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"Long-form journalism is the only homegrown American literary form,” writes Virginia Heffernan in this essay in the New York Times. Is “narrative nonfiction” an American artform? The genre has suffered in recent years, due to the economic downturn and the pressure it has placed on many of the magazines that once championed the form of…

Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length

"Long-form journalism is the only homegrown American literary form,” writes Virginia Heffernan in this essay in the New York Times. Is “narrative nonfiction” an American artform? The genre has suffered in recent years, due to the economic downturn and the pressure it has placed on many of the magazines that once championed the form of journalism, she writes. However is that about to change? Is Amazon about to become narrative nonfiction’s “white night”?

From her story: “So it’s entirely fitting that Amazon, that indigenous American e-tailer, now sells narrative nonfiction by masters like Pete Hamill, Ron Rosenbaum and Mark Greif in a pricing and programming algorithm that Amazon has developed exclusively for it. These are the Kindle Singles, novella-length nonfiction packaged as e-books. They sell for $2 to $3 apiece. (A novel-length Kindle book, by contrast, goes for anywhere between $4 and $12.) Amazon calls these short e-books Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length.”

Heffernan argues that such journalism has lured her away from free content found on the Web, to reading more substantial reporting, and paying for it, on her Kindle. As sign of things to come? Let’s hope so.

Posted by Joel on February 27 2011 • Journalism

Wordliness

Well known for his famous interviewing style on Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton has always been aware of his persona. He’s also not afraid to make fun of himself; I’m a fan, which is why I like this spoof called Wordliness. (I also drive a Prius, which also makes this marketing video great fun.)

Posted by Joel on February 21 2011 • Personal

Reading is Overrated

I love the headlines at this Guardian post: “Reading is overrated. Too many people will have you believe that our very humanity resides in books – and that’s reading a little too much into it.” So is it true? Is reading overrated? Of course I don’t believe that, but this article pokes fun at some of the audacious comments famous writers have made about reading and writing (a few of which I have sprinkled around other parts of this website.)

You’ve read the quotes. Columnist Rick Gekoski cites a few of them at his post:

“Reading maketh a full man.” (Francis Bacon)

“We read to know we are not alone.” (CS Lewis)

Or there is this chestnut from John Milton: “He who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”

Gekoski knows of what these kinds of statements about reading begin to smell. “Of arrogance, and pomposity, and what Philip Larkin liked to call the smell of bum. Here’s a nice little exercise: find a book, or an article, or a website that has quotes about “books”, or “reading”, or “literature”. Look through the examples, and ask yourself how many of these self-consciously citeable sentiments actually make sense? Because the instances I have quoted are chosen almost casually from a myriad competing instances of overstatement, false generalisation, self-congratulation and self-deception, pure silliness, inanity.”

Of course he is having fun with the quotes. But he makes a point: “As if reading were a tonic, form of exercise, or vegetable. But the notion of seeking what is “good for you” is somehow thin and inadequate here, as if drawn from the vocabulary of an evangelical huckster, personal trainer, or nutritionist.

“Reading is more important than that. Sometimes we are enhanced by it, at others diminished. We need to be able to think carefully about this, and to talk about it more accurately. As Larkin put it: ‘I should never call myself a book lover any more than a people lover. It all depends what’s inside them.’”

Posted by Joel on February 21 2011 • Books

The Gladwell Book Generator

I’m a big fan of Malcom Gladwell’s well-known books. This site (The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator), created by another fan, nonetheless pokes a bit of fun at the author’s well-known style of intellectual journalims. My favorite is Slurp: What Kitten’s Tongues Teach Us About Derivatives. Another favorite: Subtitles: How Secondary Titles Inflate a Sense of Importance.

The New York Post wrote a recent story about the site’s creator. From the story: “Cory Bortnicker, a writer for the financial site Minyanville and co-creator of the Book Generator, said the idea came up a few months ago, but only took “three days” to actually put together. “I’ve read most of them,” he said of Gladwell’s books, “and I’m actually a big fan of his work. I think he’s a fun writer. I think it’s great anytime someone can bring science to a large audience like that.”

Posted by Joel on February 12 2011 • Books