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Archive for February, 2011

Margaret Atwood gave a charming presentation at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference in New York on Feb. 15th called The Publishing Pie. She illustrated her Powerpoint presentation by hand (see image on left) and she speaks on behalf of writers, asking the publishing industry “please don’t forget your primary source”. She also points out that, in a way, publishing has come full circle from her days as an emerging author creating her own covers in linotype or even Dicken’s time publishing serials to today’s authors who are publishing their own work. This video is 30 minutes long, but well worth your time.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6iMBf6Ddjk

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In Speak, Memory Nabokov links the memory of watching his son bring him shells and pebbles at the seashore to his own childhood experience collecting shards of pottery at the seashore.

I do not doubt that among those slightly convex chips of majolica ware found by our child there was one whose border of scrollwork fitted exactly, and continued, the pattern of a fragment I had found in 1903 on the same shore, and that the two tallied with a third my mother had found on that Mentone beach in 1882, and with a fourth piece of the same pottery that had been found by her mother a hundred years ago — and so on, until this assortment of parts, if all had been preserved, might have been put together to make the complete, the absolutely complete, bowl, broken by some Italian child, God knows where and when, and now mended by these rivets of bronze.

I love the notion of reassembling this broken piece of pottery by reassembling shards gathered over generations. Continuing with the seaside theme, I experimented with this concept in my own writing by comparing the thrill of finding sea glass during my childhood on the beaches of Cape Cod with the treasures my daughter found across the world on a beach in Australia.

‘Look,’ Corinne says pointing at thousands of tiny shells that have been washed ashore, ‘We’re rich!’

Indeed the beach is filled with an assortment of miniature conch shells, about the size of Corinne’s baby toe. Mother Nature has given them patterns detailed enough for a man’s suit — herringbone, tweed and plaid.

I look down at my daughter’s white-blond curls and the newly sprouted freckles sprinkled across her nose and it feels as if I’m looking back at myself on Nauset Beach, oceans and years away. We bend down to start collecting her little treasures. We share the most beautiful ones with each other before tossing them into my overturned baseball cap. I wonder how Corinne will choose to display them when we get home? On a shelf, like I used to do? In a tiny box. Probably more likely.

Thanks to Sven Birkert’s for pointing out Nabokov’s obsession with joining what appear to be scattered elements of time in, The Art of Time in Memoir

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Further to my previous post, Ben H. Winters weighs in regarding the online book review on HuffPost Ben H. Winters: Why I Give Everything Five Stars

The gist of his article:

The problem isn’t that “amateurs” are doing the reviewing: the opinions of regular old readers or playgoers or whoever can be just as valuable, and usually more passionate and interesting, than those of the jaded professionals. But in a world where Amazon sells everything from books to lightbulbs, then asks the consumer to rank his purchase from zero to five, I worry that we start to forget that a book is different than a box of lightbulbs — for the simple, cheesy reason that it emerged from the soul of a human being, and not from a light-bulb factory.

Do online reviews help or hurt authors?

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Lately, there is a lot of kerfluffle about the future of the book review. HuffPost had an article where major critics commented on the relevance of the book review today Anis Shivani: Book Reviews: Major Critics Speak On How To Keep Them Relevant (PHOTOS). The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog has commentary by Mary Halford on Zadie Smith’s new post as reviewer of books at Harper’s. Over on The Millions, novelist (and reviewer) Emily St. John Mandel talks about how she handles bad reviews.  The Millions : On Bad Reviews. A blow to my heart, New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger talks about the problems with memoirs The Problem With Memoirs – NYTimes.com. Why all the fuss?

It seems the Internet is changing the way books are reviewed. No longer is it a choice of either questionable reviews on Amazon or long, well-crafted critiques in newspapers such as The New York Times or the UK’s Guardian. Now, we have bloggers — anyone from the more widely read HuffPost Books, The Book Beast, The Millions and The Book Bench to smaller sites such as Sparkling Reviews, Nancy Pearl and Beth Fish Reads. How does a reader sift through all of these opinions to determine which books to buy?

Bloggers are getting their opinions out there while helping promote authors who might otherwise miss out on an audience, but does the quality of the review suffer?  It seems these bloggers are democratizing the process of choosing books for the public, taking the choice from a select few albeit high quality reviewers and broadening the number of books represented.

Zadie Smith, in her new position at Harper’s is trying to address this change. She believes the book review is being reinvented thanks to the Internet. She’s even chosen the more middlebrow title of reviewer because she will review three to four books per month in 2000 words or less rather than the longer pieces traditionally put forth by critics who use the space to make big arguments and to put more of themselves into the pieces. Now, readers want shorter reviews without compromising on quality. Currently, quality can suffer and even worse an inconsiderate reader has the power to post a negative review and wreak considerable damage. However, readers enjoy the intimacy of the Internet where they might befriend a writer from anywhere in the world within minutes. Interestingly, although Smith is addressing changes wrought by the Internet, her online reviews will be available by paid subscription only.

An organic curation process seems to be happening where talented bloggers are rising to the top, but it still feels a little like the Wild West out in the book review blogosphere. I’d love to learn where all of you go for your trusted reviews. Please drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to check out your trusted reader sites.

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