This morning at Conversation Reading, Scott Esposito announced an exciting new project of his to publish long essays:
So here’s the deal: I’ve long made my love of long essays known around here. From books like Nicholson Baker’s U&I to Barthes’ S/Z to the work of Geoff Dyer, William H. Gass, Michael Martone, DH Lawrence, and plenty more, the long essay has a pretty awesome reputation as the place critics go when they’re ready to write in a more creative way.
And that goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve decided to start publishing long essays in the series “TQC Long Essays.” These are going to come in at around 20,000 words each–roughly 70 pages. In my opinion, that’s way too much for your average webpage, not quite enough for a printed book, but an ideal length for an ereader. For the series I’ll be bringing on people who I think have something to say, and we’ll be talking about the interesting authors and questions of contemporary literature.
These aren’t free. 20,000 words takes a lot of work to write, and I like to think it takes some skill and dedication to the critical craft to be able to write at that length and have it be worth the time. So, we’re starting this first ebook off at the modest price of $2.99, and we’ll see where it goes from there.
The long-form essay has become more and more popular in the ereader age, and this project fits that niche nicely. We’ll have more to say about these Long Essays as they come out, but for now, here’s Scott’s intro to the first one in the series:
I’d like to introduce the first in a new series of ebooks published under the auspices of The Quarterly Conversation. The book is called, Lady Chatterley’s Brother, with the rather chatty subtitle, Why Nicholson Baker Can’t Write About Sex, and Why Javier Marias Can. It is co-written by me and longtime Quarterly Conversation contributing editor Barrett Hathcock. It will be available to the public on Monday, October 17, exactly 2 weeks from today. [. . .]
The project got started when Barrett realized that House of Holes was going to be yet another sex book from Baker. He groaned, told me that Baker just doesn’t get good sex writing, and I asked him why. As we started talking, it struck me that Marias understood sex writing for precisely the reasons Baker didn’t. And we were off.
The new issue of The New Yorker has a really interesting piece by print-advocate Nicholson Baker about the Kindle. It’s worth reading the whole article—I haven’t read a review of the Kindle quite like this one—but here are a few of the highlights:
It came, via UPS, in a big cardboard box. Inside the box were some puffy clear bladders of plastic, a packing slip with “$359” on it, and another cardboard box. This one said, in spare, lowercase type, “kindle.” On the side of the box was a plastic strip inlaid into the cardboard, which you were meant to pull to tear the package cleanly open. On it were the words “Once upon a time.” I pulled and opened.
Inside was another box, fancier than the first. Black cardboard was printed with a swarm of glossy black letters, and in the middle was, again, the word “kindle.” There was another pull strip on the side, which again said, “Once upon a time.” I’d entered some nesting Italo Calvino folktale world of packaging. (Calvino’s Italian folktales aren’t yet available at the Kindle Store, by the way.) I pulled again and opened. [. . .]
The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.
Baker’s bit about the graphics—both in terms of illustrated books (like cook books) and papers is particularly relevant . . . and funny:
One more expensive example. The Kindle edition of “Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems,” an e-book for people who design nuclear power plants, sells for more than eight thousand dollars. Figure 2 is an elaborate chart of a reaction scheme, with many call-outs and chemical equations. It’s totally illegible. “You Save: $1,607.80 (20%),” the Kindle page says. “I’m not going to buy this book until the price comes down,” one stern Amazoner wrote.
And the information about Vizplex (“the trade name of the layered substance that makes up the Kindle’s display) is very interesting as well.
I haven’t tried reading a book on a Kindle or iPhone, but Baker seems to prefer the latter, even though it is a high resolution, backlit reading experience (compared to the “reflective” eInk, which apparently has some issues when you read it outside in the sun):
In print, “The Lincoln Lawyer” swept me up. At night, I switched over to the e-book version on the iPod ($7.99 from the Kindle Store), so that I could carry on in the dark. I began swiping the tiny iPod pages faster and faster.
Then, out of a sense of duty, I forced myself to read the book on the physical Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks.
Although at that point the text itself takes over:
But never mind: at that point, I was locked into the plot and it didn’t matter. Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would. I began walking up and down the driveway, reading in the sun. Three distant lawnmowers were going. Someone wearing a salmon-colored shirt was spraying a hose across the street. But I was in the courtroom, listening to the murderer testify. I felt the primitive clawing pressure of wanting to know how things turned out.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
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. . .