Category Archives: buzz

3

Books as Art

The outrage surrounding MTV reality starlet and YA author Lauren Conrad’s destroying some of Lemony Snicket’s books on her DIY craft show to make them into storage containers has reignited the debate over books being used as non-reading materials. Rebecca Joines Schinsky of Book Riot posted about this and makes some really great points worth considering if you find yourself appalled by Conrad’s actions. For one, Schinsky notes that people love books for the stories, not the medium in which they’re delivered—most evident nowadays in the success of digital publishing. On top of that, she quotes Rachel Fershleiser—author, former bookseller and publicist, who has the publishing experience and no-nonsense attitude required to set the record straight—that books that don’t sell are often recycled. So, why shouldn’t creative people use them as they see fit?

Now, there are a couple of things that certainly don’t help Conrad’s case. The books she destroyed were Lemony Snicket’s. Lemony Snicket, people. The girl writes YA and doesn’t appreciate a modern classic children’s author? And storage containers? Really? Not the most original or useful endeavor. If, however, you don’t see the problem with that, check out The Repurposed Library by Lisa Occhipinti or Playing with Books by Jason Thompson for some truly great ideas.

And if you’re as fascinated by a celebrity feud as I am, take a look at Lemony Snicket’s amusing response here.

1

What Really Happened with the Pulitzer

Just yesterday, Michael Cunningham, one of the Pulitzer jurors this year, posted a letter on The New Yorker’s website explaining why there was no fiction winner this year. Finally, some clarification! Or, so I thought–but then comes the acknowledgement that because the Pulitzer board’s discussions are sealed, nobody but the board itself will ever really know what happened. Oh well…

Disappointment and curiosity aside, Cunningham’s letter was a refreshingly honest glimpse of what it’s like to take part in nominating books for such a renowned and highly regarded prize. The highlight for me was when he cited the differences between the three jurors, and which features in novels they’re each partial to. I also found merit in the comment, made by HENKE_M, that suggested seeing this as an opportunity to read three worthy novels, instead of just one.

Cunningham posted a reflective follow up letter today, outlining the issues that arise when faced with choosing the best, and observing that even the most lauded critics can miss a classic.

So, now, I’ll reach out to you, have you read any of the three nominees: “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace, “Train Dreams” by Denis Johnson, or “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell? What title do you think deserved to win?

0

Revolution

It’s hard to think about anything else today besides the noise and excitement going on nine stories below. If you’re not in NY (particularly Union Square) or another major city today, Occupy Wall Street is having its May Day protest. Without delving into the politics of all that, let’s talk books.

Books have historically been vehicles for major revolutions, just think about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Common Sense, and The Communist Manifesto.

So, what do you think the “Bibles” of OWS should be? What books have served to inspire you to make a drastic change?

24

50 Shades of Dumb?*

As those of you who read our rambling posts might remember, I belong to a neighborhood book club (because, yes, I don’t have enough reading in my work life).   Ordinarily, the choices we make for said club are solid—sometimes challenging, sometimes brilliant, sometimes just okay, but solid.

I am struggling with our latest pick, however, and not in the usual, I-have-no-time-to-read-for-fun-when-I-have-3,000-manuscript-pages-staring-at-me-balefully-from-the-piles-on-my-floor way.

This month, we’re reading 50 Shades of Grey (as you deduced from the title above) and initially I was excited to find out what all the buzz was about.  Certainly, this is one of the biggest publishing stories of the year and my colleagues and I like to keep up with what’s selling and why.  I’ve  also been hearing about this book at the supermarket, the library, the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office…so here, I thought, was the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and have something intelligent to say when someone asks me about this runaway bestseller.

Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending.  Oh, I don’t mean the Grey series.  I have no idea how that ends and I suspect I won’t find out first-hand.  I mean the story of my reading the first book in the trilogy, which ended badly almost as soon as it began.  I think this is a dumb book [she ducks under her desk].  No, I’m not offended by the mind-numbingly repetitive sex (there’s a lot of it).  I am bemused by the success of a book whose female protagonist has the personality of a moody fruit fly, whose hero is a creepy stalker, and which features a relationship that’s supposed to embody passion and mystery but that seems to have sprung from the feverish imaginings of a hormonal 15-year-old.   To me the book is a hot mess—emphasis on mess.

So, how has it become such a phenomenon?  Is it the kinky sex?  The innocent-virgin-seduced-by-the-tormented-cute-guy premise?  The money porn elements (the hero is filthy rich)?  Is this really a collective female fantasy or just really clever marketing?

I’m not a snob about commercial fiction (really!).  I didn’t think Twilight was particularly well written or plotted but I enjoyed it and I got it.  This, I don’t really get.

The last time I felt so out of sync about a book was when The Bridges of Madison County was tearing up the bestseller lists.  I found myself giggling through most of that heartfelt narrative until it hit me that it wasn’t meant to be funny.  So, can you guys explain this latest phenomenon to me?  Why is it working?  Are there shades of grey I’m missing here?

 

*Apologies in advance to all of those who love, love, love this book.

9

Screenwriter (finally) turns book author

Charlie Kaufman has sold his first novel to Grand Central, with no plot revealed, not even a hint.

And it’s about time! For those of you who have been living under a rock, the super talented screenwriter is best known for Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Being John Malcovich. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken him this long to dip his toes into book publishing. His screenplays are some of the most powerful I’ve ever read, and I really can’t wait to see what he does with a new format.

Oh, and check out this clever article from the AV Club!

We’re always talking about books being turned into movies – but what about the other way around? What movies would you like to see turned into books? Or better yet, what screenwriters would you like to see write their first novel?

7

Naughty books

A few weeks ago, someone who saw me reading on my Kindle while my son had his karate class asked me if I’d heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey.  As I usually am when anyone asks me if I’ve heard of a book and I haven’t, I was a little embarrassed (never mind that with a gazillion books published every year, it’s not possible to know about every last one of them or that my memory for titles and authors’ names is shockingly poor for someone who, well, works with titles and authors—do I sound a little defensive?).  I asked her what it was about and she told me it was a romance that she was trying to get a copy of without success.  I suggested Amazon and promptly forgot all about the discussion.

Of course, I now know that Fifty Shades of Grey is the latest publishing phenom (an allegedly not very well written kinky sex fest for Twilight fans who thought the vampire saga was too squeaky clean, according to Jezebel) and that Vintage has plopped down a ton of money for the print rights to a book that is currently selling like hotcakes…online.

Which raises a number of interesting questions.

As the Wall Street Journal  points out in a piece about the rise in sales of books that women have traditionally been embarrassed to be seen reading in public, e-readers have made sales of romance and erotica skyrocket precisely because of the privacy they afford.  So, how wise is a seven-figure investment for print rights to a book that people may not want others to see them reading?

And, does all of this mean that books in these categories will go exclusively digital in the near future?  I know lots of smart, professional women with a weakness for what we used to call “bodice rippers” in the good old days (before Kindles and romance branding) who didn’t want to be caught dead on the subway behind a cover of some buxom lass being ravished by a half-naked Fabio type.  I can also imagine all the soccer moms who don’t want their kids to know what kinds of books they’re devouring while they extol the virtues of Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter.

Personally, I do think that e-readers are liberating in that way.  In my line of work, I occasionally have to read things that may be a little hard to explain to casual acquaintances or even my six-year-old.  What about you guys?  Do you find yourselves sneaking around reading naughty things on your e-readers?  And, do you think this is one of the “intangibles” that publishing people have overlooked when trying to figure out the value of e-books vs. print books?

14

The Uses of Pudding

From the always innovative Richard Nash, formerly of Soft Skull Press and Red Lemonade, comes an interesting new project called Small Demons. Media bistro covers it here, and Quill and Quire here.  I’m not 100 percent sure that I grasp its  implications, but Small Demons catalogs and compiles details within books, so presumably I could find what fictional characters also listen to Bach’s double concerto or the Stone Roses, both particular favorites of mine, or reproduce a cocktail menu from Brideshead Revisited for an equally fictional party I might throw. The computer can find links across books—resonances, repetitions, relationships–but maybe I’m being too literal and utilitarian when I claim I don’t yet see what it’s for.  What do you think?

Actually, scratch that. I can spy a use for Small Demons, and the site may prove a blessing or curse to lit graduate students, and many a dissertation has been based around this sort of quirky detective work. So whether The Use of Pudding in the Victorian Novel will remain an appropriate field for academic inquiry now that a website can investigate it in seconds is anybody’s guess. However, I’m planning to try it out, and you can too can give it a whirl in its beta site here.

5

Spinach?

When the nominees for the National Book Award were announced this week, I was embarrassed to note that I’d read not one of the fiction shortlist, not even Tea Obrecht’s  widely praised Tiger’s Wife. I was pleased to see that small presses (Bellevue, University of North Carolina Press) were represented among the nominees, and I looked forward to the pleasant possibility–dim though it may be, given my to-read pile– of getting hold of these novels. Thus, it was with dismay that I read Laura Millers piece in Salon in which she accuses the National Book Award of being “irrelevant” on the grounds of its “esoteric” choices. Miller argues that the NBA should instead help the people “who can find time for only two or three new novels per year read something significant.”

While I don’t dispute her claim that most of the nation neither knows nor cares about publishing industry buzz, I would submit that the reading public—whether pointy-headed out-of-touch intellectuals or occasional book buyers in search of a good read–has little difficulty encountering the season’s Big Books. Geoffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, one of the novels she singles out for having been passed over, is everywhere. The same was doubly true of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (cover of Time Magazine, anyone?).

Miller might dispute the judges’ choices on the basis of merit (having read none of them, I can’t comment on their worthiness) but to be categorically dismissive of these selections, which she likens to the “literary equivalent of spinach,” seems not only unfair, but absurd.  We all know that book promotion and review coverage are in short supply, so if the NBA sets out to cast a wider net than what the media serves up, how is that a bad thing?

What do you think?

5

World domination

When Dan Slater of Amazon, a longtime friend of DGLM, was visiting last week, I jokingly asked him what new steps his company was taking toward its ultimate goal of world domination.  Discreet as Dan is, he did not let on about the new Kindle Fire announcement (although we’d all heard buzz) but he definitely did not deny that Amazon was in the process of taking over the universe (at least the publishing universe).

Well, as the HuffPost live blog of today’s announcement by Jeff Bezos about the new tablet shows, the Amazon juggernaut rumbles inexorably on.  Not having seen one of these babies in person, I’ve no idea whether I’m going to rush out and buy the new KF instead of the iPad I’ve been thinking of gifting myself for Christmas.   On the one hand, I use my current Kindle quite a bit and, given how lame the Apple book store is, I expect that I’ll continue to get most of my online reading from Amazon anyway.  On the other hand, it’s hard to root for the prohibitive favorite in sports or big business.  I’m not sure I want to live under an Amazon dictatorship, no matter how benign.

Is it as dire as all that?  Or is this all just healthy, good fun on the part of the superpowers?  Are they just giving us all more options even as we have less and less time to avail ourselves of them?

If you get it for free…

Conventional wisdom (and mothers concerned about their daughters’ virtue) holds that if you give something away for free, you’ll never find someone to actually pay you for it. That is so clearly not the case in the e-publishing world that it seems almost suicidally pigheaded to hew to that line of reasoning.

This morning, Jane and I sat with longtime client, author Joe Konrath, at Coffee Shop on Union Square for a very early breakfast. As usual, the waitresses were rude and inattentive and the coffee only okay. But, I digress. Some of you might know Joe as one of the founding fathers of the electronic self-publishing movement. He is also a very smart man who made it a point to educate himself about traditional publishing prior to heading out into the then uncharted e-book waters. He is an evangelist who knows whereof he speaks, whatever your opinion on what he has to say.

Anyhow, we were talking about file sharing and free content and the subject of Go the F**k to Sleep came up. The book is, of course, a publishing phenomenon. Currently #4 on Amazon on the basis of pre-orders alone, film rights are already sold and an article about it in New York magazine this week attempts to analyze what particular nerve it’s struck for harried parents. The book is putting Akashic Books, a small Brooklyn independent publisher on the map.

The interesting thing about this story is that this 34-page book has already been read by, well, everyone. The .pdf was leaked weeks ago and went viral so fast it was back in your in-box before you’d sent it out to all your friends. It’s funny that the e-version is just now being announced. Did I mention that everyone has already read this on their computers?

To me, this only supports the theory that offering free content and file sharing is a good idea in order to get people to buy books. Yes? No? Maybe in certain cases but not others? What do you all say?