Monday, December 8, 2008

The iPhone

Question: is the iPhone worth $199 plus an extra $30 each month of my hard-earned cash? With an iPod, a digital camera, a video camera, a laptop, and a cell phone, do I need to add another gadget to my arsenal? After realizing that all the hip and cool people have iPhones, I decided last week to drop the dough and get the answer to my burning question

Answer: I was an idiot not to get one sooner! I love my iPhone. I have bonded with fellow iPhone lovers. Gone are the days of wandering aimlessly through the city armed only with a poorly drawn map of my destination. No photo opportunities can escape me now. Feel the urge to blog? Anytime, anywhere, that is possible (ok, anywhere there is a 3G or Edge Network signal). I can satisfy my musical urges by playing the piano or the ocarina on my iPhone. I can whip out a classic literary text at a moment's notice. I have already downloaded several books from Project Gutenberg and some free books from Random House through the Stanza reader. Pleasant experiences, both of them.

I am suddenly so connected to other people and to my own creative impulses. Get an iPhone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chad's second installment

on the publishing biz in these crazy financial times must be read. Read it here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

She's getting HOW much??

Word on the street is that Sarah Palin could get up to $7 million to write a book. I would like to throw up right now, except that the Times does pose this very good point:
With publishers as nervous as everyone else about next year’s economic
prospects, Palin’s popularity has become a boon. “Nobody is waiting for George W
Bush’s memoirs,” one New York agent noted.

Two Smart People on Two Tough Subjects

The first smart person is Kassia Krozser at Booksquare, and she wrote about social networking. What I like about this post is that Krozser asks companies to be responsible and involved in their social networking strategies. Rather than setting content adrift online or building a rudimentary Facebook page, Krozser insists that social networking is, at its heart, more about old-fashioned relationship building. It is a process that requires a personal investment of time and energy.

Social networking is not a magic new concept. If anything, it’s a return to
basics: talking to your customers, reminding them that they are important to
you. The only difference between then and now is that your customers are
everywhere and technology gives you the power to find them, listen to them, talk
to them, and build relationships that extend long beyond the boundaries of a
traditional marketing campaign.Social networking, by its very definition, is a
sustained, ongoing process. If you’re a publisher, this is requires changing
your thinking. You’ve traditionally maintained some distance from your ultimate
customers: readers. People buy books from retailers. Retailers buy books from
distributors. You might take out some ads and put dollars into promo, but you
haven’t spent a lot of time talking to readers. Focus groups don’t count.

It’s time to get your hands dirty, to dig into the real-world
conversation. It’s a weird thing, and sometimes awkward and uncomfortable,
especially if you’re accustomed to public relations-speak and the cheerleader
behavior that accompanies marketing messages. When you talk directly to real
people who read and buy books, they tune you out when you try to stay on
message. If they wanted to rehash cover copy, they’d read the back of the
book.


In a recent conversation I had with some social networking and media gurus, this very topic of proactive communication and interactivity came up. How do you get readers to visit your website and read your content? These days, you don't. You push your content and your expertise to the places your target audience spends time. You become the authority outside of your own space, which will eventually create an audience. Am I going to seek out books on a publisher's website? Not unless I have some personal relationship with that publisher or someone who works there (hint to publishers: most people outside the industry do not have that personal connection). And that brings us back to establishing relationships with readers through social networking.

The second smart person is Chad Post of Three Percent, and he wrote about the business of publishing in these economically challenged times (and will continue to write about this in follow-up posts). As this first installment seems to indicate, we are in trouble and it might be because our industry is a bit too top-heavy.

Rarely—if ever—did people start up publishing houses with the idea that
this would make them millions. Same goes for bookstores and bookstore owners. In
the best of times, these businesses aim for 3% profit margins. As conglomerates
took over the industry though, and houses started merging, the expectations
jumped to the 10% range, fundamentally changing the rules of the game and, in my
opinion, pushing the industry into its current tenuous position where a lot of
people are filled with anxiety and dread.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good News

from the Bookseller: "Deloitte described books as a 'significant mover' in this year's Christmas survey with shoppers placing books fourth on their Christmas shopping list."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New "Godot" Productions

This would be worth a trip to New York or London!

Michael Crighton

The news of Michael Crighton's death took me by surprise this morning. I paused midway through eating my overcooked egg to reflect on Crighton. My first encounter with his writing was when my third grade teacher read Jurrasic Park to us aloud in class. It might have been a bit to early, because my only memory of the book is a scene where a guy's guts get ripped out by a dinosaur. Disturbing as this early image was, I got over it and even went on to read other books by Crighton. I also became an avid "ER" viewer in high school (the George Cloony and Julianna Margulies era). Sad to think that we will never get to read the new Michael Crighton book again.

Obits from the Guardian and New York Times.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did!

http://www.barackobama.com/photos/


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rounding up

I love round-ups, the lazy approach to blogging that makes me look well-read and informed. Thank you, other bloggers. Thank you, Google Reader.

The Google settlement, everyone is talking about it. TOC Publishing News has a nice collection of responses to the settlement, and Carolyn Kellog from the LA Times' Jacket Copy analyzes the value and bottom line for publishers and authors. Georgia Harper on how the settlement will affect orphan works.

Roberto Saviano attended the Frankfurt Book Fair behind closed booth doors. His book, Gomorrah, investigates the inner workings and major players in the Italian mafia. Obviously the mob has threatened his life, and he has lived under tight security for the past two years. The Guardian reviews the book here.

Young publishers unite!

The essays of George Orwell reflect his "restless intellect"

The final count for translated fiction and poetry for 2008 from Chad Post. German is number three on the list with 34 titles!

Booksquare does not agree with Random House's ebook royality rate.

Barnes and Noble braces for a slow holiday season. As the 8 Ball would say, "Outlook not so good."

Apparently there was a buzz book during Frankfurt this year.

Friday, October 31, 2008

American artists on Bush's cultural legacy

Who better to eloquently express the failures of the Bush administration than 12 prominent American artists? The Guardian has collected statements on the "cultural legacy" of the Bush administration. Too good to pass up, here are a few quotes:

"If McCain wins, I feel like going into a cellar for the next four years or going out into the streets every day and screaming." - Paul Auster

"The 'cultural legacy of George W. Bush' would seem to be the punchline of a cruel joke, if there could be anything remotely funny about the Bush administration." -Joyce Carol Oates

"We have an administration of criminality, complicity and incompetence but no cultural legacy whatever from those eight years." -Edward Albee

"So the Bush years have been great for the arts, restoring a collusive, adversarial climate last seen circa 1968." -Lionel Shriver

"Here, people have complained a lot, but in terms of organizing a vanguard of resistance, of people getting out there and saying this is not the American way... Where is the Arthur Miller of this generation?" -Naomi Wolf

"It's hard to believe Bush, a man who's proud not to read books and who makes fund of words longer than one syllable, has been the inheritor of the mantle of the Founding Fathers, or of Woodrow Wilson, FDR or even Bill Clinton." -Daniel Liebeskind

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Americans Read, too!

I blogged earlier about the hoardes of German readers that attend the Frankfurt Book Fair every year. It turns out that Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda believes in the reading culture in America, and so should you!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Facebook and Feedburner

I have been playing online today with Feedburner and Facebook. Believe it or not, this counts as working! Take a look at the official Frankfurt Book Fair fan page on Facebook with photos, info, links, and other goodies!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Can you even remember music videos?

I have so many fond memories of watching music videos on MTV as a teenager. Then MTV suddenly turned into a reality show channel with a bunch of crap for programming.

But take heart, children of the 80s and 90s, because NBC has launched a Hulu-like website for music videos called MTV Music. You can bop to your favoite beats just like in the old days!

The Kindle is everywhere...but Europe

Three developments regarding the Kindle have recently caught my eye.

1) The Bookseller reported during the Frankfurt Book Fair that the Kindle would not be released in Europe this year due to complications with data carrier agreements.
2) Oprah is now endorsing the Kindle, which you can read about from the Bookseller, the Guardian, Time, Amazon, and Oprah.com.
3) Several American university presses will release Kindle versions of textbooks (old news, but I just found out about it)

But what does it all mean? Are we just lusting after another gadget, or are some readers ready to change their reading habits? We no longer have a problem with the electronic versions of songs. We gave up our CD towers with ease and eagerness, but nobody wants to get rid of their bookshelves. People complain that you can't take a Kindle to the beach, but then why do we take our MP3 players to the beach?

I had a conversation with a German family about the Kindle recently. Although they had not heard of the Kindle, they said that $300 did not seem like too much to pay for such a device. They seemed intrigued. Germany has an amazingly strong reading culture, and I am looking forward to seeing how the Kindle does in that market. The only person in this conversation who was not intrigued by the Kindle was the person who worked in book publishing.

Maybe the target audience is not actually the publishing professional, but the book club member, the business traveler, and the readers who have nothing to do with the business of publishing outside of consuming it. Most of the talk about the Kindle comes from inside the industry, yet I hear relatively little about the Kindle from outside the book biz. Despite working with and producing e-books, publishing people mostly stick with ink-and-paper books (as found in a survey conducted by the Frankfurt Book Fair, over 60% of respondents do not use e-books or e-readers).

As a potential user, the primary reason I would buy a Kindle over the Sony Reader or any other device is the internet connection. Gadgets need to be multifunctional and convenient these days. Maybe I should just buy the iPhone instead. The truth is that consumers are not sure what they want when it comes to digital reading, which makes it difficult for publishers to create products for them.

Book-based social networking

Obviously I love books and talking about books, but do we really need another one?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vacation

Hello readers. Literary Rapture is on vacation until next week. Munich is the perfect spot to recover some of the brain cells lost during the book fair.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair links

Check out my round-up here of links to a fraction of the awesome content on the Frankfurt Book Fair website.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where are the readers?

It came up in one of my meetings that publishers are worried about the disappearance of their readers. Publishers have been mourning the death of their own industry since its birth, it seems. Every year a new survey comes out telling us that nobody reads, that books don't sell, that our livelihood is about to disappear from under us.

Before you let the impending doom overwhelm you and your love of book publishing, let me give you some positive news. On Saturday, the Frankfurt Book Fair posted its largest number of visitors ever: 78,218. The hallways and escalators overflowed with people, backpacks, rolling suitcases, and swag. It also came up in this same meeting that, in fact, our situation might not be so dire as we fear.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Long Live the Frankfurt Book Fair!

"Ich glaube an die strahlende Zukunft der Buchmesse." -Michael Krüger, Hanser Verlag.

"...wenn die Bücher aussterben sollten, würden wir uns wohl weiterhin treffen." -Nikolaus Hansen, Arche Verlag.

"Es gibt schließlich keine Buch-Blase, die platzen könnte." -Rüdiger Salat, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck

(as reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung zur Buchmesse, October 18, 2008. Here is a PDF of the Day 4 report. See page 4 to read more quotes.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Hof and other news

I am not talking about the guy from Baywatch, but rather the Frankfurter Hof, a hotel here in Frankfurt that has become the spot for agents and publishing people to gather after a hard day of fair-going. Want to pay $15 for a glass of champagne? It sounds steep, but not when you consider that being at the Hof means increasing your overall industry presence, making friends with the influencers, and feeling like one of the cool kids. Deals get made here. Relationships, personal and business, get established. People get drunk. It is a do-not-miss part of the fair.

Admittedly, I still know relatively few people when I walk into the Hof, but I think of it like an endurance sport (we can certainly call book fairs endurance events!) in that it takes patience to improve, but the hard work and the time always pays off in the end. So to all you newcomers and young publishers out there, keep on going to the Hof!

Other News:
The Kindle will not launch in Europe this fall as originally planned, reports the Bookseller. Why? According to the article, negotiating agreements with the many wireless carriers in Europe has delayed the release of the Kindle in Europe.

Motoko Rich was also at the Hof for the Booker announcement.

Richard Charkin blogs about the Frankfurt Book Fair for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The Guardian reports that publishers are finding ways of making the financial crisis work for them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Booker Prize at Frankfurt

Where better to catch the announcement of the Booker Prize winner than in the Frankfurter Hof? Berlin Verlag threw a party last night, and the live broadcast of the announcement was enough to quiet the excited crowd. Cheers went up from the winner's publisher, glasses clinked, and then the party continued. See Chad's write-up here.

Aravind Adiga won the award for his novel, The White Tiger.

In other news, check out the Frankfurt Book Fair daily blog featuring Ed Nawotka, Andrew Wilkins, and Chad Post! They are covering events all week, adding their wit and witticism to the fair!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Frankfurt Frenzy

I may have used the same title for a post last year, but there is no other way to describe the atmosphere at the Frankfurt Book Fair. This year is no exception. Literary Rapture is currently in the Literary Agent Centre (we use British spellings here) through Wednesday, and then we will be returning to our homeland away from home, Hall 8.

As the agents trickle into the center, I had some time to peruse the Event Catalogue, which is extensive. This year, there are plenty of digital events in English this year, which you all should check out:
  • Google Book Search, various presentations throughout the week in Hall 4.2, Forum Innovation
  • E-books in the Arab World: Thursday, 10 - 11:15 in Hall 5.0, D901
  • Digital Asset Management with Ingram Digital: Thursday, 10:45 - 11:15, Hall 4.2, Forum Innovation
  • Digital Lunch on the .epub format: Thursday, 12 Noon, Hall 4.C, Room Alliance
  • Digital Lunch, StartWithXML: Friday, 12 Noon, Hall 4.2, Room Brillanz
  • E-book Market Development: Friday, 2 pm, Hall 4.2, Forum Innovation

Check back for more updates and Fair fever!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Censorship or Safety?

Salman Rushdie called it censorship, and so did many others. When Random House dropped The The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones earlier this year, a tirade of criticism was unleashed. How can you drop a book, the critics said, just because you think it might offend some people? Random House said the book might potentially incite violence from certain members of the Islamic community. So what, we said? How can you NOT publish this book?


Unfortunately, the scenario that Random House was trying to avoid actually played out two nights ago, when the home and headquarters of the book's British publisher, Martin Rynja, was firebombed.


Although Martin probably did not expect such consequences, still we have to admire a person who will take this kind of risk for the sake of allowing others to be heard (or read).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Let the Frankfurt Buzz Begin!

I just received my PW Daily email, and what did I see? News of the first of the Frankfurt buzz books! Juliet by Danish author Anne Fortier is apparently going to be a hit. Or a flop. Or somewhere in the middle. Who can really say in this subjective business of book publishing? Nevertheless, the time is approaching (and actually has been for some time) for us to gather once again in the halls of the Messegelände, to wheel and deal, to run from meeting to meeting driven only by caffiene and complimentary cookies, and of course, to party.

Keep the buzz books coming because it adds excitement and makes authors rich!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Large Hadron Collider and literature

From Soft Skull, a story on the Large Hadron Collider by Lydia Millet, read by Martha Plimpton. Physics and literature do mix!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

LitKicks responds to the latest wave of "death of the book industry" articles:

The bumpy ride will continue, because book publishing has never been
anything but an exciting and high-risk industry. It’s aggravating, though, to
hear commentators like Daniel Mendelsohn claim that new media has harmed book
sales, or that internet publishing has anything to do with industry problems. I
can’t repeat this fact enough: we spend over $30 billion a year on books. That’s
plenty enough revenue to allow any industry to prosper.

Coming soon...Higgs boson!

Have you ever wondered why photons behave as though they have mass yet have none at all? Fret no longer, fellow physics enthusiasts, for the Large Hadron Collider will soon solve your quandries. The first beam of protons traveled almost at the speed of light around 17 miles of tunnels on September 10th, 2008. The next phase of the test will be to send a beam of protons around in the opposite direction. The ultimate test: protons will travel in opposite directions around the tunnels and collide with each other. The results of this collision will hopefully confirm the Standard Model, the current theory of particle physics. Rumor has it that the much theorized Higgs boson might appear!

The Standard Model attempts to describe how elementary particles that make up matter interact with each other. It succeeds in three out of four known types of interactions. However, the Standard Model does not include gravity, the fourth type of interaction, making it an incomplete theory. Physicists have long struggled to unify the theory of special relativity (gravity) with quantum mechanics (how particles at the atomic and subatomic levels behave and interact) because the laws of gravity that govern larger objects do not apply at the subatomic level.

Physicists hope that the Large Hadron Collider will produce a Higgs boson (also known as the God Particle), the only particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model that has never been directly observed. It will explain how massless particles like photons (light particles) acquire mass, and it will provide further evidence that the Standard Model is correct. If it doesn't appear, then we might have to rethink everything we know about particle physics.

Some people thought (and still think) that colliding protons will make the world explode. Most physicists disagree. Even if the world does explode, we probably won't feel a thing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why haven't I heard of this?

Paulo Coelho's experimental film adaptation of his book, The Witch of Portobello, is pretty much done. I had no idea this was going on, but it clearly represents the latest and greatest way for a popular author to interact with his or her fans online. Welcome to our new world in which authors are not just writers of books but content creators.

Coelho requested that his readers submit their video interpretations of the book, and he asked musicians to submit soundtracks and score. The book is divided into 14 sections, each told by a different character who interacts with the main character. 14 filmmakers were chosen out of nearly 6,000 submissions to represent each of these points of view.

You can watch each of the 14 videos here, and read updates about the project here. Coelho also has a blog, and I enjoyed the photo he posted from the movie Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Coelho plans to release his 380-minute movie online for free before editing it down for theatrical release.

Seriously, why didn't I know about this?

German Book Prize Shortlist

• Dietmar Dath: Die Abschaffung der Arten (Suhrkamp, September 2008)
• Sherko Fatah: Das dunkle Schiff (Jung und Jung, February 2008)
• Iris Hanika: Treffen sich zwei (Droschl, January 2008)
• Rolf Lappert: Nach Hause schwimmen (Hanser, February 2008)
• Ingo Schulze: Adam und Evelyn (Berlin Verlag, August 2008)
• Uwe Tellkamp: Der Turm (Suhrkamp, September 2008)

So there you go!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oktoberfest...


...has begun! The news this morning showed footage of Angela Merkel drinking beer out of a stein, as well as other important German people wearing their traditional outfits. You all may remember my adventures last year, and I fully intend to take part in this wunderschöne German tradition.

Round-Up

The book everyone is reviewing: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The author everyone is talking about: David Foster Wallace
The latest apocalyptic prediction for the book industry: "The End" by Boris Kachka
Proof that publishing is becoming digital: StartWithXML
Proof that we still have a long way to go: "Can Intelligent Literature Survive the Digital Age?"

And in personal news, I have made a grand discovery that might change my life. I am good at running longer distances and I enjoy it! Two times now, I have gone running for an hour and it was awesome both times. The next book I plan to read is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Electronic Newspaper Reader

Another e-reading device? Yes, it's true. Plastic Logic will release an electronic newspaper reader on Monday complete with e-ink, wireless internet connection, lightweight build, blah blah blah. It sounds cool, but why would someone buy a device that is so one-dimensional? Would you own a Kindle and a newspaper reader and a smart phone and an MP3 player? Not if you can help it! Tech developers, we want one device that does all of those things.

As far as I know, the iPhone is the closest thing to the all-in-one device of our dreams. All it needs now is GPS and color e-ink, maybe on a flip-out screen. And a built-in Swiss Army knife. And a microchip that functions as your ID and credit card so you don't have to carry a wallet.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sloppy seconds or rich rewards?

Beaufort Books will publish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, which was orginially scheduled to be published by Ballantine but dropped because of its potential to offend radical Muslims and incite violence (books are still powerful, people). If you remember, Beaufort is the same publisher that picked up If I Did It, the OJ Simpson book that incited turmoil at HarperCollins and cost Judith Reagen her job. The book also sold 100,000 hardcover copies. Not bad, Beaufort (but I am still against that book because it is utterly inane and ridiculous).

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

That's right, Literary Rapture has embarked on a new adventure to...

...Frankfurt, Germany! From now until the end of November, I will be blogging from this wonderful city, home to the grave of Goethe's mother and the European Central Bank. I have already visited the huge Hugendubel bookstore here, but my jetlag stupor has clouded any specific memory of that experience. There were certainly good comparisons that one could make between the Hugendubel store and, say, a Barnes and Noble in New York. Tune in for more on that subject in the future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Another Doozy

Waring: this post is about politics AND literature

Sarah Palin loves censorship (via Bookninja):

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What a Doozy

Warning: this post is about politics, not literature

I can't help but write about McCain's brilliant strategy to drive his campaign straight into a fiery explosion of failure. According to the NYT, his VP pick is a former beauty queen currently undergoing an ethics investigation with a pregnant teenage daughter (so much for abstinence-only teaching) and a drunk driving arrest. McCain's aides claim he knew about the pregnant daughter before he picked Palin, but they were vauge about the details of his finding out. Sounds like this one might have snuck up on McCain and bitten him in the ass. But it isn't hard to sneak up on a guy as old as he is.

It pleases me to no end that his desperate attempt to win Hillary supporters is turning out this way. It seems unlikely that a woman who was going to vote for Hillary would now vote for McCain because he picked Palin. Desperation doesn't work in elections. Knock on wood that the McCain campaign is headed where we all think it is!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Better late then never

I am back! After another hiatus I shall begin blogging faithfully once again. I realize that regularly updating a blog is one of the Golden Rules of Blogging, so sorry readers.

What has brought me out of my blogging coma? I was having a tipsy conversation with one of my intellectual friends about reading. I know he's an intellectual because he is more than 600 pages into a 1256-page history book called Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, and he still wants to keep reading it! He lamented that he is always reading last year's fiction hits and cannot catch up to what is happening now. I always feel slightly behind the latest wave myself, so we discussed this at further length than was necessary. So because I am not the only one who is behind, I have more courage to reveal just how far behind I am by giving you all a run-down of the latest books I've read:

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa (short stories--the last one in the collection was my favorite)
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (the story "Mrs. Sen's" was a highlight)
The Girl on the Fridge by Etger Keret (lonely stories that made me a bit melancholy)
Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz (you can become a fan of Mr. Gombrowicz on Facebook)
Close to Jedenew by Kevin Vennemann (haunting and stark)

Up next (unless someone has a better suggestion for me):
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kindle Review

Remember that horrible picture that was floating around the internet before the Kindle came out? Well happily, the designers have chosen NOT to use that circa 1989 gray-yellow plastic from the Macintosh Performa. More of a gray-white tone, the body of the Kindle looks decent but feels slightly flimsy. Also, the "Next Page" button, which is located along the entire right side of the device is too easily pressed. Whenever I showed the Kindle to someone, they would inevitably hold down the "Next Page" button while looking at it and get confused (and lose my place in the book I was reading). Amazon should redesign the next generation of the Kindle, in my opinion. This is a good place to start, but the aesthetics not quite there. Gadgets have to look cool, ya know?

I liked the scroll wheel for navigation and the full keyboard is definitely necessary. The e-ink was amazingly sharp and easy on the eyes. The display performed well in bright sunshine and in lowlight situations, like the subway. Some people are disconcerted by the screen flash that occurs every time you "turn" the page, but it really doesn't interfere much with the reading experience. I can't wait for color e-ink to come out! It will increase the multifunctionality of this device a hundred fold. Imagine browsing the internet on it, reading picture books to your kids, storing your photos and videos on it. Maybe someone should just make a tiny computer with an e-ink display. We are headed that direction, I think.

The Kindle's interface with the Amazon store was incredible. Amazon did a smart thing there by providing free internet access for purchasing books. You can also email documents to your Kindle, but you have to pay a small fee for each email the Kindle received. The device is also limited in the kinds of documents it can read, so most of your office documents will not work. I have faith that Amazon is working to improve these features. They'd be dumb not to.

I did not get a chance to test the internet connection outside of New York City, but most books downloaded in about a minute. The Amazon store keeps records of what you purchase (commence with conspiracy theories) in case your Kindle is lost, stolen, or breaks. The store also features bestseller lists by genre so you can stay up-to-date on the coolest books that all your fellow Kindle-readers are reading.

Overall, I found the Kindle experience quite enjoyable but not worth the price. Most of the books cost between $7.99 and $9.99, which is definitely cheaper than the printed versions but not cheap enough to justify the $350 price tag. However, older books and classics can cost as little as $0.99! On a recent vacation, I selected three books to take with me. Unfortunately, my selections were not very good ones. I was longing for a Kindle, stocked full of literary treasures and trashy entertainment. Alas, I had to send this Kindle on to its final destination, where it will no doubt be loved and appreciated by its bibliophile owner.

Friday, June 13, 2008

kindlekindlekindlekindle

By a stroke of good fortune, I am the temporary caretaker of TWO KINDLES! Over the weekend, I will load them up with ebooks, test them under various reading conditions, and then send them on to their rightful owners. Here is the situation as it stands:

Unpacking the Kindles with eager delight, I must dutifully note the very nice albeit wasteful packaging. Inside the Amazon cardboard box you find another cardboard box. Inside that you find a white faux book that houses the actual device. It reminds me of the Lifesavers boxes that people give kids at Christmas. Unhooking the elastic band holding it closed, you then find a handy definition of the word Kindle: v.t. 1. set on fire. 2. inspire, stir up. -v.i. 1. catch fire. 2. become animated. That accurately describes my emotional state at the moment.

After taking the plastic wrap off the Kindles and their leather holders, which look like faux dust jackets, I plugged them into the wall. I hope to return from lunch to find them ready to connect to the Amazon Whispernet wireless service!

Check back for further coverage of the Amazon Kindle experience.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Let the Buzz Begin!

I would like to draw your attention to Charlotte Roche's book that has all of Germany atwitter and will come out with Grove Press in the US sometime next year. According to Buchreport, Grove has already found a translator. The New York Times ran an article on the book today. I expect this book to be everywhere before the translation is even finished. Is it porn or the liberation of female sexuality? You be the judge.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reader's Dream Come True

How often have you wished you could read a book again for the first time, to experience all over the rushing impact of emotion that really good writing elicits? Well, I have discovered the secret, and I will share it with you now.

I recently reread Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, which is an absolutely stunning book. Considering my fondness for Southern literature, crazy old people, and outsiders, it’s no wonder this book amazed the heck out of me. I first read this book in high school and afterwards told people that Capote was my favorite author, probably because it sounded literary and intelligent. So imagine how dumb I now feel considering that I remember little to nothing of this book and had no idea until recently that this was the case!

Were the profound parts (and even main plot points) simply lost on my 15-year-old self? Probably. The characters in Other Voices, Other Rooms are all searching for love. And they believe they cannot find themselves until they find love. The problem is that you cannot love someone until you know yourself, and Capote’s characters have thereby doomed themselves to aimless lives of waiting, dreaming, and wandering. Only the main character, Joel, emerges from this haze of melancholy, finding not one person to love, but love in general, a love of life or something like that. I probably read this book while going through a similar haze and did not recognize Capote’s critique of the situation. It’s hard to see the haze when you are in it.

In any case, the way to read a book again for the first time is to wait long enough until you have forgotten what the book is about. You will find the text is studded with gems that you didn’t see before.

In light of this discovery, I plan to reread The Grass Harp, another one of my alleged favorite books by Capote that I may or may not accurately remember.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

BEA Day 3

The day began with the usual mass migration from the hotels to the convention center, but on the last day, half the people were dragging suitcases behind them…an ominous sign that the halls would be nearly empty by noon. However, I found a great way to combat the waning energy of day three: a video camera. Ed Nowatka, a journalist for Bloomberg News and PW, was kind enough to offer his superior networking skills to my video project. Because of him, I got quite a few people to give quick statements and impressions about BEA and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Look out for links to these videos in the future! I was also able to observe Ed’s fabulous fact- and quote-gathering skills, which came together in his article for Bloomberg News.

As predicted, the halls were emptying out by noon. I wandered over to the Abu Dhabi Book Fair booth, and had a great chat with Tamer Said, a marketing executive for the Fair. He explained to me why you don’t have to pay income tax in Abu Dhabi, where to travel in the Middle East, and that my name is actually a boy’s name in Egypt. We then had a good conversation about children’s books in translation (he used to work for a children’s book publisher) and the greatness of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

After packing up the booth, I met up with Chad Post at the Standard for one more BEA drink. He has some great coverage of BEA on his blog Three Percent. I also enjoyed Richard Nash’s sentiments (and his use of very fancy words) about BEA that combated the generally lackluster mood going around. Of course, Richard is always a good antidote to lackluster moods. Both Chad and Richard express here what we are all thinking, that BEA will continue to be a place where new ideas about publishing are generated and where business relationships are nurtured.

Monday, June 2, 2008

One of Sixty

Find out what I ate for breakfast one random day last month. Some of the people in here must have lied about what they ate because some of this stuff sounds extremely elaborate for a weekday breakfast.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

BEA Day 2

Celebrity sightings: Alec Baldwin and Dr. Ruth. What is frustrating is that there are billions more at BEA, and I only saw two. However, these two were quality sightings, so I'm not too upset that I missed Prince, Magic Johnson, Barbara Walters, William Shatner, or Leonard Nemoy.

I lingered with my Frankfurt Book Fair colleagues at the booth until 5:30 because we just love book fairs so much that we don't want to go home. After that, I went to the Consortium party at the Hotel Figueroa (which was mercifully close to the convention center). They served some very delicious artichoke tartlets and tiny beef burritos, which complimented the good conversation. I met the owner and son from BookCourt, a bookstore in Cobble Hill. I will go and spend my money there sometime soon.

I had planned to go to the PGW party (and even begged an invitation from Soft Skull), but ended up going to dinner downtown. It was quite a nice evening, but the ultimate fighting on the TVs in the bar was distracting. Talking about books and ebooks becomes difficult when close-up shots of swollen faces and bleeding ears constantly pop up in your peripheral vision. After that, I went to the hotel, watched some Hogan's Heroes on TV, and went to bed.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

BEA Day 1

Swag scored so far:
BOOKFORUM bag
The Girl on the Fridge by Etger Keret
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Sharkin
Close to Jedenew by Kevin Vennemann

Dinners attended:
The Water Grill (soft shell crab was a highlight)
Blue Velvet (tattooed waiters, Kobe beef, swanky outdoor pool)
Cicada (who knew an indoor space could be entirely guilded!)

As usual, the German Collective Stand was buzzing with activity throughout the day. Kevin Vennemann signed nearly 80 books at our booth yesterday. He was certainly a crowd-pleaser (I searched for a good picture of him online, but he's better looking in person). At the end of the day, we held a champagne reception, during which I made by directorial debut interviewing party-goers and capturing the merriment on film.

During set-up, I was excited that we were right next to the Kindle booth. This has turned out to be a disappointment. They don't have any Kindles at the Kindle booth. A couple guys will demonstrate one for you if you ask. Lame. I was expecting an Apple Store set-up of rows and rows of Kindles. There was also a rumor that Jeff Bezos was going to make a surprise announcement yesterday afternoon. That rumor was false. He gave a presentation that, according to attendees, was boring. Kindle and Amazon are not impressing anyone right now.

Lastly, if anyone has a favorite memory or impression of the Frankfurt Book Fair that they would like to contribute to our video project, come by booth #2825 or leave a comment with your name and company.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

BEA Pre-Show Update

Hoardes of pale, fast-walking New York publishes have descended on Los Angeles for BookExpo America, myself among them. My colleagues and I spent a leisurely few hours on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel yesterday, which is quite impressive: sleek pool, waterbed pods, heat lamps, and a bar. It was the cool pre-BEA place to be last night, and the BEA people were easy to spot. We stand out in a crowd of tanned Californians (sorry, but it's true).

We then moved on to the Water Grill, a highly recommended seafood restaurant. The margaritas were as good as the sea bass and soft shell crab.

Set up today is almost over at most of the booths. I haven't had a chance to wander around much, but our booth (German Collective Stand, 2825) is right next to the Amazon Kindle booth. I haven't seen any actual Kindles yet, but I'm sure a small fleet of these devices will be out and ready for you to play with in the morning. The LA convention center is better than the one in New York. The air conditioning works and there are enough women's bathrooms so that we don't have to wait in line for twenty minutes.

Reading the World is having a reception tonight, and I expect a good time there as always. After that, the party-hopping shall commence (or I will not be able to find any other parties and will go watch cable TV in my hotel room).

See you all tomorrow on the show floor! Come by our booth at 4 pm when Kevin Vennemann signs copies of his debut novel, Close to Jedenew. He's really good looking, if that is any incentive!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Miscellany

Do you find umbrellas inconvenient, awkward, and clumsy? Does your arm get tired holding an umbrella over your head? There is a new solution for you...the Nubrella!

This is not literary, but I couldn't resist passing this on. I promise to write a blog about the awesomeness of the PEN Festival in the next few days. I cannot let my experiences and copious note-taking (a slightly obsessive habit of mine) fall off into the obscurity of my memory...better they fall into obscurity on the internet.

Also, I think we ought to stop capitalizing the word "internet" as if it were a specific place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

PEN Festival, I love you!

If you love books, work with books, or live in New York, you already know that the PEN World Voices Festival started today. I love this festival! It reawakens my love of literature and reminds me why I moved to New York. This year, my office is sponsoring Jutta Richter, a German children's book author, to attend the festival. I am her new biggest fan for the following reasons: 1) she believes that drinking gin and tonic is good for your health; 2) she lives in a real castle; and 3) she agrees with me that the first two Harry Potter books were the only ones worth reading.

The only event I attended today was the reception at the French Embassy in which Salman Rushdie gave Edmund White a French literary award. The champagne and mini quiches were delicious. I arrived with Jutta Richter just after the actual handing out of the award, but we did get introduced to Mr. White. It was awesome.

I will attend many more PEN events and will try to report on these events in as timely a manner as my schedule allows. Check back in as the week continues.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blog Tag

Tag? In cyberspace? Does anyone use the term cyberspace anymore? Anyway...

I have been tagged by loves german books to complete the following task:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

So here it goes. The closest book, The Cat: Or How I Lost Eternity by Jutta Richter, is only 63 pages long. Reach farther and find The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated by Susan Bernofsky), also not long enough. The rest of the books within arm's length are in German, except for the Chicago Manual of Style, so I have to stand up and find the next closest book, Facing the Bridge by Yoko Tawada, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani.

Sentences 6 through 8, page 123: "Roman Catholics had occupied the island some five hundred years ago the doctor said and for some reason this date alone stuck out clearly in my mind while I had forgotten the many others such as the years of volcanic eruptions which seemed like a terrible loss now. The doctor often talked in statistics. So often in fact that I couldn't remember any of them."

Yoko Tawada is a Japanese writer who moved to Germany in her twenties and has lived there for nearly 20 years. She writes in Japanese and German. Of writing in different languages, Tawada says, "Whether to write in German or Japanese depends on which language lets me play or experiment more freely with images and motifs at the time."

Facing the Bridges was published by New Directions Publishing, which releases tons of wonderful books in translation and which discovered Roberto Bolano for English-language readers. Coincidentally, Yoko Tawada is participating in a seminar today (April 18) at UC Berkley with Zafer Senocak called "Where Europe Continues...Translingual Writers and the Cosmopolitan Imagination". I could ramble on, but I won't. Here is a sample of Tawada's writing translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

So now I have to tag more people to do this. First I will tag Facing South because she will probably do it. Second, I pick Richard Nash because he read my blog once and because I want to know what he's reading now (he publishes such cool books!). Third, I pick my long-time blog buddy, ramblings of a princess (happy birthday!).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reading Steven Hall

I finally finished reading The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. I recommend it. Our hero, Eric Sanderson, wakes up with no memory of who or where he is. He finds a letter that contains an address of a psychologist and a set of car keys. The letter is from "The First Eric Sanderson." Through a series of letters from his first self, Eric discovers that he is being hunted by a "conceptual fish," a shark that lives in the waters of collected "human knowledge" and feeds memories.

While some of the concepts in this book require a little flexibility of mind from the reader, Hall has not created an overly complex storyline or included too many details to keep track of. I found the love story a little forced and the dialogue seemed stilted at times. As The Elegant Variation noted in his review for the Philly Inquirer, "[Hall] is a clever writer, but one is left wishing he'd given his prose and character the same level of attention he gives the conceptual ebb and flow of things." Well said, Mark!

This book has also generated a fairly significant web following, including a wiki and several YouTube videos. The book's official website is pretty good. Hall was even interviewed on NPR. The film rights to the book have been optioned by Film Four in association with Blueprint Pictures and PathÉ in the UK. So keep an eye out for the movie. If it's done well, it should be great.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Two Cents

The book critic vs. blogger debate continues to rage. What do I think? I think they serve different functions. I also think that critics and bloggers need to deflate their egos just a little.

Book reviews serve two purposes. One, they provide information for readers about which books to read. Two, they provide timely commentary on books and become secondary source material, which is important if these books ever make it onto the syllabi of future college classes.

Both of these functions are necessary. It seems however, that most book critics strive towards academia. They write to impress each other and the scholars that are and will study the book under review. So where is a normal reader, who doesn't know anything about Pushkin or Flaubert, to turn?

They turn to blogs, of course. Bloggers picture themselves as being "of the people." Some are, some aren't. This blog post, for example, is probably not interesting to your average reader who doesn't care why book critics and bloggers can't get along. This reader just wants to figure out what book to read next.

Let me admit something to you all and unveil my inner "average reader" beneath my blogger disguise. Before I started working in book publishing, my primary method of identifying cool new books was to show up at my local Barnes & Noble and check out whatever books were on the front tables. I've had interns tell me this is what they do, too.

A normal person looking for a book to read doesn't read the book critics or the blogs. Perhaps if our ambitions were a little less lofty than, say, being crowned in glory as the smartest book critic of all time or the blogger with the most insider connections of all time, we might reach a larger audience.

*Today's post was inspired by my conversation with a wise media mogul.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Drano

I didn't take pictures of the ordeal, and you all should be thankful. I was going to spend my evening with a good book (I've been meaning to crack open Collected Stories by Roald Dahl), but an unfortunate event befell my bathroom sink.

Admittedly, my sink has been slow-draining for a week or so. The problem came to a head this morning when my sink became no-draining. Turning to the internet in my time of crisis, I found many articles about plunging out a clog. Unless your clog is a cooperative clog, all this does is dredge up some of the black nasty gunk and turn you sink into a basin of grotesque waste. But it was time to go to work, so the grotesque waste had to wait until this evening.

On my way home, I bought some soup and some Drano. I was skeptical of Drano's ability to unclog my sink. This was one stubborn clog. The directions on the Drano bottle sufficiently freaked me out about touching, inhaling, and generally being near this stuff. However, I risked life and limb, opened the bottle, and dumped it into my basin of waste. 30 minutes later...

...that clog was no more! I don't know exactly what is in Drano, or what it might do to your skin, eyes, or mucous membranes, but I do know this: Drano is powerful stuff. My sink is clean and clear. Thank you, Drano!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Junot Diaz is good!

He is so good that he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. If you have not read this book, you should.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Seen and Heard at Idlewild Books

Thursday evening was a very exciting one for Literary Rapture. I attended a reading and discussion at a soon-to-be-open bookstore in Manhattan, socialized with book people, learned about a great wine store, and ate at a great French restaurant. So let me start at the beginning.

Idlewild Books will open in a couple weeks on 19th Street in Manhattan. This bookstore, dedicated to travel and world literature, is located in an amazing space perfect for readings and literary events. From the website: "A bookstore organized by country rather than genre, Idlewild will carry fiction and non-fiction from all parts of the world, including new and classical works in translation, travel guides, books about politics and culture, graphic lit, language-learning books, maps, and more."

The inaugural event at Idlewild on Thursday evening was a reading and discussion of Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo by Murat Kurnaz. The English translation of the book was just released in the US by Palgrave Macmillan on April 1 of this year. Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen with German residency, was arrested without explanation in Pakistan when he was 19 years old and sold to American forces there for $3,000. He was held at Kandahar, Afghanistan and then sent to Guanatamo. He was interrogated and tortured there for five years before finally being found innocent and released.

There is a slight sense of uncertainty in Germany as to Kurnaz's complete innocence, and the media coverage of his case and his book in Germany raises the question, why did Kurnaz travel to Pakistan in 2001-2002. At that time, it was not exactly a vacation spot. On the other hand, the US government found no solid evidence of his guilt of anything at all.

Although Kurnaz could not get a visa to come to the US, the co-author of the book was at Idlewilse to read from the English translation of the book. Kurnaz's American and German lawyers discussed the case and difficulties of getting him released. Also present was journalist Justine Sharrock, who has interviewed soldiers at Guantanamo about the procedures and torture they inflicted on detainees. A big crowd turned up at the event and bookstore owner David del Vecchio sold tons of copies of the book.

A reception followed the discussion, at which 24 bottles of wine and many Cheez-Its were consumed. I don't know how long it has been since you've had Cheez-Its, but they are delicious, especially the white cheddar variety. They go quite well with wine bought from a great wine store across the street from Idlewild called Bottlerocket. If you are looking for a German or Austrian red wine, go there!

After talking about blogs and books and other things, the last partiers standing went around the corner to L'Express for a midnight meal. The onion tart was great, as was the steak au poivre. One more reason Manhattan is awesome: restaurants are full at 11:30 pm.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Roundup

A brief smattering of what is happening in books and blogs:

From the Literary Saloon, Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones has just won the Kiriyama Prize ($15,000), which celebrates literature from the Pacific Rim. I do not understand why this book won over David Malouf's The Complete Stories. I do not understand why people like Mr. Pip so much.

Ed Champion on Rachel Donadio's essay in the New York Times: "Rachel Donadio continued her regrettable declivity into the morass of embarrassing personal essays" and "this has not prevented literary experts from asking why Donadia, who is in her mid-thirties and really should know better, would bang out such remarkably judgmental tripe"

World Literature Tour to Germany in the Guardian UK (from Three Percent)

The Times thinks that internet piracy is the downfall of writing


Paper Cuts, the NY Times book blog, gives us some words you should never use when writing a book review. Crap, I am guilty of at least three! Also, I especially like the explanation of the correct use of "poignant" because it's true.

Lastly, I've observed recently that reading a book with a catchy titles gets you noticed in the subway. Ever since I've started reading The Raw Shark Texts, people have been craning their necks in a variety of uncomfortable positions to get a look at the cover. So if you want to get noticed, read a cool book!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Everybody's talking about it

Book people can't get enough of a recent essay in the New York Times, It's Not You, It's Your Books. For you who don't want to read it, the essay humorously explores how reading tastes affect dating and how some people dump their dates because of what their dates are reading (or not reading).

I will admit to the occasional bout of snobbery when it comes to literature. These episodes mostly occur in the subway, and I must fight the judgmental side of myself during these trying times. I grimace when I see chick lit or anything by Mitch Albom. Yet when I spot someone engaged in Haruki Murakami or a short story collection, that strange feeling of subway kinship washes over me. And anyone reading Truman Capote is automatically awesome.

Yet intelligence, intellectual-ness, and compatibility cannot accurately be measured by the books on a person's shelf. I love to read, but not everyone I know has to agree with me about the finer points of Mrs. Dalloway in order for us to get along. If you require that kind of literary compatibility from everyone around you, maybe you ought to expand your interests a little bit. Not to be too cliche, but diversity is what makes our society interesting. If we all sat around talking about how much we agree with each other about this or that book, conversation would get boring very quickly.

My final two cents: don't dump your boyfriends and girlfriends because of what they read or don't read.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

PEN World Voices Festival 2008

My favorite time of year for pure literary rapture is on the horizon. The PEN World Voices Festival will take place this year from April 29 to May 4. The schedule of events and list of participants were recently posted online, and as everyone else has already said in their blog posts, there are tons of awesome and rapture-inspiring events to attend. I plan to be at as many events as possible in order to get the maximum dose of literary rapture.

There was talk at the end of the last festival about reducing the number of participants and events. While this should have meant limiting the number of authors from a certain region, the German speakers are participating in record numbers this year!

Here are the eight participants from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland along with their most recent English-language works (some are forthcoming):

Daniel Kehlmann, (Measuring the World / Vermessung der Welt)
Michael Krueger (The Executor: A Comedy of Letters / Die Turiner Komödie)
Jutta Richter (The Cat: Or How I Lost Eternity / Die Katze: oder wie ich die Ewigkeit verloren habe)
Evelyn Schlag (Concrete Queen / Architektur einer Liebe)
Bernhard Schlink (Homecoming / Die Heimkehr)
Ingo Schulze (New Lives / Neue Leben)
Sasa Stanisic (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone / Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert)
Erika Stucky, cabaret singer

In addition, the festival will feature two tribute events for deceased authors Thomas Bernhard and Robert Walser.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Race in America

I try to leave my personal political views out of this blog so that people can consider literary happenings without the clouded judgment of politics-inspired rage. I sometimes experience that and it taints my perspective.

However and in spite of the above statement, I will now proceed to tell you why I support Barack Obama for president. Obama represents a very tangible kind of change that our country needs. The L Magazine reports the following statistics:

Median income of a white Manhattan family with a child under 5: $284,208
Median income of a black Manhattan family with a child under 5: $31,171
Median income of a Latino Manhattan family with a child under 5: $25,467


If anyone thinks that race is not an issue in this country, they are absolutely wrong. Take half an hour to consider what Obama has to say about race in America and consider why you should vote for this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Moehringer to Hall

First a word on reading habits: I think it is a waste of time to slog through mediocre and bad books, and life is too short to finish every one of these books a person might start reading. That being said, I probably tend to finish too few of the books I pick up, not because they are bad but because I lose interest. If the ending is obvious, I will usually move on or skip to the end to make sure I am right.

*SPOILER ALERT FOR THE TENDER BAR IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH*

Because of this flaw in my reading style, I have abandoned The Tender Bar by JR Moehringer. He just got into Yale and found his father. Honestly, I have enjoyed reading this book. It was correctly praised as a masterful memoir. I am especially impressed with Moehringer's ability to identify themes and articulate the motivations of his child self. Few of us can look back on our childhoods with that much clarity. However, the two moments that he built up throughout the book have finally come to pass. I am sorry to report that I've needlessly abandoned this book and there are still quite a few pages to go. Someone probably dies before the end, but JR makes it to the big time (based on his short bio on the back cover) and that's good enough for me. Speculating who might die or what the fate of Publicans will be is more fun right now than finishing the book. If someone out there thinks I really need to finish the book, let me know. Otherwise, I am officially moving on.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall is quite a remarkable book, even just a few pages into it. There is actually a shark made out of words in the book. You have to see it. This book also comes with quite a bit of Internet extras, including an extensive Wikipedia page, a soundtrack, videos, and fan sites. It's kind of like Lost that way. I am going to refrain from exploring these extras until I am done reading the book (I anticipate making it to the end of this one), but you can expect a more detailed report on the full experience in the coming weeks.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Today in new media

The Willesden Herald gives 27 reasons why they rejected every single short story submission this year for their short story prize. According to this list, the jurists don't actually seem to like reading.

Thank you, Booksquare:
Bottom line is that the traditional publishing business doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to find its niche in the new media market. Today, today, today. Books are books, but there’s a whole bright and shiny universe of stuff that makes books even better. If you aren’t on the bus, well, this time there might not be another one coming.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hulu.com

On another non-book topic, something big just hit the Internet (why are we still capitalizing this word?). Huge. Life-changing.

Major media corporations finally decided that it might be a good idea to invest in on-demand programming through the Internet, that people who pay too much for Internet service might want to watch television shows on their expensive Internet connections, and that people might not want to scour in the Internet in order to download pirated episodes of their favorite television shows.

Introducing Hulu. This website is a joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp. that provides content from over 50 providers. You can watch full episodes of Bewitched, Family Guy, Dragnet, Prison Break, and more. You can even watch full-length movies. Feel like watching a Bruce Lee movie? How about The Big Lebowski? No problem.

Why did it take so long for the big players to jump on the Internet bandwagon? I have no idea, but let's just be thankful this magical moment has finally arrived!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Microloans

Instead of Christmas presents, an advertising agency in Denver gave each of its employees a sum of money to invest in microlending through an organization called Kiva. Now they all have warm, fuzzy feelings of joy because they helped small businesses and entrepreneurs in developing countries. The best part is that once the loan has been repaid, you can invest it again. Another helping of warm fuzzy, please!

I just loaned money to a woman in Nigeria who owns a computer shop. She needed money to buy a new computer and rent a bigger shop. Her loan request was posted on Kiva today, and the full amount of her loan has already been raised. It is only lunchtime! I feel extremely warm and fuzzy, and I plan to lend this money again in 8 months.

Everyone should do this! Natalie Portman does it. You can donate as little as $25 through Kiva. Help expand a grocery store or start a beauty salon. Maybe someone needs to buy more cows or a new sewing machine.

My girl, Joko Anthonia, is on her way to computer coolness.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Old Media vs. New Media

The battle rages on, and our poor books are caught in the crossfire! Today new media dealt a swift and painful blow to old media. David Nudo, the former publisher of Publishers Weekly who was laid off because of restructuring (a.k.a. PW is broke), announced today that he is the new director of sales and marketing for Shelfari, a book-specific social networking site. The limping print media loses another exec to the Internet.

British people take a look at the Kindle. They think that even though publishers and authors are afraid of losing money on pirated ebooks, the Kindle and technology are good things for the book publishing industry. The article refers to one of my favorite points in this old vs. new debate, namely that ebooks and the Kindle are not here to replace paper books. In fact, the article suggests that the possibilities of linking an ebook to online forums, annotations, and other books has the potential to create "a whole new art form." All this interactive annotating and linking does not particularly appeal to me, probably because my taste in literary theory tends toward New Criticism and Reader Reponse. However, we as book people should not denounce the new media visions of others. It makes us look ignorant and backward. I picture some guy back in 1900 looking at a telephone and saying, "What the hell do we need this thing for?"

And finally, owning a Kindle apparently all boils down to whether or not you are willing to give up your bookshelves that display your reading habits. Conversational Reading blogger Scott Esposito points to an interesting exchange between Times blogger Matt Selman, The American Prospect writer Ezra Klein, and Scott McLemee's article from Inside Higher Ed. Selman posted rules about displaying books, specifically that one cannot display a book that one has not read. Klein responded with a pleasing amount of cynicism that bookshelves are specifically for displaying books you have not read. McLemee wrote an article that takes the middle road, saying put whatever you want on your bookshelf.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

I am almost done with Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan, but I have to review it now in case I don't have time later.

This book surprised me with its force, not a smashing force that bowls you over, but an slow-moving force that refuses to budge under your own expectations. I expect that working at a Red Lobster is not exciting. O'Nan does not make this life exciting, but he gives it the depth that a casual diner would never think to give it. Manny, the manager of a Red Lobster, in his thirties, doing everyone else's job and being positive about it, hardly seems like the stuff of literary novels. Nothing extraordinary happens to him or anyone else. It is a quiet story about admirable and not-so-admirable people. There is something in the way O'Nan tells it, in the credit he gives to each character for their actions, that makes you pause.

We've all worked jobs with managers like Manny, who have insisted on getting the details right, who take the time to manage their employees, and who constantly get let down by these employees and by the corporations they work for. Pathetic? Admirable? This book leads you to both conclusions. This short novel is well worth the read.

NBCC Likes Junot Diaz, too!

The National Book Critics Circle held its 2007 award ceremony last night and announced the winners in various categories. The best fiction title of 2007, according to NBCC members (which include old guard, library-and-paper people as well as edgy, hip youngsters)? Yep, it is The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz! And hells yeah it should be! Over at CRITICAL MASS, you can find the liveblog of the award ceremony, which quotes Diaz' editor (who accepted the award on Junot's behalf) saying that we might be able to hear "the brief and vestigial thud of Junot's mind being blown."

I am still thinking about Oscar Wao...I saw a nerdy kid reading a book by Arthur C. Clarke on the subway yesterday and thought of Oscar. His final moments are brilliant and triumphant, a fitting blaze of glory that enlivens us all.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Rapture of Junot Diaz

I finished The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao last night and laid in bed thinking about it for a long time. It was a true moment of literary rapture. These moments hit you suddenly and unexpectedly. You simply fall headfirst into and come out the other side still thinking about the characters. Oscar de Leon, the protagonist, is one for the record books. He is the kind of character that you will carry around with you in your head long after you read the last page. Now I am going out to read Drown, Junot Diaz' fist novel.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Titlepage.tv

I was so excited about this website and the release of its first video. I planned to watch it over lunch in the office. I was dismayed to find that the video was an hour long. An hour? Really? When am I going to watch that? Not over lunch, not during dinner, probably not after dinner (because The Sarah Connor Chronicles sounded better), and definitely not in the morning. I really hate to be labeled as one of those can't-concentrate, Gen-Y kiddos who doesn't know when the Civil War was (1861 to 1865, and I didn't have to look it up on Wikipedia), but an hour is too long to sit at your computer and watch a video of authors discussing things. In person, that stuff works. Online it does not.

How about posting a highlight video in addition to the full-length video? I'll admit that I have not watched the first video yet because of the aforementioned time constraints, but the reviews have not been great (here, here, and here). Daniel Menaker, I know you can do better! This is good idea so don't blow it!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Outrage

Someone has not heard of Harriet the Spy!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Book Prize Juries Know Some German Authors

There has been a little flurry of prize activity among German authors in the last few days, and it would be remiss of me not to mention it.

The LA Times Book Prize (I didn't know there was such thing, but I still feel new to this whole scene) released the 2007 nominee list yesterday. In the Mystery/Thriller category, German author Jan Costin Wagner was nominated for his book, Ice Moon, translated by John Brownjohn. A whopping three translations made the nominee list this year, up from zero last year. Thank you, LA Times, for crossing a border or two! The press release doesn't say how much money the finalists receive, but they will receive the prize on April 25, the day before the LA Times Festival of Books, which looks like a great festival.

This next one is actually a German prize, but worth mentioning because the recipient will participate in the PEN World Voices Festival in New York this year. Sasa Stanisic has just received the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, which celebrates foreign authors living and writing in Germany. Stanisic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His first novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, has been translated by the omnipresent Anthea Bell and will come out with Grove/Atlantic in June.

And last, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize just announced its shortlist, which includes Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann, for his novel Measuring the World, translated by Carol Brown Janeway (although the Amazon website has no translator information listed...typical). Kehlmann will also participate in the PEN Festival this year.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rapt Reading

You all know this, so I am just reiterating the point. To sit in a comfy chair with a glass of wine and read a fabulous book is a fabulous way to spend your time...even if the chair is a mildly comfortable fold-out camp chair, and even if the wine is of the cheap, headache-inducing variety. Here's to indulging in creature comforts and good books.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lazy Sunday

This means that I am current not motivated enough on this overcast Sunday afternoon to write full posts about any of these subjects, but I would still like my readers to be informed of the following:

1) Literary Rapture will be attending BookExpo America this year! You can expect daily coverage from the trade show floor, the parties, and the streets of Los Angeles, where literati, cynical publishers, and New Yorkers will mingle with suntanned beach-going Californians.

2) In the Dept. of Gross, the Willesden Herald Prize of 5,000 pounds for unpublished writers was awarded to nobody this year. Apparently, Zadie Smith and the Willesden Herald are trying to save contemporary publishing from the "pseudo-literary fictio-tainment" that we must currently endure (obviously Zadie Smith is far above that). However, Zadie and the other jury members decided that none of the entrants possessed enough talent to do that. Zadie went on to assert that most literary prizes are more about "brand consolidation" than literature. Too bad we aren't al as smart or literary as Zadie Smith.

3) The part about brand consolidation brings me to my next point about branding in the publishing industry. This really needs to be a longer post, but let me introduce the topic that will become more frequent here on this blog. I firmly believe that publishers need to do more to market themselves as brands if they want to sell more books. Harlequin and McSweeney's are good examples. Readers are familiar with these publishers and the kinds of books they release. Before I started in this industry, I had no idea what publishers existed beyond the big guys. I simply never looked, and I am not unique in that regard. Even now, the publishing missions and strategies of many publishers are vague and hard to identify. They all seek to publish quality works by provocative and original authors...or whatever. Get a name, get a brand, and get an audience!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rochester, New York

According to one enthusiastic resident, Rochester boasts the following attractions:
  1. the world's largest indoor volleyball bar
  2. absinthe
  3. celebrity authors
Not bad.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ror Wolf Review

Chad Post over at Three Percent has just posted my review of Two or Three Years Later, a wild short story collection by German author Ror Wolf. He links to a sample translation by Anthea Bell here.

In other German book news, Sasa Stanisic has just been awarded the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize a.k.a 15,000 euros (found via Liisas Litblog). This prize is awarded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and honors authors writing in German whose native language is not German. Stanisic's novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, is coming out this spring with Grove Atlantic, and translated by none other than Anthea Bell. Publishers Weekly featured the book in a Januray article, New Fiction New Worlds. Stanisic will participate in this year's PEN World Voices Festival.

HarperCollins joins this century

Finally! A publisher has decided that the Internet is not a thief's paradise or a money pit. HarperCollins launched a new ebook (or is it e-book) program called Browse Inside that allows users to read and search through full-text electronic versions of the latest titles for free. Reading books for free? Is Jane Friedman crazy? Oh wait, we've been able to read books for free in bookstores and libraries since bookstores and libraries came into existence. The Browse Inside program is a bit clumsy to navigate and pages sometimes load slowly, but I wonder if that wasn't done on purpose to discourage users from reading the entire book online instead of buying it. In any case, this is a much-needed step in the right direction.

Publishers need to trust that their readers want to buy books, not steal them. Of course there will always be those people who try to scrounge every ounce of free-ness they can from every situation, but these people are the minority. They are the people who sit in Barnes and Noble and read entire books without buying them, but they are already a factor in books sales. So what if a few of the people who go to the HarperCollins website read the book there instead of buying it? Those people probably would not have bought the book in the first place.

Still, Jane Friedman is wary and watchful of this new enterprise. In a New York Times article on this subject, Friedman said that the company would track sales of the featured titles on Browse Inside very closely, and that "we will know very soon if we sense any kind of cannibalization." This quotation seems to sum up the industry attitude toward the Internet. It sounds like a threat to all of those hungry little readers out there. Don't read too much of this book online or you will lose the privilege! Yikes!

Seriously, we just want to read some books, and we don't even mind paying for them.

Digital publishing afficianados, look for press coverage of the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference going on now in New York City. Bloggers, pros, and authors are teaming up to discuss digital technology as it relates to books!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Two British Books

The Guardian recently posted reviews about two books coming out by British publishers that sound fascinating (and make me curse the cost of shipping a book across the Atlantic Ocean).

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek is about romance among foreign correspondents in Afghanistan. You get action, world politics, romance, and complexity in one solid book. My favorite quotation from the review: "Meek has a feel for the atmosphere of those years at the turn of the century, when the British and American and Australian publics regained for a period the taste for foreign warfare that they had lost in the 1890s."

Out of Breath by Julie Myerson sounds like a savage novel that spares very little in terms of emotional gut-wrenching. An abused boy sees a feral child appear in the garden behind his house. Only at the end of the novel does the reader find out the extent of the abuse the boy suffers and whether or not this feral child is real or imagined. Intense.

Reading the World 2008

Courtesy of Chad Post at Three Percent, here is the finalized 2008 selection of titles for Reading the World.

Note the whopping four titles translated from German, including the rapturous Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass. His US book tour included an amazing discussion at the NYPL with Norman Mailer last year, and a reading at the Goethe-Institut with his wonderful (and sadly, soon-to-be-retired) translator, Breon Mitchell.

Other books on the list I am excited about:

Yalo by Elias Khoury
Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (he was great at last year's PEN Festival)
Mind's Eye by Hakan Nesser (I'm a sucker for Scandinavian crime novels)
Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano

Monday, February 4, 2008

Book party for Michael Krüger

The Goethe-Institut on the Upper East Side hosted a fabulous book party for Michael Krüger and the release of his book, The Executor, in English. The event, especially the speech that Krüger delivered, certainly inspired a bout of literary rapture (after refills of white wine and no dinner, I had to work hard to contain my excitement). As the publisher of Carl Hanser Verlag in Germany, Krüger is certainly an authority on all things literary. He encouraged American publishers to request more funding for translated literature and to remember their multi-cultural heritage.

Although my social circles only extend so far, I can say that the following people were present at this event: Barbara Epler and Declan Spring of New Directions, author of Susan Sontag: Geist und Glamour Daniel Schreiber, Siobhan O'Leary of Crown/Random House, several German journalists, and other New York literati. I don't mean to leave anyone out, but I can be shy at these kinds events and don't always get to meet everyone.

For my loyal readers, look for my upcoming post as I weigh in (along with several other bloggers) on the brand image of McSweeney's.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Back in Action

After a long absence from the blogosphere (I hope someone will come up with a better term soon), Literary Rapture has returned to active duty. To kick things off, I will start with a couple of events that LR recently attended, inspiring rapture of varying kinds.

To celebrate the December 2007 publication of The Seventh Well by Fred Wander, a panel of literary individuals gathered at the Austrian Cultural Forum on January 24th to discuss the artistic merits and historical significance of this book. Thane Rosenbaum moderated the panel which included Alana Newhouse (arts and culture editor of the Forward), poet Ed Hirsch, and the book's translator, Michael Hofmann. With a wealth of knowledge on Holocaust studies and literary history, the panel began to debate how to define Wander's book. Is it a shining example of Holocaust testimonial or should we read it as a work of art for art's sake? Can the Holocaust be separated enough from the words to simply appreciate the book on its pure literary and poetic merits? Ed Hirsch said yes. Alana Newhouse said no. It was an invigorated discussion that made me want to reread the book and join the debate.

On Saturday, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writers' Programs to meet and greet my favorite publishers, get a little business done, and to check out all the books that were on sale. Three floors of exhibition halls were packed with publishing pros, literati, and aspiring writers. Conference-goers were laden with bags of books and brochures, enough to rival BEA and Frankfurt! I had no idea this thing was so big.

I have more posts planned for the future, so keep checking back as Literary Rapture returns to regular syndication.