"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How We Kill What We Love

Or, how people who buy and sell used books online are the real death of the industry. Bargain Hunting for Books, from the NY Times.

How much do I want to pay, and where do I want that money to go? To my local community via a bookstore? To the publisher? To the author?

In theory, I want to support all of these fine folks. In practice, I decide to save a buck.

Apparently, a practice with enormous repercussions. Powell's bookstore in Portland, Or, is asking its employees to take unpaid sabbaticals. There is no longer any bookstore in Berkeley, Calif. Will we regret our "selfish actions" when there are no longer physical bookstores? Sure, we will. How will we learn about books, then? Those of us who find what we want at the local bookstore and then order it online to save maybe $10. But how do they expect us to give up saving $10 on each volume?

We're loving books to death. Somebody think of something.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Book Publishers Fail

Is there anyone who reads The Drudge Report instead of a good book? Does it make sense to blame the internet for publishing's decline, or is it instead the result of several years of bad decisions? The loss of 2,000 independent booksellers? Dohle's depredations at Random House? Cutting expenses by replacing senior employees with newbies? Or has publishing dumbed down, and "drifted into the paper-thin celebrity culture that defines just about every other domain, and which is rendering American culture as dull and monotonous as anything in Western history." Lawrence Osborne at Forbes.

I agree that publishing seems a bit dumbed down, but in the same article, Osborne says industry insiders blame agents, editorial failures, and lack of "franchise authors" to bolster overall sales. It sounds like you can't swing a cat without hitting someone who is to blame. Agents for trying to make fast money, instead of building authors' careers, editorial failures in the form of cuts in actual editing -- "resulting in longer, sloppier books that bore readers stupid" -- and Dan Brown for not writing an enticing sequel to the DaVinci Code.

A friend in publishing (laid off from Random House, incidentally) makes the point that the market for books is not readers, exactly, but those readers who buy books, and that we buy them for their content and quality -- remember when books were the authority on grammar and spelling? Now I don't remember the last time I got through a new book without noticing a dozen or more sometimes appalling errors. Not to mention the awful shapelessness of "longer, sloppier books" -- for $25 and up. Books used to give the reader the sense that something in the world made sense, or perhaps that sense could be made of the world. Am I naive in writing that? I used to feel, when reading a good book, that someone in the world knew what they were doing, how to think and express things, that the world might actually be in good hands. Okay, I'm naive, but it really was about world view. And now publishing is yelling about the sky falling. I'm not shelling out $25 for that, and neither is anybody else, apparently. Unless it's really well written...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Writers Need Food

I somehow missed this excellent NY Times article, in the form of a memo from Michael Pollan to the next U.S. President. He makes the excellent point that a major ingredient in the food we eat is oil, as in petroleum, whether in the form of transportation, chemical fertilizers and/or pesticides. The cost of food has skyrocketed along with the cost of energy, and the pollution from waste that was once recycled as fertilizer...well, you get the picture. We feed 40% of all our grain to animals to fatten them up in inhumane feedlots, and another 11% to cars and trucks as biofuel.

He makes very good suggestions, from polyculture farming to converting a piece of the White House lawn to a victory garden to having one meatless day a week at the White House. I'd also like to suggest vegetable/vegetarian cooking classes in schools -- it's time we stopped treating meat-based meals as the only acceptable standard. Our eating habits are killing us and our environment.

Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. Thanks to Food is Love for pointing me to this article.