Great Years for Books

December 15, 2009

D.G. Meyers at A Commonplace Blog is realistically pessimistic about 2010 being a great year in books. The reality is that most years do not produce even one “book for the ages”, even if most years produce plenty of very good books. A “great year” would, it seems, require more than one “great book”, like 1925 with the following stunners: The Great Gatsby, Mrs. Dalloway, The Trial. 1925 had other outstanding works, but what year since 1990 has seen such brilliance?

Just to kick off a discussion, I submit the year 2001, using The Millions “Best Books of the Millenium (So Far)“. From that list, we have: The Corrections, Austerlitz, Atonement, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, and Marriage, and Stranger Things Happen. If you add the Millions’ reader’s picks, throw in Empire Falls. Whether you count all of these as great books, surely almost everyone can pick out at least two that they think will stand the test of time.

Has a more recent year been better? Are we due a great year? Maybe 2011? Was it 2009? Will it actually be 2010?

[Update: D.G. Meyers provides a very thorough and well-informed reply to my query. The short is that he thinks 2001 was good, but 2004 was better.]

Amazon Kindle

December 7, 2009

I own a Kindle. It was given to me as a gift and I am happy.

I cannot say whether I would be more or less pleased with a Sony Reader or a Nook, but I am delighted with the Kindle. I love a beautiful hardcover book printed on high-quality paper as well as anyone and I intend to keep reading such books. Trade paperbacks can be nice too. The farther you go down the quality line, the smarter it is to trade in paper for electrons.

How many traditional, paper newspapers do you read? If you are like me, you read articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers online. With an ereader (the Kindle at least), you can read take those newspapers with you on the bus, to the park, on the train, or anywhere else. Plus you can take your favorite blog with you, quickly download an Edgar Allen Poe short story it references and the Jonathan Lethem masterpiece it reviews, and still make it to work on time. Or maybe you have a brief you need to review one more time on the way in to work. Send the brief to your device and read that on the train instead.

The reason ereaders will replace most books is because ereaders are convenient. They are also easy to use and read as easily as paper. The E-ink displays are not like your computer monitor. They do not cause eye strain, there is little glare, and it is simple to adjust the text-size. You can take thousands of pages of text with you, from the web, magazines, newspapers, new books, old books, and blogs, as easily as carrying a very slim novella.

Now, I am gushing. It is true, but I am not done yet. You can highlight text (invaluable for a blogger), download mp3s, or access the dictionary to immediately look up an unfamiliar word. I absolutely enjoy the Kindle.

There are downsides. At present, you can only read books for the Kindle on the Kindle and who knows which ereader will eventually corner the market, whether an open source ebook will become the standard, and, importantly, whether the ebooks you buy for your Kindle today will be transferrable to the leading ereader of tomorrow. I like it, but I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on books that might become all but obsolete within a few years. Of course, you might say that I am doing that with most of my paper-based books. Sort of, but I am pretty confident I will still be able to locate a device to access the information in those paperbacks ten years down the road.

My interim solution is to primarily download free books. There are hundreds of classics to choose from that are absolutely free. Thank you Project Gutenberg and other volunteers who convert classics to ebooks. Bartleby, the Scrivener? Free. Alexander’s Bridge? Free. Intentions? Free. You get the idea. Copies still under copyright cost and, horror, I cannot find Coetzee books in eform. Of course, for books that I know I want to have in my own library, I still like the idea of a nice hardcover on quality paper.

What does the future hold? Well, here are some predictions for ebooks. You can find an alternative, or maybe complemenatry, view of the future here.

If you are interested in the author side of the equation, I found this article very interesting. Authors, ebooks could liberate you from publishing houses. Or you could get buried in a tsunami of etrash. Maybe bloggers are part of the solution for identifying those ebooks worth reading and those that aren’t?

There are many interesting questions regarding the future of publishing and ebooks, but the future of publishing is largely in ebooks. I think prices for ebooks will come down because the marginal cost of distributing one more ebook are virtually nil. This is particularly so for name authors. Why would Richard Russo ever need to share royalties again? Okay, Amazon takes a huge cut right now, but that cannot be the future. At least, I don’t think it is.

Regardless, I love having the Kindle, being able to carry a multitude of books with me wherever I go, and being able to download yet another, almost instantly, if the ones I have don’t suit my mood. Basically, if you are still thinking about Christmas presents for yourself or another book lover, an ereader is a something to think about, whether Kindle, Nook, or Sony.

My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: September 30, 2009

September 30, 2009

Best of the Millenium, Pro versus Readers. The Millions polled 48 of their “favorite writers, editors, and critics” to come up with a list of best books published on or since Jan. 1, 2000. They then polled their readers. The “Pros” chose The Corrections as best of the millenium. I cannot agree.

While I am on the Millions, if you (like me) had not noticed before now Lydia Kiesling’s absolutely excellent “Modern Library Revue”, run over and check it out. As an example, her treatment of To the Lighthouse is exceptional.

Via BrownGirl BookSpeak, the National Book Foundation is running a “People’s Choice” poll of the best National Book Award ever. The field has been narrowed to five finalists: The Stories of John Cheever, Invisible Man, The Collected Stories of William Faulkner, The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, Gravity’s Rainbow, and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. Click over and vote for Ralph Ellison.

An interesting educational theory is posited here.

The Guardian explains why we should still read Dickens.

Via kimbofo at Reading Matters, a photography exhibit featuring readers.

And perhaps best for last, Trevor at Mookse and the Gripes submits his “most negative review yet” as part of the Giller Shadow Jury. Margaret Atwood is in his crosshairs. It is a must read.

Used Book Stores

August 22, 2009

As do most book lovers, I love used book stores. The narrower the walkways, the more precarious the stacks, the better.

This afternoon, I went into the city (Washington, D.C.) with my love, Marky. One of the things we enjoy is strolling through Eastern Market, a historic farmers’ market/flea market not far from Capitol Hill. At one end of Eastern Market, there is a bookshop: Capitol Hill Books. We wandered through the stacks for some time, looking for treasures, trying to keep a reasonable limit on our purchases. Marky could not escape with fewer then five books. I managed to limit my take to three:

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Bend Sinister by Vladamir Nabokov
Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories by Italo Calvino.

I have not read this particular novel by Greene, though I have quite enjoyed others. Bend Sinister is a great name for a novel and an early Nabokov. Hard for me to go wrong with that.

However, I am most excited about the Calvino. I have not read him, though I have heard great things about him. The back of the hardcover I bought has gushing blurbs from two authors: Updike and Rushdie. Marky wanted to go in a clothing shop, so I sat on the curb and started reading the Calvino stories. My god.

When I finish the book, I will post a full review. But, judging by his first few stories, Calvino is sprinting toward my favorites list. I ordinarily would not say such things about an author, particularly after reading only a few very short stories. Sitting on that curb, though, I was both awed and struck giddy. I am in the middle of something else and this is a collection of short stories, so I will not drop everything to devour it. But the mere thought of reading another of his stories makes me smile.

Interviews: Jesse Ball and Chinua Achebe

August 8, 2009

I think this interview conducted by Bookslut may be the most revealing interview of Jesse Ball that I have read.

Shane Jones at Hobart has an interesting interview with Jesse Ball.

Chinua Achebe was interviewed by Paris Review in 1994. As with all their interviews, I highly recommend it. There are some fascinating tidbits on the publishing of Things Fall Apart.

The Atlantic also has an excellent interview in which Mr. Achebe discusses Things Fall Apart.

My Favorite Lit-Blog Things This Week of July 27

July 31, 2009

The Guardian Blog has decided to conduct a not-the-Booker prize competition with, they hope, a better shortlist and better winner. The idea being that the Booker usually does a poor job of picking great books. Click over to the blog to make a nomination.

When novelists sober up.

Abebooks, a very fine place to go for signed, first edition, and hard to find books, has posted their “Top 20 Top 10 Lists”.

For a website to frivol away time, I suggest Visuwords, the online graphical dictionary and thesaurus. It is mesmerizing.

“This is what Roth is scrutinising in The Breast, and he successfully milks it for all it’s worth.”

My Favorite Lit-Blog Things This Week of July 20th

July 24, 2009

Over on Pechorin’s Journal, there is a discussion about the recent Kindle scandal in which Amazon deleted copies of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from purchasers’ Kindles.

The Mookse and The Gripes reminds me, as The Asylum and KevinFromCanada before, to read William Maxwell via his excellent review of So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Three Guys, One Book has a very interesting discussion going about the business of bookselling, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Via 3 Quarks Daily, I found this fairly short and very interesting article about ants and rational decision-making. 3 Quarks Daily has a Thursday Poem, so it counts.

This is not really from this week (more like 2004), but I really enjoyed Jonathan Lethem’s “Super Goat Man” when I found it in The New Yorker archives several weeks ago. In fact, his “King of Sentences” was quite good too.

Last Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece about the revision of a Hemingway work by his grandson. Seems the grandson did not like Hemingway’s portrayal of his grandmother.

My Favorite Lit-Blog Things This Week

July 17, 2009

The Asylum defends Alain de Botton’s THE PLEASURES AND SORROWS OF WORK.

Kevin From Canada compares and contrasts ALL SOULS by Christine Shutt, THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart.

The Elegant Variation interviewed Joseph O’Neill, author of PEN/Faulkner-winner NETHERLAND. In conjunction, TEV is giving away five signed copies of NETHERLAND, so get your entries in by Sunday, July 19 at 5 pm EST.

The Second Pass provides some potential controversy with “Fired from the Canon”, a piece about ten works they think should be subtracted from the literary canon. The works nominated for removal are: DeLillo’s WHITE NOISE, Faulkner’s ABSALOM, ABSALOM, Marquez’s ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, McCarthy’s THE ROAD, Lawrence’s THE RAINBOW, Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, Franzen’s THE CORRECTIONS, Dos Passos’ U.S.A. TRILOGY, Woolf’s JACOB’S ROOM, and Dickens’ A TALE OF TWO CITIES. I have to say I largely agree, but with one major exception. Tune in next week when I discuss two from this list.

Narrative Magazine is featuring Anton Chekov’s THE MURDER as their story of the week.

dovegreyreader’s ULYSSES project has taken off. I am beginning to believe her approach may be the methodology I need to stop putting the monster off. I suppose I have some catching up to do…..

My Vision for this Blog

July 7, 2009

I should have something erudite to say about my purpose and my vision for this blog.  My purpose is merely to share my love of books and join the community of book bloggers.

I would especially like to note John Self at The Asylum and Kevin from Canada as bloggers I admire. While I wish to emulate, if not duplicate, the quality of their blogs, I aspire to create a blog that is uniquely my own. I am not entirely sure what that means at this point. We shall see.

Without further ado, my first substantive post…


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