Thursday, July 30, 2009

Link Roundup

The folks at Green Apple do hilarious videos. This one cracked me up - BOOK v KINDLE SMACKDOWN!

According to a UK study, "Reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds or 68%" -- so an hour is like a day at the spa, without the expense or weird mud wraps. (Thanks PW)

If you are an Indie bookseller, please consider filling out the ABA's IndieNext Survey. "Data gathered from the survey will help ABA ensure that the Next Lists remain relevant for booksellers and customers alike." Deadline is Aug 5.

Finally, four months after a gigantic big-rig truck plowed through the store, killing two and almost destroying the building - Flintridge Books in La Canada, California is reopening. This store is fairly new but a wonderful part of the La Canada and Pasadena community. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by on August 1st and help them celebrate! (Thanks Publisher's Mktplace).

Friday, July 24, 2009

What would a digital translation of The Grapes of Wrath look like?

Reading Jenn and Emily's post a couple weeks ago made me wonder: what if Emily is right, and the future of the book is digital not just in terms of format, but also in terms of medium? In other words, much like we moved from oral storytelling to books hundreds of years ago, what if over the next few decades we move to a new digital medium in which the hypertext, notes, reader comments, and so become just as much a part of the book as the original story?

I'm not sure how comfortable I am with this idea, but it seems to be popping up in a lot of online conversations. And perhaps it would be foolish to use the potential of digital books for nothing more than, as Emily aptly calls the current e-readers, storage devices. For non-fiction this might be as straight-forward as linking to sources in the text (hell, even most online newspapers do this already). For fiction the implications are broader and almost overwhelming.

Some modern books seem like they'd fit well into this format. I, for one, would be more likely to tackle Infinite Jest if I knew I could touch the screen at each footnote and have it pop up over the main text. But here's what I can't stop thinking about: if digital reading, with its attendant whatever-we-add-to-it, becomes the primary way we read, would we need to translate today's books to this new medium? Much like you're now more likely to read Beowulf instead of hear a traveling bard read it in the original, and similar to the way that many classics have been given a graphic novel edition, would it be necessary for the books we read now to be changed to fit the digital reading experience?

And if so, which books would we choose? I imagine that the process of making a book a digital book would be like a translation in many ways---not all books make the cut. Beowulf was not, after all, the only epic poem of its time, but it's the only one you'll read in tenth-grade English. Which, of all the books I've read, of all the books we have before us, might we choose for this new digital formatting for hapless fifteen-year-olds to read on their retinal-book-implant in 2100?

As you can tell, I have a long walk to work, and sometimes I take my wondering a bit too far. But as you ponder which books you love enough to work on their digital translation, check out this list of favorites, new and old, from the EL council:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jenn & Emily: The Future of the Book

We duke it out, Lucha Libre style, over the future of the book. This will probably become a series of posts, so stay tuned!
  • Emily's take: The Book is NOT Dead, Especially if Digital = Medium, not Format


I've been agitating since early this year for the death of the book. Well, ok, not really. Actually, what happened is this: the giant stack of ARCs behind my desk fell on me. Again. Which (possibly because of the ensuing brain damage) led me to believe that digital ARCs were the answer to all of our problems. Instant distribution! No shipping costs! Save some trees! And most importantly, no giant stacks to fall on bookseller heads.

Which then begged the question, how would I read them? I don't know about you, but reading on a laptop or a computer is one of the things I am least interested in in life, a close second to anchovies on pizza. But alas, I'm a poor bookseller, and cannot afford spiffy techno-thingies that cost several hundred dollars and don't even have a WiFi connection. So my next brain child (see brain damage above) was that publishers should buy booksellers eReaders (not Kindles, but really anything else would be fine). It would probably save them money in the long run (Instant distribution! No shipping costs! Save some trees!) and if a publisher would actually buy me one, I'd promise to read their books first. Or something like that.

Turns out publishers don't feel like buying booksellers eReaders. Who'd'a thunkit? It also turned out a lot of publishers don't want to send me digiARCs, for fear that I will put them on the Internet and then the author will feel violated and never write again and no one will buy the book and it will have been all my fault, lions and tigers and bears oh my! Or at least that's my guess as to why they don't want to send digiARCs. And yeah, I can kind of understand. But wait, what happened to my brilliant (brain-damage-induced) plan?

So my solution: I bought myself an iPod Touch (WiFi! Email! Fun games! No monthly service fee! Oh yeah, and it can be an eReader too!) and signed up for NetGalley (which has an amazing number of good books on it, yours for the asking). Hey presto! I was reading digiARCs on my very own eReader. Is the experience all its cracked up to be? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding yes. There are some snafus in actually getting the ARCs onto the iPod, but once they're there, the reading experience is great. So far, it matches actual books for visibility (you can see the screen in direct sunlight quite clearly, schockingly enough) and you can carry around, well, a bajillion times more ARCs with you than if they were regular ARCs. And then, after I've emailed my review in to the publisher, I can make a monkey pop balloons with darts.

The moral of the story? DigiARCs won't fall on your head and are fun to read, an iPod Touch is a great investment, and pizza is better without anchovies.

The Book is NOT Dead, Especially if Digital = Medium, not Format - Emily Pullen, Skylight Books (for her full review of Asterios Polyp, visit the Skylight Blog)

[After reading Asterios Polyp,] I realized that this kind of pleasure will never be had with a Kindle, a Sony Reader, or any other sort of digital reading device. Technologically, they can't do it, and even if they could do color, it wouldn't be the same. This is why I don't fear the death of the book. And this is why I think that publishers who are going gaga over digitizing everything are taking the wrong approach. I think digitizing is useful, but it shouldn't supersede The Book. Nick Harkaway posted some very interesting thoughts about this on his (fabulously designed) blog this week.

Bear with me here. I think that it is absolutely right that we talk about comics as a medium, as Scott McCloud and others have taught us to. But why aren't we thinking about digital in the same way, as a medium, rather than a format? Reading Asterios Polyp reminded me that the graphic medium can accomplish things in a novel that the written word cannot. Similarly, I'm sure that the digital medium could accomplish things in a novel that graphics or the written word could not, and THAT is where its innovation and interest lies for me. Not in its ability to replicate exactly what I might get in a book. And yet, that seems to be what developers of devices and digital formats are striving for at this point. They have yet to examine its possibilities as a medium.

To me, a Kindle or an eReader is a content storage device, not a book. It is mighty convenient for people who travel a lot or who have too many books or who deal in manuscripts on a regular basis. Forgot a book? Whip out your iPhone, it's so easy! But Asterios Polyp could not exist on any of these devices, and a child will never gleefully unwrap several of these devices at a birthday party, and rarely will someone have occasion to scan your device and glean something about your character. Devices are convenient, but they are not the be-all and end-all. Don't scrap your printing budgets just yet.

Friday, July 3, 2009


OK this is gonna be a quickie.

Obviously in an indie bookstore, July 4th is a favorite holiday. Check out what bookstores around the country are doing to celebrate independents week. And while we're over at Indiebound, did you know that there is a 'social networking community' there, too? Sign up, friend your fave booksellers, make wish lists, and help the indiebound community by adding more indie businesses to their interactive map. Why yes, it IS yet another way to procrastinate. :-)

If you are in San Francisco next week, Thursday July 9 at 6pm join the all-cookbook bookstore Omnivore for their first annual Fried Chicken Taste-Off. $5 fee for eaters only, free for participants. And wine! Mmmmm...

What do Vladimir Nabokov, Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Dave Eggers, Hunter S. Thompson, E.L.Doctorow, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Russo and pretty much every other famous writer living or dead have in common? If you answered "they have a new book coming out in Fall '09", you're right!

Something to look forward to. Now if you'll excuse me, the bbq calls...