Reading Roundup

Here’s another round of “What I’ve Been Reading Lately.”

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas. Thomas is the author of The End of Mr. Y and Popco. The End of Mr. Y does not have a single dull patch of prose or story in it. I even excerpted a paragraph here. Popco is in my TBR pile. Our Tragic Universe is centered around Meg, a writer who can’t seem to get started on her next book, so what story there is ends up having a lot to do about writing, the writing life, and what exactly constitutes a story. It also meanders a bit too much for my taste, droning a bit here and there about what makes a story a story. Meanwhile, inside my head I was screaming for Meg to leave her total drip of a boyfriend already. But when Meg and the other characters start to act of their own volition (or are forced to act), Thomas’ novel is engaging with plenty of humor, wit, heavy doses of big ideas on art, and interesting characters. Recommended for People Who are Down in the Dumps and are Looking for a Sign from the Universe About What To Do With Themselves.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith. This was a remainder pile pickup from three or four years ago. I can’t remember. I hesitated to crack it open because two friends of mine tried reading White Teeth, but both hated it so much they couldn’t finish it. (Coincidentally, both friends were well-read white women who were writers, fluent in French, and had divorced parents. How that pertains to their inability to finish White Teeth I don’t know. It just seemed interesting to me.) On Beauty is funny, touching, perceptive, and illuminating, about race, class, gender and hypocrisy. It manages to do all that in a story about the collision between two (mostly black) families from the U.S. and the U.K. It is by far one of the best books I have read in a long while. Smith’s prose is a joy to read. Recommended for People Who Love Books.

Plus One by Julie Getzlaff. It most definitely is a long way to the top if you want to rock n’ roll in this novel from a friend of mine (her brother served as best man in my wedding) who blogs over at Foreign Parts. It centers around an American model named Angie Kappel, who might not be right in the head, as she tags along on the European tour of her boyfriend’s band PBJ. PBJ are touring in support of another up-and-coming band named Garbage Head. No four-star hotels, stretch limos, or paparazzi for these two bands. Just rented vans, run-down clubs, struggling musicians and their moody girlfriends, and vending machine food. Recommended for People Who Are Curious About the Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle.


The Future of Books

Over at The Brooklyn Rail, there is an interview with professor John Thompson about his book Merchants of Culture. In the interview he says,

The publishing industry is in trouble—but not just because of the digital revolution. The real trouble for the publishing industry, in my view, has more to do with the gradual unfolding of this economic transformation that led to this structure of publishing, where we now have five large corporate groups and a small number of retail chains dominating the industry. These corporations have to achieve growth year on year, and when that top line revenue begins to fall, as it did when the 2008 economic recession suddenly tipped the narrow profit margins into the red, it has devastating impact throughout and the only way that they can preserve the profit at the bottom line is to push people out, and to reduce their overheads and costs dramatically.


I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the cost of e–books. The question of the printing and paper is a relatively minor part of publisher’s cost, maybe 10 percent of their overall costs. Most of the costs are tied up with the overhead costs of running a publishing organization, the editorial time that goes into publishing and developing books, and all the design that goes into a book, whether it’s to be printed or not. And then, of course, there’s all your marketing and publicity expenditure. A relatively small part is tied up in the actual physicality of the printed book.


I think it’s important not to take an apocalyptic view of the future of the book and the future of publishing. You have to counter that with the fact that books really matter to people. There are many people who just love books and they love the ideas that are expressed in books; they love the stories that are told through books and all of it.

OK, just go and read the whole interview so I don’t have to keep quoting it and risk copyright infringement. 🙂 And now I have another book that I feel compelled to get and add to my TBR pile.

La Boheme at the Detroit Opera House

One of the jewels of the city of Detroit is the Detroit Opera House. I have been fortunate enough to have attended two operas there. The first was Don Giovanni back in the spring (wonderful). The second was La Boheme last night (heart-breaking). Puccini is one of my favorite composers, with Tosca being one of my favorite operas.

Noah Stewart was Rodolfo and Grazia Doronzio was Mimi. They made for an excellent pair. The rest of the cast was fantastic, too, acting just as well as they sang. O soave fanciulla gave me the chills as it often does, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little misty-eyed at the very end.

Besides, a night out with my wife in which she wears a beautiful black dress and red heels that accentuate her gorgeousness is a great night.

“Unless You Can Fix It, You Don’t Own It”

I’ve posted a few times about how I fixed my old iBook and some old iPods. One of the sites that I have purchased parts from and have used as a resource is iFixit. Last week they posted their Self Repair Manifesto.

If you’ve ever been frustrated that an electronic device that is only a couple of years old has died on you for one reason or another, go over and read it. The manifesto is an attack on the constant obsoleting of electronic products from one year to the next and the way you are now forbidden from repairing your own device without voiding the terms of the warranty for the device.

I realize that not everyone is comfortable repairing their own home electronics. Even in the heyday of muscle cars, not everyone was taking apart their car’s engines and rebuilding them. But lots of people did and many people did their own routine maintenance like changing the oil or replacing the spark plugs on their car.

As cars have become more complex, with a lot of electronic controls, few people these days can or will maintain their own car. Error codes are huge deal. When the maintenance light comes on, no mechanic can turn it off. You HAVE to go to the nearest dealer for your particular brand of car. Of course, cars are expected to work longer than electronic devices. Most iPods won’t last three years. At home I’m using a 5-disc CD player and receiver that are ten years old, and still working.

There are many repairs that are beyond the skill of most people. But swapping in a new screen or battery or hard drive on an electronic device (be it an MP3 player, laptop, phones, or e-reader) should not be made so difficult. And doing so yourself should not automatically void your warranty. Especially in a year in which e-readers are expected to be a big Holiday Season hit, and the use of these kinds of devices has become ubiquitous.

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

On of my favorite writers is getting a library in his hometown. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library will open on December 3.

The 1,100-square-foot library is at the Emelie Building in downtown Indianapolis. Although the library won’t be fully open until the end of January, nearly half of its exhibits will be on display starting Dec. 3.

One exhibit is a gallery of Vonnegut art that includes pieces by the writer, two drawings by Vonnegut fan and “60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer and “Star Time,” a 20-ft. timeline of important events in Vonnegut’s life painted by artist Chris King and text written by William Rodney Allen, editor of “Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut.”

Vonnegut’s children are involved with the library, having donated many artifacts. One such artifact is a letter sent by Vonnegut’s father during World War II. The writer didn’t receive the letter because he was in a POW camp in Germany. It wasn’t until after the war the Vonnegut received the letter but he never opened it. So at the request of the writer’s children, the letteri remains unopened in the library today.

One more thing to see in Indianapolis…