ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: book industry

More social media trimming

Warning: navel-gazing ahead.

I thought about deleting my Goodreads account today. GR is the last social media platform I participate in, and I’ve been active there for the last couple of years. I returned to it when I started reading a lot of literary fiction again; I swore off the romance and related genre discussions quite a while ago, but the lit fic reviewers and groups didn’t seem to have the same kinds of recurring kerfuffles (NARRATOR: they do, just not as often). But they have their own idiosyncracies, like focusing to an obsessive degree not just on group reads of awards longlists and shortlists, but also choosing to spend lots of time and energy debating the worthiness of the books on those lists.

At first I found these discussions informative and mildly amusing. Having been buried in the romance genre for more than a decade, I hadn’t really paid attention to the proliferation of prizes in the lit fic world. But my goodness, they have not just multiplied but become much more prominent in terms of promotion through newspapers, magazines, and blogs. (#notallmedia, of course; the LRB, TLS, and NYRB don’t seem to care much about which books win prizes, but they’re in the minority.)

What isn’t different is the extent to which GR readers and reviewers depend on ARCs for their reading. Just as much as genre bloggers and reviewers, they try for Netgalley and Edelweiss, as well as obtaining ARCs directly from publishers. And there are a lot of small publishers in lit fic who are increasingly important to the health of the book industry in terms of innovation, creativity, and as incubators for new or new-to-English authors. This creates an intimacy between publishers and readers which is more similar to the relationship between authors and readers in romance than I’m comfortable with. One of the reasons I stopped reviewing romance novels and requesting ARCs was that I wanted to increase the distance between the author and/or publisher and me and decrease the distance between the book and me. I still don’t take ARCs, but when I review and discuss books at GR I know that authors and editors may be listening in. Which is absolutely their right, but it makes me think twice about what I post.

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I’ve only watched one episode of Game of Thrones (don’t @ me, I read the first three books and that was more than enough). But I was fascinated by this NYT Magazine article on visiting the Westeros sets and locations in Northern Ireland, written by an Irishman. The blending of the real and the artificial, and the way in which the artificial overlays the real, is understandable but also troubling. What happens when we create Disneyfied landscapes in places with real history? And what happens when our mental images are dominated by the way they stand in for fake worlds and start to erase the real ones?

Less than half an hour after the tour bus left the pickup point, I realized we were no longer in Northern Ireland, but had entered the realm of Westeros. We were passing Stormont Castle, on the outskirts of Belfast. This was theoretically the seat of Northern Ireland’s government, but for over two years now this executive office — jointly controlled by the right-wing loyalist (and largely Protestant) Democratic Unionist Party and the left-wing republican (and largely Catholic) Sinn Fein — had languished in a state of indefinite suspension thanks to a densely complex sequence of disagreements. The tour guide made no mention of this notable landmark, and the reason he made no mention of it, I further understood, was that it had nothing to do with “Game of Thrones.”

This has already happened in a non-political way in New Zealand, with the landscape being associated with the Lord of the Rings movies rather than its own history.

Somewhat relatedly, I was listening to a radio report on the Notre Dame fire as it was happening, and there was an interview with someone who had immediately set about creating online video libraries of photos of the cathedral and its interiors. Which is great, but virtual visits aren’t substitutes for actual visits. I understand not everyone can visit historical and artistic monuments (I’ve never visited the Parthenon, and I doubt I’ll ever see Petra), but we do a disservice to them and to ourselves when we elide the difference between looking at a two-dimensional or even three-dimensional virtual representations with the actual tactile and optical experience of seeing the real thing. For my whole life I’ve told people that however many photographs you’ve seen of the Taj Mahal, it will not prepare you for its beauty. Marble in person is just different than marble in a photograph or video, and you can’t fully appreciate the Taj’s perfect proportions until you see it in situ. It’s OK not to have seen it (none of us will see everything we want to). It’s not OK to act as if Google Earth is a satisfying substitute.

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The Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. In the arts prizes. Richard Powers won the fiction award for The Overstory (I was not a fan) and the finalists were The Great Believers and There There. I was very pleased to see Carlos Lozada win the criticism award since he’s a book critic. How often does that happen? And Darrin Bell became the first African-American to win the editorial cartooning prize. I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet I am.


I really enjoy Tim Parks’s posts in the NYRB blog. He is an novelist, translator (of Italian) and essayist, and I’ve been reading him since I came across his book on Italian soccer. This is a departure from his more recent essays on global literature and translation issues. It’s an exploration of the relationship between modes of travel and the novel:

I want to go further and suggest that there is actually a deep affinity between a book and a means of transport, just as there is an evident analogy between a story and a journey. Both go somewhere. Both offer us a way out of our routine and a chance to make unexpected encounters, see new places, experience new states of mind. But without too much risk. You fly over the desert, or race across it, but you don’t actually have to experience it. It’s a circumscribed adventure. So it is with a book. A novel may well be shocking or enigmatic or dull or compulsive, but it is unlikely to do you too much damage.

He closes with an unabashed love note to the way trains and novels go together, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about the pace and sound of rolling stock that goes with a big, thick novel. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains and reading everything from romantic sagas to Henry James has been an integral part of the experience. Ereaders have made traveling with books a lot easier, but I kind of miss sitting in a train compartment with a big fat book, working my way through the chapters as the miles roll by.


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I stopped using my Twitter account last June, but I still visit friends’ and others’ feeds occasionally, and I found a link to this gem of an article. Ignore the headline, the real title is in the URL: “Buckle Up Twitter is cancelled.” We’ve all experienced Buckle Up Twitter, i.e., those hectoring Tweetstorms that can only be written by someone who doesn’t actually know much about the subject they’re lecturing the Twitterverse on.

Buckle Up Twitter will not be vanquished by things like “historical accuracy” or “profound embarrassment.” The other day I saw evidence of a thread, now sadly deleted, with the premise that the writing maxim “show, don’t tell” expected and indeed demanded an act of emotional labor from the reader that was similar if not identical to the emotional labor extracted by white men in their dealings with the rest of the world. There was a thread “calling out” King Leopold of Belgium.

I have seen threads that would make your eyes water, and in all cases, the responses were not what I personally would have anticipated. Things being what they are, I would have thought that a thread that began like “LISTEN UP DICKHOLES: TIME FOR A RANT ABOUT HOW LAVRENTIY BERIA WAS A TOTAL JERK AND A REAL PERV” would end with an apology and a promise never to do it again, but why would you apologize when you are met with joy and delight? The thing about Buckle Up Twitter, hard as this may be for right-thinking people like me to accept, is that a lot of other people LOVE IT. They absolutely love to be told that they are morons and that all of this is actually Beau Brummell’s doing.

The Beau Brummell thread which introduces the piece is so eye-wateringly bad (and yet so equally sure of its brilliance and wit) that it’s hard to imagine there’s a better illustration. Except, of course, for the Greatest Buckle Up Twitter Thread of Them All: Time for Some Game Theory. I shudder to think what it would take to dethrone that one.

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Awards lists galore

The Man Booker International Prize shortlist was announced yesterday. As many news stories about the list have noted, it is dominated by women. The six books are:

  • The Years by Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison Strayer (France/French)
  • The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, tr. Jen Calleja (Germany/German)
  • The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, tr. Anne McLean (Colombia/Spanish)
  • Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, tr. Marilyn Booth (Oman/Arabic)
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Remains of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Poland/Polish)
  • The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran, tr. Sophie Hughes (Chile/Spanish)

I’ve only read two of the list so far and liked them both. I had two more on hand and was able to buy the remaining two through Kobo UK. I haven’t decided whether I’ll try to read them all before the 21 May announcement, but I’ll read at least some.

I like the list. I’m sorry that After Dusk didn’t make it, but I’m also relieved that The Faculty of Dreams, which many readers rated very highly, was left off. I am just not up for a “literary fantasy” that treats Valerie Solanas as a totem for 21st-century feminists. It might be an excellent piece of literature, but the GR reviews have made me think that the less you know of the actual time, people, and intellectual debates, the more you are likely to (a) be impressed by the book; and (b) think you’re learning something about the real person. Solanas was a complicated and troubled woman whose relationship to feminism and gender theory isn’t easily summarized. The novel feels exploitative, even though the author is clearly sympathetic, in part because Solanas guarded her intellectual property so vehemently and had zero respect for affluent middle-class feminists. But that’s another blog post’s worth of off-topic material.

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