Yearly Archives: 2005

Minors

Turns out John McPhee and New Journalism are dangerous influences on the youth. Better ban them for anyone under 21.

Books As Gifts

Joe Queenan’s point seems to be "don’t give me any books, I’ve already selected every last one of the 2,138 I have left to read before I die of natural causes."

I guess that’s a good point of view if you already know everything (in which case, I’m not sure why you need to read books). I like to get books as gifts (provided they’re from reputable sources) because time and again I’ve been exposed to an author or topic I never would have found otherwise. Joe’s problem is that he keeps receiving books that sound atrocious. Maybe he needs new friends.

Chad Post

Associate Director of Dalkey Archive Press is interviewed. Always interesting to hear what Chad has to say.

Consider the Lobster review

My review of DFW Consider the Lobster is available here.

Author Whoring

I’m guessing more of you will dislike this than will like it.

The entries were part of a new program called Amazon Connect, begun late last month to enhance the connections between authors and their fans – and to sell more books – with author blogs and extended personal profile pages on the company’s online bookstore site. So far, Amazon has recruited a group of about a dozen authors, including novelists, writers of child care manuals and experts on subjects as diverse as real estate investing, science, fishing and the lyrics of the Grateful Dead.

"The program gives people who are interested in a particular author a way to get new insights into them, and gives the authors a way to develop more of a one-on-one relationship with readers," said Jani Strand, a spokeswoman for Amazon. The authors write on "anything they’d like their readers to know about them," Ms. Strand said, including what inspired their books and details about their experiences. Authors are free to update their blogs as often or as little as they like, and a linked profile page has information about other books, reading recommendations, personal information and, in some cases, e-mail addresses.

Ms. Wolitzer, in an interview, said she welcomed the blog as an opportunity to address readers more often than she usually might – that is, every two or three years, when a new book comes out. "Anything that can get fiction on people’s radar is good," she said.

Amazon is one of the many players in the publishing business trying to find new ways to increase the visibility of authors at a time when book sales are flat and other forms of entertainment are commanding ever-greater portions of the public’s wallet. Most publishers have extensive author information on their Web sites, and a number of authors maintain their own sites, some quite elaborate.

Whether or not you are down with the author blogs, I think we can all agree that some authors really shouldn’t blog. For instance:

The authors blogging on Amazon vary widely in their approaches. In the days before Christmas, Mike Jeffress, a Christian author and senior minister at Providence Road Church in Chesapeake, Va., used his Amazon blog both to raise an alarm about the persecution of Christians and to offer shopping tips.

"It must be that at the root of the current war against Christmas is spiritual warfare in which Satan and his demons are seeking to gain control of the most powerful free nation in the world in order to persecute Jesus Christ and his followers," Mr. Jeffress wrote. "All the more reason why I believe my latest book, ‘The Prayer of Jehoshaphat for America: The Power of Repentance in a Time of Crisis,’ would make a great Christmas gift this year."

"Vary widely in their approaches." Errr, that’s a pretty big understatement. Thanks for giving the batshit crazy fundamentalist author a pass, Times.

Seriously, "raise an alarm about persecuation of Christians"? Not that I have tremendously high expectations for the Times any longer, but does anyone writing for that newspaper seriously think that Christians are persecuted in this country? That Mr. Jeffress is correct in his summation that "Satan and his demons are seeking to gain control of the most powerful free nation in the world in order to persecute Jesus Christ and his followers" and that this is exemplified by the "war on Christmas"? Holy shit, Times, call bullshit when you see it.

Slots

Interesting.

America now has twice as many publicly available gambling devices that take money — slot and video-poker machines and electronic lottery outlets — as it does ATMs that dispense it. In the past fifteen years the number of such devices has grown fivefold, to more than 740,000, and is still mounting. This year a record 73 million Americans will visit one of the 1,200 gambling joints now stretching from coast to coast — a nearly 40 percent increase in visitors from just five years ago. Players make an average of six pilgrimages a year to these beckoning temples of luck, and more than a quarter of American adults now list gambling as their No. 1 entertainment choice. As much as 70 percent of the $48 billion in gaming revenues raked in by the casinos comes from slots. (Texas Hold’em poker and other table games may be the latest gambling fad both on TV and in Ben Affleck’s social circle, but for the casinos it’s all about machines, machines, machines.) Americans now spend on slots five times the amount they spend on movie tickets. . . .

Take, for instance, the gleaming chrome totem that is the Jumbo Popcorn Slotto Five-Reel Bonus Game, made by AC Coin & Slot, of Pleasantville, New Jersey. . . . This particular top box is a glass case with a life-size theater popcorn kettle suspended inside, brimming not with corn but with a couple of dozen numbered "slotto" balls. Hit a bonus and a retro-sounding digital voice from somewhere inside the Slotto machine merrily announces, over a swell of 1950s movie-house music, "It’s time for the Popcorn Bonus Show! Which size popcorn will you win?" After the same voice declares the size of the winnings (for instance, "medium"), the kettle inside the glass case begins rattling and shaking, and to the sounds of popping corn, slotto balls plop from the cooker and land in a tube, revealing the exact number of bonus credits — all of this supposedly being a great incentive to keep playing. "The fifty-to-sixty-year-old people who love to play machines are a pretty lively bunch," Chris Strano, AC Coin & Slot’s marketing VP, said after correctly identifying me as one more thrill-seeking Boomer (I was playing with a generous exhibition Slotto machine at the Southern Gaming Summit, in casino-rich — pre-Katrina — Biloxi, Mississippi). "They are the Woodstock generation, and they want to have fun. That’s what we give them. Something exciting, entertaining, and unpredictable."

I can’t imagine how anyone, let alone the "Woodstock generation" could fail to find the Popcorn Slotto Five-Reel Bonus Game an entirely compelling use of entertainment hours.

MLA

Christmas is history and New Years is right around the corner, so we’re just beginning to get into MLA-bashing season. I love to knock the excesses of the MLA’s annual meeting as much as anyone, but I think that much of the bashing is unfair. On the whole, w/r/t the MLA the good probably outweighs the bad, and it’d be nice to see someone mount a cogent defense of the MLA. Nick Gillespie tries to here, but I think he misses the mark. Good try, though.

DFW is Publicity-Shy

This guy tries to corral DFW for an interview and realizes that it’s pretty much not going to happen.

The Reading Crisis

n + 1 has an article up about "The Reading Crisis." (Link goes to the n + 1 main page since they don’t seem to have a permalink to the article.) I like n + 1, but I think I need a little more from them than this. Basically, the article (I guess it’s written by "The Editors") is bemoaning the fact that our so-called reading crisis now makes it excusable for authors to hawk their books in all manner of creative (sometimes demeaning) ways.

A real debate could be had about all these things. Instead we get the “reading crisis.” Under conditions of the reading crisis, everything a writer does, no matter how self-serving and reprehensible, becomes a blow in the service of literature. An arbiter of a “revolution” in reading features games, accordionists, and contests at his public events. A best-selling author sends out emails asking acquaintances to buy his new book before it slips off the Times top-seller list—because without these sales-markers, classic works can disappear. A blogger-author roams bookstores putting advertisements in books reminiscent of her own: “If you liked this, you’ll love The Tattle-Tale.” And these figures are held up as models of the hopeful signs for a renaissance in reading.

Well, okay, I guess it’s fair to complain about this, but I don’t see The Editors offering any solutions. What should authors do? Just manfully abide like good stoics and hope their books sell?

And also, author self-whoring isn’t exactly new. I don’t think you can ascribe it tall o a changed climate brought on by a decline in general reading. No, no, the industry has been moving toward this for some time now.

Blame the industry, the authors, or just plain old crass commercialism, but sales-generating acrobatics on the part of authors are now expected by publishers. Not to mention that many authors, after they discover that their publishers will give their book virtually no attention, instead lavishing hundreds of thousands on a few lead titles, practically beg for the chance to whore themselves out.

I guess my point is you can blame authors for doing this if you what, but what the hell else are they supposed to do? And do we really need a whole editorial lambasting authors for bowing to market forces? Not to mention, didn’t Benjamin Kunkel just do a huge PR blitz for his book? Oh, but articles in the Times and The New Yorker are part of the dignified approach to bookselling. The good old genteel tradition of back slapping and goodoldboy networks.

I’ve got nothing again people who want to critize the sorts of things authors are forced to do to sell their books. I agree, it’s screwed up. But let’s try to realize that it’s not completely the author’s fault. And if you think this is a bad state of affairs, then how about telling us what should be done about it?

Question

From where does the following quote come?

Merely finishing one of these monstrosities may be the perverse attraction for me and as well as for other disturbed individuals. And having the lunatic gumption to repeat the tortuous process with another hefty offering could be yet another facet of this fevered malady.

a) A (slightly tipsy) economics professor discussing the cost/benefit schedule of one of those 96 oz. steaks that you earn a t-shirt for finishing.

b) A chimpanzee who was taught to speak English real nice-like.

c) The President explaining his Iraq policy.

d) A strange, more or less pointless "review" of WIlliam Vollmann’s Rising Up and Rising Down.

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