Monthly Archives: October 2008

Not Fighting The Future

Seems as though I hit on a timely topic yesterday. Google just announced a settlement with publishers and authors to digitize books. Which might mean every book ever published could be digitized in the foreseeable future. Have a look for yourself at some commentary here and here, but I can’t see how this can be bad news for anyone except middlemen who can’t and / or won’t roll with the times.

Meanwhile, way back in 2002 Tim O’Reilly was writing about how piracy is progressive taxation. And here is Lawrence Lessig on Free Culture. These guys say something like what I said yesterday, only much earlier and much better.

UPDATE: Some more, slightly legalistic commentary on the Google settlement here.

The Kindle vs. Bookstores vs. Dead Men

Oprah has a favorite new gadget. It’s a Kindle. Maybe you know this already, if you live in the US. But it was news to me. And it’s causing an apoplexy here. A more measured response here.
I’m going to take the independent bookstore person at her word, and assume that the Kindle is bad voodoo for independent bookstores. But you can’t fight the future with peevish tirades.

I think the Kindle is great. I think the Kindle opens up the whole new realms of possibilities. Just like any serious music listener has an iPod or iPod-like device, perhaps every serious reader will someday sport a Kindle-like gadget. I can envision a world where literary content is shared much like musical content is shared today. (On a much smaller scale, no doubt.) The Kindle being like the blank tape was in the 80s. True, the Kindle uses a proprietary format, but someone will hack that, if they haven’t already. Or, even better, someone else will come up with a better, cheaper, more user-friendly device, and we’re off to the races. Want a glimpse of that future? See Creative Commons.

But, booksellers and publishing houses and agents and etc. will scream, what about us? Well, what about you? Why should I care? You’re not the one who’s going to get up at 3:30 tomorrow morning and write. You’re just middlemen. I don’t care who the middlemen are. Unless you were lining up to give me money. No, strike that. I don’t care even then. I’m not in it for money, you see. Sure, some financial reward for my efforts would be great. But I’m not counting on it. I’m not even hoping for it. (To get by, I’m seeking a trade.) I aim for an aesthetic ideal, and I’ll take whatever audience comes, however it comes. Scratch it on cave walls. Put it up on Btjunkie. Sell it on the Kindle. Hell, put it on the shelves of an independent bookstore in Milwaukee. Doesn’t matter. The writing is the end. Not where that writing ends up.

Hem said that writing is a competition with dead men. And so it is. If I make it up there, somehow, then I tend to think I’ll be read, regardless of what the distribution system is. If I don’t, well, the world is full of mediocre pulp and getting fuller by the day. It won’t miss my contribution.

I don’t know what such a future would look like. What I do know is that literature, even great literature, will continue to be produced regardless of the Kindle or any other gadget. (Much like, contrary to the dire predictions of record company execs, great music continues to be produced even after the blank tape. And the blank CD. And MP3s. And file sharing. And bit torrents.) You know why I know this? Because in 6 years of serious writing, I’ve received $200 in compensation for thousands of hours of labor. And there are thousands and thousands of us. With all that frothing creativity, somebody somewhere will produce something lasting, something that can stand toe-to-toe with those dead men. And people will read it. What form will it take? Who knows. Maybe books. Maybe Kindle books. Maybe something no one but a few engineers in a lab in Osaka know about yet.

If I could upload my work onto a literary filesharing system under a Creative Commons license, I’d do it. Guess I could pull a Radiohead and ask you what you want to pay for it. (If everyone had a Kindle like everyone has an iPod, that’d be a lot easier.) Probably make about twenty bucks. Or, 10% of my earnings so far. I’d take that twenty bucks straight to the toystore and buy something Made In China for my daughter. And the next day, get up and write some more. Kindle or no Kindle. Bookstores or no bookstores.

Border War Update

Things are back to their languid state of normality on the Thai-Cambodian border. I suppose what with all the taunting and ethnic rivalry on the border and political chaos here in Thailand, things will remain tense for a while. One plus for the Cambodian military, though: better rations could be on the way!

Cheam Yeap, deputy head of the national assembly’s finance commission, told Reuters, “Our army needs to be more organized, better trained, with newer bases and well-fed troops.”

Who knows how long this thing could drag on if the Cambodian soldiers get some good grub.

Into The World of Writerly Blogs: HTMLGiant

I’ve been a little reluctant to dip my toe into the frothing world of writerly blogs. Mainly because I’ve never been much attracted to daisy chains of undeserved affirmations (or the sophomoric contrapostive, locker-room gauntlets of uncapitalized criticism). Something sort of incestuous about it, somehow. Writers writing about writers writing about writing.

However. The cockles of my heart have recently been warmed by HTMLGiant. They call ’em like they see ’em, and I appreciate that. If they’re a bit juvenile at times at least they don’t take themselves too seriously. Hope it doesn’t degenerate into just snark. Includes long posts to interesting places like this one. And Mean Mondays, which have thus far managed to be mean without cruelty, a mean feat in itself. Also, tits on Boob Friday. What’s there not to like?

Added to Blogs Of Note to the right and down. (Don’t forget to click on a few of my stories on your way down there.)

Book Review: Winter’s Bone

First things first: I read Winter’s Bone in a few sittings. Would have been one if not for the offspring. That’s about the highest recommendation a reader can give, I’d say. Being also a writer, though, I’ve got quibbles. While a fine book, Winter’s Bone is not a great one. At times it feels like Daniel Woodrell is writing merely to introduce us to a Colorful Cast of Hillbilly Characters. Long stretches of dialoguin’ with cussin’ and cantankerizin’ likewise. Loving descriptions of squirrel field dressing and pop-can target practice likewise. Winter’s Bone is set deep in the hillbilly Ozarks. We get it. The premise set up in the first few pages is delivered upon with a somewhat perfunctory twist and a denouement that feels just a touch phoned-in.

Minor criticisms. Taken as a whole this taut read is fit as a boxer in top form. No nagging doubts or annoyances when you’re finished, other than the annoyance of being finished. In places it delves into Cormac McCarthyesque prosings which portend the potential to move the book from mere story to virtuosic statement. It’s damn near impossible to crib from the master without stooping to base imitation. Woodrell does it by avoiding the issue and moving the plot ahead. Personally, I think he has the stuff to make it and I’d like to see him try. He has eight other novels. Maybe he has.

Woodrell evidently coined the term “country noir” (thanks to Rusty Barnes over at Fried Chicken and Coffee for the heads-up ). I like the term tremendously and may make use of it myself. Thereby putting me in the dilemma that Woodrell (I think) faced with McCarthy: pilfering without parody. Any time a writer makes you want to follow in his footsteps you know you’ve hit on a good one. Even rarer is when that writer is still alive. I expect to be commenting on other portions of his output in due course.

Grade: A