Friday Round Up

Cory Doctorow wonders how Amazon can be so smart and so stupid at the same time regarding ebook sales and the Kindle.

I can't help but think of Jonathan Lethem's new story "The King of Sentences" in the New Yorker as an elaborate send-up of people who value the sentence over content in contemporary. Which is strange since Lethem can sometimes be one of the worst offenders in that department.

I don't care what this article says. I'm still not learning Esperanto. via Ed Champion. (I'm gonna miss saying that.)

In another round up I linked to an article which talked about Japanese people "writing" on mobile phones. I was under the mistaken impression that meant people actually writing on their phones, like Warren Ellis does on his Treo. Apparently, it actually meant writing for mobile phones. As in, a novel serialized in small bits sent out to mobile phones as text messages. Which is much cooler, actually.

I think both The Reading Experience and Conversational Reading miss the point about "disappearing readers". It's not that literary magazine's readers have disappeared, yes, it's true, they never existed in the first place. It's that short fiction's readers have disappeared, when they used to be plentiful and almost every magazine under sun ran short fiction and everybody read it. But short fiction's audience shriveled up with the ascendancy of film and television, though it still commands a larger audience in many other countries than it does here. That's the issue.

I kind of like the idea that this company is going with--distributing ebooks and comics for free, supported by advertising. I suppose. But their whole flash/queue/have-to-sign-in interface is just too annoying for words. Just give me the damn ebook already.

Anybody remember when we had a president who was highly literate and well-read?

This fan-fic Doctor Who comic is one of the best examples of its kind I think I've ever seen, and promises to be a lot better than the forthcoming officially licensed IDW comic which, judging by the art and IDW's track record alone, I don't have high hopes for.

Today's 1984 moment brought to you by Russian history text books. Be afraid.

And finally,

I really can't believe anyone is still taking those assholes at n+1 seriously. I mean, really.

BR Myers and Where He Differs with The Blogosphere

Recently, there's been some uproar in the blogosphere about BR Myers' review of Denis Johnson's latest book. Without going into a lot of detail about my opinion of Denis Johnson—the short version: Angels kicked ass, Jesus' Son was overrated, and Already Dead was so boring I didn't finish it and haven't bothered trying to read anything Johnson has written since)—I do think that Myers's detractors are not being fair to him. Some folks seem to have confused Myers aesthetic stance with James Wood's, seeming to think that Myers assault on what he sees as bad writing is in fact a call for a return to Flaubert style psychological realism. Others seem to think that he's more in the Dale Peck school of literary car bombing, taking imprecise aim at the contemporary literary lights and not really caring who gets caught in the cross fire. In fact, neither reading of Myers is the case, and in an attempt to take seriously the ideas of a critic who I think deserves to be taken seriously, I'd like to take a moment to describe how I read Myers critical stance.

The overall thrust of all of Myers critical writing is an inversion of contemporary standards of good writing. To put it another way, Myers believes that a lot of what is taken for good writing in contemporary prose fiction is in fact bad writing and most of his criticism is an attempt to illustrate what those things are and why they are mistaken. In this pursuit, Myers appears to me to hold to several general principals.

1.) Contemporary criticism is over focussed on the sentence as a unit of composition. Myers often points out where critics are praising an author's sentences and goes so far in his Reader's Manifesto to talk at length about how he thinks its bizarre how much import has been placed on a writer's sentences. The review of Denis Johnson on Powell's blog that caused so much furor is in keeping with this criticism because he opens with pointing out how Johnson's sentences have been praised in keeping with his over all thesis. Myers has marshaled a lot of evidence for this in his oeuvre, but frankly I think he makes over much of it. Yes, there are a number of well regarded contemporary authors who seem to write sentences at the expense of everything else, but I think what is going on here with Myers is more a criticism of other critics and this doesn't have much to do with what he likes and doesn't like about authors. That is, I think he thinks this is where contemporary critics go wrong in their reading of contemporary authors, not necessarily where contemporary authors go wrong.

I've been memed

Generally, I don't like Internet memes. They're usually annoying and pointless and when I see one on my LiveJournal friends list I usually scroll past it without reading.

That said, I've recently been Memed by LitKicks. The meme is to make a list of the first sentence of the first post on this site every month for the last year. Which actually seems like an interesting way to look at the year in Wet Asphalt. So in the interest of that and of being a good sport, here we go:

January 2007: "Wet Asphalt is officially on hiatus until March 1st."

Well, that takes care of February too.

March 2007: "I am an ignoramus." From "The Future of the Fantastic: New Wave Slipstream Fabulism" by Me.

Good to know.

April 2007: "I contacted Kelly Link both about my various articles about her work and the first Future of the Fantastic article." From "Kelly Link responds to the Future of the Fantastic" by Kelly Link and Me.

May 2007: "Bad criticism is more boring to write than it is to read and I don't know why people would do it." From "The World's Shortest Critical Manifesto" by JF Quackenbush.

June 2007: "A light bulb salesman fell in love with a duck." From "The Duck" by Benjamin Rosenbaum.

July 2007: "Reader J. Newton Wilcox writes us:" From "LeGuin Calls out Slate" by J. Newton Wilcox.

August 2007: "Wet Asphalt is on hiatus for the month of August."

Clearly running the site is hard work.

September 2007: "When I started this website, it was with the idea that there would be many people working on it, and with the hope that we would get many submissions, this on the strength of the initial essays stating our position, and certain vague promises." From "Status" by me.

And here I give in and the site becomes more bloggy...

October 2007: "James Wood, I think, is in his element talking about Philip Roth." From Friday Round-Up" by me.

November 2007: "There's a fascinating article at The Arts Fuse about critic Edmund Wilson, which posits Wilson as the ideal blogger." From Friday Round-Up.

December 2007: "Today was day one of the New York Independent and Small Press Book Fair." From Report from the New York Independent Book Fair Day 1.

And there you have it, one year of first sentences in Wet Asphalt. Normally at the end of one of these things you tag some other people who then have to perform the meme as well. I am merciful, and will not do this.

Finding and Reading International Literature

Back in the mid-nineties, my favorite magazine at the time—The Comics Journal—introduced a new column called "Eurocomics For Dummies". Each month, this column highlighted a different great European comic, and for the first few months I read it with enthusiasm. Then I realized that most of these comics had never been translated into English and most likely would never get translated into English. In other words, the column was doing everything it could to work me up into a frenzy over books I wouldn't ever be able to read without learning another language (French for the most part), an elaborate, journalistic cock-tease, the literary equivalent of a girl who keeps leading you on without letting you get anywhere. And as with that sort of girl, the only real solution to my frustration was to part ways, and I stopped reading the column.

Now, consider the article about Rodrigo Fresán's novel Mantra in the latest issue of The Quarterly Conversation. After reading the article, I really want to read this book but it's only available in Spanish. So how am I to experience its strange world of luchadores and terrorists in modern day Mexico City? Wait, I remember now, I can read Spanish! Alright, so sign me up, let me at it. Then in my excitement I discover that the book isn't available in the US. Okay, that isn't quite true; according to Amazon I can get a used edition for the low, low price of $41.50. Which is a bit more than I'm willing to spend.

This makes me wonder. What is the point of writing an article about a book in an American magazine that's available in a language most Americans can't read and that's not even available in America for those who can? Sure, you might say, how are we supposed to drum up enough interest in these books to bring them to America in the first place without articles like these? Well, okay, but as with Eurocomics for Beginners, most of the time these books will still never get translated and the articles just end up being big cock-teases. For a writer or a magazine editor I can understand the appeal of having articles about books from foreign lands that aren't available here, it's exotic and cool and makes your publication seem cosmopolitan and gives people a glimpse at a different publishing world. And it's nice to know that in other countries publishers pay their writers to go to foreign countries and write, as happened with Argentinian Fresán and six other Latin American writers who were sent around the world to write books about random foreign cities, resulting in Mantra among other works. But as a reader it's frustrating to be turned onto a book you can't read even if you want to. I mean, WTF Quarterly Conversation?

Maybe in the case of Mantra I can do something. I've started a petition. Go sign it. If you're reading this and you're in the publishing industry, bring Mantra to the US. If you're reading this and you have a copy of Mantra, send it to me. (Email for my address.) Please.

Round Up

This Monday I'll be at the Pindeldyboz party, celebrating the discontinuation of the print version of the literary journal, and it's continuation online-only. It was a tough call though; also happening Monday night is this Comic Book Legal Defense Party, with comics luminaries including Paul Pope and Kyle Baker and for some reason Moby.

The Ring Cycle summed up in a short, succinct comic book. Because I don't necessarily want to watch a billion hours of opera.

Alan Moore and Todd Klein (whose personal home page has some great stuff about lettering, design and logos) have collaborated on a strange alphabet, where Moore talks about each letter in turn in a historical, mythological and magical context.

The Japanese apparently like to write on mobile phones with so-called "mobile phone novels", which have become best-sellers.

So, the Science Fiction Writer's Association is run by dimwits. I'm kind of unsure why anyone would join an organization like that in this day and age. The SFWA today strikes me as an anachronism.

Then again, the term "Science Fiction" in this day and age strikes me as an anachronism.

Is Dzanc Books the future of publishing?

Maybe nonprofits should just give away their books?

Here's the recent NPR episode about books and publishing. Haven't listened to it yet. No one tell me how it ends.

Books used to have ads in them. Believe it or not.

Is the NBCC blog too "left wing"? If by "left wing" you mean "anti-Israel", and I don't automatically associate the one with the other myself.

Speaking of the NBCC blog, John Sheed sounds like a great critic. The author of the post seems to talk about him in an annoying, hyperbolic way (the opening sentence: "THERE ARE ONLY TWO KINDS OF CRITICS I know of: those who don’t admit that they’ve stolen from Wilfrid Sheed and those who do"). I'd never heard of John Sheed before, and somehow I don't think I'm the only one. But still, he sounds pretty cool.

Report from the New York Independent Book Fair Day 1

Today was day one of the New York Independent and Small Press Book Fair. Predictably, I spent too much money buying cool books that will now go in the ginormous stack of books I have yet to read. I attended two panels: The first was on publicity, and the second was a Q&A with Ian MacKaye of the band Fugazi. If, like me, you might wonder "why is a guy from some rock band doing a Q&A at a book fair," the answer is because he published a book about the band, and is in general one of the pioneers of the DIY (that's Do It Yourself) movement, running his own record label and self-publishing his own music back when that wasn't at all common. The two panels were interesting contrasts, since the publicists were (as one would expect) all about how to sell books, talking about how they work for months trying to get their books reviewed and one publicist (Sarah Reidy of Soho Press I think) talked about how she "takes bloggers to lunch." (Is it ethical for bloggers to let publicists buy them lunch? I don't know, but if any publicists are reading this, I like Chinese food.) Ian McKaye, on the other hand, said things like "Everything is being used to sell something else. Weekly papers these days are like advertising circulars with a bit more content." It reminds me of a guy I knew who worked in the publicity department of a small record label, and he tried hard to convince me that reviews were just another form of publicity. Of course, to a publicist, reviews are a form of publicity, but it's imperative that reviewers don't see it this way, because if a reviewer looses her integrity than she is useless as a reviewer. Readers have to be able to trust reviewers. More to the point, the reviewer's job, unlike the publicist's job, is not to sell you on a product, but rather to give you enough information about a product so that you know whether or not you want to buy it. This is a very, very important distinction. But to be fair, in the book publishing world just getting the name of a book out to people is a bit of an accomplishment. I don't envy book publicists their jobs.

But I digress. The Ian MacKaye Q&A was marred mostly by people asking him questions that had nothing to do with publishing or DIY and were instead about his bands and his music (including a long answer from him to a question about some controversy with Nike stealing one of their album covers that I couldn't have cared less about). I really would have liked to get a lot more from him about how to start a business with a DIY aesthetic, how to market products without subscribing to a culture that he thinks "is always trying to sell you something else" and what he meant when he said that "punk is the freespace, and it's been around forever" a statement that I thought was very strange and enigmatic. I would have asked him about these things myself but I didn't get a chance to. Maybe I'll send him an email.

Round Up

In China, literary magazines can have a circulation of 500,000. I suppose it helps when your country has a population of 1.3 billion. (via Conversational Reading)

Once again, publishing online for free compared to Radiohead's In Rainbows success. In this case, a cookbook.

Much more interesting is this look at comics vs. the music business in terms of new technology, in the wake of Marvel and DC both starting online comics ventures and the largest pirated comics download site, Z-Cult, removing all it's illegal content under legal pressure.

How to design a cool book cover. If people haven't gotten the message yet, design is very, very important. One of the reasons I'd never be willing to publish a book with St. Martin's Press, for instance, is because I've heard too many horror stories about them picking a cover that the author hates and refusing to change it. One author I remember was even sending people stickers with a replacement cover they could slap on copies of the book. (Don't remember who this was, maybe I'll track down the link at some point.)

Not enough free books for you at Project Gutenberg? How about trying the Universal Digital Library? Still want more? How about the Online Books Page? Now if only it were easy to get these books on that Kindle...

Speaking of which, here's easily the funniest explanation of why the Kindle sucks bigtime.

Marketing a new comic with the appearance of "mysterious notebooks" from the world of the comic. I like any marketing effort that is both non-traditional, non-annoying and even entertaining.