"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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amazon goes to the mattresses.

A bitter pricing row between Amazon and the publishing industry intensified this weekend as the online retailer stripped books from Macmillan, including Hilary Mantel's Man Booker prizewinner, Wolf Hall, from its website in the US.

The drastic move, which could be followed around the world including in the UK, followed tense talks between the two parties over the price of ebooks last week. Fresh from a deal to become one of a handful of publishers in Apple's new ­iBookstore, Macmillan sharpened its demands on Amazon to help ensure the "long-term viability and stability of the digital book market".

The world's biggest online retailer and home of the Kindle ebook store and reading device has long been under attack from publishers for selling digital books at $9.99 (£6.25) a title, which they argue risks undermining hard copies. Apple, which is potentially providing Amazon's biggest ebook challenge yet with the iPad, is expected to allow publishers more freedom to set their own prices.

From the Guardian.

More coverage at the NY Times blogs.

There seems to be a lot of concern about the e-book pricing strategy. Some, including perhaps Macmillan, are arguing that Amazon is making so much money from its Kindle reader that it can afford to lose money on books, whereas publishers like Macmillan obviously can't. So Amazon is striking back by removing buy buttons from new products (but allowing people to buy the books used, which gives the publisher no income).

Q: What price does an 800-lb gorilla charge for e-books?
A: Any price he wants to.

Would this be a good time to point out that Barnes and Noble online is now offering all buyers its members' discount?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


RIP J.D. Salinger. The man who wrote Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenters, and Seymour, An Introduction, Nine Stories *and* The Catcher in the Rye has died.

I guess you can tell his most famous was my least favorite. Maybe its appeal -- and its story of a disaffected wealthy kid on the outs with his boarding school -- were somewhat dated, like its language. It seemed like pretty tame stuff when I read it in high school, even more so now. I wonder how much cool language affects what we think about what we read. Maybe Catcher is suffering from the same syndrome that keeps most readers away from book written before 1940 or so. Unfamiliar language syndrome?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Knishvendors fearsome charswaths

blaggards assbaths and no apostrophes, but not in a weird way.

The comedic version of The Road, at The Millions.

The boy stood in the road with the pistol while the man climbed an old set of limestone steps and walked down the porch of the farmhouse, peering in the windows. He pushed his way in through the kitchen door. Lucy, I’m home, he shrieked, the Cuban accent poor from disuse. Trash in the floor. Broken saucers, a heap of old magazines. He looked them over. Jen’s Revenge. Kendra’s Baby Bump. J.Lo’s Booty Wars. The shelves bare save for a chipped Garfield mug, two rough spots where its handle had been. I too hate Mondays, he whispered. He went down the hallway, regarding himself in a broken woodframed mirror. The eyes haunted and sunk. Weatherbeaten cheeks, a matted gritty beard. He looked like Viggo Mortensen.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Letter from Santa Satan

to Pat Robertson, via NPR.

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

He left out "press coverage."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thumbthing Special: Paperback Reader Must-Have


Office Worker Must-Haves

Nondairy creamer land mines.

Also, if you go to the Dilbert store, you can read through all the comics and pick which one you absolutely must have on a coffee mug. I have about five contenders to decide among.

Plus, it's a great way to procrastinate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reaching through the Web

I found this blog post about an author defending her work, anonymously, against a critical review. It escalated quite a bit, even after the author was identified. Although she eventually deleted all her posts, they were archived elsewhere by interested parties. You can read them if you want, or just read the comments in the article, such as this, from author Neil Gaiman:

And yes, it's a horrible car crash, and I post it here not because it's funny in an Oh God Make It Stop kind of way, but because, if any of you are ever tempted to respond to bad reviews or internet trolls etc, it's a salutary reminder of why some things are better written in anger and deleted in the morning.

I had an experience something like this not long ago, when I compared two products in an online review. I thought the review was unoffensive, but the seller of the losing product contacted me at my home email repeatedly, and had many unpleasant things to say in print on the website, as well. Rather than politely ask me to reconsider, she went ballistic, even accusing me of working for the competitor. I'm not even in the same state. So I know a bit about this tendency to feel like 1) we are writing for ourselves, although the internet is very public; and 2) we can reach through the internet to directly contact a person with whom we disagree. The internet gives us a false sense of intimacy with strangers. How far we take that is something that not everyone agrees on. Even famous authors (Anne Rice, Alice Hoffman, Alain de Botton) have reacted in this way.

I think that doing so breaks an unspoken agreement about how far we may go and in what venue. While in my case, the seller's comments on my review were nasty and her comments about the competitor even actionable, the thing that really bothered me was that she looked up my personal information and contacted me directly and angrily. She also has my home address, since I had the product shipped by ground delivery, something you might consider not doing with with individual sellers on sites like Amazon or ebay, and something I will never do again. From now on, everything goes to the PO box.

Science: Making Science Fiction Obsolete...

Green Sea Slug Is Part Animal, Part Plant, at Wired.com.

And Msnbc.com.

Cf. the souped-up soldiers in Old Man's War, by John Scalzi.

...and possibly ending world hunger. I'd go green.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book Sales: Not Bad = Good

Book sales were surprisingly not bad, recession notwithstanding, selling at the same numbers as in 2008. This according to Crains New York. The best news was that sales of adult fiction held their own.

There are several theories for this: people look for affordable entertainment in a recession; big blockbusters like Stephen King's immense Under the Dome and Dan Brown's thriller The Lost Symbol came out; and retailers' price wars drove book prices down.

The article also mentions John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Although I like to think people would have bought other books if not for these -- out of a desire for books, or maybe as a result of publishers' pushing other titles. Or maybe it's just what I like to think. If I can't find exactly what I want at the bookstore, I'll usually try something new. But maybe less dedicated readers spend their book money on lunch and a latte?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Your Mind on Reading

Socrates feared that reading would undermine interactive dialogue. ... reading is different from talking.

Reading changed the nature of education completely, from the Socratic method of face-to-face dialogues to lectures supplemented with large amounts of reading. I think most of us feel that reading characterizes education now even more than classroom experience, at least after the early elementary grades. It's funny that Socrates feared that reading would ruin things. Nowadays, we're afraid that people will stop reading. I wonder what the next educational paradigm will be? And how we will work it into education, alongside lectures and assigned reading.

When a monkey sees a T shape in the world, it is very likely to indicate the edge of an object — something the monkey can grab and maybe even eat. A particular area of its brain pays special attention to those significant shapes. Human brains use the same area to process letters. Dehaene makes a compelling case that these brain areas have been “recycled” for reading. “We did not invent most of our letter shapes,” he writes. “They lay dormant in our brains for millions of years, and were merely rediscovered when our species invented writing and the alphabet.”

An alphabet in the shape of trees, fruits, etc., and people who read instead of swinging in trees and foraging for food. We read for excitement. We read recipes. As children, we draw triangular A- or M-shaped mountains and round O-suns shining on T- or Y-shaped trees. It's intriguing.

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention
by Stanislas Dehaene, reviewed at the NY Times.