (or a tropical vacation).

...the Washington Post's book editor Michael Dirda and the egregious self-promotion of his book Classics for Pleasure, which coincidentally ended up on the Washington Post's Best Books of 2007 list.

Friday, November 16, 2007

E-reading on the subway

The other day I saw a Sony eReader in person for the first the hands of an intrepid subway-riding hipster no less. He had already decorated it with cool stickers to lend a touch of individuality to the plain black plastic. I tried to get a good look at the eReader and its patented e-ink, but the hipster in question was standing slightly behind me in the crowded subway. My view was somewhat obstructed, but this thing is admittedly cool. The words were so sharp and crisp that they seemed to float above the display screen. The device itself is very thin and portable, although the controls look like they are from circa 2001 portable CD player. My question is, how did this hipster get his hands on this eReader and what was he reading on it?

Last Five Books

Inspired by this post, Literary Rapture will consider the following hypothetical question: If you could only read five books for the rest of your life, which three books would you choose?

1) Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Aside from the ridiculously high page count and the large amount of content that goes along with that, Moby Dick explores the depths of human emotion, hope, and despair like no other book I've read. The book also dabbles in astronomy, anatomy, biology, history, religion, and sociology, among others. This book offers an outstanding page-value ratio.

2) Die Blechtrommel by Guenter Grass. This is the one German masterpiece that I want to read in the original language. The challenge here would be two-fold. The book is complicated in general, so even a translation is tough to understand. On top of that, I would have to master the German language. It presents a large and interesting enough challenge to last the rest of my life.

3) The largest German-English Dictionary I could find. See above.

4) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I fell in love with this book years ago and the shine never wears off. Woolf is able to extract the most poignant emotions and connections out of a single ordinary moment, and that never ceases to amaze me.

5) The BFG by Roald Dahl. Sometimes you need a little silliness in your life. Snozzcumbers and whizpoppers are just the ticket. And who doesn't like the idea that someone out there is making sure you don't have nightmares?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Legendary Leaves Us

Norman Mailer died November 10, 2007 in Manhattan. As quoted in the New York Times, Gore Vidal on Mailer:
Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Literary Outburst

Fabulous proof that anything can be fodder for a writer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What Publishers Can Learn From Radiohead

From Ed Champion, Radiohead's pay-what-you-want-for-this-download experiment paid off...approximately $2.7 million. All the money goes to the band because they eliminated the middleman. Surprised? The public opted to pay $2.7 million for this music. Granted, Radiohead is a very famous and well established band with a loyal fan base who wants to see them make money. From the perspective of book publishing, this experiment teaches us a few things about using the internet to distribute content.

Not everyone who uses the Internet wants to steal things. Everyone could have downloaded Radiohead's new album for free, but they didn't. There are probably people who didn't pay, and there are more people who stole the music from someone else. But the fact remains that when faced with the choice, enough people paid to make this experiment successful. Take iTunes. People could just as easily search peer-to-peer networks for free music. Instead, enough people go to iTunes and pay for their music and generate enough money to keep iTunes not only alive but robust and flourishing.

A loyal fan base wants to pay for things. All those Radiohead fans care about the band and care that it makes enough money to continue making music. Readers care about their authors and don't want to see them starve. A reader could go to the library and read a book for free, but enough people buy the book to make publishing a worthwhile business.

The Internet is clearly no different. If you have a good website that is convenient and user-friendly, people will pay. They don't want to scour the ends of the Internet for a free e-book. They want to go to a website, find the book, and buy it. Ease, convenience, and connectivity are what have brought consumers online. I don't believe e-book piracy is going to bring book publishing to its knees. Publishers should start trusting their readers.

9/11 Fiction

I hate to expose how few readers this blog actually has, but I would like my readers' opinion. Is it OK to fictionalize or sensationalize 9/11 for entertainment purposes, such as in thriller novels, literary fiction, television shows, and movies? Has enough time passed? Leave a comment!

Dept. of Gross

You know those obnoxious ad flyers that fall out of your newspaper every morning and end up in the trash (if you still read the print version of newspapers and if you don't recycle)? Well, this fabulous experience can now be had by library patrons in the UK. The Guardian reports that a direct marketing company Howse Jackson has struck a deal with libraries in Essex, Somerset, Bromley, Leeds, and Southend to insert advertising leaflets into thousands of library books. They want to go national.

I predict that these leaflets will be all over the library floor, littered across cities, and create dissatisfied library patrons.

Brick Lit

The latest term to hit the book review circle? Brick Lit. Ok, maybe we won't see Michiko Kakutani using it anytime soon, but I'm a fan. Brick Lit refers to super long books by super famous authors that could use some editorial assistance to make them shorter and better. You get duped into buying and attempting to read these books because of the author's stature, but 300 pages later, not much has happened and your arms are getting tired from holding up five pounds of paper and ink. As an editor, it's hard to tell a master of the craft that his or her latest work is not that masterful, but take one for the team, people!

Monday, November 5, 2007


...but they did a pretty good job here! The Mirror (via Three Percent) has a list of untranslatable phrases from various languages. My favorite is an Austrian insult: "Du kannst mir gern den Buckel runterrutschen und mit der Zunge bremsen" (literally, you can slide down my hunchback using your tongue as a brake).

Two Cool Books

Today's Publishers Weekly reviews the newly released children's book, The Cat: Or How I Lost Eternity by Jutta Richter (Milkweed, October 2007). The protagonist is a lonely little girl who finds companionship from a talking white cat. However, the story begins to devolve into something darker as the cat begins to display somewhat sinister sentiments, which conflict with the protagonist's sense of morality and compassion. PW points to Richter's "uncanny gift for illuminating the weight of small actions" as one of the books successes. The back cover features praise from Joyce Carol Oates: "Untimely in the way of a Grimm fairytale recast by Franz Kafka, The Cat is quite unlike the other work of fabulist fiction that I have read." This is one of those children's stories that speaks to issues children face in their own lives, but carries the kind of weight that adult readers can appreciate.

The illustrations by Rotraut Susanne Berner reflect otherworldliness of the story, and Anna Brailovsky's translation from the German preserves the author's sparse and sincere tone. As a whole package, this story is intriguing and triggers meditation on the actions one takes in his or her own life and the consequences of those actions for other people.

The Complete Stories by David Malouf recently came out with Pantheon in July 2007 and is one of the PW Best Books of 2007. The only book by Malouf that I have read is Remembering Babylon, which I found on the used book shelf of my favorite hipster bookstore, Spoonbill & Sugartown. (On a side note, this bookstore is home to several awesome cats that sleep on the stacks of books. If you are experiencing pet withdrawal for any reason, this is a good place to remedy that.) Australian-born Malouf creates powerfully dynamic relationships between his characters, always with an undercurrent of violence and suspicion. Many of his works are set in harsh Australian landscapes. He explores the fringes of society, both literally and socially, and his works create forceful reading experiences.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Revisiting Amitava Kumar

I first heard of Amitava Kumar during the 2007 PEN World Voices Festival. He did an event with Ilija Trojanow at the Goethe Institut, which had the very formal title of "Postcolonial Writing in a Globalized World" but was anything but formal. The two authors had spoken previously and established the kind of friendly rapport that individuals possessing equal intelligence and comic wit do. Trojanow read from his book Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) in German and English, which will come out in English with Ecco Press though no release date has been set. Kumar read from Bombay-London-New York, a fabulous excerpt of which you can find here (courtesy of Maud Newton). PEN does a fabulous job recording World Voices Festival events, and you can listen to this one here.

Amitava's blog is now on my blog roll, so read it. He is a very engaged author who makes conscious decisions about his writing. I love self-conscious writers who can take deliberate steps in their work without forcing those elusive qualities like humor and wit.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bookstore Chains Win Again

Two retail giants in Canada announced discounts on books and magazines on Wednesday. Canadian bookstore chain Indigo is offering a 10% discount on all books in its stores, and Wal-Mart said its Canadian locations will sell books and magazines at their US prices.

Recently, Canadian booksellers have been calling for a change in pricing on books, magazines, and other materials sold to them by American publishers. Typically, books are priced 25% to 30% higher for Canadian consumers, a system based on an outdated exchange rate. With the Canadian dollar currently trading above the US dollar, booksellers and consumers in Canada are miffed and outraged that book prices have not been adjusted.

The discounts now offered by Indigo and Wal-Mart might be enough to keep Canadian consumers from buying books directly from American retailers, but this is bad news for small and independent book shops in Canada. Larger chain stores can afford a profit decrease on books and magazines, especially if it means creating customer loyalty. Smaller retail shops, however, cannot afford such profit losses. Until American publishers offer their books to Canadian booksellers at American prices, indie shops will have to continue charging higher prices.

This reminds me of the astonishing fact that despite selling 2.5 million copies of the seventh Harry Potter book, Amazon actually lost money on the book because of the deep discounts it offered its customers. No small bookstore can compete with that kind of discounting, which is probably why Germany is so up in arms about the Swiss decision to get rid of its fixed book prices.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Will she come out and play?

Harper Lee is the newest recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making her just as important as Pope John Paul II, in the eyes of our nation. The question now is, will Ms. Lee actually say anything on the occasion of the award ceremony? She is notoriously tight-lipped and reclusive, and I think I know why. Here, from my blog's infancy on MySpace is the inside story.

On a side note, the website of the Medal of Freedom has a good picture of George and Laura with the Pope. The Notable Recipients section is especially amusing. According to this list, Nelson Mandela is an African American, which is apparently a more fitting description than "Recipients Who Were Politicians." Maybe because he is still a politician? Julia Child gets her own bullet point on this list, which makes her better than Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Henry Kissinger, but the same as Edward Teller. Where does Harper Lee fall? We'll have to wait until the government gets around to updating the website. From the looks of things, it's been a couple years since the last update so we shouldn't have too long to wait.

Open Letter's First Run

Open Letter Press just announced its debut list of titles, which are currently set to come out in the fall of 2008. Get psyched and buzzed!

Nobody's Home by Dubravka Ugresic:
By Dubravka Ugresic, a Croatian exile living in Amsterdam. After the outbreak of the war in 1991 in former Yugoslavia, Ugresic wrote critically about nationalism and the travesty of war. She was labeled a traitor and left Croatia in 1993. This collection of witty stories offers life from the exile’s point of view.

The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca:
By Rubem Fonseca, a Brazilian author who was one of the first to write about the reality of urban life in Rio. His gritty style is considered groundbreaking for Brazilian writers, where the pastoral setting has in recent decades reigned supreme. Few English translations of Fonesca’s works are available today.

The Pets by Bragi Olafsson:
By Bragi Olafsson, a young Icelandic writer who also forged a notable musical career as the former bassist for the Sugarcubes, the first band of Icelandic superstar Bjork. Olafsson’s work is a quirky, cinematic novel, much of which takes place with the main character trapped under his bed hiding from his “friends” who have invaded his living room.

Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Givelas:
By Ricardas Gavelis of Lithuania. The translator of this novel felt so strongly about the work that she translated the entire novel without a contract and sent it to Open Letter. The book is one of a handful of Lithuanian novels to be translated into English in the past decade. An intensely imaginative and creatively structured novel, it’s considered by many to be one of Lithuania’s greatest literary works.

The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad:
By Jan Kjaerstad of Norway. This book is the second in a trilogy featuring the fictional TV personality Jonas Wergeland, a famed Norwegian documentary producer who, for reasons left unexplained at the end of the previous novel, The Seducer, has murdered his wife. Kjaerstad was the recipient of the Nordic Prize for Literature in 2001.

The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras:
By Marguerite Duras, the late French author and filmmaker known for her autobiographical work translated into English as The Lover. Open Letter is reprinting The Sailor from Gibraltar, an expansive novel about a women living on a yacht, traveling the world looking for her lost lover.

The boys of Open Letter are featured in the new issue of Currents, which describes the unique approach to publishing that the press is taking:
Most nonprofit presses exist on their own as an entity that ends up at universities with special arrangements. In this case, Open Letter organically came out of the things that are going on here at the University within the humanities and all the international and translation initiatives. We’re seamlessly integrated into the mission of the University and work really well within the structure, including as a key resource in the developing academic programs in literary translation. I know of only one other press that operates similarly as part of a university. You could say that this is an experiment of sorts, one we hope will be very successful.
This is the kind of experiment that the publishing industry needs. We need to begin thinking of new ways to preserve the literary culture in this country and to keep it from disintegrating into a landscape of homogeneity. Long live the small press!

Monday, October 29, 2007

The New Yorker is highbrow

When I first arrived in New York City, I read every word of the New Yorker and absorbed it as the absolute God’s truth. Everyone in this city must do the same thing, I thought. This is how you become a real New Yorker. On the subway, there was always someone reading the latest issue, someone with cool clothes and an overall intelligent-yet-hip look. These were probably the people populating the readings at indie bookstores and occasionally splurging on a ticket to some fabulous off-Broadway play. They could have a casual conversation about the latest exhibition at the Whitney and switch effortlessly into a discussion about the financial situation of oil companies in Africa. Judge me as you will, but I wanted to be one of those people.

Times have changed, and so has my cynicism. Our issue of the New Yorker arrived today, and as I thumbed through it, my eye fell on an article about the World Series. Being from Colorado, this is a slightly sensitive topic. It seemed like a good idea to find out what the New Yorker had to say about the whole tragic affair. Forgive me for being incensed by the reference to Elizabeth Bishop in the second sentence of an article about baseball. I am sure the writer thought he was being quite clever and New Yorker-ish by incorporating poetry into sports writing, but really!

To writers and readers of the New Yorker: it is ok if your sports writing does not contain references to literature or other obscure minutiae.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Swiss reject fixed book prices

Today's New York Times reports that the Swiss Competition Commission ruled to overturn the fixed-price law on books that has kept so many small publishers and booksellers alive in German-speaking countries. Rafael Corazza, director of the Competition Commission, said that the fixed-price law created "a cartel" out of the German and Swiss book markets, but said he was unsure whether this change would be good or bad for the industry. "Nobody knows for sure yet. But nobody can read on million titles, so the question is, is it better that more people read fewer books or that fewer people read a lot of different books?"

Fixed book prices in Germany means that the industry can sustain a large number of small publishers and booksellers that cater to niche audiences. The books that get published and sell are not dependent upon a few companies or bookstores, but rather reflect the diverse tastes of many readers and publishers. Germans are quick to defend this system because reading, education, and intellectual curiosity are key ingredients to Germany's national identity.

The Swiss Competition Commission made the decision in May of 2007 to abolish fixed pricing on German books, and consumers can already see the effects. The German translation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold in Germany at the fixed price of 24.90 euros, but the Boersenblatt reports today that the books sold in Switzerland for 27 Franks, or approximately 16.20 euros.

I am not yet fully entrenched in the business side of publishing, but this seems to me a significant change for the German book market. Some customers might be tempted to buy their Harry Potter book from a Swiss bookstore rather than the little German shop around the corner. Swiss bookstores will have to charge more for the non-bestsellers to accommodate for the profits lost to discounts on the Harry Potter book, causing even fewer copies to be sold. Keep an eye on this. Germany is one of the strongest book markets in the world, and while it isn't crashing down around us yet, the potential for dramatic change is in the air.

World Series

Go Rockies!

Colorado Rockies vs. Boston Red Sox
Wednesday, October 23 at 8:35 p.m.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stephen Colbert

might just be our next president! Ok, maybe not, but Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies conducted a survey and found that in the Democratic primary, 2.3% of respondents would vote for Colbert. This leaves Colbert only slightly behind Joe Biden (2.7%), and ahead of Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel.

Colbert announced his campaign to run for president on his television show, The Colbert Report, on October 9th. He plans to run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries on a "favorite son of South Carolina" platform. Satirical as his campaign may be, Colbert is apparently kind of a candidate. He even appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, October 21. Only in America.

Speaking of America and because this is supposed to be a book blog, Colbert's campaign announcement came on the same day as the release of his book I Am America (And So Can You!). Here is an excerpt of this introduction:

I am not fan of books. And chances are, if you're reading this, you and I share a healthy skepticism about the printed world. Well, I want you to know that this is the first book I've ever written, and I hope it's the first book you've ever read. Don't make a habit of it.

Coincidence? I think not, but let's not criticize one man's efforts to further brand himself as the political comedian, especially since he's so hilarious. And to keep you laughing today, watch Stephen Colbert roast George Bush to his face during last year's White House Correspondents Dinner.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore is gay apparently

Yes, that is the official word from the author herself, announced Friday at a reading in Carnegie Hall. Why wasn't this in the books? I guess we were supposed to intuit the fact that Albus Dumbledore was in love with Gellert Grindelwald (whoever that is). Rowling's literary prowess strikes again. Edward Champion comments here and the Guardian's article here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Motoko Rich thinks we are bourgeouis

Thank you, Motoko, for portraying the publishing industry as one long cocktail party. Admittedly, you have written a brilliant article here. On the surface, this is an earnest report of the adventures of the Stein siblings at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but it actually reads more like the New York Social Diary than the New York Times.

I am surprised that more people have not blogged about this article, but this may be because they are afraid it might be true. We have only ourselves to blame if it is.

Man Booker Prize

Confession: I did not read The Gathering by Anne Enright, which won the Booker Prize.
Confession: I do not feel compelled to finish reading every book I pick up.
Confession: I did not read all of Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones but judged it anyway.

Congratulations, Anne Enright, for winning the Booker Prize. People seem excited. Way to beat Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip, which I found disappointing in spite of all the hype. The concept behind the book is a romantic one for readers of literature, namely that writing can become more real to us than real life, guide us through traumatic events, and ultimately help us live our own lives to the fullest expression of satisfaction. Even though this is precisely what the book is about, Jones’ use of this device as a vehicle for his story feels unwieldy and forced. He plops Great Expectations all over the story in unsightly gobs, obscuring the narrator’s voice and dynamics of her community. Fear and tension are supposed to be growing in the story as the young men of the village join rebel armies and attacks on the village increase. Dickens is meant to be seen as a safe alternative to this harsh reality. The problem is that the book explores so little of this harsh reality. The quiet island village is disrupted, but without feeling the fear that the characters do, the reader cannot find the solace in Dickens that they do. Reading Mister Pip was like reading Dickens through the blurry lens of an average and predictable story. Sorry, Lloyd and other fans, but this didn’t do it for me.

On a book-reviewing note (since there has been so much flying around the blogosphere about book review culture lately), it is my belief that book critics and reviewers should be frank and honest in their writing, not polite. Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, agrees with me: “The only way you can detect that the reviewer doesn’t like the book is when they spend the whole time simply describing the plot. They’re not brave enough to say, ‘It doesn’t work’.” Ironically, he said this in defense of this year's Booker shortlist, which contained more unknown authors than established ones, including Lloyd Jones. Even more ironically, Booker shortlist books fall into the category of books that reviewers treat with kid gloves instead of honesty. Well, even if our reading tastes differ, Howard and I will at least be honest about it.

Mystery list

ZDF Television (German public television) and Bild am Sonntag magazine have allegedly created a list of the books most stolen from the 15 largest German publishers during the Frankfurt Book Fair, as reported by ABC News, Reuters, and the New York Post. However, extensive Google research has turned up no such list. So I guess we don't actually get to see which books were stolen the most. This tantilizing tidbit has me on pins and needles. If anyone has this list, I want to see it!

The English-language reports say that among the top stolen books was the German version of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Instead of getting upset that their books are being stolen by sticky-fingered fair-goers, the German publishers rely on this as an indication of which books will become best-sellers. Among the other books mentioned as best-seller potentials were German Book Prize winner Julia Franck's Die Mittagsfrau and Dan Brown's Diabolus.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Frankfurt, Day 5

It's over! The final day of the fair passed in Hall 8 with relatively little chaos. I heard a rumor that the Dutch remainder and discount bookseller de Slegte decided to cancel its agreement to buy books from some of the bigger publishers in Hall 8 so they were stuck with all these books. Some publishers were selling their books at a discount to visitors. I have no idea if that is allowed because of Germany's fixed pricing laws for books, but that is what happened.

The best part of the day was the Frankfurt Book Fair staff party in Hall 4.0. As one lady said, we know how to work hard and how to party hard. That we do. The main course was delicious (artichoke casserole, some kind of meatball, paella, squid, some other kind of baked casserole dish, and bread of course). The wine selection included a riesling called Geil (which means cool in German). According to fellow diners, the dessert was nothing to blog about.

After a short speech, everyone got funky on the dance floor. By everyone, I mean pretty much every single person in the room was on the dance floor at some point. Frankfurt Book Fair people kick ass! During this dinner, I also became blog buddies with Andrew Wilkins and Edward Nawotka, who came to write for the Frankfurt Book Fair blog, which you should all check out because it's really great.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Books Update

The latest buzz to reach my ears, which is going to be pretty late:

Roger Moore's autobiography is up for auction at the moment. Bidding started at 1 million pounds and as of yesterday was up to 2 million pounds. I don't know what other fabulous things he's done besides be James Bond. I guess we can read about it soon enough.

Julia Franck won the German Book Prize this year for her book Die Mittagsfrau (S. Fischer), and the English rights to this book are still floating around.

Doris Lessing has written a ton of books, and these books have been published by many German publishers. As soon as Lessing won the Nobel prize, signs went up at all the publishers' stands saying they were the publisher of Doris Lessing.

More as it comes!

Frankfurt, Day 4

Days 4 and 5 are open to the public. The English-language publishers are averse to the public and most of them pack up and leave on Friday to avoid it (leaving interns and assistants behind of course). These publishers are avoiding a whole bunch of nothing, however, because very few people come out to Hall 8, mostly because nobody is here. A vicious cycles ensues, allowing me and everyone else ample time to fart around (or blog, whatever). Most of the people who come through here are either lost, or hearty and intrepid readers in search of something specific.

I went over to Hall 3 to hear former Frankfurt Book Fair director Peter Weidhaas speak about his new book. He is a very charismatic speaker and the book fair's biggest fan (after Fred Kobrak, of course). The aisles were packed full of awe-struck people. I was one of them. The stands were big and showy, designed with cool, swooping bookshelves and elegantly displayed books. These publishers stick around for the public days to interact with their readers and build brand recognition. The average German reader has a much better knowledge of individual publishers and their programs than American readers do.

Last night, I listened in on a conversation between some German publishing people that was somewhat enlightening. On the last day of the fair, the Germans sell their books to the public (at full price because they have a law about that here). The people I was talking to were saying, oh come by our stand and I'll save a copy of such-and-such book for you to buy. The attitude in Hall 8 would be, come by our stand and I'll give you a book. I have no idea why publishers would sell these books to each other. This is certainly a matter to follow up on.

After a very nice dinner in Oberursel with some friends, I went home. Earlier I had planned to be fabulous and intellectual at the Frankfurter Hof, but my eyes wouldn't stay open. Plus, being nice to the public is hard when you are hung over.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Update from Hall 8

The world has been officially turned upside down. Because so many more women work in publishing than men and because there are always lines for the women's restroom, the book fair wisely decided to convert some of the men's rooms into women's. I heard from a reliable source that yesterday, for the first time ever at the Frankfurt Book Fair, there was a line for the men's restroom. Ladies, the world has finally caught up to what we have been saying this whole time...we need more stalls!

This is awesome

Courtesy of Critcal Mass, a short piece from Finnhits by Kari Hotakainen.

Frankfurt, Day 3

After a long commute with the street car yesterday morning, we arrived bright-eyed to the fair. The day was an energetic one, as if we had all banded together over the transit strike. By the third day, people know approximately where they are going, so we get fewer questions about HarperCollins and more questions about obscure publishers that are part of other publishers who may or may not be here. The day went by quickly.

I went for a few minutes to the Publishing Trends luncheon, one of the few cool events held over here near Hall 8. I hobbed and knobbed for a little while before returning to the info stand. After hours, we took the "express" shuttle bus from Hall 8 to the U-bahn near Hall 1, which nearly bucked us out with erratic yet slow driving. We had one quick beer (a lager that I was not fond of) before heading off to a dinner/art exhibit put on my the Ramon Llul Institute. Along with several glasses of awesome wines from Catalonia, we had small plates of delicious tapas-like delicacies. The best dish was a morel mushroom in a cream of foie sauce. I almost fainted with tastebud overload.

Then we went to the German independent publishers party. It was supposed to be an outrageous dance bash, but only one girl was dancing to the semi-cool techno-trance music. She was both too drunk and too confident. Nobody knew who she was, but she was breaking it down German-style in her book fair business suit, like an amateur version of Flash Dance. We tried to dance for about five minutes, but the music wasn't keeping up. I took a taxi back and the driver told me a story about how he got drunk at Oktoberfest when he was 18 years old.

Quotes from the evening:
"Everybody should know a Welshman."
"It's not impressive. It's like never having tried cannibalism." (on being a long-term vegetarian)

The coffee machine in the Hall 8 office is broken. This is not good.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The best news all week!

For all Coloradans, you might want to sit down. Appearing in the New York Times today was the following: "For the uninitiated, Jeff Francis is the best pitcher on what is right now the best team in baseball, the Colorado Rockies."

Straight from the sports experts, the Colorado Rockies are the best team in baseball right now.

Al Gore is a big deal

I guess you have to be a big deal to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Gore plans to donate the $1.5 million award to the Alliance for Climate Protection. I guess this means I have to watch his movie now.

The results are in...

The publisher most frequently asked for at our stand yesterday was HarperCollins, with Random House coming in at a close second. Congratulations Jane Friedman!

Frankfurt, Day 2

Our little info stand has sold a record amount of merchandise this year. The classic black logo bags, the Moleskine notebooks, and the pins seem to be favorites this year. Interest in the colorful striped shoulder bag has died down since last year. A press guy came and took pictures of us info stand workers helping customers find their way around the fair. Maybe we will be on the Frankfurt Book Fair website someday!

I missed the festivities last night, and according to brief reports from fellow fair-goers, it was a late one. Tonight's parties should be fabulous, so I hope that resting last night will leave me in good shape to get down with the publishing crowd tonight.

The German train drivers union went on strike today. The morning's communte (with my fellow info stand buddy Fred Kobrak) consisted of a brisk 40-minute walk through the forest, over the highway, through some kind of strange gravel field, and then back to the highway. Then we finally found the last stop on the street car, which took us into the city. The strike will be over at 2 a.m., so that is a good excuse to stay out late tonight and take the train home.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nobel Prize

Doris Lessing just won approximately $1.6 million dollars. And she wrote some stuff, too.

Fabulous Summary

John Freeman provides some very awesome insight into day 1 at the Frankfurt Book Fair on the National Book Critics Circle blog, Critical Mass. German Book Prize winner Julia Franck's book is apparently still up for grabs in the US, people. Get in gear and get on that.

Freeman also mentions Russian Disko by Wladimir Kaminer, a fabulous book that failed because the translation was not the best. If you can handle poor phrasing, or if you read German, this book is worth a look. Kaminer paints a humorous and insightful picture of Berlin after the wall came down with details that outsiders might never know.

Frankfurt, Day 1

"Can you tell me where the HarperCollins booth is?" This is one of the most frequently asked question we get here at the Hall 8.0 information stand. Yes, we can tell you how to get to HarperCollins and many more! We did not keep an official tally yesterday, but I have decided to pit HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Scholastic against each other today and see who comes out on top. Results will be posted tomorrow. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

I heard that it was quite hot and stuffy in Hall 3.1, and the lack of natural daylight was a bit oppressive as well. Similar situations were reported in other halls as well. Despite the noticeable lack of stand receptions and 5 p.m. happy hours in Hall 8.0, we do have sunlight, air-conditioning, and security guards who search your belongings for WMDs and nail clippers.

Tip for fair visitors: do your research before you hit the trade show floor. We cannot print a list of all the people at the fair interested in literary fiction. Nor can we tell you what corner of Hall 8.0 all the Canadian remainder book companies are in because the fair is not organized that way. The catalogue is online ahead of the fair for this very reason.

Last night, I went out with the boys of Open Letter only to get heartily rejected from one party. We ended up at the Frankfurter Hof, buying expensive drinks and talking about hope. Then I waited in the train station for about an hour because the S-Bahn was delayed. Then I woke up in the middle of the night with a head cold. Good. This shouldn't happen until Friday at least.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Frankfurt Book Fair blog

I already linked to this in my last post, but only now has it become apparent how cool the Frankfurt Book Fair blog really is. I imagine there will be party pictures posted later on as the parties get wild with bookworms high on literature and wine.

International Rights Directors Meeting

Every year, a day before the official opening, the Frankfurt Book Fair hosts an International Rights Directors' Meeting. It a big important deal where industry experts present and discuss topics of timely importance. This year, the theme was digital licensing and contracts. Having attending this event (standing for about five hours in the back of the room and my feet are still killing me), here is the official Literary Rapture report.

Diane Spivey, who moderated the discussion after the speakers' presentations, touched on a theme that seems most important in discussing the digital possibilities and the future of book publishing. She said that digital publishing means working in a world where it is difficult to decide how much something is worth. Fear of the unknown has kept publishers from embracing digital the way other industries have. Spivey was the only speaker to explicity mention fear, but the tentative approach that many publishers take to digital endeavors bears this out.

Maja Thomas, VP of Hachette Audio, pointed out that we all saw the music industry's problems with piracy, but books target a different audience. She also said that once a customer buys a book or audio book, that customer is able to make copies and distribute them as they like. Digital formats inspire images of students maliciously sharing pirated digital versions of copyrighted material in their dormrooms at 2 in the morning.

What stood out to me, something I am sure all of you already thought about, is considering what kind of information a publisher is trying to sell digitally and what format to sell it in. Reference material can be formatted and sold differently than a cookbook or guide to bird species.

Exiting guests gave compliments to the book fair on the quality of this year's meeting. Way to go, Frankfurt Book Fair! For more complete and thoughtful coverage, visit the Frankfurt Book Fair blog, new this year.

Check back for continuing Frankfurt coverage.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Sometimes, when those big Bavarian men were out chopping down trees and hunting large animals, their calf muscles would cramp up. It was too hot in the summer to wear the full knee socks with their lederhosen, so they began wearing Wadelwärmer, or calf muscle warmers. These wonderful pieces of clothing are less common than knee socks, yet equally as traditional. Compliments of the Oktoberfest frenzy that gripped Munich, here is a series of Wadelwärmer pictures:


Guten Morgen, meine Damen und Herren! I had plans to write something very clever in this post to make it seem like I did more in Germany than just go to Oktoberfest, but who am I kidding? I arrived in Munich on Friday to find half of the city's population dressed in lederhosen and dirdls, going about their normal routines. It's true, the culturally hardcore Bavarians wear the traditional German outfits during Oktoberfest as if they had thrown on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

We found a fabulous chocolate shop, complete with chocolate mushrooms and a man in lederhosen:

Next we went to lunch at a tiny, very old school restaurant where they only spoke Bavarian. We each had heaping plates of Semmelknödel. I have no pictures because we ate it too fast.

After the carbo-loading, we headed off to...drumroll...Oktoberfest! A sign in the subway said that we should get off one stop early because the stop near Oktoberfest was too crowded. We got off with the surging crowds in traditional garb to find a huge fair (I don't know what I was expecting, but I did not expect this):

Then we rode this rollercoaster, which was one of the best rollercoaster experiences I've ever had (luckily, this was pre-beer drinking):

Then we made it into the Armbrustschützen Zelt, where beer only comes in one-liter servings. Today, our hands are swollen from where we held large beer glasses for four hours while standing on benches and swaying to a strange combination of German drinking songs, folk musics, and American oldies:


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Pardon my non-posts

The silence has been deafening here at Literary Rapture recently. Frankfurt Book Fair preparations are underway, and at this point nearly complete. I am heading off to Germany tonight and everything would seem to be in order, were it not for a very small wrench thrown into my well-oiled scheduling machine.

The German rail workers union will be going on strike on Friday, and the Deutsche Bahn website is all but inaccessible, most likely because everyone is trying check the emergency schedule. I just hope I make it to Munich for Oktoberfest on Saturday!

In other news, you will have to get your Frankfurt cool from someone other than me. My cell phone doesn't have email, so I can't do any remote blogging, and my reading selection this year leaves something to be desired. My two books to "read" are Crazed by Ha Jin and Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. Neither of these books are new, and most people at Frankfurt will have already read them. My only hope of coolness is talking about these books in an intelligent way.

See you all in Germany!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dept. of Gross

Three Percent reports on the latest "carnival-like approach to publishing" from Penguin, Amazon, and Hewlett Packard, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Instead of publishing really good books that have already been written, maybe it's a good idea to accept submissions of mediocre books online, build up a bunch of hype, and let the public go into marketing overload. You've got yourself a another temporarily cool bestseller right there. Ed Champion points out the ethically gray areas of this endeavor.

Publishing is such a divided industry. On the one hand, we are in business (a rather limping business at the moment) and need to make money. On the other hand, the nature of our business is to care about literature, ideas, and stories. Once again, artistic idealism collides with the bottom line, and it makes us all kind of cranky.

Rumor Alert!

According to, rumors are circulating that Amazon will unveil its ugly new e-reader, Kindle, at the Frankfurt Book Fair! Stop by the Amazon booth (or maybe somewhere in Hall 4.2?) and find out. I hope Amazon has made some aesthetic improvements since they built the prototype out of an Apple Performa.

How to be cool in Frankfurt

"So what are you reading right now?"

Everyone at the Frankfurt Book Fair will ask you this question, and you better have a cool answer, especially if you want to be invited to the Hessischer Hof or the Frankfurter Hof for drinks with the cool kids sometime around 2 a.m. People spend hours agonizing over the coolness of their current reading selection and which titles to bring to the fair. I am not talking about work-related titles that you are trying to sell. To make an impression during those informal and inebriated conversations that inevitably lead to book deals later on, you have to have a couple of impressive and slightly obscure books on your proverbial nightstand. With parties lasting until 2 or 3 a.m. and appointments starting a few short hours later, let's all be honest and admit that no reading actually happens during the fair. Nevertheless, you have to bring cool books to "read" and discuss with cool people.

Below are my further recommendations on how to be cool in Frankfurt.

Hannah's Top Ten Cool Rules for Frankfurt:
1) Bring two or three impressive books to "read"
2) Go to the parties no matter how tired you are
3) Wear hip Euro business attire (bonus points for cool glasses)
4) Make friends with a Frankfurt Book Fair employee because they all have the inside scoop
5) Join the digital age and download the map and catalogs to your mobile device
6) Carry a Frankfurt Book Fair bag because it makes you look like a pro
7) Don't be that poor person carrying a huge bag and wearing uncomfortable shoes
8) Save sleeping and reading for when you get home
9) Take cell phone pictures and post them to your blog
10) Talk to enough people and go to enough parties to make it into a cell phone picture on someone else's blog

Friday, September 28, 2007

Would you pass?

According to the New York Times, federal immigration authorities have 100 new questions to test immigrants who want to become American citizens. The old test from 1968 has been thrown out in favor of questions that focus on the structure of the American government and represent a more diverse view of history. Apparently some immigrants could pass the old test without studying, but "officials said the new one is intended to force even highly educated applicants to do reviewing."

Here are ten sample questions from the new test. I didn't pass.

Rugby Update

The USA lost to Samoa 21-25 on Wednesday sending them to the bottom of the pool. England will face Tonga in a critical game today. Kick-off is at 8 pm BST, and you can listen to BBC's live radio coverage here. England must win against Tonga to continue to the quarter finals. If they lose, they will be the first defending championship team to be knocked out of the play-offs. A win against Tonga is looking more difficult now than anyone predicted as this underdog team has consistently performed beyond expectations in the tournament.

The English Sprawl

Bloomsbury reports in the Guardian (on Sept. 19--I'm a little late on this one) that the English-language version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has sold as many copies overseas as in the UK. One million copies of the original version sold to Germany in the last month! The German translation doesn't come out until October 27. I guess all those German kiddos are so anxious to read this book that they are willing to learn a new language to do it!

Publishing Trends Survey

This month's issue of Publishing Trends features the results of their poll sent out to subscribers, and here are my two cents on the results.

The article begins (as did the survey) with our favorite after work drinks. It's no secret that we like to imbibe. There is a strange dichotomy in publishing between socially awkward bookworms and fabulously glamorous literati, and alcohol helps does wonders to bridge this gap. Wine, beer, and water take the top three spots, although I was pleased to see that gin and tonic came in with 6.6% of the pie chart.

The next big question is how tech-savvy us book people really are. As an industry, we are sprinting to catch up with the digital age (books cannot help being antediluvian). As individuals, the situation is mildly better. Overall 36% of us engage in social networking of some kind, but we have yet to figure out how to harness Web 2.0 in business situations. 40% of us read blogs, but the Huffington Post and celebrity blogs take the top two spots. Even publishing people aren't reading literary blogs. They must be on Team Tanenhaus.

For overall job satisfaction, we are doing pretty well. 45.5% of us never consider leaving the publishing industry, and 32% never consider leaving our current job. Oddly enough, sales people are the happiest and rights people consider leaving most often. Maybe it is all the traveling and exhibiting at book fairs that get rights people down.

When asked what job you aspire to, 49.2% said they were "just happy being me" and only 2.9% want to be a CEO. Unmotivated to climb the corporate ladder? You bet. If we were motivated by corporate culture, we would work somewhere that paid us more. 73.6% of respondents between the ages of 21 and 35 reported earning "less" or "much less" than their non-publishing peers. Compensation was the top-rated worst aspect of the industry, followed closely by instability of the market. We love our jobs and are willing to risk being poor and/or get laid off to stay.

Un-shockingly, we love to read fiction. 46.6% of us said that last thing we read for pleasure was fiction, followed not so closely by nonfiction at 20.1%. A few of us seem a little bitter that we have to read so much for work because 3.4% answered with "Reading? For Pleasure?" and another 1.3% of respondents answered "subway ad."

To be completely honest, the only unexpected result of this survey was that sales people are so happy. Everything else is typical of publishing. We talk about this stuff all the time anyway while drinking wine and beer (and water?!) after work, but now we have concrete results to print on paper and sell to each other.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


"Truman Capote is the most perfect writer of my generation." -Norman Mailer

Thanks for the success!

To all my readers out there, thank you for making yesterday the most successful day here at Literary Rapture to date. We set records for pageviews and unique visitors. Thanks for reading my blog!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Put some pace on it!

That is what rugby coaches say when they want their players to go faster. The reason I'm writing about this is because the Rugby Union World Cup is taking place in France right now, a major event in international sports. If you are American, you probably don't know about the Rugby World Cup for two reasons. 1) American fans only like domestic sports like football and baseball, and 2) the American rugby team is bad. Although, the US team has a single feather in its cap for being the only team to score a try against the Australian champs during the 1999 World Cup.

The BBC has decided that the USA "can be expected to be competitive against Tonga, but the loser of that game will finish at the bottom of the group. Unrealistic to expect any more." The USA lost to Tonga . Tune in today, September 26 at 7 p.m. BST to watch the USA take on Samoa.

Yesterday, Canada tied Japan 12-12, only the second tie in World Cup history. Japan is about as good as America at rugby, and they likely peaked during this game. The Canadians were expecting to beat Japan, so the tie was a disappointment for them. Also today, Romania edged out Portugal 14-10. Portugal led 7-0 at halftime but could not hold on to the lead, securing the last spot in the very competitive Pool C against Romania, Italy, Scotland, and New Zealand.

Scotland went down 0-40 against tournament favorite New Zealand on Sunday, but according to the BBC report, Scotland is more concerned about beating Italy. They had no chance of winning against New Zealand, who will likely take the top spot in Pool C. If Scotland beats Italy, they will come in second and make it to the quarter-finals.

The leaders as of today are: A) South Africa, B) Australia, C) New Zealand, and D) Argentina. Later today, Georgia takes on Namibia and the USA will play Samoa.

Quarter finals begin on October 6 and the playoffs culminate on October 20, when the 2007 World Cup Championship game will be played. Get your scrum on!


October 4, 2007 will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be launched into space. This was a big deal. The New York Times has a fabulous in-depth article about the impact that Sputnik had on America's self-image and the Cold War. The consequences of this Soviet victory in the space race were farther-reaching than your high school history teacher told you they were.

Miami Book Fair International

Ever since the Brooklyn Book Festival, I've been hearing buzz about the Miami Book Fair International, which will take place November 4-11 (with a street fair November 9-11). Apparently this is the cool new place to be for international literature. Last year, the fair boasted the strongest showing of Spanish-language authors of any American book fair.

The heavy emphasis on literature in translation at the Miami fair has led to a joint effort with BookExpo America to host a day-long forum on November 8 to discuss translations and world literature. Speakers include the usual suspects from the international literature niche of book publishing: Morgan Entrekin, Publisher, Grove/Atlantic; Dedi Felman, Senior Editor, Simon & Schuster, Words Without Borders; Carol Fredericks, Sanford Greenburger Agency; Daniel Halpern, Publisher, Ecco/HarperCollins; Lucinda Karter, Agent, French Publishers Agency; Peter Mayer, Publisher, Overlook Press; Chad Post, Director, Open Letter Books; David Rieff, Author & Policy Analyst; Nan Talese, Publisher, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; Barbara Epler, New Directions; Johnny Temple, Publisher, Akashic Books; and Steve Wasserman, Agent, Kneerim & Williams.

Miami is the newcomer of the book fair scene, and I predict great and glamorous things for its future.

LitKicks on NBCC panel

I like LitKicks' upbeat outlook: "I'm starting to think this whole NBCC vs. online fracas is nothing but a big group hug waiting to happen."

The reason blogs are growing and print reviews are shrinking is because people are turning to the internet for their literary discussions. How much clearer can a situation be and why do print reviewers need to host twenty million panels and write a billion articles on the subject before they get this? The internet does not signal the end of intelligent literary reviews and debates. The medium has simply changed. Of course there are less-than-intelligent bloggers out there, but the intelligent bloggers rise to the surface the same way intelligent print reviewers do.

Sam Tanenhaus just needs to talk to Salman (we are on a first-name basis, as you may remember) about blogs. Maybe they can start one together. I'd read it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Late Night Observation

It occurred to me on my commute home today that Literary Rapture has fallen into a rut of simply repeating news that other bloggers have already uncovered. Much of it is great and worth reposting, but I would like to make a pledge to you, scant readers. I shall do my best to provide more original content on this website, as well as keep you updated on the litblog buzz.

Now I will curl up with a book and read several paragraphs before falling asleep.

Rushdie likes blogs

Just when you expect all the members of the old-guard literati to be stuffy, one of them goes and surprises us all. According to an article in the New York Observer, a Friday night "doomsday" discussion on the impending collapse of book review culture hosted by the National Book Critics Circle was crashed by none other than Salman Rushdie.

He materialized to deliver his opinion the future of print reviews vs. blogs (“I think it’s rather unfortunate that some of the coverage tries to pitch print reviewing against the new media. I think they complement each other very well.”) and vanished again into the night.

In other words, Salman likes print reveiws AND blogs. Hooray! And I have decided that Salman and I are on a first-name basis because bloggers are so cavalier and casual.

Dept. of Gross

This is one of the more unbelievable things I've heard Bush say. How many people voted for him thinking he would do a good job? These must be the same people who are buying this book, but not any of these books.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Alan and O.J. on Literature

God bless the "Shouts and Murmurs" section of The New Yorker. This is seriously brilliant.

New in the NYT Book Review

Are you seeing things? No, the Books section of the New York Times has been redesigned to accommodate its smaller size. It will also include caricatures (because people like pictures better than words, hence the book trailer trend), and little icons to help people figure out if they are reading a normal review or part of a recurring column. The NYT thinks readers are stupid, too!

Out of all this, however, there is this one gem: "This issue also introduces a new best-seller list, devoted to trade paperback fiction. It gives more emphasis to the literary novels and short-story collections reviewed so often in our pages (and sometimes published only in softcover)."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The system is down

Pardon the silence at Literary Rapture on Friday afternoon. The internet connection suddenly failed. I called our service provider and performed some troubleshooting measures several times to no avail. Finally they informed us that the "local phone company" a.k.a Verizon had to come out and service the connection. Not to worry, though. The problem would be solved sometime before 7 p.m. on Monday. Ummm...that is a long time from noon on Friday.

We had suddenly fallen into a deep chasm beneath the earth while the rest of the world continued above us. Hardly any sunlight could penetrate our information-less prison. The sweet nectar of gossip and news that had coursed so freely through our internet cables suddenly went dry. We only had provisions for a few more hours before we would go into starvation mode. The situation was dire.

So we all left the office early.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Roundup

Bookslut found further evidence that publishers secretly look down on readers: "The recent Penguin edition of Wells's hilarious Tono-Bungay features this introductory sentence before the footnotes: 'Because this edition is intended for readers everywhere in the world, the notes explain allusions for which British readers need no explanation.'"

Apparently Belgium is thinking about splitting into two countries. What?! From the New York Times: "'We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, and we have nothing in common except a king, chocolate and beer,' said Filip Dewinter, the leader of Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Bloc, the extreme-right, xenophobic Flemish party, in an interview. 'It’s "bye-bye, Belgium" time.'" (Watch out for the ridiculous number of single and double quotation marks here!)

It would be a bad financial decision to travel to Europe right now.

Chinese author Ha Jin on writing in English: "I transported myself to another tradition, the one set up by Conrad and Nabokov. There are disadvantages. I will never feel at home in English, so the books involve so much labor and so much risk. I have to go over everything again and again, to work hard to make everything right. There’s an absence of spontaneity. If you read Conrad and Nabokov, you see it, too, but they know how to turn it to advantage; they create their own style. I don’t exactly try to emulate them, but I try to understand their logic, then find my own way."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I have them, you have them, your grandmother has them

A term has just emerged in the book world. Other people (here and here) already know about it, but I just caught on (big surprise). Conjure up a mental image of your bookshelf. Peruse the selection until you come to that one book you have not read, the book that was not meant to be read all the way through. Maybe it contains little pearls of wisdom from Hallmark writers, or it tells you how to preserve your family heirlooms. Imagine being the author of such a book, knowing copies of your year-long project will gather dust on bookshelves across the country. Imagine being the editor of this book, knowing that your hard work is generating dollars but no…sense (I like puns).

This treasured bit of clutter is called the Antibook. It is a book that is not meant to be read. You might consult it from time to time, or refer to a single section. You won’t read it though. Estranged relatives buy antibooks for each other because they seem like the best variety of gift-giving miscellany. They think to themselves, “If I buy a book for someone, whatever book it is, it means that I am smart and that I think they are smart.”

The term Antibook comes from an article written by Sherman Young in the Sydney Morning Herald. Using sales figures as evidence, Young argues that antibooks are shoving books out of the marketplace. This certainly seems to be the case in Australia. Do your part to preserve books. When the time comes to give a gift to an estranged relative, buy a book they can actually read.

Morning Roundup

From Conversational Reading: "Good God! The LAT reviews OJ's book. I can see why this thing was published (and good for the Goldman family), but why did the LAT waste space on this piece of junk? Guess that's another one of those books that management told the reviews editor that the people would want to know about."

Bookforum linked to a story in the San Francisco Bay Guardian about top 10 stories the media missed. (To my readers, the Bookforum website is updated daily, and it provides awesome links to book reviews and general trends in culture).

Just because I'm currently fascinated by Ryszard Kapuscinski, a review of Travels with Herodotus

Late on the uptake, but Turn Here and Expanded Books have tons of cool book videos. How cross-platform!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On Monday...

...this happened. Thanks to Chad Post's insightful interpretation of events and ceaseless efforts on behalf of international literature, we can expect to hear more about this unfolding controversy (if only because a few bloggers decide not to let the matter lie). More coverage of this and other similar events that took place on Monday at the Deutsches Haus will be available as soon as I finish typing up my endless notes. Shorthand is a lost art that I wish I knew!

Hip lit in Brooklyn

Only in its second year, the Brooklyn Book Festival is about to outgrow its grassroots shoes. Real business deals were going down left and right, and major authors came out for panel discussions and readings. But take heart, intrepid readers. The fair has managed to retain its hipness, ranging from casual hip to edgy hip. If you are a child or have one, this is an unexpectedly great place to go. There was a children's pavilion with story time, craft projects, and book signings. Little kiddos were running to and fro in a state of utter glee (until late afternoon when they all got tired and started crying).

I missed some of the cool panels, like the scholarly discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird (I wonder if they ever mentioned this), one called "Culture Crash" with Ana Castillo, Colin Channer, and Amitav Ghosh, and "Works in Progress" featuring soon-to-be published works by Jim Carroll, Gloria Naylor, and Joe Meno.

However, I did score a ticket to see Jonathan Letham and Jonathan Safran Foer in coversation with their French and German publishers. The panel was moderated by the ever-impressive and million-lingual book critic Liesl Schillinger. The panel was called "Brooklyn Bridges to Europe" and was meant to explore how these two authors are received in Europe and what in their writing appeals to this more universal audience. Overall it was a satisfying panel with a couple memorable sound bites. What really stood out to me was how little the authors themselves knew about how their work is received in Europe. They have both gone on tour in Europe, but as Safran Foer pointed out, the only people they met at these readings were fans. He was said that the only American publisher doing translations was New Directions. He only knows that because he gets their newsletter (which is admittedly a good newsletter). Hint to all other small publishers: create a good email newsletter and send it to famous authors.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

French and German publishers in New York

I was beaten to the punch twice on this lead by the Literary Saloon and PW. On Monday, September 18th, publishing professionals from France, Germany, and the US participated in the French-German Editors Exchange, a day's worth of events which explored trends in the European and American book markets and how publishers from these book markets communicate with each other. Check back soon for further details on the outcome of these discussions, and added bonus material about the glamorous crowd.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The key to communication is...


Dept. of Gross

One of my scant readers has alerted me to a Gross oversight, the publication of James Frey's new novel Bright Shiny Morning. Yes, that is the real title, and yes, the author of A Million Little Pieces has written a new book and conned someone at HarperCollins into buying it. According to the Publishers Weekly article, someone at HC called Frey "an immensely talented writer." Uh-huh. He had to peddle his first book as a memoir because nobody would publish it as a novel. That's talent.

In other Gross news, the O.J. book is officially on sale today. It is already number TWO on Don't waste $14.97 plus shipping on this, people.

Frankfurt is huge!

7,275 exhibitors are registered for the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, and they will occupy 171,790 square meters of exhibition space (that's 563,615 square feet!). From October 10 to 14, everyone related in any small way to books will flood Frankfurt, crowd the subways, and spend gobs of money on food and alcohol, all for the sake of books and reading.

My favorite part of the book fair are the stand receptions at the European publishers' booths. They chatter excitedly over glasses of wine and bottles of beer in their stylish suits and cool eyeglasses. The smoking ban will be in effect for the first time this year (which is fine by me), but with cigarettes, these mini-fetes looked like scenes from classy 1950s dinner parties.

You might be surprised to learn that very few librarians are aware of the Frankfurt Book Fair's existence. While staffing the Frankfurt booth at the American Library Association annual conference this year, I was asked at least five times a day where the Frankfurt Book Fair took place. Really? "Frankfurt, Germany," I would answer with a smile. More often then not, the librarian would nod and tell me a story about having been to Germany once. It never registered that the question was a dumb one. It turns out there is such a thing as a dumb question.