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For an insightful view of the state of American literary culture today, read Sven Bikerts essay in the latest issue of Book Forum (http://www.bookforum.com/birkerts.html) It is sure to stir debate. “By the mid-’90s, it was obvious to many people that the rules of the literary game had been rewritten,” writes Bikerts. “Corporate conglomeration in the…

Critical Condition

For an insightful view of the state of American literary culture today, read Sven Bikerts essay in the latest issue of Book Forum (http://www.bookforum.com/birkerts.html) It is sure to stir debate. “By the mid-’90s, it was obvious to many people that the rules of the literary game had been rewritten,” writes Bikerts. “Corporate conglomeration in the publishing world (addressed by Andre Schiffrin in The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took over Publishing and Shaped the Way We Read) ushered in the era of the blockbuster. Editors began to pay out succulent advances for “sexy” books like Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted, while midlist writers went begging, many then shifting to small presses ... And this is more or less where we find ourselves now. Psychologically it is a landscape subtly demoralized by the slash-and-burn of bottom-line economics; the modernist/humanist assumption of art and social criticism marching forward, leading the way, has not recovered from the wholesale flight of academia into theory; the publishing world remains tyrannized in acquisition, marketing, and sales by the mentality of the blockbuster; the confident authority of print journalism has been challenged by the proliferation of online alternatives.”

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Posted by Joel Schettler on March 31 2004 • Books

Tools of the Trade

This site is supposed to be about ideas only. With that rule firmly established, I’m about to break it. This is not a site about consumption, but I must point to one Web site that offers the must-haves for readers. Most of you probably have already shopped there. But for those of you who haven’t, you are in for a treat. The retailer is Levenger (http://www.levenger.com). And before you ask, no I am not getting any kick-backs from the company for mentioning their site (although I am not above kick-backs ... only kidding. But, if you fancy yourself a reader and you have not found anything you like in the company’s catalog ... well, you’re not looking hard enough. By the way, I have a birthday coming up, and I could really use the portable book case.

Posted by Joel Schettler on March 30 2004 • Books

Art and the Bottom Line

I just read in the New York Times this morning that Anne Fadiman will leave the American Scholar over a budget dispute. It seems that despite the fact that the literary journal has become one of the the country’s best under her watch, a dispute over budgets led to an impasse. According to the Times, “a high profile and a healthy circulation of about 28,000 were apparently not enough to safeguard her job. Last week a budget deficit for the journal, which costs $1.25 million a year to produce, left Ms. Fadiman and her publisher, the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at loggerheads, with Ms. Fadiman contending that she had been dismissed.” (You can read the entire story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/30/books/30SCHO.html)

It is too bad that so often quality work and the bottom line can cause conflict such as this. Surely, publications must make money to survive. Conflicts such as these are never a black and white issue. But such stories are not uncommon. You wonder, what’s an editor to do?

Over the years, I have picked up quite a few issues of the magazine, enjoying them very much. “Its witty essays by leading writers on subjects as varied as jigsaw puzzles and diabetes have sparked intellectual discussion, lured fresh talent and earned this quarterly three National Magazine Awards in six years,” writes the New York Times. “It is currently a finalist for two more: one for general excellence in a publication with a circulation of less than 100,000, and one for profile writing, an article by Ms. Fadiman about an Arctic explorer that appeared in the winter issue.”

I realize that I have strayed from the subject of books. As the newspaper stressed, Anne Fadiman is just as fine a writer as editor. In fact, if you have not picked up a copy of her book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, you must. This National Book Critics Circle award-winner is a classic in creative nonfiction as far as I am concerned, covering the cultural conflicts that can occur when American medicine and Hmong customs clash. Fadiman, as you might expect, can also be counted among us bilbiophiles. Check out her latest book on the subject: Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader. Let me know your thoughts.

Posted by Joel Schettler on March 30 2004 • Journalism

Planes, Trains and Elevators

imageTalk about knowing your audience. To be published July 1, 2004: The Paris Review Book for Planes, Trains, Elevators and Waiting Rooms. Sounds perfect to me. The book includes short stories by such famous authors as V.S. Naipal, Alice Munroe, Philip Roth, and Joyce Carol Oates, that are arranged according to length. Not a moment is to be spared from reading - whether you are in line at the checkout or waiting to be called into the doctor’s office. Now you may spend time with the most wonderful prose stylists in the world, time that would otherwise be wasted.

“Reading may be the last secretive behavior in the world that is neither pathological or prosecutable,” writes Richard Powers in the book’s introduction (one of my favorite writers by the way). “It is certainly the last refuge from the real-time epidemic. For the stream of a narrative overflows the banks of the real. Story strips its reader, holding her in a place time can’t reach. A book’s power lies in its ability to erase us, to expand or contract without limit, to circle inside itself without beginning or end, to defy our imaginary timetables and lay us bare to a more basic ticking. The pages we read are nowhen, unfolding far outside the public arena. As long as we remain in them, now reveals itself to be the baldest of inventions.” I haven’t heard a better description.

Posted by Joel Schettler on March 29 2004 • Books

Electronic Paper?

Is it true? Can the days of turning pages soon be coming to an end? The answer is both yes and no, well sort of. This week Royal Phillips Electronics and Sony Corporation released the first consumer application of E Ink. Yep, you read correctly. Those who like to follow such technology, myself included, have been hearing about this development for years. It looks as though it’s finally becoming a reality. The electronic paper display module in Sony’s new e-Book reader, LIBRI, is scheduled to go on sale in Japan in late April.  According to the press release “this first ever Philips’ display utilizes E Ink’s revolutionary electronic ink technology which offers a truly paper-like reading experience with contrast that is the same as newsprint.”

Here is more from the companies’ press release. “The Electronic Paper Display is reflective and can be easily read in bright sunlight or dimly lit environments while being able to be seen at virtually any angle - just like paper. Its black and white ink-on-paper look, combined with a resolution in excess of most portable devices at approximately 170 pixels per inch (PPI), gives an appearance similar to that of the most widely read material on the planet - newspaper.  Because the display uses power only when an image is changed, a user can read more than 10,000 pages before the four AAA Alkaline batteries need to be replaced.  The unique technology also results in a compact and lightweight form factor allowing it to be ideal for highly portable applications. Sony’s e-Book reader LIBRI, the first device to utilize Philips’ display solution for enhanced reading, is similar in size and design to a paperback book. LIBRI allows users to download published content, such as books or comic strips from the Internet, and enjoy it anywhere at any time. LIBRI can store up to 500 downloaded books.” Read more about it at: http://www.eink.com/news/releases/pr70.html.

Posted by Joel Schettler on March 29 2004 • Multimedia

Welcome

Hello everyone, welcome to my site. This is my first foray into personal Web publishing, so we can make our way together. Since I consider myself an avid reader, I wanted to create a site that promoted and cultivated my biblio-habits. I hope to use this site to talk about some serious books that I have read and am reading, but I also don’t want it to contain only my voice. Tell me your thoughts! Point other readers to some good books. Let’s discuss the important themes and ideas that you uncover. My personal tastes run toward nonfiction, but I also would like others to mention their favorite works of literature as well. Well, that’s it really. From time to time I will share personal stories and tales about my family (since it is a blog), but for the most part this site will be about books. Happy reading!

Posted by Joel Schettler on March 28 2004 •