Weeklings, I Mean, Monthlings: From First Editions to E-Readers to Fox News Chicago

It’s been so long since I wrote a Weeklings that this is really a Monthlings–and that’s being charitable. Here are a few of the things I’ve read recently that have lodged in my brain…due to the length of this post, I have introduced subject headings.

First Editions

Much as I covet first editions, I only own a few of them, none of them particularly valuable. So I can really appreciate Christopher Howse when he writes that “Collecting First Editions Is a Kind of Madness” (Telegraph):

That is another symptom of book madness: valuable copies are the ones nobody has read. It is like taking your shoes off when it rains. Nothing spoils a book like reading it.

Ralph Gardner Jr., however, sees little harm in “Reaching for That First-Edition High” (Wall Street Journal):

If I took the same interest in controlled substances that I do in books, I’d probably be in some 12-step program. Fortunately, while books are habit-forming they remain legal and there’s no evidence, no matter how musty, that they’re bad for the health.

The iPad and Other E-Readers

I read far too many stories about the iPad and so I must include a few here. But first, a brief article about my very favorite technological medium, the LP. Seems “a very brave or very stupid young man” is releasing audiobooks on vinyl (“Books on Vinyl Records: Alive to the Pleasures of Rabbiting On,” by Sukhdev Sandhu, Telegraph). Says the young man:

“The MP3 has an alien digital gloss. It’s streamlined, corporate, like a mainline train station. Listening to a short story on vinyl is the purest antidote to that. It’s more immersive. It heightens engagement.”  

All right, on to the iPad. A poorly headlined article reports that, according to a recent study, “Reading on tablet is slower vs. printed book” (MSNBC.com). Despite that, surveyed readers prefered their slower gadgets.

Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) sees more dangers to using e-readers than slower reading. Chief among them are Amazon’s “popular highlights” (“Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social,” by Steven Johnson, New York Times).

Keeping censorship alive in the digital age, Apple required that the creators of “Ulysses Seen,” a Webcomix version of James Joyce’s Ulysses, remove some extremely tame nudity before approving the work for the iPad. Brainiac notes the irony.

(Finnegan’s Wake tops Listverse’s list of “Top 10 Difficult Literary Works“–what, no Ulysses? I’m batting .500 on that list, by the way.)

Death: Of Publishing, of the Author, of Book Reviews

In “‘Vanity’ Press Goes Digital,” the Wall Street Journal did a big piece on the big shift toward digital self-publishing. Nothing earth-shattering, but a solid overview.

However, in Salon (“When Anyone Can Be a Published Author“), Laura Miller asks, to a wider audience, the question that is constantly at the front of my mind:

What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?

(However, neither of us is as cranky as Garrison Keillor, who wrote “When Everyone’s a Writer, No One Is.”)

And speaking of Slush Pile Hell, a grumpy literary agent has just unsealed the portal to same.

In a real conversation-starter of an essay, Lee Siegel (“Where Have All the Mailers Gone?New York Observer) argued that “fiction is now a marginal enterprise.”

Everybody complains that The New Yorker list is inbred, house-approved, a mere PR ploy for the magazine, but no one does anything about it. If fiction were really alive, if it were still the vibrant experience it used to be, then an artistic affront like the “20 Under 40″ junior pantheon would be something against which literary people would deploy all their creative energies.

And:

Now everything literary is also furtively commercial, but nothing is popular, except for the explicitly commercial fiction that the literary crowd refuses (or is unable) to write.

If you want to read the many rebuttals to Siegel, all you need is Google. Also in a mournful mood, John Palattella expounded at some length on “The Death and Life of the Book Review“–apparently what killed it is a lack of brevity. (He should have joined us in Washington, D.C..)

Fox News Reports, Decides on Libraries

In a story titled, “Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?” Chicago’s Fox News affiliate, attacked public libraries. (Frankly, I was surprised they didn’t call it “Public Libraries: Waste of Money, or Waste of Time?”)

Mary Dempsey, Chicago’s Public Library Commissioner was “astounded at the lack of understanding” the story showed. Parenthetically, she showed some understanding of how a TV news hit-job is carried out:

(Your ‘undercover cameras” shots were taken in a series of stacks devoted to bound periodicals used for reference. Next time, try looking at the circulating collections throughout the building.)

News You Don’t See Every Day

And, finally, in the category of “News You Don’t See Every Day,” an unusual partnership to promote reading came together at a gathering of uniformed youths in Zanesville, Ohio. At the Muskingum Valley Council’s celebration of the Centennial of the Boy Scouts of America, Galaxy Press, publishers of the pulp fiction of L. Ron Hubbard, showed their support for the Adventures in Reading program, endorsed by the American Library Association, by giving books to scouts and staging Hubbard’s “The Last Drop” with real, live Hollywood actors. More than 20 boys earned either a reading merit badge (Boy Scouts) or a belt loop (Cub Scouts). Hubbard was posthumously given the James E. West Fellowship Award–the author and Scientology founder, it turns out, was one of the nation’s youngest-ever Eagle Scouts.

Boy Scouts

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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