Sweet Nonsense

Are e-books damaging society? I’ve been thinking a lot about the piece that appeared in the Telegraph this week citing Franzen’sexploding-earth-bomb-clip-art-thumb2794671 hatred of e-books.

I was fully prepared to be annoyed by the article when I read the headline. While I’m not fatalistic enough to link the downward trajectory of society to e-books (or at least not solely to e-books), I enjoyed some of Franzen’s points, particularly this one about permanence of physical books:

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”

I like thinking about books this way. Sure, I own an iPad and a Kindle, and I have a slew of e-books on both of ‘em. I love being able to purchase books on a whim–in the middle of the night, on a rainy Sunday, whatever– from the comfort of my own home. But I often feel a certain hollowness when I’ve completed a download. I like the way a real book takes up space in my life the way an e-book can’t. If I download a book,  visiting friends can’t pull it off of the shelf and thumb through it. My infant son can’t grab it and chew on the corner, leaving little dimples in the jacket (which annoys me now and which I will feel nostalgic  about later when he stops chewing on things).  I can’t slip a piece of paper into the book to mark my place, or tuck the paperwork I’m carrying around with me between the front cover and the title page. I can’t scrawl a friend’s phone number on the inside back cover.

I asked my interns to share their thoughts..”I actually bought both of Jonthan Franzen’s books on my Kindle,” one intern said sheepishly. ” They’re 600 pages long! Who wants to lug that around with them all day?”

Ha ha. Touché, Jonathan Franzen.

I read a lot of queries this week–about one hundred. I sent a lot of rejections this week–about ninety-something (I requested four manuscripts).

Getting rejections is never easy (remember: I get them, too!). Sending rejections isn’t easy, either. But when I pass on your project and tell you to keep writing, I mean it. The passage below explains why. So even if you think I’m a jerk with no taste for passing on your project, you should listen to Ira Glass, because he’s a really smart guy.

Keep writing.

Some web work is better left to the experts. That is, people with skills and understanding. That is, people other than me.

Humpty_Dumpty_TennielWe are back—not just from vacations and working holidays, but from the netherworld that is 404 status for the blog. In a heart-breakingly comic series of mishaps, I managed to delete both the company blog and, in trying to restore that, the entire desktop from my computer (where I’d unwisely stored thousands of files), and my Time Capsule backups of same were no longer recognizing his computer. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Enter the tech monkeys at Apple, the friendly folks at our web hosting service, and the snarky genius who is Symon Chow, and it is all back up and running. I’ve aged a few decades in the past couple of days, and I lost two weeks’ work on a couple of books, but you know what? That feels like a small price to pay considering the alternative.

All of which is to say only this: Backup early and backup often. Your work is more fragile than you suspect.

tumblr_lauhhnxMds1qzupj0o1_500Do you like books? Do you love books? Do you have more of the damned things than you know what to do with? More than you can read in a lifetime? Do you sacrifice the love of spouses, friends, pets, whatever because of the many volumes that clutter your home like snowdrifts after a blizzard?

Well, my friend, join the sorry ranks of us book-loving fools. And take shelving inspiration from the awesome pictures at Bookshelf Porn, a website dedicated to … well, to what its name suggests: Photographs of groovy bookshelves. Up there and to the right is Karl Lagerfeld’s bookshelf in his apartment. (He also owns the bookstore next door, which I suppose you can afford when you’re a super-wealthy creepy looking living dead fashion designer). But there are just as many other cool/strange/head-scratching shelves on the site. Makes you want to redesign your home, doesn’t it?


Hey folks! If you’re in the greater New York area this weekend and find yourself pining for great books, cupcakes, or moustaches, feel free to come out to a really terrific event at Books of Wonder.

On Sunday the 10th of 2010 (10/10/10) at 1 pm, Books of Wonder will be hosting ten authors whose debut books came out in ‘10. And just to make it even more special, they’ve added an eleventh author in Amber Benson, who you may know from her days playing Tara Maclay on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. The real stars of the event in our 100% biased opinion, however, will be Upstart Crows Shaun David Hutchinson and Josh Berk (pictured below), who will each be reading from and signing their books for legions of screaming fans. (more…)

As we zoom into another week, I thought it might be fun to start out with a light post, a little game of sorts, to see what you’re reading these days.


As a devoted lover of books, it’s not unusual for me to have many books and magazines stacked haphazardly on my bedside table, some of which I’m in the process of reading, some of which I’m hoping I’ll be in the mood to read soon, and some I’ve already read (multiple times) and love so much that I just can’t stand to put them back on the bookshelf just yet.

The books on my bedside stand are a reflection of my mood, of inspiration, and my goals. Books are my greatest pleasure, my stolen moments, and my meditation. I simply cannot fall asleep without reading at least a few pages of a book. And oftentimes, I like to wake up in the very early morning before the day gets too crazy, grab a book from my bedside table, and tiptoe into the living room (so as not to wake The Husband or The Daughter), and spend a delicious, silent hour curled up on the couch, reading.

And so, dear readers, I present to you, my list:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book I by Maryrose Wood
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The American Woman in the Chinese Hat by Carole Maso
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

And on the floor next to the bed: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems, which my daughter flung to the floor this morning in a joyous fit of giggles once we finished reading it.

What about you? What’s in your reading pile (or, for those of you techie folks out there, on your Kindle/iPad/e-reader thingy) at the moment?

Kurt Cyrus’s fabulous Big Rig Bugs was published this past spring. It’s a near-perfect model of how to do a lot with a little: In seventy-six words, it tells the story of a bunch of bugs clearing away some litter from a construction site. And, because that’s not near enough, it also a slew of great parallels between how some construction devices mimic what bugs do in the natural world. Kurt is a poet and an artist, and he excels in both realms here—this book is a crackerjack read-aloud that should please the youngest fans of big rigs or bugs.

But that’s not what this post is about. No, this post is merely to present this nifty book trailer Kurt made for the picture book, just as a side project while he finishes up something else. For all the bug-obsessed kids out there, no matter their age.

bookpadMy complaint is a simple one.

Look at the picture there on the right.

See the stack of books to the right? See the stack of books on the iPad? Which one reminds you of the stories still to be read, the books you want to reread; which one literally occupies a space in your conscience (as well as on your bookshelf)?

But in my experience, when I look at my iPad, I don’t see books. I see an iPad. On the device is Middlemarch, a Jonathan Ames novel, a Charlie Huston mystery, a couple of P.G. Wodehouse books, and a half-dozen nonfiction books I thought I wanted to read once upon a time.

This could just be a sad side effect of the way I consume books: (more…)


It’s award season and the results are finally in!

No, no, not those awards, which remind us that the people who create children’s books are artists as well as craftspeople.

No, I’m talking about the Bulwer-Lytton Awards for worst opening sentence. It is Edward George Bulwer-Lytton whose 1830 masterpiece Paul Clifford begins:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

In his honor, each year hundreds of writers compete to write similarly overwrought and overextended sentences, and they are always a riot. Mere badness isn’t enough; these entries are all hilariously awful. Check them out at the link above!

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them recent award-winners and bestsellers—don’t ask). Years later I’ll be flipping through an old copy of something and find an expletive in a margin and think, “Really? Was it that bad?”

But my marginalia is as nothing compared to the marginalia of the greats.

There is a wonderful little piece by Ian Frazier in this week’s New Yorker about the marginalia in books owned by famous writers, among them Nabokov, Coleridge, and Twain—who probably wrote the most entertaining marginalia: “At the end of an unusually exasperating chapter, [he wrote,] ‘A cat could do better literature than this.’”

So writing in books: Bad? Good? A necessary evil? A perversion that must be stamped out? Do you write in your books?

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