Showing posts with label media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label media. Show all posts

Thursday, August 4, 2016

WITMonth Day 4 | Undoing the trend

This is a post I've struggled to write for many months. I've actively avoided it. But it's women in translation month - year three! - and this is as important a time as any to discuss:

We all have a problem with women writers in translation. End of.

I spent several months at the start of the year fretting over my three-year "trend" results, working and reworking them. I emailed publishers. I tweeted publishers. I pondered the matter. I published the overall stats. I read arguments by publishers that perhaps people like me were being too rough on the "good guys" and that publishers were not, in fact, the central gatekeepers of literature in translation and thus devoid of responsibility.

The reality is this, again: We all have a problem with women writers in translation.

Let's start with publishers: many, many, many publishers are clearly trying the best they can within a broken system that makes it hard to even acquire books by women writers in translation, and struggling to reach parity. These are the sorts of publishers that participate in WITMonth, share the women in translation stats, commit to the Year of Publishing Women (2018). These are publishers that are - for lack of a better distinction - making an effort.

These publishers deserve to be commended and recognized for their efforts. Truly. Some of them have abysmal rates themselves, but frankly I respect that they're nonetheless recognizing the broader problem and promoting those few women writers that they do publish. The next stage is correcting it - or first perhaps identifying its exact source and working on that - but any recognition of the problem is wonderful.

However, I do wonder at what point we need to start addressing the elephant in the room: That the problem of women writers in translation will not magically solve itself. Rather, it will require hard work, dedication, and commitment.

I'm always nervous during #WITMonth that it might seems as though I'm relegating the issue (and subsequent attention to it) to one month, rather than demanding equal care throughout the year. The fact that some publishers use WITMonth to promote their handful of women writers (out of an extensive and overwhelmingly male backlog) is great, until their stats remain static. The fact that some publishers give discounts on books by women writers in translation during WITMonth is awesome, until they refuse to change their approach to acquisitions and translations.

I have women in translation statistics going back three years: 2013, 2014, and 2015. Some publishers have shown marked increases; others have shown marginal shifts (going from 0% to 16%, for example). The overall yearly rates: 27%, 27% and 31%. I would love to believe that 2015's ~30% is a sign that things are improving, but it's difficult to ignore the fact that a solid factor in that increase is one publisher (AmazonCrossing; without them, the ratio drops to 25%). So the trend holds, at least for the past three years.

But publishing is not something that responds to immediate, minor whims. Publishing - particularly of literature in translation - is a long-game, with some publishers announcing their forthcoming titles a year or two in advance. The question becomes:

What happens now?

The lack of women writers in translation is a trend. If you go back far enough, you'll find various people over the years pondering the imbalance. Nothing came of it, unfortunately. Slight upticks, but we're still left with a huge imbalance. Now is our opportunity to change that. The 30% trend - as it were - can be history, if we choose it to be.

Readers: WITMonth can become WITYear. Why not have parity in our own reading? Why not make that one small change, at least for ourselves? (We wouldn't even have to sacrifice quality or complexity or diversity! Just gain new dimensions.)

Translators: Let us know what books we're missing! You're our eyes and ears in other languages, capable of pointing out fantastic literature by women writers that has maybe not been recognized yet by English-language publishers (or any other language publishers, for that matter - WITMonth applies to all languages/countries!).

Publishers: Seek out that which we know exists. We know there is always excellent literature by women writers, even if they're not always recognized as much as books by men. Yes, it might be a bit more difficult to find those books, but that would go a long way in guiding us towards the most basic gender parity.

A trend is only a trend if it lasts. We can stop it, but we'll have to work for it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday links

  • A great post about the impact of eReading on one's reading habits - for me, eReading will never be able to fully replace print (for practical reasons, among which is the fact that my eReader doesn't support Hebrew), but generally speaking, Greg is spot on. Not only has the eLibrary (in part because of its limited scope...) introduced me to books I might otherwise not have read, I've also started reading books concurrently, leading to, yes, more books read.

  • Israel is the guest of honor at this year's Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), with plans for several very popular Israeli writers to be stopping by - it sounds like a trip to Hebrew Book Week, except with all the good authors there at the same time, and with a lot, lot, lot more people attending.

  • The stats on U.S. children's books reveal that most main characters are white, despite clearly changing demographics. One theory seems to be "diversity doesn't sell", but... I'm not buying it. This is something that needs to change.

  • The short lists are out for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, and as always I'm just thrilled that this award exists, if only to remind people that sci-fi and fantasy are not, have never been, and should never be an exclusively Anglo affair.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Britannica's new look

Most of you have probably heard by now about Encyclopaedia Britannica ending its 244-year print run. Many sites and blogs have wondered about the implications of Encyclopaedia Britannica closing its presses, but I find myself surprisingly okay with the new model. To be perfectly honest, I think they're doing the right thing.

The fact is that print encyclopedias are mostly obsolete. Today, when I turn to my personal set of Encyclopaedia Britannic (a 1966 set I inherited from my aunt), I find myself more often than not failing to find what I was originally looking for. The same goes for when I browse through my family's 1986 set. When I need to know something, it's easier to search for it online. Yes, there's the added struggle of ensuring that I'm accessing a reliable source, but it doesn't take long to adjust.

But what I truly admire about this story is how the Encyclopaedia Britannica has come to terms with the modern age. Instead of simply fading away into obscurity, they have turned their focus to the online Instead of simply forgetting their original mission statement, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has seen the face of the future and has decided to embrace it.

Is this an indicator that all print publishing will one day go digital? I've said it before and I'll say it again: no. Twenty-six volumes of a print encyclopedia (of which the vast majority will never be read) is a notable waste of paper. It provides users with a clumsy interface and is outdated the moment it's published. Literature (fiction, non-fiction, regardless) is of an inherently different nature. Yes, publishers should embrace the digital age similar to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but that does not mean that all print publishing is on its way out. It just means that it's time for a change.

In the meantime, I will keep my handsome 1966 set. With entries on countries that no longer exist, mysteries humanity has long since solved, and contemporary observations on what I've studied in history class, the volumes provide me with more information than I could ever find online about how the world was in 1966. This, at least, will never be able to emulate.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Putting John Green into context | The Fault in Our Stars

I've waited a few days to write about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It hasn't been very easy to collect my thoughts. For starters, it's the most recent book by an immensely popular author, a book that many, many people have been eagerly anticipating (anticipating far more than I have, to be honest). But more to the point is the fact that Green's latest novel is a bit perplexing in a way I've grown to associate with his works.

The reason I've stuck with John Green over the years is because I like his style as an author. Back when I first read Looking for Alaska (and was thoroughly underwhelmed), I was struck by how easy-to-read his writing was. Green writes like he talks - a bit pretentiously, a bit unrealistically, but intelligently and with a lot of wit. Though I didn't really like the plot or characters in Green's debut, I stayed up until two in the morning to finish reading it, concluding that it just wasn't my style. And so the following year, I read Green's second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, which I quite enjoyed. In my growing, adolescent mind, the differing approaches of the two books made John Green an author worth reading, even if aspects of his writing were bothersome.

I only read Paper Towns, Green's third novel for young adults, after becoming well acquainted with Green's prolific online persona, as I reached the end of adolescence. The fact is that he truly writes like he talks - within the context of his personality, the way his male protagonists behave and the way things happen make it easier to forgive him for common young-adult novel transgressions (like the fact that all of his characters are unreasonably clever and witty and often sound very similar to each other).

Green Green signature
Which leads me back to The Fault in Our Stars, which is both very similar to every other John Green book I've read until now, and markedly different from all others. Like everything Green writes, the characters in The Fault in Our Stars are pretentious and clever and witty and thoroughly self-aware. It should be annoying, but unlike Paper Towns (where I did ultimately feel annoyed but managed to ignore it...), I wasn't even bothered. Maybe it's because The Fault in Our Stars is narrated by a girl (a first for Green), maybe it's the fact that it's such an emotionally charged book, and maybe it's just that it's better written. On a technical level, I knew I could be bothered... but I wasn't.

The Fault in Our Stars does a very good job of breaking free of its expected realm. It may be a love story, but it works as well for young men as it might for women. It may be about teenagers, but adults will find as much to relate to as their younger counterparts. It may be a bit too clever, but anyone can feel the powerful emotional punches this book throws. It may seem like a simple story, but the simplicity is deceptive - The Fault in Our Stars runs a lot deeper than would appear.

The Fault in Our Stars is the first book by John Green I've purchased, having checked out all others from the library. I'm glad this is the one I bought. This is his best book so far and though my thoughts are still formulating, I suspect that I'll be coming back to reread it sometime soon.

Friday, December 23, 2011

On book trailers and the visual medium paradox

I just finished reading this post over at Ripple Effects from a couple weeks back about book trailers. Arti writes a few seriously thought-provoking passages:
Will you go and buy this book to read after watching the trailer, or, are you more likely to just add another view count to the video and a click on 'like'?
Book trailers are, at the end of the day, trailers. They're meant as a preview, not as a review. They might make something seem particularly impressive (or particularly unappealing), but that's because they're meant to. They don't aim to summarize the book, but rather present it in a particularly visual form to hook readers. Sometimes they work more effectively than others. For example, despite long believing that Lauren Oliver's romance-looking young adult novel Before I Fall was definitely not the book for me (not the style, genre or approach I typically enjoy), after watching the very sleek, very well-done book trailer, I want to read the book.

This is the rarer outcome. In my experience with book trailers, I find them to be supplements to books about which I've already made up my mind. They don't succeed in convincing me to a read a book previously disregarded... usually, only a very good review will do that.

Then there's the question of the "visual medium paradox", as I call it.
In this eWorld of ours, we need a real hardcover book to explain to children what a book is… or used to be, if you take the apocalyptic view.  We’re told a book isn’t something you scroll, tweet, or text, and no need to charge up. But the fact is, those are the very functions you do to view and share the trailer. And it’s a book trailer, with all its visual images and special effects, uploaded and viewed online and hopefully gone viral, that helps boost book sales. Another mash? Or simply an inevitable paradox nowadays?
In modern literary culture, the use of a visual medium to present a story is considered an upgrade. A book is deemed successful if adapted into a movie, and the other way around: a popular book will inevitably make it to the big screen (or even to the small screen - look at A Song of Ice and Fire). This is nothing new, obviously (look at the sheer amount of movies based on plays and books from sixty, even seventy and eighty years ago), but it still serves as an indicator.

I digress. The point of the visual medium paradox is that, well, it doesn't really exist. It's a conceptual thing. A book trailer isn't a paradox. It's just a use of a visual medium to blurb a book. Perhaps it's one that better captures a potential reader's attention, one that can give them tools to imagine the characters and the setting, and one that can use visual effects to enhance the image of the book. It's not like a movie, it's like a movie poster - a quick visual glimpse into the story, presented in a way that attempts to catch the reader's attention. But this is all - again - as a supplement. There's no need for the trailer - a reader can pick up the book, read it, enjoy it, and set it aside all without knowing that the trailer exists. The trailers may help boost sales, yes, but they are not the single factor determining the popularity of a book. The written word is much stronger than that.

On the other end of the visual medium paradox scale, I find myself thinking again about movie adaptations. Movie adaptations are reworkings. Much in the same way an adaptation of a play isn't exactly the same as the original, a movie or TV adaptation of a book takes advantage of its medium to tell the story differently. Yes, our culture views the visual medium to be more accessible to a wider range of people, but this doesn't actually mean that the adaptation is an upgrade.

And here I admit something I'm loathe to admit under any circumstance: I was wrong.

The book is not weakened by such visual reworkings, not by movie adaptations and not by book trailers. If use of the visual medium to supplement the written word is a paradox, so is a movie review that is not done in the visual format. Modern technology allows us to explore different mediums to express ourselves. I don't think it's necessarily ironic to use different mediums as supplements. It's inevitable.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The widowhood memoir (scandal)

There has been a small amount of criticism and issue taken with author Joyce Carol Oates' recent memoir about widowhood, A Widow's Story (which, for the record, I have not read). Some reviewers, rather than focusing on the memoir itself, have turned a sharp gaze towards the fact that though Oates' memoir focuses on the sudden death of her husband and the grief that followed, she neglects to mention at any point that she married a little over a year after her husband's death.

This of course raises the question of full disclosure in a memoir. Does the author need to reveal what may seem (to them) as irrelevant to their story? Oates clearly did not see need to include mention of her remarriage - perhaps to her this was not part of the grief story. But it may also seem as though something is missing. Indeed, Oates has been quoted as saying that she should have added an appendix to the book, including her remarriage and that she hopes such an appendix will be added to later editions.

Commenter Kristin writes the following:
If someone can write a memoir at 22 years old, why can't Oates write a memoir about a particular time in her life? 
When you think about it, Kristin has made a pretty good point. Memoirs are not autobiographies. They don't have to include what you ate for breakfast every day. They don't have to provide a full summary of your life. Memoirs are, in fact, defined by their flexibility and the way they don't have to tell everything around the author's world. Oates decided to discuss the grief of widowhood, not the possible joy of remarriage. That's not what the book is about. That she remarried does not exactly cast the book into a new light. It's just a different story, one that may deserve its own focus (should Oates decides that's worth it).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Things that are also ruining literature: me

When I read articles like this Huffington Post take on the NYT Book Review (via A Momentary Taste of Being), I'm at once fascinated, in agreement and completely annoyed and frustrated. The article rambles a bit, but Anis Shivani focuses a sharp glare in the direction of what he views to be: "an incestuous system of backslapping and mutual admiration, rather than any independent judgment of the quality of books under review." Ouch.

Shivani throws out examples easily and angrily - why was Franzen so praised? What is this publication that so likes A Visit From the Goon Squad and Room? Most of the article is composed of example-tosses like this and it's hard not to feel like Shivani is jealous of the powerful, influential review. Some of his hits fall flat - if the NYT Book Review feel like focusing on fiction (and a dash of popular non-fic here and there) as opposed to poetry... that's allowed. It may not be a popular choice in Shivani's mind, but it suits the majority of readers and if the NYT staff realized that discussing poetry doesn't draw in readers, so be it. It may suck, but this is how it goes.

Shivani also disparages the popularity of the books that the NYT choose to review, what he calls "safe consensus books". This is possibly his strongest point. He also discusses political takes and reviewer bias (irrelevant for the sake of this post). And then there's Shivani's annoyance with hype.
Commercial interests conveniently merge with political bias to create a propagated landscape of erosion and waste, hiding the real vibrancy of books in America. The books that end up in the Times's Top 100 or Top 10 every year are simply the ones with the most advertising muscle and public relations hype behind them. This year, as always, these lists were utterly predictable[.]
Here Shivani is at once completely right and also completely wrong. On the one hand, he has a point - the NYT Book Review looks a lot like a publishing magazine or Amazon's bestselling list or the galleys I might be offered by publishers. On the other hand, he's wrong - this is not at all exclusive to the NYT. We're all guilty. Allow me to explain.

Much as I tell myself that I'm a reader of varied tastes and have broadened by horizons, that's absolute nonsense. If I look over the books I've read, most of them fall into the "standard" category - popular book-of-the-moment finds. Now, I don't assume that all readers are like me. In fact, I presume most of you guys have your niches and the books you want to read, but are probably better than me when it comes to reading different books. Or not. That's okay too.
The thing is, even if we don't all read the books-of-the-moment because they're super popular, we're aware of them. Most of us - readers, reviewers and bloggers - can't pretend that we haven't heard of most of the books that Shivani mentions in his article. Many of us have probably read a few, here and there. Some because they received an ARC, others because they read a great review and others still because they kept seeing the name and wanted to form an opinion of their own. As upsetting as it may be (why do no small presses make it big?), it's the normal way of things. Good advertising -> leads to lots of reviews -> leads to lots of sales -> leads to bestseller status -> leads to more sales. Read: the way publishing works.

Shivani isn't wrong to question and challenge this. I entirely agree that the over-exposure of a select few books as opposed to complete radio silence regarding most is frustrating. I agree even more that the link between massive hype/publicity and well-publicized gushing reviews is rather disgusting. But to throw all the blame on the NYT Book Review is as stupidly generalized and wrong as it is to say "the book is dead". Dramatic statements like his sound like whiny finger-pointing when a large portion of the blame lies on most of us - the consumers who put up with it and even benefit from it, gaining a reasonable amount of quality literature even as it's mixed with the bad. Before crying foul, we should take a long, hard look at ourselves.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My new favorite Oscar winner

Acceptance speech
I'd like to offer my enthusiastic, hearty congratulations to Shaun Tan of The Arrival fame and Andrew Ruhemann for winning the Oscar for best animated short film. It's not every day I get to see an author I really really admire accepting a prestigious award for something that is not at all literary (or even something in the "best screenplay" realm).

Back when I first read The Arrival, I found myself repeatedly comparing it to a silent film. It would appear that Mr Tan is just as adept at animating actual films as he is at drawing wonderful, wordless books. I very much look forward to seeing "The Lost Thing".

Once more, congratulations!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Score one for NPR

Amid all the "Best of" lists, you'd be hard pressed to find books not originally written in English. Here's where NPR wins big with Jessa Crispin's "World of Novels" list, where 5 foreign fiction books are crowned best of the year. Crispin writes:
[T]he inescapable truth is, sampling world culture is an essential and powerfully enriching experience. [...] [These books] just happen to be set in slightly unfamiliar locales.
Indeed. The list is fairly varied, with books translated from Spanish, Russian, Hebrew and Dutch (two books are originally from Spanish). Obviously, it might have been nicer having a wider variety (and a longer list!), but given how few books get translated per year, I'm willing to forgive Crispin. The topics are also all over the board, with horror stories, war tales, nerdiness, feminism and family drama all covered. For readers sick of constantly seeing the same titles again and again in "Best of" lists, this one is most recommended.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Gloomy rainbows

A little teaspoon of gloom, Reading Rainbow is officially going off the air (hat tip Read Street). To put it frankly, this is pretty depressing news even if the show's main audience is quite grown now.

Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books.

It's disappointing that public television keeps aiming for younger and younger ages as opposed to funding appropriate shows for slightly older children as well, particularly a show that aims to instill in kids an appreciation for reading and books. The end of the show would be less bittersweet if only the reasons for its closing were slightly... better. I hope (and would like to think) funding will eventually return to a show like this.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer reading for kids

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is best known for op-ed articles about critical world issues. So it's interesting to see him talk about summer reading for kids and give a list of recommended books.
A mountain of research points to a central lesson: Pry your kids away from the keyboard and the television this summer, and get them reading. Let me help by offering my list of the Best Children's Books — Ever!
Kristof's list has a few age-old titles alongside immensely popular modern counterparts. He even described within series' which book is the best to start with, a point I've always wished would come included in lists of this sort. He encouraged readers of his column to come up with their own ideas, leading to the third post on the subject, where he offered some of the reader suggestions. In this post Kristof acknowledged that perhaps those who read his blog aren't the parents whose kids are at-risk and that they may not need to ensure as critically that their children read this summer, but it's still very important and obviously never hurts.

In regards to Kristof's original idea, there's quite a bit to be said. It's not surprising to hear that the lack of cognitive stimulation in the summer probably hits at-risk kids more than it does middle-class ones, and I certainly see how reading helps this problem. Encouraging literacy and reading is always good, but it's particularly important among kids. I definitely appreciate his efforts at fixing this situation and encouraging parents to help their kids read good books. This list may only be a starting point, but it's an absolutely great one. Mr Kristof, I tip my hat.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Of publishers and industries

BookExpo America may have been a couple of weeks ago, but its impact is still being felt. At least, by those of who follow Three Percent, eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series about points that popped up during the expo. While all are interesting in painting a picture of publishing today, a few particularly striking points were raised (*profanity warning):

If the industry wasn’t fucked, there would presumably be enough space in the culture for long-form, independently edited print reviews, book news magazines, online literary mags, bloggers, social networking recommenders, etc., all of which would connect readers with books in different ways, with different levels of authority.

Presenting the problem in one concise paragraph. While the entire entry in the BEA series is interesting, it's the point raised here that really got my attention. The article aims to bring up the problems regarding bloggers and publishers but here it's pretty clear. The left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing. Each medium is separate, has separate rules and different points but all seem to be competitive. Unnecessarily so, especially taking into account how different they are. The book-blogging panel was allegedly meant to find a way to bridge bloggers and publishers together, but all it did was highlight the industry's flaws, misunderstanding the purpose of many blogs. Bloggers have existed for years; many get free advance copies from publishers and do plenty of publicity for these books. But all of the coverage takes blogging as competition when compared to newspaper critique. Which, Post points out, is hardly relevant anymore, especially since newspapers barely appear at this expo. The next installment (the most recent), though, is the one that stands out most:

Or even better, why couldn’t BEA have a panel about e-books that includes a cultural critic, a publisher, an author, a reader? Create a space for real debate and discussion?

I know I’m repeating myself, but publishing is really, really shitty at doing market research. But what if you had a few thousand (ten thousand?) “regular readers” hanging out in one place where you could potentially interact, ask them questions, engage in some sort of feedback loop that would improve your business practices? This could be revolutionary . . .

The panels that I've seen (National Book Critics Circle on book reviews in 2010, here and here) don't have this. Which is a pity, because it really makes the most sense. The book industry spends all day complaining about how they're failing, how nobody wants to read anymore and how everything is over for them. The fact is that they're wrong. People still read and being arbitrarily told what people do or don't want to read shows how out-of-touch publishers are with the readers who ultimately purchase their books. For instance, some publishers are certain that Americans don't want to read foreign literature (part III; also Literary License's thorough take). And so they will not bother seeking out quality foreign literature for translation. A pity and a shame.

The book industry has for too long done whatever it has thought is right and has too often been incredibly wrong. Most readers want different types of books. Even readers with strictly set comfort zones enjoy looking outside the box every once in a while. Only publishers aren't willing to think clearly when it comes to eBooks and the future of the printed book. Publishers aren't willing to admit that the internet and access to free information make the market a different place than it was ten years ago. They aren't willing to work with the public to finding a solution. We get patronizing publishers who don't ultimately care about getting quality books out there. We get a book fair that doesn't admit itself to the greater public and alienates common readers. Post points out that almost every other country with a major book fair gets massive publicity in the non-book world. Only BEA remains exclusive and closed off, preferring pointless panels about how bloggers shouldn't be considered the same as professionals and other subjects along those lines. It all seems a stupid affair, something that may have once worked wonderfully to hype booksellers and reviewers up about books. A novel idea. Now it only seems like a display case of an out-of-touch industry. Harsh, but sometimes that's how it looks.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon's disappearing act

I'm still not sure what to make of this, but so far, here are the details: appears to have removed many GLBT oriented books from their bestseller lists and removing their rankings. The e-mail sent to the self-published author who first noticed his missing ranking reads:
In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.
Meanwhile, someone I know did send their own letter of complaint and received an automated message saying:
Thanks for contacting us. We recently discovered a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed.
There's something off on both sides of the story. On the one hand, it seems incredibly unlikely that would, after so many years, decide now to alienate a large reading community. And more bizarre is what has actually been done. It basically comes down to this: search for the popular "Running With Scissors" (hat tip Read Street), you sift through a number of unrelated titles (movie included) before finally reaching the book. Weirder still is the fact that "Running With Scissors" has retained its ranking, even while other GLBT oriented books have not. "Heather Has Two Mommies" strangely has no rating. And neither book is in any way officially tagged as "adult".

There's no ultimate conclusion from quick searches through Amazon's database. The LA Times' blog lists books that despite a much more "adult" approach, remain ranked even as many books are simply disappearing from the database. While this appears increasingly suspicious on Amazon's part, it seems strange that a website that sells Playboy books would suddenly decide that all GLBT oriented books (or books with a central GLBT character) are too "adult" to appear on bestseller lists. A list of the books with missing rankings can be found here.

Meanwhile, some suggest that perhaps this is all indeed a glitch that came as a result of numerous complaints and was automatically set by a group of people declaring all gay related books to "adult". It is, as of yet, entirely unclear as to what is going on. Amazon will obviously have to explain the situation better than the two-lined automated e-mails being sent around. In the meantime, angry customers refuse to use Amazon's services and will continue bombarding Amazon's help-center with e-mails, hoping that soon this bizarre mess will be rectified.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NYT and "Thirteen Reasons Why"

Thanks to Jay Asher's amusing and interesting blog, I was linked to this New York Time's article. I can't express particularly well how "Thirteen Reasons Why" made me feel. Some dismiss it as a "teen" book and I know many adults feel uncomfortable with the subject. Some people don't even like the book. That's okay. I encountered a review in which the reviewer complained of the at times whiny nature of the second narrator. And yet I feel there's something very important hiding in "Thirteen Reasons Why". The NYT article phrases it well (emphasis added by me):
With its thrillerlike pacing and scenes of sexual coercion and teenage backbiting, the novel appeals to young readers, who say the book also gives them insight into peers who might consider suicide. “I think the whole message of the book is to be careful what you do to people, because you never know what they’re going through,” said Christian Harvey, a 15-year-old sophomore at Port Charlotte High School in Port Charlotte, Fla. “You can really hurt somebody, even with the littlest thing.”
The NYT article is interesting to view also in terms of the difficulties authors must face in terms of publishing their books. Still, at its core, the article is about "Thirteen Reasons Why", a book that is finally perhaps getting the attention it deserves. The rise has been slow but steady. It's always interesting to see when schools adjust their reading lists to include new books (summer lists are most informative), but unlike simply good books which get a lot of rap, "Thirteen Reasons Why" is, in my mind, important. Yes, there are enough teen suicide stories out there, but none, I feel, reach the same level of clarity and importance that Asher's novel does. It's a book for boys and girls alike, teens and adults, readers and non-readers. Even as some don't appreciate it as I do, I think what's special about Asher's novel is that you leave it with a new understanding for a lot of things that you may never have thought of before. And that right there is why "Thirteen Reasons Why" deserves your attention.

Commenter Caite raises a good point I belatedly realize I should have mentioned. Those who don't like "Thirteen Reasons Why" feel, for the most part, that aspects of the suicidal premise put far too much blame on others. It's a valid point. Still, I personally found that this "blame game" ultimately adds to the story, as strange as that may sound. This is not a book to make readers feel good about themselves or about people in general. It's very human in that sense. I view this blame, which some dislike for its moral implications, as human in the same way. There is to a certain extent and need for interpretation with the book which can pull either way - one can see it as a real flaw that hurts, or one can see it as a whiny flawed character. In this regard, I cannot promise if you'll be one or the other and thus enjoy the book. I simply know that I did.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Parisian bookstore

For many readers, there's a certain magic to bookstores. It makes sense, after all. A bookstore is basically a huge room crammed with books. And while some have replaced this tangible bookstores with online stores, I think everyone can appreciate this story. It's a Parisian English bookstore (that sounds more contradictory than it is), one that "houses" writers and readers, and is home to a rich literary history. Jeanette Winterson for the Guardian:

Way back, in 1913, the original Shakespeare and Company was opened by a young American called Sylvia Beach. Her shop in rue de l'Odéon soon became the place for all the English-speaking writers in Paris. Her lover, Adrienne Monnier, owned the French bookstore across the road, and she and Beach ran back and forth, finding penniless writers a place to stay, lending them books, arranging loans, taking their mail, sending their work to small magazines and, most spectacularly, publishing James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 when no one else would touch it.

Hemingway was a regular at the shop, and writes about it in his memoir A Moveable Feast. His spare, emotional prose makes a poignant story of those early days, when material things weren't so important, and if you could get time to read and write, and live on cheap oysters and coarse bread and sleep by a stove somewhere, then you were happy.

The theory of this alone should make Shakespeare and Company stand out. Presence to Hemingway, Joyce and Kerouac? This is a literal writer and reader's haven. In all honesty, this is rather like all those gadgets we secretly want but aren't willing to pay for - I'd fly to Paris just to enter this store, not least for the stacks of books. Then there's this passage from the Guardian article:
While there are plenty of readers who are not writers, there are no writers who are not readers, and one of the great gifts of this extraordinary bookshop is to keep writers and readers on the same creative continuum. Writers are not reduced to small-time semi-celebrities, and readers are not patronised as consumers. As Sylvia says, "We sell books for a living, but it's the books that are our life."
I rarely like linking and advertising without at least offering some new input, but this is just a story, and a nice one at that. And don't be fooled by the length either. This tale is well worth the time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

And as for the adaptation?

It's been a week since the Oscars but the need to fully evaluate means that this entry is slightly delayed. Oh well. Still, after finally getting through Salman Rushdie's amazingly long rant on movie adaptations (and wow does somebody hate "Slumdog Millionaire"...), I wanted to add a few cents. Rushdie's ramble ends so:

Whole societies can lose their way through a process of bad adaptation. Striving to save themselves, they can oppress others. Hoping to defend themselves, they can damage the very liberties they believed to be under attack. Claiming to defend freedom, they can make themselves and others less free. Or, seeking to calm the violent hotheads in their midst, societies can try to appease them, and so give the violent hotheads the notion that their violence and hotheadedness is effective. Wishing to create better understanding between peoples, they can seek to prevent the expression of opinions unpalatable to some of their members, and so immediately make others even angrier than they were before.

Societies in motion, at a time of rapid change such as the present day, succeed, as all good adaptations do, by knowing what is essential, what cannot be compromised, what all their citizens must accept as the price of membership. For many years now, I'm sorry to say, we have lived through an era of bad social adaptations, of appeasements and surrenders on the one hand, of arrogant excesses and coercions on the other.

We can only hope that the worst is over, and that better movies, better musicals and better times lie ahead.

And these are the last three paragraphs (even the ending feels a bit long). Still, if someone has a lot of time to burn, go ahead and read the whole thing. It's interesting... in a boring way. That's not to say Rushdie doesn't say interesting and relevant things, though many have argued that his points are moot. Over at Read Street, Dave Rosenthal said, regarding similar quotes (made before the Guardian rant was published) by Rushdie:

It's fiction, remember? I do expect realistic fiction to be grounded -- I wouldn't want Puff the Magic Dragon to appear in Slumdog. But movie adapters get some license to keep the story moving. The criticisms leveled by Rushdie (at least those noted by the AJC) are so minor that they don't bother me -- not nearly as much as the depiction of Mumbai's sprawling slums.

Setting aside Rushdie's complaints about "Slumdog Millionaire" specifically, there are interesting points to be made in his 9 paged "article". Some wonderful works of art have emerged from adapting other works of art. Meanwhile, there are many, many cases where the adaptation butchered the original piece on which it was based. Rushdie is right to complain about recent adaptations on that count. It's a strange situation when a number of the more prolific and hyped movies of the decade are adaptations, whether from books, comics, or other movies.

Still, while numerous terrible movies have been made off of books, there are a lot of crowning jewels. I, for instance, am a big fan of "The Princess Bride", in book form and in movie form. I enjoy each immensely, recommend both, and find that the movie by no means ruins the book, even if it leaves out a lot of the quirkiness of the masterfully written book. It makes up for it by bringing its own charm, flair and personality.

Then there are books that have been "covered" so many times that it's gotten boring. Take "Pride and Prejudice", for instance. A classic example. The first adaptation, from 1940, is nothing like the book. Rich with anachronisms (the costumes are apparently the same from "Gone With the Wind" - speaking of movie adaptations...) and major character changes (Lady Catherine is nice), it's an example of an adaptation that actually changed the book. Then you watch the miniseries and you see something a little more realistic. The miniseries is a good adaptation - the 1940 version is not.

There are many examples where the adaptation is better known than the original ("Princess Bride" comes to mind again). Or where the adaptation is actually better than the original (Rushdie offers "Lord of the Rings" as an example for this). But rarely does a movie adaptation truly ruin the original. It'll raise awareness, yes, and if it's terrible, may keep potential readers away, but it rarely (if ever) makes those who have enjoyed it regret that feeling. Rushdie makes a few interesting, scattered points but sifting through this mess of a rant is a bit of a time-waster. And the adaptation debate will go on for a long time. Personally, I hope for an age where books have time to settle before they're instantly snapped for the big screen. I don't want to always feel rushed to read a book simply because four months after publication, it's already got a version out in theaters.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And even more about the Kindle...

Everyone is talking about the Kindle. I guess that even includes silly comics and Jon Stewart. And Jeff Bezos has the strangest laugh I've ever heard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Calling on all Battlestar Galactica fans...

*Notice! This is a no spoiler zone! Please refrain from mentioning anything related to season 4 of Battlestar Galactica! Thank you!*

With that out of the way, I'm pleased to link to the Guardian's most-delightful article that's about, believe it or not, Battlestar Galactica. (The article is spoiler free in regards to season 4 but mentions things through season 3.) Until reading this neatly phrased piece, my copy of the Aeneid sat cheerfully ranked as "last" on my above-bed bookshelf. I never believed that anything could make it shoot up through the ranks so quickly, surpassing even a Zola novel I've been wanting to read for months. As soon as I finish my current read, into the battlestar, er, I mean, Virgil, I go. A tip of my hat to the Guardian, then. Charlotte Higgins, I don't believe I should get so amused from reading about Virgil. Then again, you used the phrase "geek tragedy".

While it's always fun to compare classics to their modern counterparts, I think this ranks as one of my most favorite.