Sunday, August 7, 2011

Soup and Salad: Noir at the Bar, Waterproof Books, Katharine Weber Takes It One Story at a Time, Be a Dickens Detective, Bunny & Vlad, Borders Fallout, Why Do We Care About Literary Awards?, The Author-Blogger Relationship

On today's menu:

1.  When you buy Noir at the Bar, you not only get stories that smell like smoldering cigarettes and smoking guns, you get a happy, philanthropic feeling which tickles that special spot in your chest.  These "stories of crime and transgression" by the likes of Scott Phillips, Pinckney Benedict and Kyle Minor help benefit Subterranean Books, a St. Louis book joint that (like many independently-owned bookstores in the U.S.) has been struggling financially.  Proceeds from the anthology (edited by Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres) help benefit Subterranean--which is the only place you can buy the book.  Here's how Ayres described the project in an email to me:
The book is a compilation of the various writers we've hosted at our literary event we call Noir at the Bar in St. Louis. The idea to publish the book came when the independent bookstore that has supplied books for the event (Subterranean Books) announced earlier this year that they were in trouble. My co-host Scott Phillips and I wanted to do something to promote our independent bookstore as well as the event and all the great writers who've been part of it, so we came up with the idea to put together the anthology and make it available EXCLUSIVELY through Subterranean Books. We're under no illusions that our tawdry little event and silly little book could save the store, but we wanted to show our support and perhaps even spark a movement of similar publications (independent bookstore specific). With that in mind, we got donated pieces from everybody - we didn't even pay Matt Kindt (a participant as well as the graphic designer responsible for the kick ass cover art) a dime. With that in mind, I merely solicited permission for reprints - MOST of the material in the book is previously published - but it IS a great showcase of some very distinct voices writing memorable shit.
I've ordered my copy, now won't you do the same?  Otherwise, I might be forced to send that scowly-faced dame on that seriously kick-ass cover to squirt some metal in your chest.

2.  Coming soon to a shower near you: waterproof books.  According to The Telegraph, we'll soon be seeing pages coated with a clear wax sealant.  "The tough polymer coating is tear-resistant and promises to increase a title's shelf-life by up to 200 per cent."  January Magazine, however, thinks the idea--cool as it may be--is a little too late: "Since all the exciting news right now is around electronic books, maybe we don’t need a paperback that will last longer and be better, maybe we need an e-reader that can be dropped from a diving board or withstand a monsoon."

3.  Over at the BookBalloon forum, Katharine Weber will be moderating a "One Story at a Time" thread starting Aug. 22.  She explains:
Our intention is to have a focused conversation about each story in the series over the course of approximately two weeks. We will announce each selection well in advance of the scheduled discussion, and there will be a link to each story (every selected story will be available online). One Story at a Time will offer a rare opportunity to stay focused on this one topic so we can bear down on it collectively. In this time of fractured and atomised focus, it has become rare to the point of quaint to do just one thing at a time.
First up is "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor, a Southern Gothic masterpiece and a particular favorite of mine.

4.  Do you want to do a far, far better thing than you've ever done?  Well then, join the Dickens Journals Online, the first open-access, online edition, and help sub-edit the contents of the archives of All the Year Round and Household Words, the two magazines Charles Dickens helmed for 20 years.  As John Drew explains at The Guardian, while the major novels serialized in the magazines' pages "are still among the most popular and widely studied worldwide, the rest of the magazines' contents has been more or less lost from view. That's over 30,000 pages, 30m words, of vintage Victorian journalism....If we can create a correct digital text, it will then be possible to ask some serious questions about the 30% of articles for which there is no authorship information. Did Dickens write some of them – and if not, who did?"

5.  "Now, about your novel: I like it less than anything else of yours I have read. The short story that it grew out of was interesting, but I don't think the subject can stand this very extended treatment. Nasty subjects may make fine books; but I don't feel you have got away with this. It isn't merely that the characters and the situation are repulsive in themselves, but that, presented on this scale, they seem quite unreal. The various goings-on and the climax at the end have, for me, the same fault as the climaxes of Bend Sinister and Laughter in the Dark: they become too absurd to be horrible or tragic, yet remain too unpleasant to be funny. I think, too, that in this book there is--what is unusual with you--too much background, description of places, etc."  That's from a 1954 letter from Edmund "Bunny" Wilson to Vladimir Nabokov.  The novel is, of course, LolitaThis Recording has the whole fascinating exchange between the two men.

6.  At Leslie Pietrzyk's Work-in-Progress blog, guest blogger Anna Leahy examines the fallout from the Borders bankruptcy and what it means for writers.  Some people (like me) hear about the failure of big bookstores and, while it's a sad thing to lose another place to buy books, we sort of give a virtual shrug, never realizing how it will personally impact us.  Leahy offers some sobering perspective:
For mid-list books (those literary novels and memoirs), Barnes & Noble and Amazon will now sell 80-90% of books. Mid-list books don't even make it to the shelves of Target or Walmart. Barnes & Noble, however, has reduced initial orders of individual books (say, 8 copies instead of 14) and B&N doesn't restock. If B&N orders ten copies and sells ten copies, they do not order more. They are happy to log 100% sales for that title and move on. Of course, they'll order individual and book club copies upon request, but they don't keep books on the shelves even if they are selling. Without Borders and with Barnes & Noble's policy against restocking, books (authors) face a significant loss of discoverability. Discoverability in a physical sense may be more important than I'd considered. I admit that I have, on occasion, gone to a physical bookstore to look at new books, perhaps read the first few pages. If I'm captivated by a particular book there, of course, I'll buy it. But I always come away with a short list to add to my Amazon cart. I do not, as [literary agent] Gail Hochman notes about others, order a book on Amazon while standing in front of it in Barnes & Noble. And most of the titles I put in my Amazon cart end up on the list I send to my liaison librarian for her to order. But the point is that removing the physical bookstore narrows the range of discoverability for a new book or author. Even if a person didn't buy a book at Borders, that reader may well have discovered that book on the shelf there.

7.  Point-Counterpoint.  The Millions:  "Why do we care about literary awards?"  The Reading Ape:  "Because they draw readers' attention to books."

8.  The New Dork Review of Books writes: "Under most circumstances, this could've been a bit awkward. Earlier this week, I reviewed, somewhat tepidly, Alex Kudera's satirical novel, Fight for Your Long Day. A few hours after posting the review, Kudera, the novelist himself, messaged me on GoodReads. 'Ah, crap, I thought. 'This is gonna lead to some unpleasantness.'"  Instead, it led to an interesting exchange between author and blogger (I myself have had a few of those exchanges since starting The Quivering Pen in May 2010).  Here's a snippet from Kudera's end of the conversation:
Most of the book bloggers I connect with are also novelists, and the interactions are largely positive. I suspect this connects to shared experience and understanding. Perhaps surprisingly, we do not always have the same taste in literature. It seems like authorial suicide to be contentious with anyone, and when I’ve lost my cool, it’s mainly been due to the combined workload and stress of teaching, parenting, writing, and promoting. I try not to get angry, of course, and it has hurt me when I’ve lost my cool in various situations. I guess, whenever a writer is frustrated by the process, my best advice is to try to remember that the potential blogger, reviewer, or bookstore manager could also be an extremely stressed-out, overworked person trying to endure life in a backbreaking world, and that taste in literature can be very personal.
From all the stressed-out, broke-back bloggers out here (especially the ones who are doing this AND writing our own novels), a big "Thanks for noticing" goes out to Mr. Kudera.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks David for getting the word out about Noir at the Bar!