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.
In the Guardian, Hirsh Sawhney has a piece about how independent publishers of the world are going to save literature:
Could literary culture really be breathing its last? Should readers and writers be running for cover? Of course not. But what, then, will save literature from economic disaster? Simple: independent publishing. Yes, independents – the ones who struggle to sell enough books to make payroll – will ensure that engaging, challenging books continue to be produced and consumed. It’s they who’ll safeguard literature through the dark economic days ahead. [. . .]
In an ironic twist of our times, however, these perpetually struggling entrepreneurs might just be able to weather the current financial crisis better than their behemoth corporate cousins. Why? They’re used to constantly innovating to generate revenue and to conducting the business of literature on a tight budget. They don’t expect unreasonable profit margins from good books. And when you’re independently owned, you’re somewhat insulated from the machinations of the market.
All this is true, and beyond weathering the current economic storm, independents play a vital role in book culture, publishing those titles that might not be profitable enough for a big house to do, but that are important nonetheless. And thanks to the nature of the beast, historically, it’s been a lot of indie presses that publish the more subversive, challenging books that shake up how we think about art, politics, life. Books that would appeal to college students who are out looking for something that’s not necessarily sanctioned by their professors or parents . . . Isn’t that what college is all about?
Well, apparently the days of college students reading cult novels that are flying under the collective media radar are long gone. From the “Washington Post“:
Forty years later, on today’s college campuses, you’re more likely to hear a werewolf howl than Allen Ginsberg, and Nin’s transgressive sexuality has been replaced by the fervent chastity of Bella Swan, the teenage heroine of Stephenie Meyer’s modern gothic “Twilight” series. It’s as though somebody stole Abbie Hoffman’s book — and a whole generation of radical lit along with it.
Last year Meyer sold more books than any other author — 22 million — and those copies weren’t all bought by middle-schoolers. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the best-selling titles on college campuses are mostly about hunky vampires or Barack Obama. Recently, Meyer and the president held six of the 10 top spots. In January, the most subversive book on the college bestseller list was “Our Dumb World,” a collection of gags from the Onion. The top title that month was “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” by J.K. Rowling. College kids’ favorite nonfiction book was Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” about what makes successful individuals. And the only title that stakes a claim as a real novel for adults was Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” the choice of a million splendid book clubs.
Maybe I’m getting old, but I have to admit that I find this pretty disturbing. And some of the explanations for these reading habits are equally cringe-worthy:
Professor Eric Williamson — a card-carrying liberal in full tweed glory — argues that “the entire culture has become narcotized.” An English teacher at the University of Texas-Pan American, he places the blame for students’ dim reading squarely on the unfettered expansion of capitalism. “I have stood before classes,” he tells me, “and seen the students snicker when I said that Melville died poor because he couldn’t sell books. ‘Then why are we reading him if he wasn’t popular?’ “ Today’s graduate students were born when Ronald Reagan was elected, and their literary values, he claims, reflect our market economy. “There is nary a student in the classroom — and this goes for English majors, too — who wouldn’t pronounce Stephen King a better author than Donald Barthelme or William Vollmann. The students do not have any shame about reading inferior texts.”
How wonderful. I’m done for today . . .
According to the Washington Post:
About one-sixth of the books, monographs and bound periodicals at the Library of Congress weren’t where they were supposed to be because of flaws in the systems for shelving and retrieving materials, according to a survey to be made public at a congressional hearing today. [. . .]
“A subsequent review found 4 percent were either on nearby shelves, checked out to the public or marked with the wrong call numbers. But it remains deeply troubling that nearly 13 percent are unaccounted for by library officials,” said Howard Gantman, staff director of the joint congressional committee on the library.
This past Sunday’s Book World (available online, but requires you to register at the WaPo site) has a short feature by Marie Arana on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie, hailing from Nigeria, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2003 for her first book, Purple Hibiscus and just won it for her recent novel Half of a Yellow Sun.
Other than that, there’s no other coverage of international literature in this week’s issue.
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .