Tag Archives: Books

Literary Auction Hype

Literary

Auctions unfortunately do not look at literary merit as much as they look at commercial merit. And when heavily marketed commercial books hammer the message: “read this book, read this book,” it skews independent judgement of even the most die-hard reader, forcing them to, at least, take a peek at this latest curiosity that everyone is talking about. Given that time is our most precious commodity these days, such peeks come at the expense of other books that may have grabbed the reader’s attention through non-promotional means.

I’m hoping that the author whose work was auctioned and who is now left to sign with the winning publisher, would use their judgement, take the long term view, and let the auction be used only as a yardstick to determine the “potential value” of their book. I’m hoping that they will settle on the publisher whom they feel will be the best fit for their career (after all, there will be more books in the pipeline from this author, we hope) rather than going with the highest bidder on just this single auctioned work. For the highest bid also comes with the highest expectation, and an author who does not earn his advance could get dropped for their next book by an “over-generous” publisher.

And as for readers, I hope that they … will stick to their own reading lists, compiled through due diligence rather than hype, and that they will not take those time-wasting detours just because an at-risk publisher has thrown the rest of his money after his moment of weakness at an auction and is touting the compelling but distracting message: “Read this. I put too much money behind this damned book and I need your help to bail me out!”

From: northumberlandview.ca/index.php?module=news&type=user&func=display&sid=34539

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Writers or Performers?

“In my first 15 or 20 years of authorship, I was almost never asked to give a speech or an interview. The written work was supposed to speak for itself, and to sell itself, sometimes even without the author’s photograph on the back flap.” –John Updike, The End of Authorship

A publishing contract is now more than an invitation to write. It is also a request for performance. The author becomes, as John Updike puts it in The End of Authorship, a “walking, talking advertisement for the book”. The very year the American novelist gave this speech in Washington, a publisher told me in passing: “Of course, we’ll fly you to the festivals, get you reading at shops and libraries.” Of course. One does not simply have talent, which Flannery O’Connor insisted was vital for a literary vocation. Now one is a talent: an artful player, with all the ambiguity of each word.

My point is not that there is anything necessarily vicious or vulgar about performance, or that we have lost a literary golden age: from enlightened literacy to primitive orality. The Romans regularly held public performances, in which poets tested their verse in a public laboratory. (Or lavatory. “You read to me as I shit,” complained first-century poet Martial in his Epigrams.) Pliny the Younger lamented that his listeners did not obey audience etiquette: “two or three clever persons … listened to it like deaf mutes.” Greek philosophy itself began with public performance; with the need to grab interest along with intellect. Put simply, we are not the first era to ask writers to tap-dance, and this request does not automatically corrupt literature.”

Read More: smh.com.au/entertainment/meet-the-author-why-writing-is-no-longer-just-about-the-words-20150512-ggywy3.html

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Why Butcher Novels with Film Adaptations?

“The subject of reading, of absorbing and interpreting, of assimilating the book’s narrative into the narrative of our lives, becomes inextricable from the text. There are schools of literary theory that focus, with varying degrees of complexity, on reader response and the “event” of reading. But the underlying concept is simple. Reading isn’t passive absorption; it’s an active rewriting based on who you are, where you are, how old you are and, possibly, whether or not it rained that morning. […]

The question remains: Why reduce these novels that grow so much bigger than their 1,000-odd pages into 2 1/2-hour movies, plays and ballets?

In her 1926 essay The Cinema, Virginia Woolf is obsessed with this problem. In reference to some of the earliest film adaptations of Anna Karenina, Woolf considers how strange it is to see someone else’s face imposed on a character that “the brain knows almost entirely by the inside of her mind.”

Woolf’s issue is how much film relies on visual distillation – “A kiss is love. … Death is a hearse” – when our experience of reading is just the opposite. Literary love is so much more than visual; the depicted relationship must travel along a twisting autobiographical pathway of ex-lovers and daydreams to make any sense to us at all. So why subject these great works of literature to such diminishing distortions?”

From: theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/dancing-into-anna-kareninas-mind/article24007703/?service=mobile

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The More You Know the Larger the Rows of Unread Books

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

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From: brainpickings.org/2015/03/24/umberto-eco-antilibrary/

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Brain’s Visual Dictionary aids Reading

… “study supports the idea that when we learn a new word visually – by reading it rather than hearing it spoken aloud – a small part of the brain, located behind the left ear, creates a mental image of the word. Instead of remembering it as a string of letters or syllables, this region, called the visual word form area, gets trained to recognize the entire word as a pattern, forming a “visual dictionary” of our vocabulary. Representing written words in this way helps us recognize them more easily – and read faster.

“We know that in efficient readers this visual word form area is the area that seems to change the most as we learn to read,” said study author Max Reisenhuber, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington D.C.”

From: insidescience.org/content/picturing-words-makes-faster-readers/2706

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Reading and Writing are Crucial in Humanitarian Emergencies

“In humanitarian emergencies, reading and writing are essential to healing and reconstruction.

While there is no question that organizations and governments must devote the majority of their efforts to promoting the physical wellbeing of disaster victims, more attention should be given to nourishing the mind as a second measure to help victims cope with catastrophe and move forward.

The importance of food, emergency supplies, and shelter, after a natural disaster, cannot be underestimated. But perhaps the importance of books, which provide comfort, escape, connection, and normalcy after a crisis, can.”

From, and read urgent petition to donate books to Vanuatu:

http://m.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2015/0320/Vanuatu-asks-the-world-please-send-books!-video

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Writers Have a Huge Responsibility

“Literature matters. […]

It’s like this. When you read, you are involved in a private transaction between, on the one hand, you, and on the other, the book and the person standing behind the book, the author.

The act of reading brings two separate energies together. One is the text which is made by the writer, and other is your personality into which the text is imported. Reading merges you and the text together and once that union has been effected it can never be undone. The two are meshed.

And the reason I lay such stress on this process is that the act of taking words off the page and bringing them into your psyche will necessarily change you for ever because every time you read, you see, the words you ingest get added in or on to your personality, so when you finish a text you are not the same person that you were when you started.

This means writers have a huge responsibility because, quite literally, albeit incrementally, the things they write, once they’re read, change the character of their readers, for ever.”

From: irishtimes.com/culture/books/carlo-g%C3%A9bler-writing-matters-so-it-should-be-venerated-not-devalued-1.2145883

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Book Publishing Industry Survives Without Big Data

But can it continue?

“It is one of the cruel truisms of the book business that publishers rarely have much insight into how their products are actually used. This is not for lack of curiosity on a publisher’s part but because of the structure of the industry:  books are almost never sold directly to end-users. They are sold to libraries and the wholesalers that service libraries; they are sold to your local bookshop; and they are sold to online vendors; but rarely is a book sold directly by a publisher to the person who reads it.  Book publishing, in other words, is a game of intermediaries. Sitting upstream, publishers have little insight into what is happening downstream. This is an invitation to make bad business decisions based on unproven assumptions about how books are actually used, and as an industry, book publishers have accepted that invitation over the past few years and made a series of big mistakes. It may be hard to roll back these decisions, but if we don’t know what they are and how they came to be, we are likely to keep making more of the same.”

From: scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2015/03/12/what-we-got-wrong-about-books/

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Striving for Immortality

“Writers live lives of curious contradiction. Their work succeeds only by means of a monastic interiority and lonesomeness, and yet they yearn for that work to deliver them the very things most likely to murder it: whole continents of fans, invitations to claim and cash fantastical checks. They’ve heard the warning that says celebrity is one of the toxins which contributes to a writer’s artistic contamination, but they can’t help themselves—writers spend lots of time being overlooked, and thus lots of time fantasizing about the opposite predicament. There’s no such thing as a writer who yearns to be ignored.”

“The potent brand of immortality that was possible for Wordsworth, Keats, and Austen is no longer possible, and for myriad reasons, chief of which is the basement-level regard we now have for serious writers—the world doesn’t care about literature the way it did when those three were undergoing their immortalization. Our new Keats is Steve Jobs or someone like him. The cultural emphasis has shifted from one incarnation of creative brilliance to another.”

“[…] today our fissional culture has obliterated consensus—most readers now appear beguiled by what genuinely constitutes a good book, and so they fall back upon that least accurate mode of assessment: personal taste, relatability, identity confirmation. The criterion by which to judge any book must be the sentences: Do they work, are they imbued with torque and verve, do they have something permanent to say about a human circus both shining and absurd? Publishing is a business in which writers of ironclad intelligence and integrity must watch in paralysis as third-rate books are lavishly rewarded and celebrated, and so those writers cheer themselves up by imagining that their laurels will arrive after their deaths, when society finally gets wise and realizes the injustices it heaped upon genius.”

From, and read more: newrepublic.com/article/121197/writing-literary-immortality-writers-want-fans-who-last-forever

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Writing, a Solitary Voyage Through the Universe

“The reader may laugh, but for us writers, writing is every time a mad, exciting business, a voyage in a tiny craft on the high seas, a solitary flight through the universe. While one seeks to choose the single word among three that present themselves, at the same time struggling to hold the feeling and tone of the whole sentence he is constructing — while forging the sentence into the selected structure and tightening the bolts of the edifice, he strives at the same time to keep in mind the tone and proportion of the whole book; that is an exciting activity.

I know from personal experience only a single other activity that has a similar tension and concentration; that is, painting. There it is the same: to blend each individual color with its neighboring color properly and carefully is pleasant and easy, one can learn to do it and then practice it at any time. Over and beyond that, however, to have really before one’s mind the as yet unpainted and invisible parts of the whole picture and to take them into account, to experience the whole fine network of intersecting vibrations, that is astonishingly difficult and seldom succeeds.”

Hermann Hesse, A Patient at a Spa

See also: The Sorrows of a Young Writer https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/the-sorrows-of-a-youngish-writer/

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