hidden hit counter
From the Latest Entry...
I’ve long been a fan of David Levine’s caricatures in the New York Review of Books and other publications. When I first started blogging with another site that I created called Typeface, I wanted to write about books and ideas. I liked his caricatures and I thought that they would accent my site well. It…

David Levine (1926-2009)

I’ve long been a fan of David Levine’s caricatures in the New York Review of Books and other publications. When I first started blogging with another site that I created called Typeface, I wanted to write about books and ideas. I liked his caricatures and I thought that they would accent my site well. It was a shot in the dark, but I simply sent him an email telling him how big a fan I was of his work and asked if I could use his images from time to time to accent my posts. Most graciously, I heard back from him and he kindly granted me permission.

Growing up I thought I wanted to be a caricaturist, and I looked at David Levine’s work as the gold standard. In today’s digital age, it’s hard to say whether there will be another like him.

More about David Levine from The New York Times, here and here.

Posted by Joel on December 31 2009 • Multimedia

Book of the Year 2009

It’s the end of the year and I think it’s time to throw my choice into the “best-of” mix. My choice this year is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. I wouldn’t necessarily call it the best book of the year, or my favorite. But I am calling it my book of the year for its bold attempt to tackle a big idea. I have greatly admired all of Wright’s work; he writes those big-idea books that incorporate data and theories from across many fields of study.

Althought I don’t think any book or author can have the final say on religion, science and society, this book creates a unique framework for future study of how religion and culture evolved over the centuries. Wright builds on themes that he explores in some of his earlier books, primarily that of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny--the idea that people enter relationships that are of mutual benefit. Does he come to a final conclussion as to whether he believes in God, or that God is a creation and function of societies? Maybe both. Here is how author ?? describes the book in this recent and thorough review of the book in the New York Review of Books:

“Wright thus offers what he emphasizes is a materialist account of religion. As he further emphasizes, the ways in which religion responds to the world make sense. Like organisms, religions respond adaptively to the world. More formally, Wright argues that religious responses to reality are generally explained by game theory and evolutionary psychology, the subjects of his previous books. Subtle aspects of the human mind, he claims, were shaped by Darwinian natural selection to allow us to recognize and take advantage of certain social situations. The most important of these—and the centerpiece of Wright’s theory—are what game theorists call non-zero-sum interactions. Unlike zero-sum games, wherein one player’s gain is another player’s loss, in some games both players can win; hence “non-zero-sum.” The classic example is economic trade. In a free market, trade occurs when both parties benefit from exchange (otherwise they wouldn’t engage in it) ...

“One consequence of the growing number of non-zero-sum interactions was that, through time, the “moral circle” expanded. While primitive man tended to view only his clan or tribe as fully human and so worthy of moral consideration, the ties forged among peoples via their cooperative interactions encouraged them to expand the moral circle from tribe, to ethnic group, to nation, and ultimately to all human beings.”

Posted by Joel on December 28 2009 • Books

The Future of the Magazine

"Ad sales are falling, editors are going digital, employing online applications that can increase revenue. But it’s a tough fight against a free Internet.” So says the headline from The Globe and Mail’s wonderful summary article of what’s been going on in the magazine industry (media industry) over the past year. It’s a good read for those interested in the business. Some interesting paragraphs from the story:

“Magazines are hardly leaping out at media buyers these days. The industry has been walloped by falling sales: In the first nine months of 2009, magazine ad pages in the U.S. dropped 27 per cent from the same period last year, and revenues were down 20 per cent, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. The Canadian magazine industry fared slightly better, but ad pages still dropped 21 per cent from January to September of this year, according to Nielsen LNA.”

But, “many recession-weary readers would rather troll the Internet for free than curl up with yet another discretionary expense, magazines have to reckon with the digital age, and make it profitable.

“Last week, five of the largest magazine publishers in the U.S. announced they were joining forces to create a “digital storefront” to make it easier for consumers to buy issues of their magazines for download onto laptop computers, smart phones and e-readers. The venture includes Condé Nast, Meredith Corp., News Corp., Time Inc. and Hearst Corp., which publishes Esquire. As part of the announcement, Time Warner’s magazine Sports Illustrated released a video showing what its issue might look like on a full colour e-reader tablet, such as the one that is rumoured to be in the works at Apple.”

A stat from the story: “In the first six months of 2009, of the nearly 600 consumer magazines in U.S. and Canada to report such figures, 67 per cent saw their paid circulation drop from the same period last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Even the most successful magazines are struggling. Of the top 25 U.S. titles, 60 per cent were down this year. A similar proportion of top Canadian magazines saw declines.”

An update: Apple’s rumored tablet computer could be coming sooner than expected.

Posted by Joel on December 23 2009 • Multimedia

A Year in the Life

I enjoyed this essay and I thought I would pass it along here on my blog. It’s written by one of my favorite reviewers, Michael Dirda, a reviewer for the Washington Post and other sites. Here he writes about the nature of his reading habits (voracious to say the least) and the changing nature of today’s literary culture. I especially liked this paragraph, where he writes about a moment he felt he was at the crossroads, seeing his profession evolve while he had to make a decision about his future.

“Of course, I didn’t count on the now ongoing crises in print journalism. Nor that Book World itself would cease to be a separate section in 2009 (my pieces now appear in the Style pages on Thursdays). Neither did I pay enough attention to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s comment about being a professional writer: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” Still, a long career in newspapers, combined with a workingclass background, does teach resilience. Any journalist I’ve ever known figures that he can cover just about anything. It’s part of the cocky charm of the field.”

Posted by Joel on December 23 2009 • Journalism

A Dramatic Reading

On a recent Tonight Show, Wiliam Shatner joined Conan O’Brien to conduct a dramatic reading from Sarah Palin’s autobiography “Going Rogue,” with bongos and a bass. Surprise walk-on guest Sarah Palin joined Shatner to read a few excerpts from his book, “Up Til Now.” Good stuff.

Posted by Joel on December 12 2009 •

Old School

Audiobooks are certainly not new, but this has to be. Author David Sedaris has released his latest audiobook, “Live for Your Listening Pleasure,” on vinyl. From the New York Times:

“As physical formats and devices have shrunk, revenues for the audiobook industry have grown, since it is more convenient to listen to an iPod while exercising and commuting than fiddling with CDs. Digital downloads grew to 21 percent of the industry’s total sales in 2008, from 6 percent in 2004, according to the Audiobook Publishers Association ... Reminiscent of Blue Note albums from the 1950s and 1960s, the cover features a photograph of a woman sprawled on a white shag rug with a come-hither look, albums strewn about.”

Anyone familiar with Sedaris would hardly find this surprising. I would certainly expect something unique from him. According to the Times, vinyl has made a comeback in recent years, selling $57 million in 2008, the best since 1990. But audiobooks on vinyl are so rare that the figures have never been tracked.

Posted by Joel on December 12 2009 • Multimedia

Nook, Not Yet

I wanted to like it, but I also love books too much. So when I went into Barnes and Noble lately and saw the Nook, the new digital reader, I have to say that my first impression was good. The design is wonderful: sleek, easy to hold. However, when I started to press buttons and actually interact with the device I was most unimpressed. Many of my complaints are actually the same as this review from Engadget. Here are some excerpts from the review:

“Throughout our testing with the Nook we vacillated between being completely charmed by the aesthetics of the reader, and completely frustrated by the way it actually works. In many ways the Nook has a leg up on the competition—not just by its presence in Barnes & Noble stores (though that helps), but by providing an attractive package and feature set, offering personalization (via add ons and accessories), a huge selection of books, perks like the LendMe feature, that color screen, and the excellent buying experience. On the other hand, when it came to day to day use, we felt let down in a big way, and can only imagine how magnified that feeling would be if we’d gone and shelled out nearly $300 for the device.”

David Pogue was even more to the point in his review today in the New York Times: “Unfortunately, we, the salivating public, might be afflicted with a little holiday disease of our own: Sucker Syndrome. Every one of the Nook’s vaunted distinctions comes fraught with buzz kill footnotes.” He also notes how slow the Nook is, something I experienced firsthand in the store. None of the salespeople know how to use them, and the device was so slow that you couldn’t tell whether the device responded to your touch or not. Pogue explains”

“Often, you tap some button on the color strip — and nothing happens. You wait for the Nook to respond, but there’s no progress bar, no hourglass, no indication that the Nook “heard” you. So you tap again — but now you’ve just triggered a second command that you didn’t want.

“It takes four seconds for the Settings panel to open, 18 seconds for the bookstore to appear (over Wi-Fi), and 8 to 15 seconds to open a book or newspaper for the first time, during which you stare at a message that says “Formatting.””

I am a big Barnes and Noble fan; I’m a member and I make most of my purchases at their stores. But I think I am going to wait on the e-reader. Please Apple, announce that you are making a Tablet computer and solve all of my problems. 

Posted by Joel on December 10 2009 • Multimedia

New Life as a Library

A fun article. In England, a phone booth has found new life as perhaps the world’s smallest library. From the BBC: “Villagers from Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset can use the library around the clock, selecting books, DVDs and CDs. Users simply stock it with a book they have read, swapping it for one they have not.

“It’s really taken off. The books are constantly changing,” said parish councillor Bob Dolby. He added: “It is completely full at the moment with books. Anyone is free to come and take a book and leave one that you have already read. “This facility has turned a piece of street furniture into a community service in constant use.”

Posted by Joel on December 10 2009 • Books

Books Are Bad for You

"A few years ago, writing about the book business and how dumbed down and craven books had become—and pathetic, designed only to sell and then not selling—I wrote the line “books suck,” subjecting me to much middlebrow opprobrium.” So writes Michael Wolff in a recent article titled, Books are Bad for You.

Wolff writes about a specific type of book really (not all of them are bad for you; at least that’s what I think he is saying). It’s the book as political statement, or public relations scheme. (Sarah Palin’s book as exhibit A), instead of an honest, researched account. It’s that genre of nonfiction meant to say that this is the world as I wish it to be rather than this is the world as it is that has Wolff so upset. It’s books that aren’t even written by the “author” that really gets under his skin.

“It’s a sleight of hand. A bait and switch. It’s not that there is anything wrong, or at least out of the ordinary, with salesmanship or promotional copy, or with even saying you wrote what your ghostwriter wrote. This is the stuff of speeches, advertising, and testimonials. What’s insidious here is that these forms, which are understood to be insincere and a confection, are now in the guise of a book, which is understood to be genuine and substantial.”

Posted by Joel on December 05 2009 • Books