Unrequired Reading: 2007 Year-End Edition

As promised — somewhat spur-of-the-moment-ly — here’s a collection of posts that I’ve been holding onto for a while. I wanted to write about each one in more depth, but the last few months have been so busy that I simply haven’t been able to give them the attention I think they deserve.

I think one of the reasons I didn’t write about some of these is that they would’ve led me into the familiar and boring territory of my failures as a book-publisher and as a writer. When I’m work-stressed and in need of a break, I don’t tend to think, “Maybe some public self-flagellation will make me feel better!”

In that spirit, here’s the last batch of Unrequired Reading for 2007! (If you want more, go plunder the Unrequired Reading archives!)

The 2Blowhards have a conversation about the state of contemporary short fiction and the religion of the novel. The latter put me in mind of Orwell’s remark, “The novel is a Protestant art form, requiring the free play of mind. There are few Catholic novelists who are any good, and most of them are bad Catholics.”

* * *

Keith Law, an ESPN.com baseball columnist, writes about literature and food on his blog. He’s taken to reading the books on a bunch of those “Top 100 novels of the last century” lists, and this post covers the experience of reading the original version of All the King’s Men. I meant to write about this because of

  1. the silliness of most of those “Top 100 novels” lists,
  2. the issue of how classic books and stories were edited into what became their classic form (with a compare-and-contrast about the Raymond Carver / Gordon Lish kerfluffle)
  3. the fact that I bought Amy that original version of All the King’s Men by accident, so we get confused when one refers to Willie Stark and the other to Willie Talos.

* * *

I didn’t write about this Columbia Journalism Review article by Steve Wasserman on the state of book-reviewing outlets because it was really long and I never finished reading it. I’m inclined to think that’s part of the point. I mean, it looks really good, but I just didn’t have the focus.

I just skimmed through it, and my favorite part is this:

I knew very well when I took the job at the Los Angeles Times that getting ad revenue from publishers was all but hopeless. I had had to make tough decisions as a publisher myself about where to place ads and, for most books, buying ads in the Los Angeles Times didn’t make sense. The cost for a single full-page ad in its Book Review exceeded the entire advertising and promotional budgets for the vast majority of all books published. [. . .] During the years I edited the Los Angeles Times Book Review, it lost about a million dollars annually.

Which is to say, the LAT Book Review charged so much for its ads that almost no one could afford to advertise. My publisher and I always joke about trying to meet our annual sales target by raising the rate of a single page of advertising to that of our annual sales target. “Sure, it’d be a tough sell, but we’d only need one buyer and our year would be done!”

Please note that we JOKE about this. In practice, ad rates represent the reality of our market.

My second favorite part is that, in the closing paragraph, Wasserman doesn’t realize that he’s quoting a joke by Chris Rock.

* * *

Author Peter Sacks’ books don’t sell, so it’s the fault of everybody — Oprah, Ann Coulter, bloggers, capitalism — but him. I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but this screed comes off as a whiny bitchery:

Oh, by the way. I use big words sometimes and what some might call obscure literary references. I occasionally write in complex sentences, too. Maybe that’s part of my problem. I refuse to dumb it down, and I’ll persist in the belief, until the day I give up writing altogether, that readers are smart, that Americans want to read, and that they have attention spans of more than 30 seconds. [. . .] Alas reading is a declining art, and it’s giving way to the great postmodern tidal wave in advanced societies. In the postmodern world, we are all producers now. We are all bloggers who produce “content,” and content is now a commodity. You don’t need much talent to produce a commodity. You don’t need to be particularly creative or to have an original idea. When you produce content, you feed a machine, which chews upon your commodified words for a few fleeting moments until it spits them out into the void of digital hyperspace.

And where does this screed against unoriginal, boring bloggers find a home? On a site that publishes around 10 million bloggers!

* * *

I’m gonna end this on a sad but beautiful note: Paul Di Filippo’s eulogy for his dad.

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