Print Will Die Soon, DRM, French Fries, and Some Link Love

Here are a few links for Friday.

Print Will Be Dead Sooner Than Previously Thought
Now that that is settled, all we need is for someone to set up the Death of Print Clock to count down the days until print is declared officially dead…

Keep in mind, Francis Fukuyama declared the End of History way back in 1992. (I think he was trying to out-Beaudrillard Jean Beaudrillard without any of the insight, intellect, and style of Jean Beaudrillard.) How’d that work out?

DRM Really Sucks for E-books
So, you’ve decided to plunge into the world of e-books and you buy a device on which to read them. Here’s a great rant about a problem that is not always obvious at first: formats and Digital Rights Management (DRM).

What’s that you say? Printed books are not format-dependent or device-dependent. That’s right, which is why technology is going to save books from their independence and lock them up in a warm fuzzy proprietary file format with loads of copy protection that will keep them from being copied, borrowed, given away, or resold. We know who the real enemies of books and authors are: libraries and used bookstores.

Books Range from French Fries to French Food
Here’s Carole Barrowman talking about something similar to what I wrote about yesterday on the whole #franzenfreude mess,

I suggest to students that all good novels fall on a spectrum from French food to French fries. The novels on the French food part of the spectrum demand extra concentration, deeper attention, and deserve to be savored. These are the books that you remember and may return to again and again. They have an aesthetic that may be complex and layered and readers sometimes need extra critical tools to fully enjoy and appreciate them–like different silverware for different dishes. My job is to teach my student readers some of those critical tools.

Books on the fast fiction end of the spectrum are generally more accessible to readers without extra accoutrements. French fry books are fast and tasty, and, let’s be honest, who among us hasn’t pulled into the Golden Arches drive-thru just for the fries?

As a Chicagoan through and through, I still love more than most any other kind of food the fast food delicacy know as the Italian Beef sandwich: thinly-sliced roast beef cooked in it’s own spiced juices heaped into a bun, covered in peppers, and then the whole thing dunked in the juices. Coq au vin it is not. But still sublime. And I never fail to get one from Portillo’s when I visit family.

Link Love
And Honest Errors received some Link Love from a wonderful blog called Tiny Tangents.

Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult Pick a Fight

I have a soft spot for anyone who launches broadsides at the Literary Establishment as exemplified by the New York Times Book Review. So when Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner (two writers whose books I admit to not having read) attacked the NYTBR for its fawning coverage of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom (cue Mel Gibson’s Braveheart), I did smile. Weiner even started a Twitter meme (#Franzenfreude) putting out the call for people to name good family drama novels written by women.

I remember thinking that Franzen was just plain stupid for rejecting the Oprah pick of his novel The Corrections. He had written a manifesto in Harper’s years before complaining about the difficulty of experimental fiction and how books shouldn’t be difficult for the masses to read (I know I’m oversimplifying here but I’ve said all I’m ever going to say about Literary Manifestos here). Then he turned around and wrote a book that conformed to his manifesto’s tenets and it was a bestseller (embraced by the masses) and he was shocked and annoyed that it was embraced by the masses. Whatever.

I read The Corrections. I had picked up a hardcover copy in the remainder pile at Barnes & Noble. Not sure why I remember that, probably because I was surprised to find the bestseller and unwilling Oprah pick in the remainder pile. I enjoyed it. I don’t know yet that it’s a book that is a document of its time that exists out of time, the way the great ones do (Crime & Punishment, Pride & Prejudice, Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, etc.).

Anyway, Picoult and Weiner are interviewed in the Huffington Post today about the brouhaha. (For a more critical (and slightly patronizing) take on them go here.)

In the interview, Jennifer Weiner says at one point,

Finally, I’d love it if the Times actually “celebrated” my genre, but at this point I’d happily settle for the paper merely acknowledging it. As it stands, thrillers and mysteries and speculative fiction can get daily reviews, or considered in the NYTBR round-ups. Chick lit gets ignored, unless it gores one of the paper’s sacred cows (note to self: don’t mess with Anna Wintour!). Romance gets ignored completely…and that, I think, is the most damning argument about gender bias at the Times. How can anyone claim the paper plays fair when genre fiction that men read gets reviewed but genre fiction that women read doesn’t exist on the paper’s review pages? It would be as if the paper’s film critics only reviewed tiny independent fare and refused to see so much as a single frame of a romantic comedy, or if the music critics listened to Grizzly Bear and refused to acknowledge the existence of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. How seriously would a reader take a critic like that?

[emphasis mine]
This is something that has always puzzled me. Music and movie reviews are far more broad than book reviews (not that there is much left to book reviews in newspapers). Movie critics like Roger Ebert review art films, foreign films, action films, comedy films, romance films, romantic comedy films, horror films, science fiction films, fantasy films, etc. In film there seems to be far more comfort with people enjoying movies that have a sell-by date and those that do not. With fiction books this is not the case. There is a strict delineation between what is considered Literature and Everything Else (aka, genre fiction).

It’s as if critics assume people only read what is classified as Literature or they read in genres. Never mixing. Off the top of my head I can think of two Very Literary writers both of whom are known for liking mysteries: Toni Morrison and Jorge Luis Borges. Borges even made a distinguished career out of constructing literary mysteries.

I am reader who definitely falls into the Literary category, but I enjoy a good sci-fi novel every now and then and like books that mix genres (A Brief History of the Dead and The End of Mr. Y, to cite two cool examples).

All of this is to say that I enjoy watching the literary dust-up and will probably go to the library and pick up one of Weiner’s books soon to see what the fuss is about. With Franzen’s latest, I’ll wait a few years for the adulatory noise to lessen a bit.

Review – The Girls of Murder City

My review of Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago has been posted at PopMatters.

The Fred Ebb/John Kander musical Chicago, conceived and choreographed by Bob Fosse, is now a Broadway standard with productions touring the world. The 2002 movie version of the musical, directed by Rob Marshall and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellwegger, is an Academy award-winner. The 1926 Maurine Watkins play on which the musical is based, however, has been largely forgotten, and is currently out of print. Even less has been known about Watkins herself and how she came to write the play, until now.

What I’ve Read Lately

Here’s another edition of what I’ve been reading lately.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Maddening, heartbreaking, and funny story about a preacher’s family that goes to the Congo in the late 50’s and encounters far more than they bargained for. (It’s the father’s fault.) This is not some White Man’s view, ala Heart of Darkness, of the “savages” of Africa. It’s a generous look at culture-clash and tensions that can ultimately rip a family apart. I had heard about this book but hadn’t had a strong motivation to read it until my wife checked it out of the library. She loved the book and was in thrall to it, so much so that at one key point in the story she cried. After reading it, I understand why.

Zeitoun by David Eggers. Every compliment this book has gotten is well deserved. It’s not flashy in the sense of pyrotechnic prose. It simply tells the story of a Syrian-American contractor as he survives in New Orleans after Katrina, helping others until he and his family get caught in Kafka-hell courtesy of FEMA. Book-length journalism at its best.

Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball. This book was painful to read. Not painful in that it was a horrible book (it’s wonderful and unique). It’s just that there is so much pain to this story about a man who committed suicide. Told through a series of short letters he wrote (but never sent) to every member of his family, his teachers, ex-girlfriends, even the Easter Bunny, the novel tracks his whole life from tragic beginning to tragic end. In between there is humor, sadness, and a struggle to survive. I tore through this book in matter of days.

Oh, and before I forget, here’s a fantastic short story that was published last month in N+1 by Nick Antosca called “Predator Bait”. I have a lot less patience reading stories online than I do in print, but I had no trouble reading this story from start to finish.

P.S. I’m currently reading the latest Book That Can Not Be Avoided: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I just might add my two cents to the millions that have been thrown on the pile regarding her book. Or I just might keep them to myself. 🙂

The Ideal Bookstore

During a conversation about what the future bookstore will look like over at booksyoulove, AvidReader asked me what my ideal bookstore would be. I answered off the top of my head.

An ideal bookstore? Hmm. I think like most book lovers, I enjoy the tactile act of browsing. I like being able to pick up a book and read a few pages. I especially love used bookstores…part of the fun is finding a gem of book for a good price or finding something you didn’t know you wanted.

So for me, an ideal bookstore would still have this physical browsing component. If it also allows for a machine to POD or sampling with an ereader ala Nook at a B&N, then that’s okay with me, too. (The place doesn’t have to sell coffee. ;) ) Though, I have to admit, I’ve gotten used to browsing online with Amazon and have bought many books online. I haven’t had the time to browse a bookstore since I became a father. It’s hard to browse a bookstore with a five-year-old and a two-year-old.

But there are two things for me that are important, one moreso than the other: size and staff. I like big bookstores with a knowledgeable staff. (Borders was once this way long ago.) But good staff is more important to me than size.

When I lived in Los Angeles, by far my favorite bookstore was Midnight Special in Santa Monica. I did not mind the drive from Echo Park to get there. Unfortunately, they were forced to move when the rent on their Third Street Promenade storefront was raised too high. They relocated one street over, but did not get the foot traffic they used to get on the Promenade, and were forced to close. At their going out of business sale, I remember I bought a copy of Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch (it’s a fun, tragic, but often bewildering book.) It was a fantastic bookstore, filled with a deep collection of books and highly knowledgeable staff. There are still good bookstores in L.A., notably Skylight and Vroman’s.

In Chicago (this was the 90’s), I liked the Borders at Broadway and Clark, but I especially liked Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview. The staff were always knowledgeable and would suggest other writers or books you might like (not the crafted hard sell you would get at Borders), and my wife often shopped at Women and Children First up in Andersonville.

Right now I’d have to say my favorite book store is John K. King Used and Rare books in Detroit. It’s housed in a former factory. The building is four stories and it is jam-packed with books. You can easily get lost exploring the voluminous shelves overflowing with books. Any book lover who comes near Detroit for whatever reason should stop in. Since I live more than an hour’s drive away, I don’t get there as often as I would like.

The bad news is that the owner might have to close two of his stores, one in Ferndale and one by the Wayne State campus. The good news is that the downtown flagship store still does well.

(Oh, and if you need a cheap place to stay the next time you’re in Detroit, bring a tent and a sleeping bag and you can camp on top of the Broderick Tower like these guys did, and watch the sun rise from 35 stories up in the air. More on the Broderick Tower here.)

Also, I can’t say that I care much if a bookstore has a cafe. These days, with my primary job being a stay-at-home dad, I don’t have the time to linger at a bookstore or in a cafe. But that’s just me. Maybe when the youngest is in school this will change.