Archive for the ‘Alter Kocer stuff’ category

Old Folks Boogie

June 30, 2013

Most folks realize that we are all heading for our second taste of non-existence at a constant rate of one day per day (don’t give me none of those event horizon/Protoss portal/twins paradoxical time bending maundering, either  you denizens of  ‘con and SciFi channel) .

Titian_-_St_Jerome_-_WGA22838

What’s more — and I’ll admit this may be the fifty-something me talking, so feel free to challenge this presumption in the comments — I’m guessing that most of us recognize certain rewards that accrue as we successfully complete each circuit ’round the sun.  Losses too, of course, and more of them as the decades past (I’d love to reacquaint myself with my knees of twenty years ago, and certain summers, and the people now gone always and most of all).

But I wouldn’t want to give up what I’ve learned, the stuff I now know how to do, the way I come at the world with enough understanding to help me act each day with at least a bit more capacity than I had in my happy, high energy, dumb 20s (or 40s).  What’s more I value evidence of that kind of accumulated judgment in folks who seek to lead me and my country (and world).  I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this.*

Which is why I read this in today’s NYT with such…well…

Glee.

Jonathan Martin’s piece on the GOP’s emerging strategy for dealing with the presumptive Hilary Clinton juggernaut is in fact a masterpiece of subtle knife work.  I join with many here in frustration with the Grey Lady’s op-ed page, and its lean towards unexamined establishment assumptions in some of its journalism, and the Style page and all the “trends” crap that shows up there, in the magazine and elsewhere can go DIAF. But the paper still boasts the deepest bench of journalists and some very smart observer/analysts (to compensate for the BoBos and the MoS’s), and Martin here shows what can be done with artfully presented absolutely straight reporting.

The shorter: Clinton is old. She’s oldy-oldy-sere-ancient-and-by-the-way-did-I-mention-she’s-an-antique?-old is the new line of attack that that the usual-suspects GOP choir seem to think will propel one of their new, fresh faces to the top prize.

Apparently those new faces are Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bobbie Jindal (no, really! Don’t laugh) and Chris Christie.  And the case being made for these stalwarts (in order: Mr. bring back apartheid lunch counters, bundle o’nerves reaching for his water bottle, Kenneth the Page, and the fanboi of that Demo-Socialist Bruce Springsteen and unofficial 2012 Kenyan Usurper running mate) is that such youth and vigor will so contrast with Hilary Clinton’s wrinkles and general decreptitude so as to sweep away any niggling doubts on substance.

It’s the branding problem again, of course:  if you believe that, then there’s no need to attend to any doubts about what the party would sell with any of these pitchmen — and here’s where Martin’s piece turns into such a nicely thrust stiletto.  He mentions in passing the fact that if anyone views Obama’s relative youth and lack of experience as a negative, that won’t enhance the chances of  anyone less seasoned still, and I think that’s fair enough.  But the real wounds come from simply his straight reporting: these guys ain’t got nothing.  Those that aren’t already roadkill (Bobbie Jindal? Aqua Buddha, please) have no more than Rand Paul’s claim that he’ll ride to victory powered by marijuana farmers and those for whom electoral politics begin and end with the NSA.  That’s some folks, I’ll grant you…but I don’t think they’re enough to withstand that portion of the electorate mobilized by the quote with which Martin ends his article:

The radio host Rush Limbaugh, echoing his commentary from her first presidential run, asked his audience in April whether the American people “want to vote for somebody, a woman, and actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

Yup, says Rush. American ain’t gonna vote for a non-hawt female.  Just can’t happen. Nope, no way, no how.

Did I mention how happy I am that the Republicans are already letting their freak flag fly on this one?

Just to recap:  The current Republican party’s strongest demographic is older white folks.  Some of those will be pissed off at the dismissiveness of age, experience, accumulated knowledge and competence acquired over a long haul.  Younger people too, I’d guess; the idea of letting someone four years into playing senator on C-span after a career as a self-accredited eye doctor anywhere near the launch codes is, frankly, pretty scary to a lot of folks up and down the demographic ladder.

Now add this thought:  the Republican party is desperate to overcome its gender gap.  And here it seems to be making  its case by asserting that the presidency shouldn’t go to a women it views as getting less attractive by the day — because she grows older one day per day.

Damn!

What can I say?

Proceed gentlemen.*

*What about Obama v. McCain, then?  Well, just to get this out of the way…(a) actual policy choices are what I look at first, and if one soundly beats another there, that’s the game, for my vote at least.  And (b) to paraphrase a quote from James Michener’s DFH novel, The Driftersthere’s a subset of old farts who may say they’ve got fifty years of experience when what they really have is one year, repeated fifty times.  McCain in a nutshell, IMHO.

Image: Titian, St. Jerome, betw. 1570 and 1575.

 

 

 

Garrison Keillor Thinks The Kids Have Already Left His Lawn: Future of the Book edition.

July 15, 2010

This post has whiskers on it, but even though the Garrison Keillor column “When Everyone is a Writer, No One Is” is long since gone for fishwrap, the issue it attempt to raise is, of course still with us.  So I thought I’d reanimate this from my fallow period for your reading pleasure.

To be sure, there was a fair amount of blog traffic on Keillor’s jeremiad about the book industry, at the time.

Broadly the response seems to have been pretty dismissive, which is right.  This is an awful piece, self aggrandizing, a work of anecdotage (h/t the irreplaceable Herb Caen, I think), not to mention that it’s a bizarre misreading of media history, given Keillor’s place of pride in that obsolete venue, radio.

It begins with a bit of don’t-you-wish-you-were-me aw-shucksitude:

In New York the other night, I ran into my daughter’s favorite author, Mary Pope Osborne, whose “Magic Tree House” books I’ve read to the child at night, and a moment later, Scott Turow, who writes legal thrillers that keep people awake all night, and David Remnick, the biographer of President Barack Obama. Bang bang bang, one heavyweight after another. Erica Jong, Jeffrey Toobin, Judy Blume….I grew up on the windswept plains with my nose in a book, so I am awestruck in the presence of book people, even though I have written a couple books myself…I’m not one of them — I’m a deadline writer, my car has 150,000 miles on it …

Well, yeah — and he is a nationally broadcast host of a signature program on America’s most prestigious radio network, and a contributor to places like The New Yorker, and, as he notes, the author of a few books himself which haven’t done badly at all.  He may say he hit that party by the grace of a well connected friend, but dude, you don’t need to go all bachelor Norwegian farmer on us.  You know as well as we that everyone else there was making the same list:  there’s Remnick, and Blume, and Jong and by gum that’s Garrison Keillor too….

But leave the formerly uncelebrated their conceits. (And remember that Hemingway retort to Fitzgerald’s “The rich are different.”  “Yeah — they have more money.”)

Keillor gets down to cases by declaring that all this glittering pleasure is a mask, or rather a vision of the unknowing dead walking under the delusion that they yet live:

…this book party in Tribeca feels like a Historic Moment, like a 1982 convention of typewriter salesmen or the hunting party of Kaiser Wilhelm II with his coterie of plumed barons in the fall of 1913 before the Great War sent their world spinning off the precipice.

What’s going to send all these beautiful people to a Western Front  in which the trenches are lined in Book Antiqua and Garamond?  Not the loss of readers, an audience for, if not The Word, then words.

We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions.

So what’s the problem?  There are several:  the first is the lack of that which by asking for it (as the joke of my youth had it) New York singles used to get rid of their apartments’ cockroaches:  commitment.

and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.

This is just weird.  I was and am a reader — and the author of four books,* all published by major trade houses, all sold in that price range (not quite that high, actually) as hardcovers, half that or less in paper — and this isn’t how I either acquire or engage books.

I use libraries, I borrow, I dig through give away boxes, I buy used…and if there is a book that is a beautiful object, and it tickles me, and I have the money, I pay vastly more than the words could be had for to get that volume in its role as an object, a work of art.

And now, I have classics and pulp and all the rest on at least three devices (yes, I plead iPad-ity.  It ain’t worth it, but I love it…)

All of which to say is that you don’t read a long work because it cost you a lot.  You read it — I read it — because it gets its hooks in me.  And the medium is less important than you think, at least than I thought, once that hook is well and truly set.

I read most of U.S. Grant’s memoirs (h/t Ta-Nehisi Coates) on my iPhone, all 3.2 inches worth of screen, through a download from Gutenberg.org.  It’s better on the iPad, and I wish I had had access to proper maps, but I couldn’t stop reading, pulling out my phone at every crosswalk, at the supermarket counter, and so on.  And I am 50 mumble mumble years old; this isn’t some damn kid doing a byte dance.

The idea that how much someone pays for a piece of work evokes a reader commitment to it is…how to put it?

Sad.

Then there’s Keillor’s odd complaint that too many people are writing these days.

And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a website. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you’ve got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

And so what?  If someone wants to write for pleasure and share it, who cares.  There are lots of things wrong in book publishing and the like, but it’s not that people aren’t buying my book on Newton (see below for all the links to let you do just that 😉 just because John or Jane Doe just popped a book with Newton  in its title up on Lulu.  And it’s not that the publicity/marketing problem is made difficult because there are lots of free or cheap books.  It is that the broader demise of go-to media makes it harder to promote books — to enable original work to find its audience readily.

That is:  we are definitely in a transitional phase, but from where I sit, having done pretty ok in getting the word out on Newton and the Counterfeiter through a variety of channels, the fact that what used to be called literary journalism has evaporated from mass print media and drive time radio even faster than science writing has gone is the most important single change in America’s book culture.  Not the fact that you can buy my work on Kindle for ten bucks, in hard cover for 17 or so, and in paper for around 9 — and certainly not that someone else out there might be writing a work they’ll sell for less.  It ain’t my grandma, nor Cory Doctorow that’s the problem here.

Rather, as Rebecca Skloot’s incredibly innovative (and exhausting) self-created book tour (warning: PDF) shows, there are ways to reach audiences, (and it helps to have written a damn good book, of course).  But of course, Skloot’s experience is a prototype of new ways to make connections between authors, works, and audiences; it’s not the finished version that non-maniacal (and/or childless) folks can precisely emulate.  We will, we are getting a new interconnected web of readers and writers, I think (I certainly hope so). But as in so much of the digital transformation, the collapse of a distinctive regional as well as national, print-based culture of writing about books isn’t getting replaced instantly.  And whatever constellation of ways to get the word out  emerge (a bit of Scalzi here, a bit of barnstorming there), it’s going to take a while before at least fogies like me really figur out how to use these resources to reach all the people who might in fact want to check out what I have to say.

Here that sermon endeth. But back to Keillor’s jeremiad:

Back in the day, we became writers through the laying on of hands. Some teacher who we worshipped touched our shoulder, and this benediction saw us through a hundred defeats. And then an editor smiled on us and wrote us a check, and our babies got shoes.

Really?  I became a writer because I felt books telling me to write.  I still write because of what I read, or because I feel compelled to say something (like this!).  I’m not going to claim universal truth for a data set of one, but I know plenty of other authors whose experience is the same.

Yes, of course, the encouragement of teachers, editors, fellow writers all matter. It can be hard to go on if no one seems to think what you do is any good.  But in fact such notice is the result, not the source of writerly identity.  If what Keillor really means is that it took professional acknowledgement to make a living as a writer, well of course that’s true, banal, but still factual enough.  But writers write; the laying on of hands, when it happens, may encourage, but it does not alter the underlying dynamic.  All that has changed is that those who do not or do not choose to have a commercial career (see Adams, Henry) have ready means to create an expression external to themselves and their desk full of copy.  And what is so bad there?

Well Keillor thinks that’s pretty dangerous:

But in the New Era, writers will be self-anointed. No passing of the torch. Just sit down and write the book. And The New York Times, the great brand name of publishing, whose imprimatur you covet for your book (“brilliantly lyrical, edgy, suffused with light” — NY Times) will vanish (Poof!). And editors will vanish.

Really?  Does Keillor actually think, in spite all the evidence of major media enterprises on the web, that the proliferation of data will reduce the audience’s demand for assessment, validation of consumer choices, the critical filtering role that acquiring editors and critics (maybe not at the Times, but in the newly emerging literary mediasphere)? The way the book writing and reading world will communicate is certainly changing…but there is no evidence, none, that Keillor adduces to suggest that self-anointed writers will be anymore successful or significant than they now are.  The mechanisms by which writers of books reach audiences and make money are changing; but the fact that some writers command both more audience attention and more cash than others hasn’t changed, and won’t.

And as for editors:  Vanish?  Really?  News to my wonderful editors over twenty years now.  The models by which books are acquired, helped and published are all changing, of course…but change is not the same as evaporation…and the blunt truth is that authors I know are hiring free-lance editors because book publishers have (long before this latest round of transformation) abdicated a lot of that task, and real writers know that real editors make them look yet more brilliant.

The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish, and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest.

And this is different from my right to follow Einstein with Newton, and Newton with — I’m not going to tell you yet — and your right to stop after the first line of my first book “In the beginning…,” never to return again?  How, exactly?

Self-publishing will destroy the aura of martyrdom that writers have enjoyed for centuries. Tortured geniuses, rejected by publishers, etc., etc. If you publish yourself, this doesn’t work anymore, alas.

Bullsh*t.  Trust me.  Writers can martyr themselves at the drop of a hat (“Ouch! My back!).  Writing a book is a long, slow, hard slog for the most ephemeral and capricious of rewards at the end.  It hurts to spend a day casting prose, knowing all day it isn’t working, not knowing how to make it work, and not wanting to stop until it does, but running out of daylight, of eyesight, of words.  Then you get up the next day and, if you are lucky, figure out what is now obvious (any f*cking monkey could have got that one, bub), and get on with it.  We don’t need any help feeling lousy; the process of sustaining a long work contains all the resources to enhance our self-loathing that anyone needs.  The moments of joy are there too, (they have to be, or else no one would do this a second time, just like bearing children).

What I’m trying to say here is that Keillor has stopped even trying to make a coherent case; this is just masturbation.

And last:

Children, I am an author who used to type a book manuscript on a manual typewriter. Yes, I did. And mailed it to a New York publisher in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it. And kept a carbon copy for myself. I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. It was typed on paper. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I’m sorry you missed it.

And I walked to school in bare feet through the snow.  Uphill.  Both ways.

**

What crap.

When I got my first contract, one guy bought me a drink at a bar on the Upper East Side when he heard someone was paying someone else to write.  That felt great too.

Then, starting in 1985 I had to write the thing, which I did, on a Zenith laptop running MS Dos that boasted not one but two 3.5″ floppy disc drives — hot stuff indeed in those days.  I can’t tell you how happy I was not to have to confront my dad’s Olivetti electric typewriter nor smudge my hands on a single sheet of carbon paper.  What Keillor is touting here is a fetish bathed in nostalgia.

Words are toys, books are miracles (and albatrosses) and I don’t give a damn what you use to make them, nor how you choose to read them, nor whether someone I don’t want to read still chooses to write and let the world know that they have done so.  Keillor’s dream of a closed circle of self-congratulatory demigods*** (“it was beautiful the Old Era” and all that) is the muttering of someone too scared to pause, even for a moment, against the chance that all that chaos and noise out there might yet contain the reward of beauty.

His loss, not mine.

*Not to miss an opportunity to plug a little — you can find my most recent, which a lot of folks seem to like, Newton and the Counterfeiter, at all the usual suspects: AmazonPowellsBarnes and NobleIndiebound and  across the pond at Amazon.co.ukWaterstonesBlackwellsBorders, and John Smith & Son — not to mention electronically Amazon’s Kindle store — and while there are no electronic editions of the earlier ones, you can check them out here.

**Bonus Eddie Izzard, Alan Rickman version for your viewing pleasure:

*** Demigods in the sense Einstein described his new Princeton neighbors as “puny demigods on stilts.”

Images:  Simon Vouet, “La Richess,” 1633

Carl Spitweg, “The Poor Poet,” 1839.

Okumura Masunobu, “Book and Paper Peddlar” 1720-1730.

Brain Bon Bons, because it’s been too damn crazed today to finish any of the posts in waiting — Sade Diva/Goddess edition

April 28, 2010

Reminded via a spectacularly off-topic comment on this Balloon Juice thread, please, enjoy with me this grand blast from the past:

Beyond all the obvious awesomeness of this, my get-off-my-lawn media maker’s heart leapt at the glorious grain and feel of an image shot on real film.

There’s bite to these pictures, even in this stomped-on Youtube form, and for all that I love the creative flexibility modern video cameras give us now (out with students shooting on a tricked out Sony Z7U this morning, and rocking with it) there is something really lovely about the sense of dimension that comes from the way our eyes, mine at least, see the physicality of light trapped by tiny 3-D grains of silver and projected back through the frame.

I wouldn’t go back, except under special circumstances, but I’m damn glad I got to feel the reality of sprocket holes passing under my fingers, and the sense of space and color that a good cameraman could layer onto those rolls of coated plastic.

So there.

I feel better.