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Archives: October 2007

It Was An Experiment, And You Were Part of It

Book_1.jpgOver at mediabistro.com’s UnBeige blog, Alissa Walker has a story on the 1000 Journals movie, which is set to premiere at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles this weekend. The film is based on the 1000journals.com project, which was also the basis for a book from Chronicle earlier this year. The YouTube trailer doesn’t seem to be working as I type this, but QuickTime trailers are available on the official movie website

Your Sobering Industry Evaluation for the Morning

clipart-depressed-worker.jpgAn anonymous GalleyCat reader feels that this blog paints too rosy a picture of the publishing industry, and has plenty to say on the subject. “Many of the books that my house paid big money for have gone to the remainder bin,” this insider begins. “The working conditions at most houses are not great. The pay sucks and most of the employees take advantage of their mental health benefits. The fact of the matter is that most people under 40 do not read very many books and the industry is fiddling while Rome burns.”

“As an editor,” this reader continues, “I can tell you that my occupation does not have a bright future and working in publishing is not for the sane… I love books, but I have to say most people in America do not.” He or she feels that the coverage here has been lopsided, and would like that to change. “There are many people who slave away every day who would like for you to reflect their opinions as well,” says this editor. “We are not the top brass, but we deserve to be heard.”

You know, I could counter by saying that I’ve not only acknowledged the workers’ discontent but expressed a skeptical attitude towards reports of happy workforces. But I recognize that’s not enough for some readers, including this one. The problem is that I can only take anonymous griping so far, and the tipline is a one-way street that prohibits me from entering into a dialogue with those of you who are feeling disgruntled. I’d be glad to have a conversation about this with any of you, and if that conversation (or those conversations) turns into a story, then that’s worth pursuing—and I hope you’ve figured out by now, two years in, that I don’t burn my sources, so you can speak frankly even without the cloak of an anonymous forwarding box. But, honestly, if you’re just looking for someone to vent to, there’s not that much I can do for you.

Here’s A Crime Reporter With a Real Inside Scoop

(Warning: Although safe for work, this trailer discusses crimes of a violent and quasi-sexual nature.)

John Leake‘s Entering Hades is probably more along the lines of Sarah’s expertise, from when she was sharing the GalleyCat workload, but the story of Jack Unterweger sure sounds interesting to me. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in a serial killer who turns out to be one of the journalists who’s most aggressively reporting to the public on the story of his own crimes? For that matter, who among us familiar with the contours of the publishing industry can’t help but be a little bit curious about a true crime book from Farrar Straus Giroux? I mean, if that’s not a “your chocolate in my peanut butter” moment, I don’t know what is. (Of course, editor Sarah Crichton does have a pretty sharp eye for smart books with commercial potential…)

Checking Out the New Kinokuniya

kinokuniya-manga-section.jpgAfter reading Motoko Rich‘s NYT story on the opening of Kinokuniya‘s newest midtown branch, I decided to visit the Japanese bookstore over the weekend, especially eager to check out their manga section (seen at left). It was a little quieter than I thought it would be, but maybe that’s just what the Bryant Park area is like on a Sunday afternoon. Anyway, I didn’t get down to the Japanese-language section in the basement, but I was easily seduced by the cookbooks on the first floor, and admired the English-language fiction section, which includes not just a wide variety of Asian authors in translation but books by English-language writers about Asia. And then there was the top floor, dedicated primarily to manga in both Japanese and English, and a strong selection of anime DVDs. I hadn’t even realized that a new volume of my favorite manga, Kiyohiko Azuma‘s Yotsuba&!, had come out this month, so I scooped that right up:

yotsuba-sampler1.jpg

And then I saw a bunch of other series that I’m looking forward to exploring in the months ahead. (My only complaint? Everything in the section is shrink-wrapped, making browsing past the cover impossible.) The section isn’t, according to the Times, as big as the manga space at Barnes & Noble, but it has more than enough to keep me occupied… and I’m lucky that Midtown Comics and Forbidden Planet both seem to have decent selection as well.

Story Prize Judges for 2007 Announced

storyprize-2007judges.jpgYou may recall that I was a judge in last year’s Story Prize competition, which awards $20,000 to the author of the best short story collection published in the U.S. The judges for this year’s prize have been announced, and they are: author and Newsweek editor David Gates, poet and Slate editor Meghan O’Rourke, and Skokie librarian Patricia Groh. After the three finalists are announced, the prize will be presented in New York City in late February 2008.

Will National Book Award nominees Lydia Davis and Jim Shepard make the cut for their collections, Varieties of Disturbance and Like You’d Understand, Anyway? Or are there some other candidates you think might emerge from the pack? Let’s hammer out a hypothetical longlist…

Scene @ the CLMP Spelling Bee

spelling-bee-clmp.jpg

I actually felt pretty good about my chances going into “To Bee or Not to Bee,” the annual spelling bee fundraiser for the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. I had a great cheering section: My former Notre Dame classmate, novelist Tasha Alexander, had already convinced her fellow writer Elizabeth Letts to join us, and then during happy hour we’d persuaded Sarah Durand, Tasha’s editor at Morrow for the novelization of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, to tag along, and when we all got there, we ran into Kate Travers of the Literary Ventures Fund. So the four of them were rooting for me somewhere in the middle of the room, and then a few people came up before hand to offer their encouragement; even Emily from Gawker said she thought I could win, which was nice (although I’m still waiting to see what they say about me later on the site). So when they had me take my seat between Lev Grossman and Alex Kuczynski, I was in it to win it.

And I actually got pretty far, thanks to “gibbet” and “supersede” and “ghee,” until, after three or four contestants had already choked on “lignin,” I found myself in the final three with Gretchen Rubin and Jonathan Burnham. But then none of us got it, either, so the pack thickened back up, and I finally stumbled on “florilegium,” mistakenly spelling it with two e’s instead of two i’s. A few other people got the word wrong, too, and I thought I might get a third shot at the title, but then I think it was Meg Wolitzer who finally hit upon the right spelling, and ultimately she went on to take the title on “chukker.” Congratulations, Meg—but watch out next year!

See more photos from the evening at my Flickr set.

“Trick Lit”: Is There Really Any Out There?

Seth Godin recently coined the term “trick lit” to describe what he calls “a chick lit novel that pretends to be something else, hoping to rope people in with an interesting premise. 30 pages later, you discover that you were deceived, that it’s just another piece of genre trash.” Now, my scorn for stupid criticisms of chick lit, even from hotshot NY Times columnists, is well-documented, but I’m not here to beat Godin up over calling the genre “trash,” especially since he’s already backed down from that label. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the kind of book he’s talking about—although, honestly, I think it’s actually more likely for fiction of a perfectly reasonable literary standard to be marketed under a pink cover, or confused for chick lit by critics, as it is for formula genre stories to sneak over into literary territory.

Godin didn’t give any examples of what he meant by the term on his blog, however, so I shot him an email asking if he had a specific book in mind. He said it was based on something that had happened to his son a while back, and he wasn’t sure what book it was. So I put it to you, readers: Have you ever been “tricked” into reading chick lit? Or have you started reading a book that you thought was going to be a piece of fluff that turned out to be rather substantial in the end? (As you’ll see at some point in the next 24 hours, the question is not merely rhetorical…)

The Book Trailer We Can’t Show You at Work

M.M. De Voe tipped me off yesterday to a video I think has to set a new benchmark in the book trailer genre… a benchmark for crassness, that is. It’s the eight-minute promotional video for Jay Nussbaum’s new novel, A Monk Jumped Over a Wall, and if you’re wondering why I’m not embedding it like I usually do with YouTube stuff, well, let’s just say this self-described “nymphomercial” pushes right up against the NSFW barrier, starting with a bikini-clad blonde lounging around with a copy of the book and culminating in a reenactment of a scene that appears (I admit, I fast-forwarded—I mean, eight minutes?) to leave a guy buried up to his neck in manure. All in that “it’s ironic T&A, so it’s okay, really” tone which, let’s face it, is almost never successfully ironic nor okay.

De Voe says the film left her “somewhat taken aback,” but she was willing to consider the possibility that maybe it was just her, so she emailed the URL around and asked for opinions. “Most of the women were appalled,” she reports, “one gay man asked to be removed from my list (!!), and most of the straight men hated the ad, but remarked that the title of the book was not ‘nymphomercial’ as they had thought. They all recalled the name of the book.” So I guess, if you can set everything else aside, it’s got that going for it. “What’s the world coming to for novelists?” De Voe asks. “Naked readings next?”

No More Editing for Jason Pinter, Only Writing

It’s been quite a year for Jason Pinter: He’s been fired from Crown for blogging about his job, then snapped up by St. Martin’s Press later, and then he had his first novel, The Mark, come out from Mira at some point after that, and now he’s leaving his editorial position at St. Martin’s to write full-time. “While it has been a pleasure to work with the incredible team at SMP,” he tells friends and colleagues in his unofficial email announcement, “I’m excited for the challenge and opportunity that lies ahead.” Starting, no doubt, with the publication of book two, The Guilty, next February…

NYT ‘s Last Ditch Effort to Recloset Dumbledore

dumbledore-headshot.jpgNYT cultural critic Edward Rothstein finally catches up to J.K. Rowling‘s revelations about Dumbledore’s sexuality, and authorial intentions be damned: “It is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character,” Rothstein argues. “There seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary.”

If you’ll recall, the first option in our poll about the news was “I don’t care what Rowling says—not Albus!” And that’s pretty much what we’re dealing with here:

“Ms. Rowling quite consciously makes Dumbledore a flawed, more human wizard than [Merlin or Gandalf],” Rothstein argues, “but now goes too far. There is something alien about the idea of a mature Dumbledore being called gay or, for that matter, being in love at all.”

“Alien” in this context sure seems a lot like a synonym for “icky.” I mean, I’ll give some credit to the argument that the tragedy that drives Dumbledore’s adult life isn’t falling in love with a boy who turned out to be the wizard equivalent of a fascist, but falling in love with the wizard equivalent of fascism, but to suggest that Dumbledore’s reaction was implausible if this were really about sex? As others have pointed out over the last week, Dumbledore’s adult life—minus the cosmic battle of good and evil, of course—fits perfectly within an all-too-conventional stereotype of the “doomed homosexual” who spends his life denying himself because he was caught out in one tentative relationship in his youth and/or it ended badly.

Frankly, it would all be a lot more interesting if Grindelwald and Dumbledore had been more explicitly cast in the mold of Leopold and Loeb, and that was the tragedy Albus regretted all his life.

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