Archive for November, 2009

French to Google: No Book for You!

November 23, 2009

In their attempt to take over the interwebs, one of Google’s most ambitious but least often mentioned side projects has been the attempt to digitize and sell books. They’ve had to revise one contract with US publishers/authors after several groups (including the French, the Germans and some watchdog groups) filed an appeal in the US courts. A judge is expected to rule on the revised contract in February.

Meanwhile, Google is also trying to win the French over in allowing them to digitize French literature and then sell it. But it’s not working. As it is, google has a website up to see preview books with customer reviews and links to other sellers.

A random click on the Clive and Dirk Cussler book, Artic Drift, gives you a good glance at what Google has in mind. The preview option is extensive with what appears to be well over 200 pages of the novel. To the left is a small list of book sellers with their prices next to them. There’s the expected options to review, buy, and change pages. And there’s what could be a devastatingly powerful option to search the text for something specific. Anyone who has had to write a critical paper on a literary work can probably guess at how useful such a tool would be.

This also ties into recent talk of Apple’s bringing out a tablet with a focus on e-literature. If Google can overcome its various obstacles, I have to think it would become a massive outlet for book titles for a non-dedicated tablet style PC that could be used as an e-reader. Rather than buying specialized files from Amazon or wherever, and having your files at the mercy of Amazon’s discretion, google could throw the e-reader business doors wide open to any company able to make a reasonably affordable tablet.

Of course, there will be the continued fretting over piracy (though, here’s a clue, people already pirate books – just do a torrent search) and google’s mass scanning exercise doesn’t do much for HTML or other programming language based texts, but I think the future is there.

Apple Tablet Going Organic?

November 22, 2009

Apple keeps not saying anything but leeks keep bubbling to the surface regarding a possible tablet PC in the next year.  Now there’s word that there might be an option for an OLED screen along with the less expensive LED versions.  As I’ve said before, while pushing e-literature with one hand while slapping the very unversatile e-readers with the others, I like the idea of being able to download/purchuse digital books but I don’t see a reason why it can’t be done with a fully functional computer.  Leave it to Apple to fill the void.

Considering that the majority of the praise for Amazon’s Kindle device has been for its screen and how closely it resembles the look of actual paper, I have to think that has played into Apple’s apparent courting of an OLED version of its much rumored tablet PC. Personally, a reported cost of $2,200 turns me off entirely but I have a feeling that I wouldn’t exactly be Apple’s target audience for such a product. But a nice multi-functional tablet PC for $500? I’m in. Even if I don’t download the latest STephen King novel to it, I’d be happy with something that I could use either as a notepad or (hopefully) hook a keyboard up to and use as a regular computer. I’m very much of the word processor/internet box computer buyer segment of society – video/photo/music editing has never been a hobby of mine – so a lack of processor power isn’t a big deal to me. Also wouldn’t mind the ability to hook the tablet up to my television or a regular computer monitor if the screen proves to be too small to use as a monitor in and of itself.

Also of note from the article, Conde Nast is said to be preparing a host of magazines under its publishing umbrella for download to tablet PCs. for those who don’t want to follow the link, among Conde Nast’s publications are Vanity Fair, Wired, Vogue, GQ, and The New Yorker.

No Nook -E(reader) for you!

November 22, 2009

Apparently Barnes and Noble’s e-reader is pretty popular. So popular that no more will be available for Christmas. To tie this in to my post about Dave Eggers’ comments about this being a golden time for literature because of the sheer number of publishing opportunities, the popularity of e-readers has to be a positive sign for the industry and for the profession of not just publishing but for writing. Devices centered around reading are selling like crazy. 

I’m still curious to see how this will potentially shape literature. The idea that books will be sold online is a nobrainer but I’m curious to see if we’ll ever see a real hybrid where the book has some sort of interactivity with the web, incorporate some programming language, etc. Take a book like Danielewski’s House of Leaves, for example. It works on the page but imagine if all of the formatting work was done so that the text would/could be manipulated by the user, would move, would jump to images/web pages packaged with the text, etc.

The Golden Age

November 20, 2009

“This is a golden time” for literature, noting, “there is a pluralism in publishing that’s unprecedented.”

                                                                                 -Dave Eggers

Culled that from a WSJ blog post about the National Book Awards. I’m trying to find the full text of the speech but not having much luck. I’m not a big Eggers fan but the quote is interesting in how it moves counter to the popular notion that literature is up shit creek without a paddle.

His note that there are publishing opportunities that dwarf the options available in the past is an important one. As we’ve seen with Kindle (despite my dislike of the device itself), there is an electronic market waiting to be tapped.  what really needs to be done is for the powers that be to find a creative way of tapping into it and incorporating it into the mainstream.

Kid Sick

November 17, 2009

I had some updates planned for this week but everything has been sort of put on hold. The kid has gotten sick and we may be taking him to the doctor soon. In Michigan. Plus, we’ve been getting grief recently over our health coverage, so we need to sort that out, too.  So time is at a premium lately. Still, hope to update when I can.

Gurgle Gurgle

November 12, 2009

That’s currently the sound filling up the dining/computer room. One of the radiators has managed to, literally, bust a seam in its blow off valve and instead of gradually releasing a bit of steam whenever the system gets backed up and allowing the water to fall back into the system to be re-heated and turned back into steam, it is spewing the water all over the floor and making a hideous loud gurgle gurgle ffffffft noise. Writing has been damn near impossible.

Price War?

November 10, 2009

Well, November is nearing the halfway point and I’m wondering if anyone remembers the Price War of October where retail giants tried slugging it out humanities style. At the time I said it was a blip on the radar-something to take advantage of while you could because it was unlikely to last or even to repeat itself in the near future and, so far, it looks about right.

I haven’t seen any of the major retailers continue to discount preorders to the $9 range. Once the books were released their prices jumped to more normal discount levels for best sellers. And no one is going crazy about how the publishing world is going to be placed on its head and how the 21st century would officially be leveled upon writers and how their work will have to change.

So. Blah. The price war is over and the new publishing world looks damn similar to the old publishing world. Much like the file sharers found with the ongoing fight with the music industry, lumbering giants die hard and, when they fall, they tend to leave everything maimed beyond recognition – not just the horrors of the old regime.

The publishing industry will change. It is inevitable. As music has had to shift gears (while missing second entirely and still trying to make an ugly grinding stab at third), as newspapers have falled from venerable institutions to vulnerable endeavors and as the movies still blame those damn pirates for falling box offices rather than shotty movies, the writers and makers of books will have to find new hotels to occupy, new frontiers to letter over.

And I have no doubt they will. And people will continue to make money off of it. Change will come and money will not be far behind.  Just not today.

Bad Monkeys – Review

November 6, 2009

Jonathan Ames, in his review of “Bad Monkeys for the NYT, called it a science-fiction “Catcher in the Rye” before later smashing together scifi/mystery/thriller in attempting to give Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys” some sort of shorthanded framework for a reader to fit it into. The review then collapsed into some weird diatribe against the author having some acknowledgements at the end, rather than at the front, of the novel and may or may not have admitted to having some sort of Burroughs inspired coital moment with the book itself.

And I can’t really blame Ames for just sort of drifting from one tangent to another when reviewing “Bad Monkeys.” Standing in the library, reading a page here and there – and from the apparently spray painted image on the book’s cover -, I’d have to admit that part of me expected something along the lines of “Twelve Monkeys.” And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it didn’t disappoint in those regards.

But Ruff’s novel is also a bit scifi (she does have a raygun), part mystery (until the end we don’t know just what is going on) and part thriller (people chasing people with rayguns!). At the same time, it’s none of those things. And I also don’t think it’s anything similar to “Catcher in the Rye.” In a way it’s like much modern fiction (particularly American) where the read is thoroughly enjoyable and there is enough material to make you want to reach for possible meanings and associations and “larger critical themes”  throughout the text but the text never delves deep enough long enough to warrant it.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it can be a frustrating thing.  Despite the read being enjoyable, despite it making me a fan of Matt Ruff and looking for more Matt Ruff books to read, I’m still generally unsatisfied by it. Within it, you can see the promise of Ruff’s abilities but it feels like out of an author’s work, all of it really really good, it is the worst of the lot.  Just read the thing and you’ll understand.

Disorder in the House and Finding Motivation

November 5, 2009

Hitting one of my many lulls in re-writing The Novel, I find that one of the hardest things to come by is just time where I am left alone. The apartment I share with my girlfriend and kid is relatively spacious but it doesn’t exactly have different wings we can venture off to when we wish to be alone and undisturbed.  What makes the whole writing vs interaction thing more difficult isn’t when we just have conflicting projects to work on where we each need the computer but only have space for one of us. We’re moderately well behaved and well adjusted adults, after all,we can sort this out. Meaning she smacks me with her Webster’s II and I agree to wait until she’s done.

The most problematic times are the times when one of us is trying to work while the other wants “quality time.” Alright, yes, it is stereotypical here for it to be her wanting to snuggle and chat and blah blah blah, and I’m sure I occasionally fall into the nagging “spend time with me” mode, too. But, today, it’s her in that mode and all I want to do is what I am doing now. Sitting at my computer (after she sat at hers all morning and I sat in the bedroom reading or went to the living room and jiggled around with wii fit thirty minutes), doing a blog or two, maybe some email and, hopefully, some work on The Novel.

Of course, this situation didn’t come about through some frictionless negotiation. So she’s in a surly mood now, I’m going to pay for it later and, well, yeah. Fun. But this is something everyone deals with, right? But I think it’s something that is particularly difficult for people trying to do something artistic (though i still hate referring to my attempts to write as “artistic” as I don’t see myself as any sort of artist). Sometimes we just need left alone and, as anyone who writes a lot knows, we who write tend to spend more time than normal alone and entirely by choice.

Where is all of this going?

Well, it goes towards another problem I’ve had the past couple of days and that’s finding motivation to open up the word doc and start working.  I recently got done with grinding through two particularly rough chapters in the re-write and I’ve been hesitant to delve into the next chapter.  Maybe I just need a mental break from it for a couple of days, or whatever, I’m not sure, but I also feel horrible at not making more progress yesterday. So last night I was talking to my girlfriend about this and she suggested setting carrots out in front of me. For every so many chapters I get re-written we would go out to eat or get a book or something.

with how much writing is focused on being a delay of gratification (after all, unless we have a book deal none of us knows if our stuff will ever be published, regardless of how much time and effort we put into it), she thought that maybe this would be a good way of providing a little extra motivation to get through the particularly rough patches. And it seems like a good idea. But when we started talking about it, I realized that there also just isn’t a whole lot I want and, generally, what I want bad enough to really want, I’ll just go out and get.

but this has made me wonder: do external motivations work for writers in general? Or is it mainly an interior drive to get the thing finished that pushes us through to the end of projects?

Lisey’s Story – Review

November 4, 2009

We are accostomed to seeing Stephen King make his protagonists authors.  From Ben Mears in ‘Salem’s Lot to Jack Torrence in The Shining, from Paul Sheldon in Misery to Thad Beaumont in The Dark Half, it’s been an often used profession for the lead characters in the King Universe. With Lisey’s Story, we see King exploring slightly new ground and attempting to delve into a bit more of a straight literary ground rather than the slash and gash of his typical horror fare.

Lisa “Lisey” Landon is two years widowed, her famous author husband having passed away from the flu during one of his many (if not continuous) speaking engagements. She has been hounded by literature professors for exclusive access to her husband’s unpublished work, personal correspondance, notebooks and everything else. She (and, we learn, her husband when he was alive) derisively refer to these people as the Incunks, people who are literature sluts, who get off more on the disection (or vivisection) of what they read than from the material itself. Lisey throws the term around with such vehemence that you are left with the feeling that this is something King himself has thought and, likely, said. It is one of these “Incunks” that sets off the main thrust of the action of the story, essentially sicking a deranged fan upon Lisey to “convince” her that she needs to just up and give him the works.

At some point, I remember seeing an interview with Stephen and Tabitha King where Tabitha, his wife, said that her greatest fear was that someone would go after her husband the same way John Lennon was killed. At some speaking engagement, some book signing, some crazy would walk up with a gun and just kill her husband. King, himself, channeled similar fears for his novel Misery where the main character, Paul Sheldon, is rescued from a car accident by a deranged fan and soon finds he is at her mercy.

Twisting this idea around to focus on the widow of the deceased author is a novel approach for King.  He established early in the novel that Lisey has, by and large, been in the background of her husband’s writing life. Her crazy older sister, in helping Lisey clean up her husband’s work area, goes through all of the literary magazines her husband has appeared in and notes how often Lisey is mentioned and how rarely she is mentioned as his wife and, once, even has his “gal pal” – an instance her sister is especially irritated by.  Still, it is this backgroundedness of her existence that makes the transposing of her husband’s problems/concerns onto her the more interesting and startling. Worried that her husband will be killed by some obsessed fan (something that does, in fact, nearly happen to her husband earlier in his life), finding herself in a similar situation is disorienting and troubling.

Lisey’s Story is also an homage to what King refers to within the novel as “the drinking pool” where we all go down to sip and take out little things that define how we talk, how we interact, and how we tell our stories. Throughout the novel he makes several oblique and exacting references to other works of literature, music and movies – things that have become such large parts of our lives – images, words, tunes – that they are part of how we define ourselves, even without our really knowing it.

There is still an element of the supernatural to the story.  In talking about the “drinking pool” King creates a literal other world that people visit, a place that us paradise during the day then to become a horror at night. Not surprisingly, Lisey’s husband was an adept traveler to this place and he mentions how great artists throughout history are the ones who wander out to the deepest ends of the pool and haul in the biggest fish.  It is a sanctuary and a horror for anyone who goes there and, again, it is impossible to ignore an undercurrent of something distinctly autobiographical in the relating of such a place and such an experience. Writing can be a personal war at times and it is clear that King has seen his fair share of time in the trenches.