I'm awash in a ton of sit there and listen and then sign things not-so-busy work so I've been doing a lot of reading that has nothing to do with intellectual property. I guess that is sort of guaranteed given the utter lack of giving-of-shit on either side of the equation. I'm ready for this week to be done and to get started for reals.
Glenn Beck is sharpening up his repertoire as our country's leading satirist and is expanding to new markets. He is founding a publishing company which is allegedly going to publish real books that aren't the religious themed picture menus I'd assume his target demographic is more comfortable with. I suppose I should be pleased that at least he's attempting to create something that has tangible value instead of scams that prey on paranoia and ignorance. I suggest doing some stretching to accommodate the coming deep belly laughs that are no doubt forthcoming.
So, here's a good example of being completely crazy and daring to be very public about it. After you've finished being completely horrified be sure to read the comments because they're not only hilarious, but a bracing affirmation that you, as the reader, are not the fucking crazy one. To be fair, there is a vividly embarrassed follow up that addresses both the comments and attempts some light hearted self-diagnosis.
Tennessee's governor made 'broad' sharing of Netflix (and other premium streaming content) a crime in his state. Christ. Fuck the South again and again.
I cannot remember where I bookmarked this article from exactly, but this is an article from West 86th about a 1967 film collaboration between Jim Henson and Raymond Scott which kind of blew my mind.
I'm a big fan of Raymond Scott and have always felt like the larger music community outside of archivist-minded record collectors and purveyors of the oddball should really be more acquainted with him as he invented a good amount of the technology and methodology that pre-date electronic music. Most of the modern interest hasn't ventured beyond Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights. All that said, that compilation was my introduction as well and most of my ventures beyond that have been motivated more by the ubiquity of file sharing than earnest effort. Still, go read Scott's impressive Wikipedia page and dig in a little further if his name rings no bells for you.
I just added my very first static page to Team Murder. It's a list of the books I've recently read or am currently reading. The differentiation I'm trying to make here is that I am basically endorsing these books. I've read probably four books in the last couple of months that I've despised. I'm not going to bother listing those. If you're short on things to read check it out. I didn't bother putting Amazon links because it makes me feel like kind of a dick.
I'm a really big fan of my Kindle. I've actually procrastinated about reading many books that I've highly anticipated reading because they're still dead tree edition only or priced exactly the same in either paper or electronic edition. The upside is that I'm also reading a huge number of classic books in free editions in quite the same way that I'm accustomed to from back in the PDA days. I don't miss those days much but I did really dig being able to carry around my entire reading list in a searchable format where I could very quickly and easily dig out precise quotations when necessary and didn't destroy my spinal column in the process. Unlike the old and rather pricey PDAs, I seldom need to charge my Kindle (as long as I remember to disable wireless connectivity when I'm finished downloading new material) and hardly even think of it as a distinct electronic device anymore. Now it's just a white plastic slab that words come out of. I probably do more actual reading now than I've ever done before if only because I'm spending much less of the time my attention will allow tracking down the books I'm reading, figuring out what page I left off reading on after losing yet another fucking bookmark, and figuring out what the hell I did with the sheet of paper I typically keep in books with my notes because I hate re-reading marked up books.
I've been mulling over, coming back to, and re-reading this article in Prospect Magazine today because it actually engages authors who do not necessarily have religious attachments to the format their material inhabits as long as their skills still pay the bills. It's generally an engaging read especially Don DeLillo's extracted bits at the end -- they're taken from a speech but I wouldn't have seen them otherwise.
One thing that seems fairly consistent about the larger criticism of explosive electronic book growth is the loss of publishing intermediaries as ad hoc quality control. Part of me understands this immediately when I look at listings in Amazon's Kindle store where huge numbers of titles are just there in every category and indistinguishable when one has not yet been reviewed by either an Amazon customer or lifted from another publication or website. You could conceivably buy a book based entirely on its title without knowing any information about it other than title, author, and price. There isn't a spine with a publishing house mark to separate those who have braved the manuscript hawking from the great unwashed who simply wrote and published. This is understandably upsetting to those who rely greatly on the merits of manuscript pimping and press releases/review copies to validate their output.
I'm thinking that what scares publishers and traditional authors more than anything else isn't a great flood of amateurs flooding the already submerged marketplace but the idea of actually having the marketplace opened up for anyone and being forced to adapt their own models for that changed environment. I mean, face it, best selling books are largely utter shit -- well handled genre fiction that might as well be delivered via trough. The operative difference here is that the branded slop has been vetted by an external organization that thinks the book will make money. This is a reductionist way of looking at it and taken mainly because I think its funny but the reverse is most certainly true. The traditional publishing industry and its constituency would like to reduce the tension to the published and unpublished, retain the hardcover price, and forget the whole thing ever happened.
It seems like the folks who are reacting to the rise of the ebook format are doing so preemptively. Has this made some radical change in the way the book industry functions? Did this suddenly make Americans seek Tom Clancy and John Grisham instead of writing by people capable of not pooping out link after link of a chain of formulaic and episodic bullshit. I don't think so anymore than the 80's power combo of frat boy comedy and slasher flicks destroyed film production. One segment ate up a huge amount of expendable cash and the intensely ADHD generic public interest. That generalized interest doesn't radically change even in response to genuinely cool things but like a teenager in the 80s listens to the same cassingle of the same overplayed radio hit that composes their entire esthetic palate until they've burned out their sensitivity to it entirely puts it down and moves tepidly onto something else to overuse. The seemingly inevitable response from the powers that film was to either imitate (which typically and quickly sates the public desire for more of the same posthaste please) or adapts by miraculously whipping up another bland but at least novel new flavor of the month to seduce the generic public attention away from the twisted wreckage of what was the height of cool mere days ago. If you buy my line of thinking (and good on you if you don't) then there is a sort of symbiosis between the easily entertained and the hardly entertaining that is necessary for bestseller lists to even exist.
I think DeLillo's quoted questions at the end of the article are spot on. I hope I'm understanding his hints correctly but it seems like a shrug towards the medium more than anything else. He doesn't seem to fear or resent it as many of the others quoted do but (kinda have to remember here that Don is like 10000 years old) is simply waiting around to see what happens because what he really does isn't completely married to the format either. I think that is one of the reasons that I will read and (sometimes grudgingly) respect the stuff DeLillo creates. He takes some risks and even the worst of them and the least likely to make a room full of people absently high five one another is still light years ahead of teenage vampire Mormon love stories. At the same time, he used a novella (Pafko at the Wall) as the introduction to his best (in my not-so-humble opinion) novels and then later republished it as a separate book, as hardcover even. The motherfucker adapts and you should imitate that willingness to keep writing and adapt more than you should concentrate on aping the style and structure of White Noise (his worst, in my fervently disagreed with opinion) when sitting down at the keyboard all clueless and scared.
There is a fan-fucking-tastic article on The Globe and Mail about the future of the book in the face of the rising popularity of ebook readers. The general gist of the article is that ebooks work phenomenally for everyone but publishers. I feel the same way about this as I do record companies, especially now that the more industrial means of production (note: there really needs to be a 'commie' HTML tag so I could nest it in sarcasm tags) for printed material have largely been rendered optional. You don't need an expensive to produce trade paperback to have a fair number of folks able to read your work.
I hope that over the course of time this evolves to make self publication easier for writers who aren't political wingnuts with an agenda to push and works to erode the control publishers currently have over what is available to the masses. This doesn't necessarily mean that spare bedroom fiction writers are going to storm the marketplace (and they probably shouldn't) but that you could feasibly have a book out there with a large means of distribution without the overhead of having a publishing company and all of the baggage that typically comes with influencing that availability. The downside to this is that, as is typically the case when something gets easier and becomes more visible, the marketplace will likely be flooded with (e)reams of unreadable genre fiction that will make discerning between half-assed experiments and totally assed experiments in publishing difficult if not impossible. This flood might be the savior of traditional publishers, enabling them to gain additional cachet as a litmus for quality or at least works that have been checked for spelling and grammar. This might even convince publishing houses that they might need to do a bit of marketing that matters to promote books instead of limiting it to the typical book signing events and review copies.
The interesting part about this is the role that Amazon is beginning to take in shaping the pricing structure of ebooks. Rather than directly fighting publishers prices, Amazon just started selling them for less and sometimes at a loss. Media types have done no small amount of speculation on how free Kindle offerings are going to skew the popularity of ebooks on the whole and this plays out when you look at the digital bestsellers list. The hole in this particular theory about free ruining the market is that most of what is listed and is zero cost is genre fiction that wouldn't ordinarily be at the top of any list much less a bestseller list. The authors (or, maybe, publishers) have made a conscious choice to make their books available at no cost in exchange for the increased visibility. Amazon then takes care of the distribution end of the deal and gives people a little more impetus for buying a Kindle. Seems like a pretty good deal for everyone at the party other than publishers. They would largely love to pretend that ebooks never happened or that things remained the way they were when readers were still expensive or next to useless in terms of functionality and that paper books were still the absolute nadir of written word consumption where they had more control even when dealing with the world of one stop distributors (which are famously vicious about their terms for selling a product that is not a bestseller). I have precious little sympathy for this weird protectionist stuff and almost no patience for folks moaning about their deflating bottom line while others are actually doing pretty well by, you know, adapting to the circumstances.
I'm no marketing dude and despite the fact that I work for a publishing company of sorts, I'm the IT guy so I have no idea how all of this will play out. Maybe it will mean the end of the written word as we know it (insert ominous music here) but, as someone who reads a lot and dislikes most of the physical aspects of the book format (especially the dreaded hardcover edition that always precedes the mass market edition), I hope that the growing multitude of forces that have a stake in the future of both ebooks and publishing manage to shake things up in a productive way that might provide the appropriate shaking out of stupor and slap of reality. People who write, keep on writing. Thanks.
Oscar decided to wake up at 5 a.m. this morning and I haven't slept since (it's currently 10 p.m.) so the really cutting and mean spirited thing I was going to write about the Playboy acquiring rights to Nabokov's unfinished last work but all of the thoughts I had on it earlier have since turned to some kind of brain mulch. Here's hoping that their decomposition will bring fruit during the course of the night and tomorrow I'll be able to tie my shoes without stopping to think about the sequence of events beforehand.
The Extremely Short Version
Nabokov request that The Original of Laura not be published. He stated it explicitly and the reason that his family decided to ignore his wishes boils down to a dream that his son had a dream in which the old man told him to hitch his wagon to a star or some bullshit like that which he decided was rationalization enough to publish the damned thing. I think the son being the only remaining heir to Nabokov's literary goodies might have more to do with it than some Macbeth-esque haunting but I'm sort of mean like that. The sad part is that I will more than likely purchase the December issue of Playboy just to read the excerpt. Stupid me.
In another lifetime, when there was no child in the house and no earth shattering financial obligations threatening to annoy us with calls from wronged creditors, I wrote a lot. My recent posts have demonstrated that straying away from writing anything more substantive than Post-It notes for years at a time does not make attempts at resuming aforementioned practice seem much more than a contest against the inevitability of a vacuous middle age entirely removed from academia. I don't mention academics because I feel they're necessary in order to write well enough but because focus is much easier to attain when driven by the fear of humiliation and failure.
There may be an admission of mortality concealed in there somewhere -- the not so devastating resignation that comes with the realization that you're never going to do anything great or interesting to more than a handful of people that you already know. I'm trying to disprove the (my own) notion that this surrender to suckiness is inevitable yet still avoid editing like the curse on the drinking class that it is. Is the moral of the story to gleefully embrace mediocrity? Not really but I'm coming to terms with the idea that it beats an utter lack by a wide margin. 'Missing' fear and failure as a sincere motivator that produces the good stuff is another thing entirely that I'll avoid discussing for the sake of keeping up the whole dignity facade.
Summer is traditionally the season of reading if you're to believe the marketing hype. I'm with them on this as I too savor the feeling of cheap mass market paperback pages sticking to my fingers and reading while having the ravages of the scorching sun soothing by voracious insects biting me. Anyway, the summer often brings with it something vaguely interesting in publishing sphere and, in this case, it comes via The Smart Set's notes about the domestic reissue of Dan Fante's books in tandem with the publication of an anniversary edition of John Fante's Ask The Dust.
If you're not familiar with Dan Fante's stuff it's probably because most of it hasn't been published in the United States and here we only read shit that could feasibly transcribed from shows produced by the Lifetime network at least until the author has been dead for 25 years or more. The interesting question that prefaces (slick, no?) all of this is actually posed by Nick Mamatas in his piece: is the American readership really ready for either of the Fantes' jerks? I just ordered two of the reissues since I've only read Chump Change on loan from a friend with the sufficient loose income to buy trade paper imports. I'm looking forward to being able to potentially read these books more than once but I'm curious about how they'll be received since Dan Fante's subject matter immediately makes him a sure shelf mate with Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr. That probably isn't the best thing for an author hoping to be read as the usual suspects that shop that section are typically more interested in being seen with a book than the actual substance of the book. The problem here is whether you want book publishers getting all freaked out by previously inaccessible authors failing to suddenly bring in a gazillion dollars in book sales and whether or not (as Mamatas mentions in his article) the book chain stores are going to sell these books or not.
All that aside, it's good to finally have these books accessible in the United States and given a shot for inclusion in mainstream bookstores. Here's hoping that things work out for the best and hoping Dan remains productive no matter what the outcome.
I bookmarked this story about art constructed from living mouse stem cells while I was wrestling with a ton of broken hardware yesterday and am finally coming back to it now. There are so many jagged angles to consider when thinking about both the methodology behind the exhibit and also about its 'killing.' If nothing else, it is a pretty fascinating look at the abstraction of ethical dilemma as the museum curator voices serious qualms about disconnecting the exhibit from nutrition despite the fact that it's degrading as a visual and growing too quickly to be contained in its original container.
The hot quote, of course:
Paola Antonelli, a senior curator at the museum, had to kill the coat. “It was growing too much,” she said in an interview from a conference in Belgrade. The cells were multiplying so fast that the incubator was beginning to clog. Also, a sleeve was falling off.
This is probably too sticky a matter to discuss at much length in a place where I normally make fun of things so I'll just let it go at that.
Once again the White House is trying to kill public radio by eliminating funding for it systematically. The article says that such budget cuts have been overturned by Congress in past attempts but, at the same time, if you've ever contemplated giving some money to NPR during one of those heartbreaking donation drive weeks then now would probably be the time to go for membership status. Apparently all of the money necessary to actually pay for broadcast media that isn't poisonous shit is earmarked for faith based initiatives wherein all of the problems facing us as broke ass Americans are solved by bingo, bake sales, and white knuckled abstinence. I'm going to belly up at some point (when the debt is less mountainous) and you should too if only to deliver a fuck you to GovCo and all of his snake fondling cronies in the only language they understand excepting the fact that we likely work for our dollars instead of inheriting them.
I added the Art (actually 'Art Art Cut A Fart' because I'm classy like that) category because I've been reading a lot more, uh, artsy stuff lately and I wanted to clearly delineate between that and the more technology-related stuff. The tech news sites have been really boring lately which probably has less to do with their content and more to do with me just not being all that interested in incremental (viva revolution!) updates to the same old crap and the endless streams of lawsuits and acquisitions. The past few years have made me a lot more platform agnostic and my opinions just aren't as vicious (read: fun to rant about) as they once were. That stuff won't go away but I'm not going to talk about something that barely interests me like version bumps. Actually, no one should really be that interested in that sort of news.
Classical music is fucking strange and I don't mean that in the simple sense that the acknowledged classical music was composed entirely by people dead for centuries instead of the usual standards of decades or even years. I've never been a fan because classical music works a little like the way churches work: you're welcome and they're always trying to recruit but really they would prefer to recruit you away from another franchise to avoid all of that awkward learning stuff and to get you straight away into clock punching your way through some sermons or half-smiling and limp handshaking your way through some community event. It all feels too much like a trip to the DMV only with lesser tangible returns. The performance (because god knows it isn't anything informal) is another established ritual that people feel obligated to slouch their well clad asses through and demands codified behavior to even participate as a politely clapping observer.
This review of 'new venues' really speaks volumes about how uncomfortable the traditional performance really is. This critic is excited because *gasp* people seem to actually enjoy the music instead of the dress up, get dinner, observe concert, blah blah blah routine. This shouldn't astound people and generally it doesn't. The classical fans are the exception because I'm convinced that they are unable to separate the music part of the deal from the event part. I'd rather go to the fucking DMV on a Friday afternoon. At least there is a point in that venture. I guess I'm actually kind of stoked that classical clients (yeah, I know that is getting a little old) are actually attending events outside the normal monochrome spectrum of classical venues but I'm a little taken aback by how new and revolutionary they're perceiving something that I've done (albeit in an even scruffier and less moneyed format) for most of my life.
Before staggering off to bed I tend to power skim magazine sites to see if anything interesting has appeared since the last visit. It works out best for the traditional publications as they seem to adhere to the monthly publishing schedule -- that way when something that would genuinely interest me as opposed to just piquing errant curiosity shows up there it is much more likely that I'll actually read it. Slow down the pace a bit and I may actually notice something worthwhile. I often think that it is far past time to dispatch with a feed reader entirely and to dive back in to just reading things that aren't recommended and endorsed by people who I share no interests with.
The New Yorker has an insanely engrossing article on the relationship that Raymond Carver had with his editor and how often the two came into conflict. I find this disturbing because I absolutely love Carver and to think that a goodly portion of his published output was harshly pared (at times halved) by an editor is irksome. Aside from that troubling bit this article really does expose some of the unique relationships that emerge between editors and writers. Carver's wife is actually working at the restoration of one of the gutted collections of stories which I'm looking forward to.
It is rewarding to watch publishing companies (albeit university presses in this case) detect the axe as it hovers over their complacent necks and do something to prevent obsolescence and extinction. Five university presses (including Rutgers’s and NYU) are pooling their resources to cut down on production costs in order to publish more books. Granted, a Mellon Foundation grant plays an essential role in this because it finances the creation of the partnership but it is still refreshing to see folks in business chew gum and walk at the same time. Now all we’ve gotta do is get the motion picture industry and record companies on board before the tar pit grows large enough to swallow up all things cumbersome, large, and stupid.