27 November 2012

Wow.

The past couple of weeks has been quite the whirlwind.  The launch of Bloom  has been wonderful—lots of enthusiasm and support, not to mention some choice press from the New Yorker, the LA Times, Flavorwire, and The Atlantic (coming soon: a bloggy thing on Bloom at the HuffPo).  Today I got a mini-orientation to the wonders of Twitter; which I sort of get, in theory, but only superficially at this point.  At any rate, Bloom  is at this point something between a magazine and a community, and it’s that community part that needs to engage at both Facebook and Twitter; and if you know me/have been reading my blog, you know that I’m, uh, not the best person to make that happen.  But we’ll figure it out.

All this to say that with editorial plates spinning, a novel in-progress, teaching, continuing to write for The Millions, and basic life-care; writing here with any regularity is The Thing That Has to Go.  I’ll be signing off for a little while; but I’ll  be back.  In some form or another.  Things have a way of continuing, even as they cease…

Peace out.

(p.s. I’ll keep up my Reading List page, mostly for my own visual record.)

21 September 2012

Following is from Sue Halpern, editor of NYRB’s new ebook series.  I am actually breathing a sigh of relief.  The anxiety of being one these writers “whose first books had been critical successes [but] were unable to find publishers for their second” hovers; but it’s going to be okay.  NYRB is publishing these writers, whose books are “loved” by editors who can’t publish them.

A few years ago, around the time I was writing a piece for The New York Review of Booksabout digital reading devices, I ran into a novelist who mentioned that many of his friends whose first books had been critical successes were unable to find publishers for their second. The economics of traditional publishing, he pointed out, did not favor non-commercial books, and when you added in the threat that digital technology posed to bookstores, the end result would be an ever-shrinking market for serious literary books.


The Water Theatre
by Lindsay Clarke

As a writer myself—my sixth book will be published next spring—I was sensitive to the novelist’s lament. I love books—not just their words, but their feel and smell and look; cracking the spine of a paperback is one of life’s great guilty pleasures. But to my surprise, I was finding in my hands-on research for The New York Review that a good story transcends its medium:  I could get just as lost in an e-book as I could in a book bound between hard covers.  By using the less-expensive e-book platform to introduce readers to writers they would not otherwise encounter, the digital “revolution,” as it was being called, could be harnessed to promote literary culture rather than undermine it.

What better place to launch this venture than New York Review Books, which was already leading discerning readers to great and often forgotten classics of literature?  But unlike the NYRB Classics series, these books would be by contemporary authors, writers of depth and insight whose work was being bypassed by traditional American publishing because the economics did not favor them.  If any audience would be receptive, I reasoned, it would be the adventurous NYRB crowd.

Sometime later I was sitting in the office of an editor at one of the Big Six publishing houses, a man of exquisite literary taste who had been in the business a long time, explaining the premise of this new venture, which we had named NYRB Lit. I was nervous—did he think it was nutty or misdirected or a waste of time? He turned away for a moment and reached for a pile of papers on his desk. “I love this book,” he said handing it to me, “but we are not going to be able to publish it here.”  That word, “love,” is what animates how I want each book to come to me. I am looking for books that someone—an editor, an agent, a writer, a reader—is passionate about, a book that he or she believes must be read.

The Water Theatre, the book that was given to me that day, is now the inaugural book in the NYRB Lit series. Written by Lindsay Clarke…

This is kind of the best news I’ve heard in a while.

17 September 2012

Thanks to Lisa at Like Fire for alerting us to NYRB’s new e-book series, NYRB Lit — “devoted to publishing contemporary books of literary merit from around the world.”  Launching this fall, which means, presumably, now!

I’m way behind when it comes to e-reading; when I speak of “turning the corner,” I mean my relationship to e-reading, not e-reading itself.  (I tried the Kindle a couple of years ago and just couldn’t do it — no pages, all that scrolling, ick.) But then again: NYRB launching an e-reading series feels momentous; with their beautiful Classics Series (bringing worthy classic titles back into print), and tabloid-format bimonthly mag (long-form reviews and articles), NYRB has felt to me like the last man standing.

And yet, their new series feels…  natural.  As if they waited until it felt right, no need to rush, and then went for it.  Of course it just makes sense, when your mission is to bring the best (non-blockbuster) literary work into the world, and you want to publish new work, economically risky work, that you’d take advantage of low-cost production and distribution.  I’m excited.

As always, it looks as if many of the titles will be works in translation; and the “covers,” i.e. the digital thumbnails, are lovely.

I’ve been thinking about an ipad; if the rumors about an ipad mini are true, then the corner may very well be turned this fall — for me, and for NYRB.

2 September 2012

Chris Kenneally‘s SIDE BY SIDE  – a documentary about The Death of Film and The Takeover of Digital is well worth seeing. If for no other reason than to marvel at how our little Keanu (Reeves) — the film’s co-producer and on-screen interviewer — has grown up.

Most fascinating for me was witnessing the passion with which our contemporary masters — David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, George Lucas, James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Lana and Andy Wachowski — along with a handful of talented indie filmmakers, spoke about the good and the bad of digital’s ascendance.  At the core, it seems to me, is the question of control — with digitization came unlimited manipulability of the image, as well as flexibility: without the physical encumbrances of film and film cameras, cinematography has become a whole new thing, and for some, that whole new thing is miraculous, while for others, it is no longer Art.

I was also intrigued by the discussion of pacing: it used to be that you’d shoot a full day and wouldn’t know what you had until the next day, when the crew got together to view the “dailies,” after the film was processed overnight.  You also took many breaks throughout the day to reload film magazines.  With digital, the shooting process changed drastically — for directors, cinematographers, actors (and later, for the editors and colorists).  Everything happened faster, and continuously.  Everything that was shot could be viewed, by the entire cast and crew, immediately.  The camera kept rolling and rolling, because why not — the pressure to conserve precious, expensive film had disappeared from the process.

We all know movie making has changed; SIDE BY SIDE details those changes and how everyone involved in the process has been affected.  The film is making me think about the process of art-making, about the fundamental relationship between an artist and her materials, her media — about what it means, really, to be “free” to create meaningful art.

14 August 2012

At The Millions today, my Q&A with James Salter, on the occasion of the release of A Sport and Pastime and Solo Faces in e-book format, by Open Road Media.  I re-read Solo Faces last month and admired it even more: that signature omniscient narration is not only unusual, but simply gorgeous in its confidence, its simplicity.

If you missed my profile of JS in Tin House last winter, you might enjoy this Q&A, the intro to which rehashes a little of how I first came in contact with Salter, back in 2010.  It’s been a great privilege to interact with him.  At 87, he’s having an inspiringly productive year, filled with the recognition and acclaim he deserves.

2 January 2012

In contrast to a barrage of “man of the year” talk surrounding the late Steve Jobs, Sue Halpern offers a counter-view at the New York Review of Books — of a “repellent man” who gave the world not “something of enduring beauty” but rather “products.”  Unlike Jobs’s biographer Walter Isaacson, who put Jobs forth as a “genius” (with attending personality issues), and Jobs who considered himself  a great artist-figure, Halpern suggests that Jobs was mainly in the business of “manufacturing desire for this year’s model in the hope that people will discard last year’s” — no more, no less.

Steve Jobs cried a lot. This is one of the salient facts about his subject that Isaacson reveals, and it is salient not because it shows Jobs’s emotional depth, but because it is an example of his stunted character. Steve Jobs cried when he didn’t get his own way. He was a bully, a dissembler, a cheapskate, a deadbeat dad, a manipulator, and sometimes he was very nice. Isaacson does not shy away from any of this, and the trouble is that Jobs comes across as such a repellent man [...] derisive of almost everyone, ruthless to people who thought they were his friends, indifferent to his daughters, that the book is often hard to read. Friends and former friends speculate that his bad behavior was a consequence of being put up for adoption at birth. A former girlfriend, who went on to work in the mental health field, thought he had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. John Sculley, who orchestrated Jobs’s expulsion from Apple, wondered if he was bipolar. Jobs himself dismissed his excesses with a single word: artist. Artists, he seemed to believe, got a pass on bad behavior. Isaacson seems to think so, too, proving that it is possible to write a hagiography even while exposing the worst in a person.

The designation of someone as an artist, like the designation of someone as a genius, is elastic, and anyone can claim it for himself or herself and for each other. There is no doubt that the products Steve Jobs brilliantly conceived of and oversaw at Apple were elegant and beautiful, but they were, in the end, products. Artists, typically, aim to put something of enduring beauty into the world; consumer electronics companies aim to sell a lot of gadgets, manufacturing desire for this year’s model in the hope that people will discard last year’s.

The day before Jobs died, Apple launched the fifth iteration of the iPhone, the 4S, and four million were sold in the first few days. Next year will bring the iPhone 5, and a new MacBook, and more iPods and iMacs. What this means is that somewhere in the third world, poor people are picking through heaps of electronic waste in an effort to recover bits of gold and other metals and maybe make a dollar or two. Piled high and toxic, it is leaking poisons and carcinogens like lead, cadmium, and mercury that leach into their skin, the ground, the air, the water. Such may be the longest-lasting legacy of Steve Jobs’s art.

Ouch.

This question of the bad behavior of artists is one I am always interested in.  While I’m not sure I’d necessarily take such a hard line as Halpern’s, there is something — here at the start of the new year — sort of cleansing about her voice in the sea of Jobs-mania.

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