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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Textual Inspiration #8

Lewis Rothschild: ...People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.
- The American President by Aaron Sorkin
We've been drinking the sand for too long now. It's time to drink the water.
Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
That's the promise of America — the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.
- Barack Obama, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speaking of Giant Corporations Taking Over the World...

...Amazon bought Read about it in Publisher's Weekly.

Shelfari, if you've never heard of it, is what I would call the book nerds' social networking site. The site allows you to log all the books you've read, are reading, and want to read; allows you to rate and tag your books; provides a forum for discussions and discussion groups about books; and it provides you widgets for your various social pages/blogs. Please see my side bar of books for an example.

Here's the thing about Shelfari - I don't like it. The discussion forums are poorly designed and almost impossible to use or follow so I've long since given up participating in the one group I joined. The site also has annoying mouse sensitive features that pop up windows whenever your mouse rolls over a book cover. Not long ago when they introduced their "design" changes, they simply rolled out changes in the way your Shelfari shelf would appear. Do you want your shelf to appear as oak or mahogany? Who cares?!

I keep up my Shelfari account only for the widget (the one previously mentioned on the right) and also because I like keeping track of all the books I've ever read. I'd like to think that I am the target audience for Shelfari, being a book buying nerd, and yet, it simply doesn't work for me.

So in a way, there's a secret part of me that's hopeful about Amazon's purchase of Shelfari. Perhaps some actual user friendly function will be introduced to the site. Maybe there will be some useful discussion about literary things. Or perhaps the site will simply be optimized for better book hawking.

It's also notable that Amazon not long ago bought Abebooks which, according to the Publisher's Weekly article, controls 40% of Shelfari's competitor LibraryThing. I've never used LibraryThing, which might offer some improvements on some of the function failures of Shelfari, but I have no idea. Does the future hold consolidation of these two sites? An answer can't be that far off.

In the end, I think the founders of Shelfari have gotten exactly what they wanted: They built a site with just enough gloss and minimal function to build their membership and now they've sold it for what I hope, is a tidy profit. Cut and run, my friends. Cut and run.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shopping Independent - An Open Question

A little while ago a friend sent me a link to IndieBound, an organization that unites and supports independent booksellers in the U.S. One of the site's features is that they offer bloggers the option of becoming an affiliate, which means that when I discuss a book, I could link to the book through the IndieBound site to help readers purchase it from bookstores in their neighborhood. This is similar to the partner program that Powell's Books offers that I've seen on other friends' sites. In this way, I would be helping to encourage people to buy their books local, instead of linking to Amazon's page or any other multinational bookselling chain.

The question that keeps coming to mind is why? Why is buying from independent bookstores better than buying from multinational chains?

This is one of those values that a lot of people take for granted as obvious. Of course it's better to buy from small shops instead of big companies! Corporations are evil! Aren't they?


On the homepage of the IndieBound website they list three main reasons for supporting independent booksellers: The Economy, The Environment, and The Community. And they cite a couple of statistics and make a couple of claims, none of which I would consider to be particularly strong arguments.

For example, according to the site, "Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43." But does it naturally follow that this is better for the economy? If instead you were to support a publicly traded company, doesn't that help the overall national economy, creating more jobs nationally and improving the economy for everyone? With an almost pure arts background, I don't have the answer to that question, I'm simply skeptical enough to ask it.

So here are a few questions for you to chew on:

1. Do you think it's important to buy your books from independent booksellers rather than multinational chains? Why or why not?

2. How do you think shopping independent supports the local economy? The national economy?

3. How does shopping independent support the publishing industry? The same or different?

4. How does shopping independent support writers? The same or different?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic - any of the questions or none - I'm trying to learn from our collective wisdom.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Don't Have a Title Yet...

...but I've got the first 500 words of a novel written. I know it isn't much - especially compared to my blogger friend Stu's 70,000 word count (I hate you, Stu) - but it's a good solid start, and one that I'm over the moon happy with. I was never even certain that I had a book length story in me, but it's finally feeling like maybe I do.

So I'll be slowly chipping away at that word count, moving my story along. After all, every book gets written one word at a time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

GRUDGE MATCH: Barnes & Noble vs. the Olympics

Barnes & Noble reported its second quarter financial results today, and in no surprise to me, sales are down. The report largely blames America's weak economy for slipping sales. You can read about the report on Reuters.

However, there is also an article on Yahoo! News regarding the report, and something buried way down in the text caught my eye:
"Barnes & Noble also said it received less store traffic during telecasts for the Olympics this month."
I couldn't find this confirmed anywhere else in a cursory search, though I think the reason for that is it was reported on a webcast conference call of B&N's senior management this morning, the transcript of which you have to pay $39 to download. I appreciate each and every one of you readers, but I have no intention of paying $39 to confirm a very odd comment in a Yahoo! article.

I know marketing executives make a living drawing correlations like that - oh yes, all of our customers are simply watching the Olympics, too distracted by sports to even think about book browsing - but sometimes they just make me laugh.

I've been enjoying reading about the Olympics more than I've enjoyed watching the Olympics, mostly because I'm never home when the good Olympics coverage comes on and instead I keep catching random qualifying heats and early round matches of badminton.

I did, however, catch Usain Bolt's crazy fast 100 meter dash. Now, that would solve Barnes & Noble's Olympic troubles - if we could all run as fast as Bolt, we could be off to the bookstore at the starting gun of the commercial break and be back on the couch with our brand new books in time for Bob Costas to say "Welcome back to Beijing."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lounge Chair Reading and You - A Water Glass Special Summer Report

I never understood why some books were considered "Beach Reads" as opposed to "Everywhere Else Reads." After all, a book is a book is a book. No matter where you read it, right?

Of course, calling a book a "Beach Read" is really just a marketing term to help sell books at airports, creating a need amongst summer travelers. Ooh! I'm going to the beach, but I don't have a book! Better buy one. But is there something to reading a lighter, frothier book while on vacation?

As one who has recently returned from a fantastic summer weekend in Las Vegas, let me tell you there is definitely something to be said for having a light read on your vacation with you. This weekend, the book I was reading had to compete with this view from my poolside lounge chair:

Not to mention all the good looking scantily clad male and female specimens passing back and forth (sometimes wet!) in front of my view. So even though I had a very light book with me, I still only managed a paragraph or two during the two hours we were doing our lounging. I refuse to blame the book though. It was entirely my fault. I was distracted by a delicious iced tea, the ever approaching hot desert sun, perfectly timing a dip in the pool, and eavesdropping on my neighbors.

Instead, I finally managed to take a bite out of the book on Sunday when my flight home was delayed nearly three hours. Were I to have more poolside time, I swear this would be the perfect book:

Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts' Sci-Fi/Mystery pseudonym) is book #26 in the In Death series that I have been reading since a good friend turned me onto them in college. The books are funny, romantic, and with just enough mystery to keep me turning the pages, though I don't recommend starting the series in the middle. The books have settled into a definite rhythm, following a murder investigation as led by Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Police Department circa 2060, and populated with a funny and enjoyable cast of supporting characters. I pepper my reading with these books, because they are easy reads, a welcome break from some of the heavier denser books I tend to select for myself, but most importantly, because I always want to spend 400 or so pages with Roberts' delightful and compelling characters.

So yes, there is such a thing as summer reading, but don't ask me to read it only during the summer time. How boring would that be?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's a... a... a Research Trip! Yeah, That's It. Research!

The blog is going to be a bit quiet for the next few days as I am heading off for a trip to Las Vegas!

Oh, Las Vegas! That sparkling jewel in the desert! That oasis of air conditioning! That bastion of excess! Global warming be damned, the city of sin calls to me!

But don't let my gambling and carousing fool you! Oh no, this is purely a research trip. I will come back recharged, and full of notes! Notes on... on... gambling and carousing!

So though you may miss me, take heart in the fact that I will return Monday, prepared to share with you all the many insights my research trip has brought me.

Farewell, dear readers! I promise not to come back married!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I've Got Twelve Minutes to Make a List

So here ya go...

Five Books That Should Not Be Made Into a Movie:

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

4. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

5. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Monday, August 11, 2008

Attention Luddites: The Internet is Here and It is Not Going Away

A couple weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the New York Times about literacy in the wake of the internet age. The central question of the article is whether reading online is as valuable to building reading comprehension skills as reading in the more traditional way.

The article raises some interesting points, on both sides of the issue, including referencing the discouraging report on national reading trends, To Read or Not To Read; A Question of National Consequence, that was published by the National Endowment for the Arts in November 2007. I call the report "discouraging" because it documents a marked decline in the reading habits and skills of young Americans in just the last 15 years. The full report can be viewed in PDF form here, and it is fascinating.

It seems only natural that experts would be looking to the rise and expansion of the internet as a factor in the decline of reading comprehension skills. As pleasure reading amongst children decreases and time spent on the computer increases, it's fair to ask the questions, what kind of reading is being done on the internet, and what is its value?

The New York Times article profiles a couple different youngsters, including one who prefers reading anime fan fiction online to reading books. If you're a writer, especially in the young adult market, and you haven't perused, you need to take some time to check it out. The writing featured on the site is entirely user generated, and the stories have wildly inconsistent levels of grammar, punctuation and coherence. So much so that while you might be encouraged that a young person is at least finding somewhere to read online, you can't help but ask yourself if what they are reading isn't equally important.

That said, I don't dismiss reading on the internet as a whole as useless. In some ways, reading on the internet builds a different kind of comprehensive skill, one that no doubt will be a necessity in the not-too-distant future, as this generation, raised on the internet, becomes adults.

The question that I keep coming back to is that as a writer of traditional literature, how do I address the changing way that people are reading? Is Amazon's Kindle the answer? Or is that just another way of serving traditional literature in a different way?

So let me ask you: How can we rethink storytelling in the internet age?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wait... I'm Not the Only Writer in Southern California?

The Southern California Independent Booksellers Association recently announced the 2008 Book Award Finalists. Nominated by booksellers, these books represent the best of what California writers have to offer, capturing the unique voice and spirit of the region.

And it is with pleasure that I offer congratulations and best of luck to fellow blogger and sometime visitor of this site, Billy Mernit, whose book Imagine Me and You is one of this year's finalists! I've had Billy's book for a couple of months now (and prominently displayed to the right since its purchase) but have finally had the chance to dive in. Imagine Me and You is a delightfully light read (so far, at a hundred pages in) with a "champagne-like fizz" to borrow an amusing phrase from the author himself.

Congratulations Billy!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Textual Inspiration #7

Speaking of YA fantasy fiction I do like...

With swift ease of animals they ran, the long lean man and the sturdy boy, an urgent loping running that took away their age and all sense of familiarity in their appearance; faster, faster, faster. And at the rocks ending the headland they did not pause, but went on. Will leapt up light-footed to the crest of Kemare Head and cast himself outwards into the air, into empty sky, arms spread wide, lying on the wind like a bird; and after him went Merriman, his white hair flying like a heron's crest. For an instant the two dark spread-eagled figures seemed to hang in the sky, then with a slowness as if time held its breath they curved downwards, and were gone.

- From Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
Book three of The Dark is Rising Sequence

A Doff of the Cap

I know I've been a little hard on Twilight by Stephenie Meyer on this blog in recent posts. I really haven't meant to beat up on her work. It's more that her book has me thinking a lot about formulaic writing, the importance of characters, the importance of editing, and a thousand other book writing issues.

However, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that Breaking Dawn, the most recent of the Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer, sold 1.3 million copies in its first 24 hours of release, according to AP. In the current book market, that is cause for cheer and congratulations. Any book or series that gets that many young people (and adults) reading is okay by me.

So, congratulations to Stephenie Meyer on her success, and thank you for helping to create young readers for the rest of us writers out there!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Roswell vs. Twilight: A Teen Love Showdown

Ever since reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, I've been thinking about teen romance novels (which is what I think that book is ultimately) and how they bring in readers with simple twists on the same old formula. I'm not against formulaic writing. Sometimes telling the story a certain way just works, and there's no reason to reinvent the wheel each time an author sits down to write. However, I do think it's a good idea to bring something new to the table - whether it's character or setting or rules of the world.

Last night, I stumbled upon the pilot episode of an old teen show I used to watch in college called Roswell. What blew me away is how within the first five minutes of the show, it accomplishes the same thing that Meyer accomplishes in the first 100 pages or so of her book. They open with almost the same exact plot beat, and yet for my money, the Roswell opener is significantly more moving and certainly more efficient.

If you've read Twilight and have the time, take a look at this clip and let me know what you think.

Sorry about the ads - one of the internet's necessary evils.

* This post has become one of the most popular posts on my blog, and I'm thrilled about all the comments I've received and the active discussion about the comparison between Roswell and Twilight. In December, I posted again about the comparison and the success of the film. Please feel free to check out that post here.