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Thinking about Franny and Zooey . . .

posted February 2, 2010

Posted by Erin Brown in authors

franny and zooey 2

My copy of Franny and Zooey is a 1961 Little, Brown hardback (fifth printing, mind you), stamped “discarded” and sold to me for less than a dollar by the Missoula Public Library. Still covered in protective cellophane, the dust jacket contains this note from the author about the project he had undertaken:

Both stories are early, critical entries in a narrative series I’m doing about a family of settlers in twentieth-century New York, the Glasses. It is a long-term project, patently an ambitious one, and there is a real-enough danger, I suppose, that sooner or later I’ll bog down, perhaps disappear entirely, in my own methods, locutions, and mannerisms. On the whole, though, I’m very hopeful. I love working on these Glass stories, I’ve been waiting for them most of my life, and I think I have fairly decent, monomaniacal plans to finish them with due care and all-available skill . . . I have a great deal of thoroughly unscheduled material on paper . . . but I expect to be fussing with it . . . for some time to come . . . I work like greased lightning, myself, but my alter-ego and collaborator, Buddy Glass, is insufferably slow.

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The Romance of Authorship

posted December 2, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in self-publishing trends



On November 17 Harlequin Enterprises, the biggest name in romance publishing, announced that it was launching a new imprint, Harlequin Horizons, in partnership with Author Solutions Inc., a self-publishing company. Under the new imprint, unknown romance writers will be able to publish their novels for a fee of $599. The books will be distributed electronically through Author Solutions, and authors will receive royalties equivalent to 50 percent of net proceeds on each copy sold.

For Harlequin the venture represents a point of entry into the burgeoning self-publishing market, as well as an avenue (potentially) for discovering new talent to publish under their traditional imprint. As reported by the New York Times, Brent Lewis, vice president of Digital and Internet at Harlequin, gave assurances that the new initiative would not in any way diminish the integrity of the Harlequin brand.

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Electric Literature

posted November 6, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in uncategorized

electric 3

If you’re worried about the fate of the literary magazine in this hectic new era of apps and tweets, you might find solace in Electric Literature, a bold new bimonthly with a plan to capture and convert a broad and highly mobile readership to literary fiction. Founded by Andy Hunter, 38, and Scott Lindenbaum, 26, who met in the Brooklyn College MFA program, the magazine is available on every possible platform, including paper (printed on demand), Kindle, iPhone, and audiobook. Although many literary publications have begun to offer electronic delivery in some form or another, Electric Literature may be the first to blanket the whole field.

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Kindle Gaffe Poses Big Questions

posted July 27, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in publishing technology trends


The controversial Kindle incident of 7/17, in which a few hundred U.S. Kindle owners discovered that Amazon had mysteriously removed copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from their e-book readers, was not just a thundering irony. Although Amazon has explained (it was a copyright infringement issue), apologized, and promised not to do it again, the episode (referred to by Thomas Claburn of Information Week and others as a “virtual book burning”) has generated heated debate about the nature of e-media, who really owns it, and the awesome—some might say scary—powers of its purveyors.

Writing for the Guardian Book Blog, Sam Jordison observed:

As this story has shown, if someone wants to stop you reading something and they have control of the device you read it from, it’s all too easy [ . . . ] It’s been tough to make books disappear in the past because they tend to be scattered so far afield. Now, it seems, words can vanish at the flick of a switch.

Jordison continued:

The question of whether it is safe or wise to blithely hand over so much of one of our most important industries and so many of our treasured freedoms to the gatekeepers of this revolutionary technology is an entirely modern one. The issue that underlies it, however, is one of the very oldest: who will guard the guards?

Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo posed similar questions about the implications of a company’s power, or a court’s mandate, to disable access to (or ban) art, literature, music, or other e-media at its discretion, noting:

Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely [ . . . ] This may sound like an exaggeration; after all, we’ll surely always have file-sharing networks and other online repositories for works that have been decreed illegal. But it seems like small comfort to rely on BitTorrent to save banned art. The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.

Ultimatley, Manjoo said (citing cyber law expert Jonathan Zittrain), the danger lies with the fact that advances in “tethered technology” (e-readers, smart phones, and other devices that we buy and physically possess, but which are subject to remote control by the companies that sell them) are out-pacing the law.

It will be interesting to see how the law catches up. In the meantime, many readers are finding that the question of whether to embrace the Kindle (or any other e-reader) has gotten a lot more philosophical.

Sherman Alexie in Battle with Digital Books

posted June 10, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in books publishing

A long time ago I saw Sherman Alexie at a reading in Spokane, Washington. Still in his twenties, Alexie arrived late. He stumbled to the podium, pretending, I think, to be drunk, and mumbled insults at the audience. As I remember, he left shortly afterward without reading a thing. Alexie was new on the scene, but his gift as a writer was already matched by a dramatic, provocative presence that got people’s attention.

A book worth reading, published by Grove Press. Click for more information.

A book worth reading, published by Grove Press. Click for more information.

I thought of this event recently when I was reading a New York Times article on BookExpo America. There was Sherman Alexie, now a famous writer, quoted about ebooks. On his plane going to the convention, he saw a woman reading a Kindle. According to article, Alexie, who thinks Kindles are elitist, “wanted to hit” the woman.

I doubt Alexie really wants to hit anyone, but like many literary people, he hates and fears digital books. For authors the fear is understandable. Ebooks are potentially threatening. But this antidigital urge seems to be part of a broader trend, another act in the man versus machine drama. An earlier scene occurred in 1987, when Wendell Berry wrote a piece in Harper’s describing his disdain for computers. Although compelling, the essay was widely criticized, especially for being sexist. Instead of using a computer, Berry said in the essay, he asked his wife to type his work.

Alexie, too, received mixed reviews from his comments. To his credit, Alexie on his website wrote about the many people who sent him e-mails supporting ebooks. Some, because of physical ailments, couldn’t read without the Kindle or similar machines. Alexie, who said he has not allowed his books to be available digitally, announced he would be meeting with “folks at Amazon and Kindle” and promised not to “beat up anybody” there.

Here, in another context, is Alexie in a provocative duel.

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