BookLyfe, or Compendium #1
Hello everyone. Pappy Blake Butler has allowed me to talk out loud a bit, and for that I am grateful. I hope to not bug the hell out of everyone here at HTMLG.
I’ve gleaned a lot of booktalk from the internet in the past week or so, and I’ll present it here, all at once. To start: Over at the Vroman’s Bookstore blog, Patrick Brown discusses the National Book Critics Circle’s recommended reading list. Patrick says:
…their recommended list leaves a bit to be desired. It’s not that the books on the list aren’t good — they are — it’s that they’re, well, a little obvious. My friend Cory, blogger at Skylight Books in LA, pointed out that Philip Roth made the list. Looking at the fiction list, I feel a little like Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity, “Philip Roth? Not obvious. No, not obvious at all. Come on, NBCC, couldn’t you make it easier? What about Hemingway? How about William Shakespeare? Why not recommend Hamlet?” I don’t mean to hammer on Philip Roth, who I love, but come on. Does he really need the readers?
Go ahead and read the whole post. Patrick poses some critical questions, and they are eloquently answered by John Freeman, NBCC Member. John goes on to say:
I’m not terribly worried, though, about giving very good books another shot at reaching readers. I’m more worried about the speed with which we’re supposed to metabolize books now. Johnson’s novel was out in September, won an award in November, and I feel by December we’re all supposed to have moved on because it’s had ’success.’ It’s a big book, which took him a decade or more to write, and raises some very serious issues — I think reviews have just scratched the surface. I don’t think readers who wander into the store are on that speeded up schedule and the critical world (and publishing world) does them a disservice by our restlessness.
I agree with John. Although it is nice to highlight and promote books with ‘less of a shot’, ultimately the NBCC recommends by consensus, and if that consensus loves Cheever or Roth or Johnson, so be it. It is a list for readers by readers.
On the business side, The Word Hoarder hosts a lively and deep conversation about the relationship of e-book and bookseller, e-book and consumer. And in an sometimes hyperbolic essay, author Stephen L. Carter discusses the nature of the book object, online literature, and the screen-vs-page attention deficit. Although I’m not too keen on his occasional political bent (although, what do I expect from The Daily Beast), Carter does say some wonderful stuff:
But books themselves, the actual physical volumes on the shelves of libraries and stores and homes, send a message through their very existence. In a world in which most things seem ephemeral, books imply permanence: that there exist ideas and thoughts of sufficient weight that they are worth preserving in a physical form that is expensive to produce and takes up space. And a book, once out there, cannot be recalled. The author who changes his mind cannot just take down the page.
And later on, regarding online literature:
Such results might bear out Miller’s concern that, in cyberspace, the text “jostles side by side” with a thousand other possible destinations for the attention. And the reader, of course, freely flees. I have had the experience of reading an op-ed in a newspaper, then mentioning it later to a friend, who will say, “Yes, I read it” —but will have turned out to have skimmed the first page of text or so, before jumping away to something else. Perhaps, when we read online, the perceptive part of the brain is, in a sense, confused by the intention of the reader who sits in front of a screen. Is the reader there to gather and reflect upon information, or perhaps to check email or play a game?
And to further illustrate the point, let me change the subject and show you a YouTube video!
Away We Go: Written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring the guy from the Office and SNL girl. And I have to say: I look forward to seeing this. I put A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius down >100 pages in, but still; this film looks good. Funny and painful.
That’s all for now.