Friday, October 31, 2008

Two internets

Superstar bloggers are ahead of their time - To paraphrase John Edwards, there are two Internets. First we have the mainstream, casual, prime-time Internet. These folks think of the Internet as a supplement to TV and radio. They get their news from CNN and the "Today" show and visit Web sites they see on TV.

They surf major news sites and circulate kitty pictures in e-mail. They use Google to check movie times and look up trivial pursuit answers, but they don't really belong to the Internet. Their tastes, their lifestyles and their media expectations froze in 1996.

The other group has adopted the Internet as a fundamental part of their lives. They host blogs, use RSS feeds and keep up with friends on Twitter. These people are connected 24/7. They send text messages while they sleep and check e-mail before they put their pants on.

They are young, smart and upwardly mobile, but there aren't enough of them yet. They're hyper-literate, hyper-critical and hyper-connected. These are true alpha consumers. They want to be first with a new gadget, first to review a great book, first to complain about a bad movie and the first to celebrate when an old brand does something new.

Do you think Michael Duff's right? The recent Radar shutdown was a major loss (though that magazine somehow always rises from the dead, no worse for the wear - if anything, more cynical) but I'm pleased all the writers are too stubborn to stop blogging. How does the publishing world adapt to Choire Sicha?

This article is a little strange, but I'm fond of it for managing to work pants into a sentence about compulsive email checking, and for finally giving Choire Sicha and Alex Balk some credit. Ask anyone in my household who they love most, and they will say (a) Michelle Obama, then (b) Choire Sicha. For good reason. Will someone please publish him now so I can give him my hard-earned money?*

*I have still not been paid. I am out of toothpaste. Thanks to one of my favorite kitcheny blogs, I now have a recipe for homemade toothpaste, which includes ingredients that are already in my house (peppermint extract and baking soda donated by my next-door neighbors when they moved). There are two kinds of broke: the kind where you are casually broke, and see being broke as a symptom of a failing economy. Then there is the kind where you accept you really want to write on the internet, maybe full-time as a career, but you end up doing it for free, because not even the internet superstars are paid these days, and you hit a point where you start making toothpaste out of ingredients left in your neighbors' cabinet, because the idea of not spending four dollars makes you giddy. Choire Sicha and I may have this in common. Ahh, the great equalizing power of electronic writing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Itty bitty letters

Today I am rather enamored of the World's Smallest Postal Service. (via CoolHunting) Also, Lea Redmond's blog is adorable.

Animal Crackers

If Hannah Tinti's short story collection Animal Crackers had been illustrated, it would probably have been photographed by Joseph O. Holmes, the artist featured this week in the Jen Beckman gallery. Tinti's story about the woman painting the backdrops in a museum of natural history is absolutely haunting.

What do you say when you win the Nobel Prize?

Ask Doris Lessing.

Thanks, Kathleen.

To all who said blogging wasn't profitable

Check out Ana Marie Cox right now. Geez. Even Alex Balk is jealous.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Everyone's from Brooklyn

But here's the one I've heard yet:

Thanks, Geoff.

Isabella Gardner

I made one of those connections that is possible with just a little research: Yesterday was Sylvia Plath's 75th birthday, and she was quoted by Edward Byrne as saying she would like to be Poetess of America. This is conceivable, but she listed also her competition: "May Swenson, Isabella Gardner, & most close, Adrienne Cecile Rich."

I knew two of the three for sure, but "Isabella Gardner" made me wonder if this was the same woman in Boston who curated her own museum. This museum is very strange - actually, "eccentric," is the word the museum prefers, and it uses it in all of their literature. She was an eccentric woman with eccentric taste who wanted her art collection on display to show off its eccentricities.

She wrote in her will that all of the art in the museum must be displayed exactly the same after her death, which would have been perfectly fine - except that thirteen pieces were stolen, including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer. This is apparently a famous unsolved mystery. Now thirteen empty frames are left upon walls throughout the museum.

It turns out that this Isabella Stewart Gardner is the aunt of the Isabella Gardner to whom Sylvia Plath refers. In addition to threatening Plath with her books of poetry, she was an associate editor for the literary journal Poetry, and died at 66 in the year 1981.

(She is not in this photo, but this is the staff of Poetry Magazine around her time. I wonder why it is so hard to find a photograph?)

I love when these things come together. But wait! A book on her aunt's museum was written by my former film professor, Patricia Vigderman. Another lovely connection. Thank you, O Google.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"There's a lot of drag queen in her."

-a line from Nicole Blackman's poem "Iris"

I saw Roisin Murphy in concert tonight. She really rocked it. I am particularly fond of the jacket she wore that was plaid and had a stuffed deer coming out of its sides. She wore a matching set of plaid antlers.

Her videos are a little strange, but you'll like the song.

Time to take off my big black-and-white checked coat and tuck myself in.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Advanced Style and Songs for Ice Cream Trucks

I am so into this site, which displays some serious style from some seriously cool older folks. (Thanks, Elizabeth!)

Also, yesterday I found Cassette From My Ex through Brooklyn Hunkering, and I think it's the best use of audio + storytelling I've seen online in a while. Ooh, and it led me to 1859, a podcast series by Michael Hearst and Rick Moody. Michael Hearst's entry on Cassette was adorable, so I followed the link to his album, Songs for Ice Cream Trucks, which was profiled by the Gothamist.

Here was his debut in Park Slope. It's not well-filmed, but it's in one of my favorite bars in our neighborhood. And that hat is terrific:

Anyone who's all right by Rick Moody is all right by me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

For fun

What Picasso doodles at restaurants.

Massachusetts has declared Moby Dick its state book.

Baking with Alice B. Toklas.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


It is time for hibernation. I feel the need to eat and sleep and perhaps lie in my bed without purpose. I think tortoises really got this right - why do humans still work from October to May?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Commercial publishing

Didn't expect the media to come down so hard on Samuel J. Wurtzelbacher, but these stories should pass within a short period of time. It's kind of boring - I didn't mean to add to the media onslaught. So to make it up to you, here are some highlights from Bookninja's book cover contest.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Enough political talk

Guess what came up while I was looking for Joe the Plumber videos tonight?

Putting our fingers on the pulse of the heartland

The New Yorker has ventured to the exotic lands of western Columbus, and returned with a story on the verge of saying something.

Both McCain and Obama have been said to be presenting themselves as though they're "above" politics. Talk about being above politics - Midwesterners rather are. They're not especially affected by the president until it begins to change their everyday lives (which hardly anyone can in just four years). This is, in a way, freedom from the messy political world - there are no corporations to please when you endorse a candidate, and your vote has the potential to be free from personal greed. I wish this made people vote for ideals, but I doubt it will. We are seeing a public servant here, a representative of the country in an abstract way and in a very real and powerful way.

Inadvertently, the debate last night helped The Little Guy: apparently Joe the Plumber of Amarillo, Texas has received something like "500 phone calls" since last night. Way to go, Joe.

[The Times has just posted that last night's debate hurt the little guy: Joe Wurtzelbacher feels "kind of like Britney Spears" in the wake of all this media attention.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Could it be that the structural obsolescence everyone’s been crowing about for the past decade—defeat at the hands of digital media,, etc.—would have been less painful than this, or at least more world-historically meaningful? What lies ahead instead is a necessary scaling back of ambition: an age in which the gambling spirit that has kept book publishing exciting gives way to a shabby, predictable environment that cows its participants into avoiding all things adventurous and allowing only the proven few a seat at the table.

Will the survivors envy the dead?

No! says John Oakes, who was an executive editor at the independent boutique Atlas Books before financial troubles there led him to leave the company earlier this fall. Mr. Oakes is working with a university in Manhattan on establishing a new summer training program for college graduates seeking careers in the publishing industry. Two such programs, both six weeks long, currently exist—one at Columbia, the other at New York University—and though between the two of them they already send more than 200 young people onto the job market every year, Mr. Oakes is confident there are still more eager beavers out there in need of training.

“From what I’ve seen of their operations, they seem grand, and really wonderful setups with great histories and some important people,” Mr. Oakes said Monday, shortly before flying off to the Frankfurt Book Fair. “But I think that a good overview can be provided in less time for less money, and these days, from what I understand, people seem to be concerned about their time and their money.”

Mr. Oakes envisions an intensive, “nimble” course, with guest speakers who work in the industry providing lessons on every aspect of the business, from design, manufacturing and digital distribution, to marketing, royalties and contracts.

“Particularly in rough times, this makes more sense than ever,” Mr. Oakes said when asked whether the course he’s developing amounts to sending lambs to the slaughter. “Jobs are hard to get, absolutely, but what was wonderful about publishing is still wonderful about publishing, in that it’s a mysterious and wonderful art. Some of the smartest people still stream into publishing, so a course like this can maybe prepare them for what to expect. And there are some jobs out there, and maybe via a program like this they can meet people that will help them get those few jobs that are available.”

I love hearing about the CPC - Lindy and Susan run a fantastic program, and honestly, all the voices in the media presenting them with unqualified praise would not be enough to do them justice. But what a strange article! The headline suggests that publishing is in trouble, that editors will take fewer risks with new writers. The first page of text says that advances will be inflated and book sections are shrinking. But the final section asks whether publishing is over, then has that Oakes quotation defying every point the article seemed to make. Does the Observer believe that our fresh energy injected into the industry will find ways to bring back book reviews and/or up book sales? How will we be able to do that?

We should probably have an online discussion board for CPC grads to discuss the best method to give life to the industry. Assuming, of course, that the industry needs life. Ick, so many death metaphors! This article is no help. When you argue the binary - publishing is either dead or alive - you shove aside some very important grey matter. People who declare publishing alive and well seem ungrounded in economic realities, and people who pronounce it dead seem to be dismissing it from any intellectual, cultural, or monetary potential.

The question is not DEAD OR ALIVE. The question is how to nurse it and nurture it and help it grow. I don't know whether we're nursing it from a new infancy after a digital rebirth or nursing it back to health after sick advances prompted by pressure by shareholders and the burst bubble of the 90s, but it doesn't really matter. Either way we're having a conversation about how to move forward.

Both sides have different senses of urgency. But they admit that a discussion needs to take place. So... let's go. What will we do first?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Elements of Style: the movie

At long last:

Maira Kalman's illustrated edition becomes a vaguely weird movie clip using some of my favorite grammatically correct examples from the original text.

Also, here's a testament to the art of the short story.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A short list

Things I'm into lately:

The ongoing Somali pirate drama, and pirate drama in general. (I will be sorry when it's over.)

"Thirteen" by Jason Robert Brown, which I saw in previews last week. It's high-energy and catchy - not something one would remember forever, but just emotionally complex enough to hold itself together, and the kids in it can really dance.

The new film with Greg Kinnear, A Flash of Genius, which I saw in previews the day after that. The whole cast and crew were there, and so was the writer of the original New Yorker article (which felt very glamorous). It's beautifully lit, and a good premise for discussions of intellectual property (though the use of this sort of property was not as relevant to discussions of digitally shared intellectual property, so I would have liked it a bit better if the script had been open to that interpretation). The acting's great, but somehow "the American dream" didn't really resonate with me while the stocks were falling roughly 200 points in the time it took to watch this 90-minute film.

The fake Obama ads The Onion did after McCain (1) refused to look Obama in the eye, and (2) wouldn't shake his hand when they met in person.

Sarah Palin poetry.

This testament to dear neighbors and dedicated readers. (Awww.)

This new video from Alex Itin, taking drawings from his exhibit and some images from "The Little Prince."

Robotic spy planes.
Of course.