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Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Adopt a Poet for National Poetry Month

In Entertainment, Uncategorized on April 13, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Every now and then you read about someone like Harryette Mullen winning a large cash prize for poetry.

Which is, of course, very nice for Mullen, a professor at UCLA who writes lines like:

“she gets to the getting place

without or with him

must I holler when

you’re giving me rhythm.”

(from [go on sister sing your song])

But it also points to the larger issue of how most poets (and I think we can safely add in most other writers, artists in general) make very, very little money, woefully little money.

And it’s not a new problem.

The new issue of Lapham’s Quarterly has a nifty graphic showing the day jobs of some writers over the years: Trollope worked as a postal inspector, Bronte was a governess, Kafka worked for an insurance company.

In 1938, Time Magazine reported on a study from the Academy of American Poets on the average earning of “established” poets — defined as one in middle life with four volumes to his credit.

“That poets have low incomes is no more news than that they are temperamental,” the story started before summing up that a poet with those books might get $250 a year and maybe another $250 a year from magazines.

I bring it up because April is National Poetry Month, which was started by the Academy in 1996 with the hopes of turning April into a month “when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.”

The program has grown over the years and is now celebrated with readings and programs in schools and even an app.

Well, if you’re looking for a way to mark the occasion — I have an idea: adopt a poet.

Not literally, of course.

In an age where Glenn Beck is making some $13 million a year from books, maybe it’s time we did something to help those who are certainly as deserving.

So, what do I mean by adopting a poet?

Buy a book from a small press such as Wesleyan University Press, which yesterday celebrated one of its books winning the Pulitzer.

Subscribe to a literary magazine.

Go to a reading.

Support a not-for-profit.

The key is use this month to show your appreciation for the arts — poetry, in particular — and the people who create it,

Fantastic Small Press Novel Wins Pulitzer

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Tinkers‘ by Paul Harding may not have been on anyone’s list to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which was announced this afternoon.

First off, it came out in January of last year. Second, it was published as a trade paperback. Third it was brought by Bellevue Literary Press and the last time a small press published a Pulitzer-winner was 1981 when the prize went to A Confederacy of Dunces published by Louisiana State University Press.

But here’s the thing about the book… it’s wonderful. It really is.

“George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died,” Harding starts the book, a poignant, beautiful  book that, at its face, is about a man facing death who confronts that time by focusing on his father, an epileptic peddler who died decades before.

But it’s really so much more — a story about where we go when there’s nowhere left to go — crafted beautifully, built word by word, sentence by sentence, cascading over you, a waterfall of scenes, characters and emotions.

“Nearly seventy years before George died, his father, Howard Aaron Crosby, drove a wagon for his living. It was a wooden wagon. It was a chest of drawers mounted on two axles and wooden spoked wheels. There were dozens of drawers, each fitted with a recessed brass ring, pulled open with a hooked forefinger, that contained brushes and wood oil, tooth powder and nylon stockings, shaving soap and straight-edge razors.”

It just keeps building, moving, you don’t want to put it down and find yourself re-reading sentences, paragraphs because they are just a pleasure.

But don’t take my word for it.

While The New York Times never got around to reviewing, the LA Times, called it “astonishing” and The New Yorker refers to Harding’s “skillful evocation” of another time.

You can’t really blame the NY Times. As Carole Goldberg wrote in the Hartford Courant:

“A book by an unknown author, from a new and nearly unknown press, lands on a reviewer’s desk. What are the chances it will command her attention? Or turn out to be a beautifully written meditation on life, death, the passage of time and man’s eternal attempt to harness it?”

Needless to say, Goldberg did pick it up, saying it “defies expectations and proves to be one of 2009’s most intriguing debuts.”

Maybe what’s really great about Harding win the Pulitzer is the affirmation it gives to the small press. Bellevue is a tiny press, around only since 2005, that’s affiliated with the famed hospital. of all things.

People all over are writing great fiction, people want to publish it and, clearly, people want to read it.

Thanks to the University of Iowa, you can hear Harding read from the novel here.

Listen. And then go buy it.

Congratulations to Harding and Bellevue.

Apple Advances Helping Amazon?

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 10, 2010 at 9:08 am

So, yesterday Apple announced the newest version of their IPhone operating system, which contains several advances including bringing Apple’s IBooks to the IPhone and ITouch.

In theory, that should be good news to the company’s bookstore, which I’m thinking is off to not quite as great a start as they were hoping.

Here’s the thing. In his announcement yesterday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said they had so far sold 450,000 IPads and that 600,000 books had been downloaded from IBooks. Let’s assume that none of those 600,000 are Winnie the Pooh, which comes free with the device.

That’s roughly 1.3 books per device, which I think should probably be higher. And given that IPads can download free books from Project Gutenberg, you sort of have to wonder how really significant that 600,000 number is — or at least wonder if it’s significant in the way Apple wants you to think it is.

Which brings me to the point of the headline — while adding IBooks to the IPhone and ITouch will certainly help Apple, every advance that makes their devices a better reader also helps Amazon with their Kindle.

See the thing that makes all those Kindle vs. IPad arguments invalid is the IPad is a device while the Kindle is a machine on its own as well as an app that runs on many machines including the IPad.

Apple’s software, meanwhile, runs on Apple devices — and while there are certainly a lot of them and while people are developing “enhanced” versions of books to run on those devices — the question remains whether it will be enough to steal a significant chunk of Amazon’s market or, actually, help Amazon grow.

On another note, I would like to remind the world that today is Books for NYC Schools Day. If you’re in New York, go. If you’re not, donate online.

Tom Clancy and the 'Long-Awaited' Novel

In Entertainment, Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 7:50 am

There’s already a lot of hype about Wednesday’s announcement that Penguin will publish Dead or Alive, a new Tom Clancy novel on December 7th.

The New York Times cleverly points out that this novel — which promises most, if not all, of Clancy’s best known characters, is a lot like the rock super-groups of the 70s and super-hero groups like the Avengers.

Much of the coverage, though, focuses on how this is Clancy’s first novel in seven years:

as The Bookseller said in their headline, “Penguin to publish first Clancy in seven years”

or as Crain’s New York Business put it: “Tom Clancy to write again.”

Not say that Clancy doesn’t deserve the attention. He is, after all, the author of 13 New York Times Bestsellers and Penguin plans an initial press run of 1.8 million copies.

What I find curious is how Clancy is suddenly the author of a long-awaited new novel, a characterization that would put him in the category of the acclaimed Lorrie Moore, whose new novel A Gate at the Stairs came out last year — 15 years after her previous novel

or

Joseph Heller, who waited more than a decade to follow up Catch-22 with Something Happened

or people like Ralph Ellison and JD Salinger, who never published second novels.

He’s not even really like Dan Brown, who waited six years after The Da Vinci Code to publish a follow-up.

Why?

Because while Clancy hasn’t technically written a new novel in seven years, he has become a virtual publishing industry, overseeing dozens of books and vidogames by other writers with characters he’s created.

There’s Tom Clancy’s Op-Center books, Tom Clancy’s Net Force books and, of course, Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers and the Tom Clancy’s Power Plays books.

And, let’s not forget the dozens of  Tom Clancy-driven videogames including the Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six series, , the Tom Clancy’s Ghost Reecon Series and the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series.

While I have no doubt that the CEO of Penguin UK Tom Weldon was right when he said “We can’t think of a better Christmas present than the return of one of the world’s greatest thriller writers, Tom Clancy. This will be a huge piece of event publishing,” let’s be clear that this isn’t the return of say, Donna Tartt or Henry Roth.

I’m sure he won’t have an trouble selling the 1.8 million-copy first run and probably more and maybe he’ll be able to buy another baseball team

I’m jut saying you really have to be gone for us to have really missed you.

Cathleen Schine's Wonderful, 'Sensible' New Book

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 8:43 am

Make no mistake — a positive review in The New York Times Book Review, especially on the cover — can sell books.

About a month ago, I wrote about the trouble I was having finding Cathleen Schine’s new novel, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Powell’s, in Portland where I live, couldn’t get copies, same with Barnes and Noble. Even online Barnes and Amazon had been listing it on backorder.

I reached out to Schine’s publicist at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Laurel Cook, to find out if there had been some sort of production problem — after all, it had received a front page, fabulous review in The New York Times Book Review and it seemed it shouldn’t be so hard to get the book.

“Even though there were a substantial number of copies printed and advanced, the demand after the NYT review was unprecedented,” Cook said.

So, I waited and a couple of weeks ago, I went back to New York for Passover and renewed my search, striking out at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway and 82nd and another store before finally finding a guy who knew a guy.

The question now is, Was it worth it?

The answer?

Hell, yeah.

Listen. I’m not the first person to talk about how wonderful this book is.

Read what The New Yorker had to say

or

Adam Kirsch at Tablet

or

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

“When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five,” the book begins.

Joseph’s wife, Betty, is stunned when he tells her that after 48 years, they have irreconcilable differences.

“Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?”

Beginning with whomever wrote the copy for the book’s dust jacket, there is no shortage of people comparing the novel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — just transported to Westport, Connecticut.

And certainly that’s true to a large extent. Betty stands in for Mrs. Dashwood; her daughters, Annie and Miranda, for Elinor and Marianne; Cousin Lou is there for John Middleton.

But stopping at the comparisons doesn’t do Schine or her book justice. With all deference to Austen, Schine has taken a recognizable quantity and layered it so deeply, with plot twists and language that is witty without being overdone, that you are the richer for having spent time with it.

“In the contested apartment, Betty Weissmann took some satisfaction in finishing a bottle of Joseph’s favorite single malt. Some satisfaction, though not much, for Betty did not like single malt whiskey.”

and

“Betty watched her daughter from the other side of the room. How serious she looked. Attractive, in a severe sort of way. Betty remembered giving Annie a sweater with sequins, just a few sequins, very tasteful, very chic. The look on Annie’s face — it was pure, such pure dislike. Betty smiled. It was like the time Annie had wanted a cowboy outfit and they gave her a pink cowgirl skirt. It had offended her, even at five. If she had known the word ‘garish’ at that tender age, she would surely have used it.”

and

“The waves were uniform and hushed, each gentle white hiss followed by another. She saw some sea glass, a nice lage piece, beautiful muted green, but she was too stiff to bend down and pick it up.”

Almost every page brings a moment of joy, a moment that will have you delighting in the book. Schine builds her book masterfully — so much so that you don’t realize the true achievement until you’re close to finishing and wanting to slow down so the sad moment when the book will end, is postponed.

IPad's First Weekend: An Assessment

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 6, 2010 at 10:28 am

Well, as to be expected, Apple has released what it considers great news about the IPad’s quick jump out of the gate on Saturday.

The company says 300,000 units were sold that first day along with one million apps and 250,000 ebooks from its ibookstore. While that 4-1 apps to books ratio might seem surprising — especially given how, as I reported last week: the number of books for sale recently surpassed the number of apps — I would have to say, that some of this is clearly people getting the device and taking it out for a spin to see what it’s got.

The assessments have been fairly positive, though as expected, there are number of naysayers including Cory Doctorow’s declaration that he won’t buy one and doesn’t think you should either.

Over at Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum compares NYT and WSJ apps and concludes the Times wins on design and the Journal on content.

While we’re a long way from knowing just how much the IPad is going to help newspapers, as the Times itself reported last week, there’s a lot of advertiser interest in the device and hope that people will gravitate toward it.

According to the paper:

FedEx has bought advertising space on the iPad applications from Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. Chase Sapphire, a credit card for the high-end market, has bought out The New York Times’s iPad advertising units for 60 days after the introduction.

Advertisers including UnileverToyota Motor, Korean Air and Fidelity have booked space on Time’s iPad application. In a draft press release, The Journal said a subscription to its app would cost $17.99 a month, and the first advertisers included Capital One, Buick, Oracle, iShares and FedEx.”

While the advertisers are lining up, some of the publications are reluctant to dive right into the world of the IPad.

According to the Wall Street Journal, seven out of ten magazines are sold by subscription and publishers are reluctant to start sharing that revenue with Apple, which gets 30% of everything sold through its store.

And just when you might have been beginning to think that Apple is the only one innovating in the tablet market, HP would like everyone to remember that they’re around also, getting ready to release a device they promise will deliver a “holistic mobile experience.”

Notably, they highlight a couple of things missing from the IPad — Adobe Flash and expandable memory.

Should be interesting.

In the meantime, I think maybe enough about the IPad for a day or so… coming soon — finally — after trying to track it down, I’ve got my hands on Cathleen Schine’s new book… I’m almost done and so far it more than lives up to the hype.

IPad as Media Savior? Looking at Some of the Apps

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 at 7:47 am

Just one more day until the IPad arrives and everyone’s world changes for the better.

Or maybe not.

The early reviews are in and, as expected, they’re generally positive though pointing out some of the shortcomings.

One recurring theme in the discussion has been whether the device will save newspapers, help old media stave off extinction?

With one day to go, there’s a lot of indications that the so-called “old media” has embraced the IPad — the website macstories.net, for instance, has a look at USA Today’s app, which they say “looks good and has lots of functions.”

Browsing through the ITunes store, here’s a brief look at what some of the other newspapers and magazines have been up to.

[daylifegallery id=”1270131349573″]

While The New York Times is ready to start charging readers for online content, they also appear to be willing to keep giving some of it away for free. They will be offering the “NYT Editors’ Choice” — which, they say, will offer
a limited selection of news, opinion and features” that you can download, share via email and, actually, looks pretty good. It reminds me of the four-page version of the paper they give it out on cruise ships.

Reuters, meanwhile, also appears to getting on the free bandwagon, offering a “Marketboard” that stylistically doesn’t seem all that exciting but substantively seems to offer a lot of market news or — as they say — it will allow “financial professionals, students and other market enthusiasts to quickly grasp global performance and review documents to better understand events that drive the market.”

Maybe the screenshots they include don’t do the app justice or maybe it’s some sort of staid British thing.

Looking at another free not-very-exciting looking Reuters app — “Galleries” which promises to allow you to “discover a new, visual way of staying on top of the news” by bringing “together the best in photo journalism each day” — maybe they’re forgoing bells and whistles and hoping the product will speak for itself.

The Associated Press also has a free app, which looks okay but I promise you, if it’s half as good as what they developed for the IPhone and ITouch, it will be quite good, allowing you to get breaking news alerts, local news and photos.

Other free apps from news organizations include NPR, the BBC and Bloomberg. Also the Wall Street Journal seems to have a free app like the Times’ Editors’ Choice with one difference, it will allow greater access to stories and content with a subscription.

Not everyone is going the free route. Time Magazine is offering an app that will provide the magazine for $4.99 an issue, same as the newsstand price, available Fridays, just like the print edition, that will offer extras not available in print such as added international coverage they don’t print in the United States (of course leading to the ever present question of do media outlets not offer international coverage in the US because people don’t care or do people not SEEM to care because they’re not even offered a chance to experience the news from elsewhere).

And GQ has already launched an app version of the magazine at $2.99 a month.

Meanwhile, MacStories has a video of scrolling through the ITunes store, showing screenshots of several of the new IPad apps and the website appadvice appears to have a screenshot of every app being offered for the IPad….

Will the IPad save old media? Honestly, I’m not even 100 percent sure what that means… Will some publications make the most of it and thrive while some will try really hard and still have trouble? I’m pretty sure the latter is the case.

Early Reviews Indicate IPad not Miracle Device (Yet)

In Entertainment, Technology on April 1, 2010 at 10:12 am

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal and David Pogue of The New York Times are out with their reviews of the IPad and the news is mixed.

Pogue, in the Times, starts off by saying that in his 20 years of reviewing tech products, he’s never seen a device as polarizing as the IPad. The techies, he says, generally seem to hate the thing while regular people are eagerly awaiting its arrival.

So, what does he do? Writes two reviews, which strikes me as perhaps unnecessarily  cutesy.

Of particular interest to this blog is his assessment of the device as a reader.

“It’s not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries (sorry, media pundits),” he writes. “The selection is puny (60,000 titles for now). You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 10 ounces). And you can’t read books from the Apple bookstore on any other machine — not even a Mac or iPhone.”

The bottom line for the techie, he says is that it’s unlikely they’re going to want to carry around a machine that may be good but is missing so much (keyboard, USB, camera and so forth).

For everyone else, he’s a bit more forgiving.

[daylifegallery id=”1270131349573″]

For instance, on the reader app that he kind of panned for the techie, he’s a bit more generous.

“The new iBooks e-reader app is filled with endearing grace notes,” he writes, pointing to animation that makes it seem like you’re actually turning a page, ability to define words, bookmark, look things up on Wikipedia or Google.

“There’s even a rotation-lock switch on the edge of the iPad so you can read in bed on your side without fear that the image will rotate,” he says.

Then he gets into a praise-filled section about all the apps and concludes that the device is better for consuming content than creating content and it’s not a laptop replacement.

Mossberg, on the other hand, seems more smitten.

The headline alone — Laptop Killer? Pretty Close — gives you a sense that he sees the machine differently, maybe not able to replace the laptop but clearly on the road to that, maybe a generation or two away.

“I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop,” he writes. “It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.”

And while he seems to like IBooks more than Pogue did, he did also have some issues with it including the smaller catalog for now and the fact there’s no way to take notes like you can with the Kindle.

He was also full of praise for the apps and talked about the IPad version of Pages, Apple’s word processing software.

“This is a serious content creation app that should help the iPad compete with laptops and can import Microsoft Office files. However, only the word processor exports to Microsoft’s formats, and not always accurately. In one case, the exported Word file had misaligned text. When I then tried exporting the document as a PDF file, it was unreadable.”

PC Magazine, in their review, says it’s not perfect, but lives up to the hype.

So, not perfect, not able to walk on water but quite possibly a major step down the road to changing personal computing.

Meanwhile, Fast Company has a piece about the device’s potential for helping the books market grow. It has a lot of stuff that’s been covered elsewhere, including here, but it’s still a good read.

Less than two days and the hype keeps building.