Meet the Lethems

A week ago Boing Boing posted word that Jonathan Lethem received a MacArthur Grant and I didn't think much of it. I read Fortress of Solitude and Men and Cartoons after his year as guest editor of the Da Capo Best Music Book in 2002. It seemed like an odd choice, but then again I don't keep tabs on everyone who receives these grants and for all I know authors of the same caliber with the same size backlist may have already received their MacArthur. No disrespect here. I liked the books; they were fun reads (well, there were parts of Fortress that seemed to drag). I'm just saying it was a news post on Boing Boing. I read it and moved on.

But earlier this week I was catching up on back posts of Wooster and they had a link to this. Take a gander at the first story on Blake Lethem.

I think there's a story in this. Oh, wait. . .


Alienation is for the rich, and I'm feeling poorer every day

From the Orange line to Home

"Do you know what the main problem with the modern writer is?"
"No. Sincerity. They don't have any."
"The only writers who use sincerity are the ones who weren't taught how to write."
"I guess so."
"Fuck you."

(For the great team over at Pancakes and Side Dishes for introducing me to the The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and Other Stories by Etgar Keret.)

Google Print

This week the author's Guild made some big noise about Google Print and BoingBoing was there to cover the story(now with update).

There's several more links that have been passed around in e-mails, but I'll keep it limited to the last few links I received.

Here's Google's Response. And Google reps are actually sending a link to the EFF in their e-mails to publishers!

And here's Some more legal analysis.

Even within my own publishing-head I'm torn about the subject. On the one hand, I agree that this is a necessary step towards having the world at your fingertips and a digital index of so many works can speed up research. But on the other, there's the fact that they went to libraries to scan these books in without really contacting the authors and publishers. This just seems a little slick and makes me slightly uncomfortable. Dial-A-Book provides a similar service and they only request the first two chapters of the book (The big difference is that there's no research element to Dial-a-Book, so there's nothing academic, but it is useful to look at the service when people start talking about how it will increase sales). So there's not a parallel I'm really comfortable with to help me get a better grasp on the situation. (Could it be that this really is a brave new frontier for publishing?)

What I never see mention of is whether Google is allowed to scan the ephemera and special collections (within reason, of course. I don't expect them to go about breaking rare books and handling delicate Victorian periodicals to get digital scan of them of the libraries.) I think what's more important than a scan of the paperback of some Hemingway book is a scan of his manuscript for that book or his notes and letters at the time of the book. A greater loss to publishing and academics than the phantom lost royalties is if Google sweeps in to these libraries and never bothers scanning the really rare stuff that you can't find in nearly every other library or bookshop on the planet. If we're not getting those digital copies of Hemingway's letters to Dos Passos or his editor then the importance of Google Print isn't as great to me. I can't find any statement that clarifies if they're scanning whole libraries or just the stacks. If they're sticking with the public stacks, then I am leaning more on the side of the Author's Guild. Google's not really out to provide the best academic service they can, they're out to get as much content as they can for their site. That's a slight difference, but one that keeps me hesitant of joining the Google Print bandwagon.

As for the sales aspect, I don't know if there will be a bump. Sure when digital music went online sales increased as people found new music to listen to and maybe people will find more things to read. But books are not music and samples of books have never been a really big thing. I mean, who cares about the sample outside of bibliophiles? True there's not really a great service to provide people with information about new books (especially with most newspapers and magazines cutting book review departments and column space). Most of the sources are also very stuffy, snobbish or insider-ish. But I'm not sure the portal that claims it searches 8,168,684,336 web pages is going to be able to provide a better path to books that people should find.


Look who's allowing audio downloads now!

So I go to check the weekend hours of the Boston Public Library and I find this. I guess digital audio books are really starting to hit their stride. I don't know much about overdrive, though. Worth investigating how they get their books.


Back to work

Just to close out this weekend of catching up on personal stuff- here's a little quote that I didn't end up using in what became a really quick review of King of the Jews by Nick Tosches.

"And I've come to like you. And, in a way, to know you. You wouldn't be here if you were so easily manipulated. I mean, don't get me wrong: When I was young I'd rob a hot stove. That was before I could make money with words. And words meant a lot to me back then. They were almost sacred. Then I learned that, for the most part, that it was just a racket like anything else. Publishers, even before they became appendages of dying corporate conglomerates, did not care about words or books. But fuck that-- I'm not getting into that again."

Ah yup, that about says it all for me right now.


E-books, technology and Teleread

I can't remember where I found this link originally. I thought it was the Make Magazine blog, but I didn't see it there yesterday. So it was probably Boing Boing but with their continuing coverage of the savagery of Katrina, I became too depressed to search for it.

Anyway, here's a great source for information on the growth and development of E-books. I've only been checking on the blog portion of the site every other day or so to try to get on top of the developments, but there's so much here to read that I should make an effort to take a few minutes and read the archive.


Why Don't Books have Soundtracks?

So, I'm in the middle of Can't Stop Won't Stop and I've had the ingenious idea of making a podcast for the book. I know I can't be the only one who's come up with this idea. Sure, our marketing department has sent out albums to reps for some of the "making of" books. But the marketing synergy on that is given a specific title and a specific album. A one-to-one relationship. I'm talking about a special mix of songs that are mentioned in the book. For example, On Can't Stop, Won't Stop the podcast or mix would have some Delroy Wilson, some Grandmaster Flash, "Rapper's Delight," etc. It seems to me that with technology as it is now, this idea may finally be able to see the light of day. This would have been really helpful on Never Mind the Pollocks, Britpop, titles from Nick Toshes...
Anyway, just a thought that maybe I'll return to or maybe some day I will find the website that does this for me.

Books to movies

This week Publishers Weekly had 2 things on note. The first is a cutesy quiz on the history of the magazine. After getting over my initial response of utter confusion, I realized that I knew none of the answers to their questions and didn't actually care to turn the magazine upside-down to read them. Really, if Publishers Weekly wants to start acting like those other pop culture magazines, might I suggest they drop the cover price and get rid of any of the actual industry reporting they do? But I digress (into my second point). The main story of the week was a look at Fall and Winter movies based on books. While book-based movies generally suck (although not as much as video-game based movies), I've reached the point where I cheer for these movies because of the cross-over potential. I know that's bad from a cultural standpoint, but I just don't care to see or rent most mainstream movies. This year I've seen a total of 2 in the theaters- Star Wars and The 40 Year Old Virgin (yes Star Wars was the movie you couldn't remember seeing earlier this week). I've even gone as far as canceling Netflix. If I want trash I have cable TV and I've noticed no real loss of quality. (I will admit I do enjoy watching bootlegged copies of movies. Van Helsing is actually watchable when it has a laugh track. On second thought, it's still not.) Anyway, movies made from books mean 2 things. The writer is generally able to get some money from the option and from the sales of the property and bookstores might see an increase in sales for select titles. This is mostly good news for the industry (as long as it doesn't increase expected author advances or publisher adn bookstores pinning financial success on Hollywood.) Here are the 3 movies that I thought to be interesting to me (2 from the article and one from an e-mail on recent script sales).

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer I was actually surprised that they were getting this out already. I truly expected to see this movie hit theaters sometime in 2007. A bigger surprise is that Liev Schreiber is directing.
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by JT Leroy. This has been part of the festival circuit for 2 years now and will see limited release in March 2006.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. Thought this was a strange pick-up. I can't wait to read the reviews.

Another story on the uses of audio dl by libraries

I think I previously linked to the library in Miami that offered audiobooks downloaded to mp3 players. Well Make zine has linked this story from CNN on a library near Albany that is doing something similar using OCLC.