We have Internet now.
Why hasn’t book publishing improved? Technology has changed a bit since books the days of cut wood blocks and repurposed wine presses. With browser-based editing tools, print-on-demand (POD), ebooks, audiobook files and the Internet, upfront capital investment in the material aspects of publishing is no longer required and the role of the traditional publisher has diminished.
We all have access to this wonderful newish invention called the Internet search engine which should have realized the dream of decentralized connectivity and reduced the need for a middleman to select, distribute, market and sell books. Blocking the way between author and reader are the vestigial organs of the old publishing system that mainly dealt in offset print paper books that had to be produced, stored and distributed at great cost. Technological progress frees human beings from the material drag of the old system and leaves only the tasks that will never be performed by machines: writing, editing, final proofreading and reviewing. The profits from book sales need not be siphoned off by those now useless middlemen, distributor, marketer, and seller. Even though the Internet has made these roles obsolete, they have, monstrously, become even more powerful and centralized than ever. The “big five” publishing industry monopolies, Google and Amazon are the very opposite of what the Internet promised humanity. Good literature is essential for a thriving culture.
What do we need?
A cooperative platform model of publishing and selling, designed to cut out unnecessary middlemen, reward the essential work of those directly involved in writing and editing and ensure that authors can be paid for every book sold or borrowed throughout the extended lifetime of the book.
Small independent presses, that are struggling to turn a profit and whose authors earn too little for their writing, can convert to a cooperative model in order to reduce their financial risk and reduce the workload of the editors while maintaining a high quality booklist by accessing the talent pool of their authors, who, in turn could receive a higher return on their investment of time and effort. Dactyl Foundation proposes to be the umbrella organization that provides online access to a cooperative platform for independent publishers.
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (“Beati Immaculati”), Vintage Paperback, 1989, 278 pp., with an introduction (“An Interpretation”) by Mark Schorer, and the author’s dedicatory letter to his wife Stella Ford (January 9, 1927). The novel was first published in 1915.
SERIES: LOOKING BACK AT GREAT WORKS OF LITERARY FICTION
The blurb on the front cover is from Graham Greene: “One of the fifteen or twenty greatest novels produced in English in our [20th] century.” Blurbs usually exaggerate. So too does this one, but it exaggerates in the wrong direction. The first time I read this book I thought, “This is the great American novel.” In rereading it again for this review, I have not changed my opinion. Continue reading
As a reader, my career has fallen off precipitously since my eyes went bad during a misspent late-innings career in adversarial journalism, peering directly into the radioactive maw of a circa 1998 Gateway CRT monitor for 18 hours a night, four nights a week. Much earlier, back when I was a long-distance commuter slouching daily into servitude in downtown Manhattan from various exurban hellholes, I would devour up to four novels a week on the train, trying to avoid conversation and making friends. Over the past few years, striving to get a handle on thriller plotting and structure, I listened to various incarnations of the ubiquitous “Homeland Security porn” genre (Alex Berenson, Vince Flynn, Lee Child, etc.) in the car, until the CD player went south. Now it’s podcasts and, with a new pair of reading glasses, the occasional book. Short stories, however, have almost never been on the menu. I am naturally attracted to long-form entertainment; the longer and more involved and loaded with digressions, the better. My brain does not like to stop and start, and instinctively resists efforts to reset for the next tale in a chain of literary non-sequiturs. I’m pretty sure the only compendiums of short stories I ever got through from start to finish were Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House and the five collections put out by Charles Bukowski, each segment of which was pretty much like every other piece of stream-of-consciousness lyrical rambling he ever wrote, including his “poetry.” I might have read a book of Poe’s stories back in elementary school, but that experience has been lost to the mists of approaching dementia, and is no help at all.
Thus I was under-prepared and nervously anticipating a case of low-attention-span anhedonia when I was asked to read and review the thirteen stories in Brent Robison’s The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility: A Web of Stories (Bliss Pot Press, 194 pages). Continue reading
There’s Gogol, and Then Again, There’s Gogol
Among others, Ivan Turgenev could not believe that The Inspector General, the greatest play in Russian literature and “one of the most subversive comedies ever to appear on stage,” was written by the same man who wrote the bloated and ingenuous sentences of the essays in Arabesques—and, later, the moralizing and preachy epistles, coruscating with derangement, in Selected Passages from Letters to Friends.
Of course, it was not the same man. The Gogol writing fiction was a genius, and that glorious fiction welled up from some genius of a neuron deep in his brain. The Gogol writing nonfiction was a sententious fool. As Karlinsky writes, “nonfictional Gogol is hard going: verbose, rhetorical, convoluted, and all too often beside the point.”
Gogol lived and wrote in the nineteenth century, but the most prominent theme of his fiction is a twentieth century theme: the illusory nature of all human identity. The man who wrote Gogol’s fiction is a twentieth century writer.
Sometimes I like to explore the foggy borderlands between genre fiction and literary fiction.
Raymond Chandler’s crisp and evocative prose and insightful character development transcend the hard-boiled detective genre. His novel The Long Goodbye was praised in an anthology of American crime stories as “arguably the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery.”
For similar reasons, the movie Chinatown escaped its noir pulp pigeonhole to become a classic of serious film (if such can ever come from Hollywood). Screenwriter Robert Towne and director Roman Polanski took it deeper than the standard commercial mystery pic.
If “eco-thriller” can be said to be a genre today, Biff Thuringer’s novel Wasted: A Story of Love Gone Toxic (Chronic Publishing/Epigraph Books, 280 pages) walks the liminal space where that category’s conventions give way to something more, an artful challenge to everyday thinking. Continue reading
“Every time the flight I’m on takes off. Or if I can hear a flight take off.” – From “Come As You Are,” in Harper’s “Readings,” April, 2019. From accounts of nonsexual orgasms documented in “Orgasm Range and Variability in Humans: A Content Analysis.” Study published in The International Journal of Sexual Health, November, 2018
Flights (Riverhead Books, 403 pages) is a fascinating, while quirky, eccentric book, often factual, non-fictional, often clearly fictional. The fiction is mixed in with the fact to the point that you sometimes cannot tell which is which. The ‘I’ narrator informs us early on that she
“started writing a book. It was a story for travelers, meant to be read on the train—what I would write for myself to read.” She continues as follows: “I was able to concentrate and became for some time a sort of gargantuan ear that listened to murmurs and echoes and whispers, far-off voices that filtered through the walls. But I never became a real writer . . . . In my writing, life would turn into incomplete stories, dreamlike tales, would show up from afar in odd dislocated panoramas, or in cross sections—and so it would be almost impossible to reach any conclusions as to the whole.” Continue reading
CARICATURES BY DAVID LEVINE
“Writing shows its influences by the contagion of rhythm and pacing more often than by exact imitation or ideas. We know that Updike read Nabokov in the nineteen-sixties by the sudden license Updike claims to unsubdue his prose, to make his sentences self-consciously exclamatory, rather than by an onset of chess playing or butterfly collecting.”