Saturday, November 15, 2014

Soup and Salad: The Reading Habits of Authors, Finish That Book!, Joseph Heller's Long-Forgotten Musical Comedy, Is the Party Over for Amazon?, The Bad Idea Company, O-Dark-Thirty Sheds Light on Veterans, Bill Wolfe Reads Her Like an Open Book

On today's menu:

1.  Tim Horvath does it in the bathtub, Anthony Wallace did it at the beach, Judy Chicurel likes to do it on the couch at sunset, and Jon Clinch does it wherever he can.  And me?  Well....
The spot where I most frequently find myself with a book is a small, solitary spot tucked away from the bustle of human distraction. It’s a quiet Nirvana with only the occasional sound of rushing water to break the stillness. Yes, the bathroom—or water-closet, if you prefer the more refined approach—is where I get about 63 percent of my reading done. Apparently, judging by the reactions when I posted this on Facebook (“Eww!”, “I didn’t need to know this”), some people have a problem with my personal paradise. Maybe they don’t like the image of me perched on the porcelain throne, pants around my ankles, taking care of business. But I don’t want to dwell on the evacuation properties of this scenario (“waste out, words in”); I prefer to focus on why it makes the ideal reading spot.
Overshare much, Abrams?  Maybe, but you should check out the "Here I Read, There I Read" feature at Bloom anyway.

2.  I'm going to make a statement which may incense and inflame: If you don't finish reading a book, if you grow bored and abandon it midway through, if you treat books like chocolates nestled in a box and sample them with one bite before putting them back in the little brown paper cup, THEN YOU'RE WRONG.  That's the stance of Juliet Lapidos in The Atlantic, anyway:
To drop a novel after a few chapters is, then, to disregard what makes it a formal work of art rather than a heap of papers that reside in a desk drawer. Today, books and authors need all the help they can get; if you care about literature as an artistic endeavor and the people who create it, then you should do so fully. If you consider yourself a literary person, you shouldn't just embrace the intellectual cachet that starting books gives you. Starting, but not finishing, books is one step above saying, "Oh yeah, I've heard of that author."
I happen to agree with Ms. Lapidos--at least to a certain extent (I don't buy the whole "finish it for the endurance" strength training argument).  Like her, I'm a completist.  I can count on one hand the number of books I've started reading as an adult and stopped before I reached the last page (one of them, Jubilee Hitchhiker, William Hjortsberg's terrific biography of Richard Brautigan, was simply put on "pause" because it's such a massive book that I want to give it my full attention when the time is right).  Like the Atlantic article mentions, I'm probably in the minority, but so far that hasn't stopped me from not-stopping.

3.  I consider myself pretty familiar with the life of Joseph Heller, but when I stumbled across this article in Hazlitt, Penguin Random House of Canada's online magazine, I was brought up short:
In July 1962, Joseph Heller was open to any offers that came his way. Catch-22 was showing few signs of success: published nine months earlier, it was selling slowly. Heller and his family had left Manhattan behind to spend the summer on Fire Island. He was restless, worried about money, and eating enough for three. Late at night, he would sit outside on the deck of his house, waiting for something to happen. One day, something did, a thick envelope arrived with a pitch inside: would he be interested in writing the script for a new musical, Howe & Hummel? His collaborator would be a prominent composer, Harold Rome, whose latest show featured Barbra Streisand’s Broadway debut. The subject was two 19th century lawyers, William Howe and Abraham Hummel, and the scams they ran in New York. With his novel seeming more of a misfire than a blockbuster, Heller jumped at the chance.
And here's the postscript:
Howe & Hummel has never been performed. It hasn’t even been published. In the 50 years since Heller completed it, it’s never had so much as a public reading. Only two copies of the typescript survive, while more than 10 million copies of Catch-22 have been sold.
Do I smell an Off-Broadway revival?  (Or maybe just "vival" since the play was never alive in the first place.)

4.  Amazon and Hachette have apparently settled their long, muscle-straining arm-wrestling match over e-book pricing, but this article in Seattle Weekly (which came out prior to the announcement of the settlement) wonders, "Is the party over for Amazon Publishing?"  It's a long article, but well worth the read for anyone interested in the current state of publishing.

5.  If you aren't over-Amazoned after reading that, you might want to take a look at Keith Gessen's piece in Vanity Fair, in which he writes: "all the publishers feel bullied by Amazon, and Amazon, in turn, feels misunderstood."  There's a lot more to it, of course; but that seems to be the crux of the issue in which, like that spot-on illustration shows, two armies have lined up on opposite sides of the book world.  Here's another gem from Keith Gessen's article:
One of the interesting things about Amazon in its early years was the number of bad ideas it had. It was a bad idea to sell heavy home-improvement equipment on the Amazon site and charge a pittance for shipping, and it was a bad idea to consider storing merchandise in the apartments of college students living in Manhattan, so that the students could make deliveries in their neighborhoods. (The company had enough trouble worrying about theft at its warehouses; how was it going to monitor the apartments of kids?) Some people even thought that selling books was a bad idea.
And these un-tame words from literary agent Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie:
      The issues at the heart of the conflict are both margin and price, according to Wylie. Publishers have been slow to recognize the danger of percentage creep, he told me. “There was a European publisher in here recently who proudly sat on that sofa and said, ‘I’ve worked everything out with Amazon. I’ve given them 45 percent.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘But they wanted 50 percent.’ ” The European publisher thought he had won. Wylie stared incredulously at the memory of this encounter. “He’s a moron!”
      Losing the fight over margins would be an immediate blow to the publishers’ profits, but losing control over pricing could be fatal. “If Amazon succeeds,” said Wylie, “they will lower the retail price—$9.99, $6.99, $3.99, $1.99. And instead of making $4 on your hardcover, you’ll be making 10 cents a copy on all editions. And, Keith, you will not be able to afford to write a book.… No one, unless they have inherited $50 million, will be able to afford to write a serious work of history, of poetry, of biography, a novel—anything. The stakes are Western culture.”
      Western culture I could take or leave, but the part about me sent a chill down my spine. This is not what you want to hear from your literary agent. Surely we’ll think of something, I said to Wylie, if Amazon does win?
      “You think?”
      Wylie was not in the mood for a pep talk.
      And yet he believed that the publishers had finally wised up. Not only Hachette but HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster had started negotiations with Amazon, and none of them seemed willing to agree to Amazon’s demands. Perhaps a new era was beginning. Pointing to my Kindle, Wylie asked, “What if all the publishers pulled all their books from that fucking idiot device? Then what would you read on your silly Kindle?”
      But doesn’t Amazon deserve something for building the device, for making it work?
      “If the Kindle didn’t have any books on it, guess how many Kindles would be selling,” Wylie said, putting up his fingers to indicate zero Kindles. “They want the books, and they want the publishers’ profits, too? They should get nothing. Zero.”
Gessen even takes us on a trip to Amazon's Lab126 where Kindles are routinely abused--all in the name of science and commerce:
After meeting the designers and engineers, I went down to the Kindle stress-testing lab, where various machines twisted the Kindle and dropped it and tumbled it around as if in a dryer. There was a machine that specialized in tapping the Kindle, pressing the on-and-off button thousands of times, until the Kindle couldn’t take it anymore. There was a machine that sprayed a salty mist over the Kindle, because the devices are frequently taken to the beach. All of this testing was monitored by quiet, serious people in light-blue lab coats who looked as if they had once worked for Dr. No.

6.  And now we move to a battlefield of a more traditional kind.  The latest issue of O-Dark Thirty is now out--and, not to take anything away from the contents, but that cover art alone is worth the price of admission.  O-Dark-Thirty is a quarterly literary journal by and about veterans, service members and military family members.  I haven't yet had a chance to read this latest issue, but a quick skim yields some treasures:

      I wake to the nudge of a boot in my side. It’s my turn in the gun.
~"Shadows in the Night" by Christopher Baumer

      He spoke in a monotone, as though reciting a prayer learned in childhood, and he never looked me in the eye.
      “We were in a little village outside of Al-Karmah,” he began, “about sixteen clicks northeast of Fallujah. Karmah, ha! What a dumb name. It was the most violent city in Iraq.”
~"Imagining Iraq" by Bárbara Mujica

if they wanted me
to collect a check
buy expensive
shoes wear a tie
pay taxes sleep
at night raise
a son teach
him how to be
a man if they
wanted me
to live
why did
they give me
this gun
      ~"20 to Life" by David Bublitz
Full Disclosure: O-Dark-Thirty was kind enough to publish an interview with yours truly in this issue.  If you'd like to read about my Writing Habits, you can scroll down to page 103.  But I'd highly advise making pit stops at some of the other stories, essays and poems along the way.

7.  If you haven't yet discovered Bill Wolfe's blog, Read Her Like an Open Book, you're missing some insightful and lively writing about the joys of reading.... women.  Bill is a deeper-voiced champion of literature by females and God bless him for doing that.  VIDA counts aside, I know I need to do a better job of balancing the sexes on my reading list.  Of the 83 books I've read so far in 2014, only 32 were written by women.  I generally resist "quota reading" and go where my interests take me, but after reading Bill's blog, I certainly won't lack for recommendations.  I'd suggest starting with the recent "My Favorite Books of 2014" post which includes links to reviews of books like Katey Schultz' Flashes of War:
Schultz has performed an impressive feat of imagination with Flashes of War, putting us in the shoes — and heads — of all of her characters, providing a chorus of voices telling us the various truths about the last 12 years of war. When you are finished reading these compelling and flawlessly written stories, you too will be changed.
I second that emotion, Bill!

No comments:

Post a Comment