Total broken record moment, but if you haven’t subscribed to the Publishing Perspectives daily newsletter, you definitely should. The pieces are always interesting, and very well done.
Anyway, a couple months back I was planning on writing a long piece on Turkish fiction coming out this year, including Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s A Mind at Peace, Orhan Kemel’s The Idle Years, and two Selçuk Altun titles, Songs My Mother Never Taught Me and Many and Many a Year Ago. I had a hard time getting into Songs My Mother Never Taught Me, then got distracted with other things, and then and then it’s suddenly the middle of August . . .
But today’s piece in Publishing Perspectives has remotivated me (is this even a word?) to take a look at the latest Altun book.
As Ed Nawotka writes in his article, Altun’s an interesting guy. He’s served on the board of YKY (Yapi Kredi Publications), one of Turkey’s largest publishers, and was was chairman of Yapi Kredi Bank until he retired at the age of 54 to become a writer. He paid to have his first book translated into English, working under the (mostly correct) assumption that once it was in English there was a much better chance of getting it translated into a bunch of other languages.
That’s all cool (and noble—his book earnings fund three scholarships!), but it’s the book itself that sounds intriguing to me:
Many and Many a Year Ago concerns a young Turkish fighter pilot who, after crashing his F-16, is set up with a generous stipend and an apartment in Istanbul’s Taksim district. In return, the convalescing daredevil must undertake a series of mysterious missions following in the footsteps of American writer Edgar Allen Poe, taking him from Istanbul to Buenos Aires, and beyond. Eventually, he arrives at Poe’s gravesite in Baltimore.
“It is part literature and part travel book, a little bit of Paul Auster and Bruce Chatwin,” says Altun. “It is a Sheherezade-like reading experience in that there’s a chain of eight stories within stories. Poe was himself a very rich character, though financially poor. He was polyglot, he had dreams, and if he had money he would have lived his life in a rich way, so what I tried to do was imagine what the life of a post-modern, well-off Poe would have been like.”
I’ve got a stack of “to be reviewed” titles going already, but this is moving quickly toward the top . . . Speaking of which, we’re always looking for more book reviewers, so if anyone’s interested, e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu.
Today’s Publishing Perspectives piece is a great editorial by editor Ed Nawotka on e-books, specifically in relation to kids books:
My daughter loves to read. “Book, ook, ook,” she’ll say, trying to form the right word that will get my attention to plop onto a beanbag chair, pull her into my lap, and read to her from her growing library of small, square board books. There are some A-Z books, some “colors” and “shapes” books, some Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry. But most often, what she wants is something by Sandra Boynton — Barnyard Dance, Horns to Toes — books that are age-appropriate. These are books full of sing-songy prose and hippos, elephants, and dogs doing things like bathing, brushing their teeth, and pulling on pajamas — all the things she’s now learning to do herself. My daughter loves these books so much that she literally tries to climb inside them. Now that’s commitment.
But what I fear, as things go digital, is that a lot of the visceral love of reading will be lost. Not the romance of paper — although, there is that — but that physical connection one gets with books from an early age. That climbing into the book my daughter is doing, the way she can’t turn the page fast enough when she’s excited, the way she flips it aside when she’s done.
Of course, there will always be children’s board books. But the question is, as more and more parents spend more and more time with e-book readers and less with physical books, what kind of example does that serve? Don’t we spend enough time in front of screens as it is?
I know my daughter responds to books because, in part, as an infant she had to crawl through what must have looked like looming towers of review copies, threatening at a moment’s notice to topple over on her. She was both curious about and wary of these piles. Would the same have happened if all my galleys came via e-mail to my Kindle?
And over toward the other end of the spectrum, Steven Levingston laments Polymer Vision’s financial troubles, and the fact that this might kill the Readius e-reader they were developing. Collective shrug—if it ain’t Apple’s tablet, it ain’t worth a damn. Still, this did sound (and look) sort of cool:
In prototype, it is a pocket-sized gadget about the size of a pack of cigarettes. What sets it apart is the flexible, flip-out screen. Open the thing up, and you unfold a 5-inch display. Finish reading and fold it up again, clip it closed and stuff it back in your pocket. The company claimed it had tested the screen’s flexibility more than 25,000 times and discovered no degradation in readability.
Like the Kindle, the Readius would have a high-speed wireless connection for downloading books on the run. The screen uses high-resolution, low power E-Ink.
The device also was designed as a mobile phone.
If you’re interested, there’s a video at the bottom of the article demonstrating the flexibility—and cigarette-pack qualities—of the Readius.
And if you’re a venture capitalist looking to bail out Polymer Vision (is this an oxymoron?), I suggest you give all your money to Open Letter through the link below.
As mentioned last week, China is the Guest of Honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, and to prepare for this, four journalists from the FBF have headed over to Peking on a “journey of literary discovery.” (Which I believe means listening to a lot of speeches about China’s book industry and traveling around to various stores, publishers, etc.)
As the week progresses, I’m sure this will get more and more interesting. Definitely worth checking in on, and I’ll be sure to post about any really interesting pieces.
It doesn’t officially launch until June 1st, but Publishing Perspectives the new daily newsletter from the Frankfurt Book Fair, and run by Ed Nawotka and Hannah Johnson is off to a pretty solid start. It’s kind of a “literary VeryShortList,” featuring one interesting, well-developed story each day and some additional bonus information online.
The first week included a piece about Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson’s long-time partner, who, thanks to Swedish inheritance laws, doesn’t get a dime (er, krona) from Larsson’s sales. (She is writing a book about her experiences though.)
I can hardly be objective about reviewing this—I’m good friends with both Hannah and Ed, and really like their sensibilities—but I honestly believe that this is a perfect addition to the existing newsletters (like PW Daily, Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch) and publishing news sites (like GalleyCat, Literary Saloon) that are out there. It’s a fantastic approach—I’ve written this elsewhere, but one-item newsletters are the thing right now—and provides a great, um, perspective on the publishing industry.
As I mentioned earlier I’m in Abu Dhabi, writing a blog for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair blog. It’s all going pretty well—I have a few posts up, a few more interesting ones on the way—but since trips like this generate a lot of thoughts, comments, and ideas, and since the book fair blog probably isn’t the right place to share my opinions (not to imply that my opinions are negative, just that they’re more like inappropriate) I thought I’d post a few things here about the trip as a whole.
First off, the other journalists on this trip are amazing. And hilarious, smart, interesting, and incredibly fun to be around. (Even at the dry parties. . . . The first dry publishing parties I’ve ever attended.) Just to give a quick rundown: Hannah Davies from The Bookseller is blogging about the fair on their website. She’ll be writing a longer piece later, as will Maria de Cos Villanueva from Spain’s Delibros. Ed Nawotka’s writing from the ADIBF blog as well, and possibly for a few other places as well. And Anne Eckert—who works for the Frankfurt Book Fair and arranged the whole journalist program—is here as well.
To set the scene for the ADIBF, the day before it started Anne arranged for a visit to the Cultural Foundation where we heard a bit about the history and culture of Abu Dhabi. Admittedly, I probably should’ve known more about the UAE before coming, but it was fascinating to see the model of Abu Dhabi in 1966 when there was only one brick building and a lot of hut-like structures. It’s completely different now, filthy with skyscrapers everywhere you look, and other wildly ambitious structures, like the final design for the place where the fair is taking place. And that’s not to mention Saadiyat Island. And for as much as the Emirates Palace sort of reminded us of Las Vegas, it was still pretty damn impressive. (Although according to some there could’ve been much more gold . . . )
Speaking of gold, one of the interesting things I learned here was that Dubai (which I haven’t visited yet, but which Abu Dhabi folks seem to treat as a sort of UAE aberration, a city totally off the rails with growth, and not nearly as oil rich as Abu Dhabi) used to be a hub for gold smuggling. Like airplanes full of gold, smuggling. The place where you could buy a special coat with all sorts of hidden pockets . . .
Another interesting aspect of UAE life are the camel beauty pageants. (And camel racing, but that doesn’t come with such a bizarre picture.)
There are some obvious cultural (and weather-related) differences between the Arab world and the U.S., but nevertheless the first thing I saw getting off the place was a Burger King. (Which was almost the last part of the UAE I saw, since the guards freaked out about my rain damaged passport and warned me not to try and come back before getting a new one.)
This is kind of a tough place to describe. Some parts of the city are totally over-the-top, others are just city-like, and few are so especially unique that they merit specific mention. Nevertheless, it’s still a cool place to visit, and the fair has been pretty enlightening.
For anyone interested, Ed Nawotka and I will be posting about the Abu Dhabi Book Fair at the fair’s official blog. We’ll have pictures, stories, and funny anecdotes all week . . .
As discussed in detail on Ed Nawotka’s blog, Paperback Dreams is a documentary coming out this fall that focuses on the struggles of two West Coast independent bookstores: Kepler’s and Cody’s.
The film, which will run on PBS stations starting in November, begins with the opening of Kepler’s near Stanford University in 1955, documents Andy Ross’s purchase of Cody’s in 1977 and follows the impact of the Internet age of the late 1990s. It ends with the closing of Cody’s San Francisco location and a depiction of Kepler’s ongoing struggles to remain open.
In producing this, filmmaker Alex Beckstead came up with four survival principles for bookstores:
1. Own your own building.
2. Hire experienced staff.
3. Sell used books.
4. Figure out some way to sell books online.
I wonder if other booksellers would agree with these . . . The first sounds like a no-brainer, and is one of the causes for so many New York bookstores going under over the past few years. (Such as Lenox Hill, Coliseum, Gotham, etc., etc.)
It’s sort of sadly ironic to post this today though, after reading this item in Publishers Weekly:
Cody’s Books, the one-time iconic Berkeley, Calif. bookstore that has fallen on hard times in recent years, has closed. In an e-mail sent late Friday, Cody’s management said the store “will shut its doors effective June 20.”
Ed Nawotka, who writes for PW, Bloomberg, and elsewhere, has an article in the forthcoming issue of Publishing Research Quarterly on Our Digital Future – Rights, Contracts and Business Models that, somewhat ironically, is currently available for free on his website.
The article is basically an overview of the current situation from the contractual situation, to the Google Book Search controversy, to the anticipated debut of some iPod-ish sort of eReader that will revolutionize everything.
Personally, I think there are certain types of books/publishers that could really benefit from e-versions. Textbooks, some nonfiction, and especially academic presses. (I can envision a beautiful and profitable supply-demand curve in which a UP sells 100 copies of a $100 critical study to libraries and then sells 500+ copies of a $25 e-version to academics who need the work in question, but can’t afford the retail price. Add on a slew of $5 sales for particular chapters that students need to access, and this would seem to work out pretty well.)
In terms of fiction and poetry, I have a gut feeling that Chris Anderson’s free model will win out in the end, which is why some of the publishers quoted in Nawotka’s article seem so conservative and short-sighted.
Lucy Vanderbilt of HarperCollins UK, offered a variety of examples where HarperCollins had licensed book content for online use, including serializations of graphic novels and reviews from film guides. [. . .] Vanderbilt’s advice can be summarized thusly: `Don’t underestimate the value of your material.’ Copyright protection is key, as is the need to keep contracts non-exclusive and limited to a distinct period of time.
The sentiment was echoed by speaker Maja Thomas of Hachette Group USA, who encouraged publishers to resist the urge to offer large discounts for digital content. [. . .] The US audio market was now worth approximately one billion US dollars – with 14% of coming from digital downloads. Libraries are the biggest customers in the US, accounting for 32% of all sales. In light of these opportunities, publishers should resist selling their audio content on the cheap. ‘Go on out there and put a leash on that bear!’ she proclaimed.
Still seems to me like this cultural moment is perfect for a smaller indie press to slide in, figure out how to make digital distribution work and really capitalize in terms of reputation and readership. Which may be exactly what Soft Skull is doing.
A lot of Soft Skull books are already available in free, no-DRM, pdf formats through Wowio, but to build advance buzz for the forthcoming The Pisstown Chaos by David Ohle, they’re giving away free e-versions pre-pub date.
Advance orders for The Pisstown Chaos were so low last year, I canceled the original May 2007 publication, and tried again, this time for July 2008. And to pull out more stops, this preview eBook.
And unlike some other ebook promos, this will continue to be free and available for download after publication . . .
Following up on earlier announcements, Ed Nawotka writes about Kalima’s ambitious program in today’s International Herald Tribune.
Part of the United Arab Emirates’ Authority for Culture and Heritage, Kalima is a nonprofit enterprise with the goal of translating 100 titles a year into Arabic and distributing them throughout the Middle East. Which sounds like it will be quite a challenge:
Karim Nagy, Kalima’s chief executive, acknowledges the hurdles. The Arabic-speaking world comprises about 300 million people in more than 20 countries. Censorship laws vary, and often there is no strong bookselling community or distribution channel.
“First, we will worry about getting the books translated,” he said. “Then we will work to optimize their distribution.”
To put this program in perspective, Nawokta cites some interesting figures:
About 10,000 books have been translated into Arabic in the past millennium, according to a 2003 study by the United Nations Development Program. The demand has been small, partly owing to the historical tendency to focus most reading on religious texts and classical poetry. About 300 new translations appear each year, so Kalima’s planned 100 titles represents a substantial addition.
Along with Europa Editions new enterprise Sharq/Gharb, the Arab world is about to get in an influx of international literature.
Kalima is still in the process of acquiring rights to its first 100 books, but the current list includes Milton’s Paradise Regained, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Collected Stories, Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence, and The Kite Runner.
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .