Monday, September 29, 2008

Recession Red... Communists, eat your hearts out.

Everybody wants bail-out. Poets, the environment, Somali pirates, people who thought they'd be able to retire before they died...

Anyway, guess what stock went up today? I'll give you a hint: you can store it for decades and it's especially good for colds.

That's right. Campbell's Soup.

Thanks for the stock tip, Wonkette. An aside: my roommate sent me a message tonight that said simply, "Well, Capitalism was fun. Wonder what we'll do now."

At least New Yorkers have a sense of humor: Gray's Papaya has a "recession special," and I passed a wine store advertising "Recession Red" for just $7.

Also, in case you missed it: Heath Ledger stars in "The Dark Bailout."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hadn't occurred to me that this was kind of dorky, but

Hey, there's a Literary Pub Crawl in the city tonight.

Rivka Galchen and Sarah Manguso are reading at the R Bar for FSG. I just finished The Two Kinds of Decay, and am pretty psyched to see her (even though it's a terrifically painful book).

Hope you're having a good weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just because.

Do you ever get fixated on things out of the blue? I'm sure it reflects something about your state of mind, but it's something that catches your attention regularly, in a cycle that you can't help but notice?

This month I've been really into the way older couples argue. If you recorded every word, then had twenty-somethings read the conversation aloud, it would sound like an argument that has happened frustratingly often. But instead the words are delivered affectionately, as though the couple prides themselves in knowing this argument about the plumber they've had a hundred times. They recognize how trivial the matter is, and they talk to one another as though they still enjoy talking to one another, as though nothing is at stake at all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Media Gods Have Spoken

Dear GalleyCat,

Thank you.

Kay Arr

Monday, September 15, 2008

The End?

Watch out: it's coming.

Apparently new media as a literary apocalypse sells papers. Here are some of this weekend's literary headlines:

The Independent: "Can intelligent literature survive in the digital age?" and "The next chapter: Who'll be the bestsellers of tomorrow?"

The New York Times: "Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free."

New York Magazine: "The End."

I'm feeling a little exasperated by all this negative press. Books are really, really great. No one contests this. There is not some mortal enemy of The Book that's out to get it. Steve Jobs is not out to destroy music. Why would people who choose to spend years of their lives adding digital enhancements to books feel anything but affection for them?

Dear Media, Can we please get a new angle on the future of digital interaction? XOXO, Gossip Girl.

There is a little good word of mouth out there: Try MediaLoper's "Reconsidering the Future of Ebooks," or my personal favorite, "A unified field theory of publishing in the networked era."

All right. I've just started a job in new media, and I know I'm biased. But whenever someone hears I'm interested in eBooks, they take whatever book I'm holding in my hand and say, "But isn't this great? You won't have this on a computer screen." Sometimes they sniff it.

I know the book smells good. I bought it. In fact, I've bought hundreds. Probably thousands. I use them as room decorations and gifts. I line my bedframe and desk with piles of them. I love the way they smell, I love the way they feel, and I love nothing more than looking up a good word I find in one of them. It just so happens that the most convenient and affordable way to look up said word is in the OED online.

So we've reached a stage where we need to think about what technology can do to assist us in our reading. It's not taking books away from us. It's linking us to other books, to dictionaries, to encyclopedias, to Wikipedias, and most importantly, to other readers.

And yes, it's easier to start with textbooks, because students will be progressive and savvy enough to begin interacting with books outside of the classroom. Plus they're not fiction. Everyone gets defensive of fiction. While books hold a certain romance, few people romanticize falling asleep beside their microeconomic books. But because so few of us can rationalize our need for fiction in a concise manner, we speak of it as though it is on the verge of extinction.

If you need to react to threats, try the economy, creationism, or Sarah Palin.

Ebooks are beautiful too. The publishing industry just needs to figure out how to make them pleasurable.

I'm sure no one thought that TV and film would be taken seriously when they began to "threaten" the radio. But don't we look at these things as art forms in our modern era? They're not terrible because we don't understand them.

There are possibilities here, and I'd like readers to discuss them. What do you want from networked books? Besides comment bars, video, audio, and graphics? What can you get from an interactive and social format that you can't get on the page?

You don't have to read this stuff on a screen, especially not with the current eReaders available to you. You can read on paper and interact with the text later, at least to try it out. Do I sound like a mom coaxing you to try a food you're determined to hate? Fine. But we're not getting anywhere in the reading community by resisting change.

Try it. Just a byte. And tell me what you think about it.

Scenes from the Brooklyn Book Festival

Great stuff. But it still has nothing on the literary festival in Gambier, Ohio.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace dead at 46, mourned in Facebook statuses

Surely you've heard by now that David Foster Wallace committed suicide.

In memorium, here is his commencement speech at Kenyon College.
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
What was so striking about Wallace's essays was they made everyone feel less alone in the battle against daily tedium. He transformed these solitary acts into social ones. Knowing that you and Wallace together fight grocery lines and crowded parking lots made the experience a little funnier, and perhaps a little easier.

There was a National Book Critics Circle Board meeting Saturday, which was more of a wake than a party. Today is The Brooklyn Book Festival. He picked quite a weekend to be remembered, on YOUR monitor and beyond it.