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.