On that Amazon vs. Hachette kerfuffle

I really like Stephen Colbert this week. (Well, more than I usually do.) Most people don’t care about what’s happening between Amazon and Hachette (which is understandable, but unfortunate!), but when Colbert goes to bat… well, demons run when a good man goes to war. You can read all about his war against Amazon here, which is the latest development in the ongoing kerfuffle between the mega online bookseller and book publisher Hachette. The stakes? The future of a great publisher, the livelihood of everyone who works in the book industry, including authors, and, ultimately, readers like you.

The sticker Stephen Colbert wants you to download from The Colbert Report website (http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/) and put on things you don't buy from Amazon.

The sticker Stephen Colbert wants you to download from The Colbert Report website (http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/) and put on things you don’t buy from Amazon.

There are valid points on both sides of the issue (after all, low low prices on Amazon get people buying books, but they don’t really support the publishing industry in the process of providing great books in the first place), but I’ll just say that I think Amazon could benefit from understanding how much work and money goes into creating books, and how valuable publishers (and editors and agents, etc. etc. etc.) are to that process.

Speaking of which, John Green also weighed in on the issue (on the anti-Amazon side), and — oh, what a coincidence! — I just saw The Fault in Our Stars movie last night. It was screening a day early as part of The Night Before Our Stars special event, with a live, post-movie Q&A with the cast and crew being fed into a few hundred theatres around the U.S. and Canada. I really enjoyed the book (yes, there are good YA novels that well-read adults can enjoy and no, I’m not ashamed) and I thought the movie was a very faithful adaptation. And I have the tear-stained tissues to corroborate that.

Book publishing meets YouTube

If you’re a YouTube star with a robust fan base, you just got one step closer to publishing a book.

This NYTimes article from yesterday is all about a new imprint called Keywords Press — a joint venture between Simon & Schuster’s Atria Publishing Group and the Hollywood United Talent Agency — that wants to publish books by YouTube entertainers.

Judith Curr, the president and publisher of Atria, says signing YouTube celebrities “gives us access to a whole new talent pool.” Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

Judith Curr, the president and publisher of Atria, says signing YouTube celebrities “gives us access to a whole new talent pool.” Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

There is precedence for YouTube stars to publish books, and it is common practice for book publishers to mine for manuscripts from well-known individuals with built-in followings, but it’s really interesting to see a whole imprint dedicated to the gambit and to even tweak their publishing models to follow YouTube-like practices; most of these books will be crowdsourced, and they’ll be shot out into the marketplace faster than other books.

In the article, iJustine (one of five YouTube stars who have already signed deals with Keywords) says, “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but the proposal process is kind of crazy [….] I would say, ‘Why can’t I just do it?’ That’s what we are used to doing online.'”

I just hope these YouTubers are also good writers. Having a talent for making videos and a ready-made audience is great, but there’s something to be said for having the chops to write well, too. Being sellable shouldn’t be the only prerequisite to getting published. I also hope there’s still room in the publishing industry for all the aspiring authors who haven’t had time to build their own customer bases because they were, you know, busy learning how to write a good book.

 

Screw Snail Mail

This is just going to be a quick post to complain about this: “‘Snail Mail My Email’ Marries the Romance of Analog with the Convenience of Digital” from GOOD.

The basic premise is this: You can write an email and then send it to this project, where strangers will transcribe your letter onto paper, add either a doodle or a lipstick kiss (your choice!) and then mail it through the postal service. And this is supposed to be a good thing because it revives the personal and romantic art of letter writing.

Bullshit.

Here is why this is a terrible idea: This is not personal. Strangers are transcribing your email. You are not actually writing anything on paper. This is a machine of personalization, which sounds awfully contradictory. Do not ever send me a letter through this project. I will turn the paper to mush and make you drink it. Also, it is a waste of paper. I think letter writing is nice, too, but – goddammit – you have to write the letter yourself!

On that note, let’s stop lamenting the age-old art of letter writing, shall we? And stop telling me that in the age of Facebook, texting and emails, we aren’t really communicating anymore. I communicate plenty, thank you. I use Facebook to connect with friends who I ALSO see in person and communicate with using real, human voices. In fact, I occasionally use Facebook to instigate such in-person meetings! I use texting for a) quick messages that don’t warrant a phone call, b) for practical purposes, including meeting up with people in real life and c) when a phone call isn’t possible. So shaddup about it. And finally, email is not the devil. Why can’t an email be as personal as a hand-written letter? I put as much care into an email. My thoughts, and jokes, and questions between friends are just as real in an email conversation as they are when I use ink. Except I can link to stuff, and I don’t have to wait a few days for a response. Plus, saving trees! In fact, I even have a folder in my email where I save sentimental emails, just like a box of letters I have from my pre-email days. And they are just as important to me as the pen-and-paper letters are.

You know, when they invented the telephone, people bitched about the demise of communication then, too. And I’m sure when we start communicating through computer chips in our brains in a couple of decades, I will mourn the days when we emailed each other.

I’m not saying the medium doesn’t matter – quiet down, Mr. McLuhan – but I’m just saying digital means of communication like texting and email can be just as valid. It just depends how you use it. So, once again, shaddup about it already.

“Books, that paper memory of mankind.”

“Books, that paper memory of mankind.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Sometimes when I’m at a loss for words, or stuck for some kind of inspiration, or just when I’m being willfully distracted from some tedious task, I walk over to my bookshelves and idly peruse them – running my fingers across the spines, pulling one out a bit by the top corner, then pushing it back in, making sure they’re lined up nicely and randomly pulling one or two down to read the first page, or maybe the last.

Sometimes I even get a whiff of its scent and I stick my nose in before quickly shutting it close, lest I waste what I assume must be a limited amount of that precious aroma; good books smell like time past, and what can smell better than our own pasts, eroded down to encapsulated moments void of any unattractive context?

If I’m lucky, I’ll remember when and where I read that book, or even that page. You know how Ashton Kutcher’s character in The Butterfly Effect was able to time travel by reading his old journals? It’s kind of like that.

When I pick up my copy of Anne of Green Gables, I remember exactly when and where I was when I got it. I was 10, and I bought it – with money my mother gave me, of course – at a Scholastic book sale in the school library. According to the front cover, it cost $3.25 Cdn. It also still has the red Clifford the Big Red Dog stamp on the inside cover.

It wasn’t the first novel I ever bought, though. The first one was called Mad, Mad Monday by Herma Silverstein; it was about a teenage girl who conjures up the ghost of a dead jock named Monday when her loves spell goes awry. It says “Zalina Alvi Grade 2 Mkay Room 6.” I love imagining my seven-year-old self reading that book – almost as much as I love seeing my sister’s name crossed out and replaced with mine on the front cover of R.L. Stine’s Beach House. The tagline on the back reads “Swim. Sunbathe. Die.” Good times.

The nostalgia-sentiment tag team will get you every time.

So, when I say I hope that e-books don’t replace ink-and-paper books, you’ll know that my opinion is not devoid of sentiment. I’d wager that at least 50% of all arguments against e-books are fueled by nostalgia and sentiment.

Back in October 2009, Roger Ebert wrote a loving blog post about his life surrounded by books (and a general inability to get rid of ANYTHING that I feel borders on Hoarders-worthy). I appreciate his affection for what the physicality of three-dimensional, real-life books add to a life and a sense of home. The way he describes his books and his memories of procuring them makes me think of someone leaving breadcrumbs throughout their life, or – care for a more modern metaphor, Mr. Ebert? – like a save point in a video game.

On the day he linked to that blog post on Twitter, he went on to tweet a wide assortment of almost paradoxical scenarios that very clearly – and cleverly – demonstrate his disdain for e-books and his affection for traditional books. If you check his Twitter feed, you can find all of them by scrolling down to Aug. 14, but here are a couple of really good ones:

I got this H. P. Lovecraft e-book remaindered for $1. It’s had a sorta peculiar mortuary smell to this day.

We only met in the first place because she spotted the cover of the e-book I was reading across the aisle on the train.

My mom’s boss gave me this e-book of “The Swiss Family Robinson” when I was 7. Ostrich riding!

They express exactly why books have so much value for those who love them. I would hate to live in a world where I couldn’t lend a lovingly dog-eared book to a friend, or hand it down to my kids. Books add life and personality to a room. They give your eyes a place to wander, reflect and daydream. I still remember my grade 3 teacher giving me a copy of The Callendar Papers by Cynthia Voigt because she wanted to challenge me. Could that have happened in a world of e-books?

Maybe we’re just unwilling to let go.

But for all the advantages of “real” books, they are just that – advantages, not necessities. I wonder if this is just one of those inevitable transitional periods in history when technology – and her advocates – want to advance to a new medium, gadget or way of doing things, while some of us want to hang on to the things we love and the way we love doing things.

According to my Apocalyptic Science Fiction professor at York, E.M. Forster wrote his (fantastic!) sci-fi tale “The Machine Stops” (you can read the whole thing with that link) in 1909 in response to a crazy new fad called the telephone. In the story – at more than 12,000 words, perhaps “novella” is a better term? – people live underground in an all-encompassing, life-providing machine and only communicate with each other through round “plates” that “began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.” In the story, people have devolved into useless blobs who can’t stand direct contact with each other, and who never venture into the outside world.

Scary, isn’t it?

But you can’t help but think that Forster may have overreacted a bit. I liken the whole thing to how journalists mourn the demise of the print newspaper. I know that moving into an exclusively online news world isn’t just about paper vs. screens. Changing the medium changes the way the news is delivered, and the way it’s created. Forcing journalists and editors to produce stories every 10 minutes around the clock changes the game in every way – including putting a strain on the patience that good reporting requires.

But, at the same time, I can’t help but think it’s worth letting go of more traditional ways of doing things if we can save resources – paper, water, power – by putting them online. Perhaps it’s just a matter of weighing the pros and cons – and sentimentality doesn’t weigh a whole lot.

A little from column A; a little from column B.

So where do books fall into this debate? What are we really losing by replacing them by e-books that don’t require paper, trucks to distribute them or square footage to store them? We also don’t have to worry about disposing of unwanted books (a sad reality for millions of authors out there).

I think, ideally, we could have both. E-books have their uses, and there is certainly a market for them. But I hope we never stop publishing print books to keep filling our shelves. For that matter, I hope there will always be print newspapers, too.

To be fair, I think e-books could be really useful in one particular way: by replacing textbooks for grade-school kids and maybe even post-secondary school students. When I was in school, textbooks were heavy, often outdated and sometimes scarce. Wouldn’t it be better to give each kid one e-reader so they can have access to all their school books – and the ability to quickly search for what they need – without weighing down their bags or printing millions of new textbooks every time a planet is demoted to a comet? With the latest Kindle 3 at $140 US, I can’t imagine that it would be terribly financially prohibitive to replace textbooks with e-readers sometime in the near future.

I’m sure there are other downsides to e-books that I could cite, but whatever glitches or setbacks exist today could easily be fixed tomorrow. And as much as I love my print books, I may one day like to have the option of downloading a few books for the sake of convenience or to save some space and paper.

But for now, for those who would just prefer to download books and have no need or want to line their walls with pulp fiction and hundreds of Danielle Steel novels, they can have their e-readers. I’ll keep filling my bookshelves with things I can swat a fly with.

A potpourri post for Friday the 13th

Random movie association: 8 reasons why the Twilight series is like Pretty Woman

I know it’s a stretch, but listen!

  1. Edward (in Pretty Woman) never eats or sleeps (almost never sleeps). Neither does Edward (in Twilight). In fact, Edward watches Bella eat in that restaurant, and Edward watches Vivian eat breakfast after their first night together.
  2. Bella has little to no confidence and is dazzled by Edward’s world. Ditto for Vivian.
  3. Bella gives up her “horrible” life to live in his. So does Vivian, for a little while, and we can assume that she continues to do so after the end of the movie.
  4. Edward (Twilight) sparkles. Edward (Pretty Woman) sparkles with money.
  5. Both Edwards are well-off with fancy things. Both Edwards “save” their respective ladies in a fancy, silver car.
  6. Bella and Vivian have friends who they think they’re better than.
  7. Bella and Vivian are both forcefully kissed by a guy – Jacob and Stuckey.
  8. Bella and Edward wait until they’re married to have sex. So do- wait, never mind.

Genius that was never meant to be read

In July, news surfaced that despite Franz Kafka’s desire to have his manuscripts burned after his death, a crazy legal battle is underway to open ’em up and take a look see. Meanwhile, people can’t wait to get their grubby little hands on Salinger’s mysterious unreleased manuscripts.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think if a writer didn’t want their work read, we should leave it that way. As much as it would be exciting to read them, and as much as it might bring a little more artistic beauty into the world – I still think it’s disrespectful.

On that note, I really like what Mark Twain did: leaving instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death. That’s badass. Plus, we have his permission to read it.

I hope it’s as awesome as it sounds

A bunch of millionaires and billionaires have pledged to give giant chunks, or in some cases “the vast majority,” of their fortunes to charitable causes. It’s all part of The Giving Pledge, apparently started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and there are 38 rich folks who are participating.

Questions! I assume the money will be donated after they die, but what if they get wrapped up in legal limbo? Also, what do they mean by “charity”? It would be horrible to see all that money go to waste by going to foundations or organizations that don’t know (or don’t care about) using the money properly, or it just recirculates in wealthy circles, or it ends up in the hands of corrupt dictators and dirty politicians in the developing world. Just saying you’re giving your money “to charity” is hardly enough. Also, how much are these people actually giving? I don’t see any specific numbers; we’re taking a lot on faith, here.

BUT, I think it’s a great gesture and I hope their promises pay off one day. Go George Lucas!

I can’t tell if this place is really cool, or really lame

It’s called Hicksville, and it’s a trailer park-themed artist retreat in and around Joshua Tree, California. I want to go to there.

Yes, another fat rant

Just incase you don’t feel like reading this entire post, let me begin with my conclusion (which is my very common go-to conclusion for almost every issue): everyone’s both right and wrong.

Now, the issue.

I happened across this YouTube video a few days ago, by *ahem* accident, which is the first in a trilogy of “fat rants” by an American writer/actor/filmmaker/model named Joy Nash. I guess you’d have to call her a YouTube celebrity at this point, since her first fat rant video has over 1.5 million hits – I’d say 1 million is the benchmark, no?

Her plus-sized diatribe attacks our image-obsessed society and its war on fat people – a war where the victims (larger folks) are the objects of mental and emotional violence to the point where they (we) feel that they (we) actually deserve it. Being “fat” has become so synonymous with “bad”, she argues, that it’s natural to feel embarrassed in a fitting room, to believe that you’d be prettier if you could just lose some weight, and to assume that so-and-so would only ever ask you on a date if you were thin (whatever that means). Nash advocates for plus-sized people (especially the ladies) to stop hating their bodies and to not just accept how they (we) look, but to be proud.

Okay, she has some valid points. I agree that there’s a lot of bad mojo out there against fat people. Snide jokes about the assumed and socially accepted undesirability of “fat chicks” aren’t helping anyone. Images that assume thinner is better wreak havoc on the majority of the population’s views of how their bodies should look. And I can’t begin to express the bitterness that’s associated with trying to shop in a store that doesn’t carry anything close to your size. Basically, when you start slurring the words “fat and ugly” so that you’re now saying “fat’n’ugly” like it’s the same thing, there’s a problem. The shame, the embarrassment and the self-hate that are the product of how we view “fat” people definitely need to go.

That being said, I can’t swallow everything Nash is saying. She claims that she’s not advocating for people to start eating everything in sight, neglect exercise and get as fat as they can.  She says she’s a firm believer in healthy eating and an active lifestyle. I, unfortunately, have to suggest that she may not be an expert in what exactly is a healthy weight, a healthy diet or a healthy active lifestyle.

You can’t deny that there is such a thing as “too fat.” Too much excess fat stored in your body is bound to have negative implications for your health. Watch one episode of some daytime talk show where they pull a guy out of his house with the Jaws of Life, and you’d be hard-pressed to believe otherwise. And I could discuss some study about couch potatoes, or rising obesity levels, but we’ve heard them all before. So, I guess the question becomes: how fat is too fat? What’s unhealthy obesity, and what’s “plump,” “full-sized” or “curvy”? And, in this case, are we sure Joy Nash knows the answer?

I know a lot of us would pull out the ole’ BMI index to determine how fat is too fat, but there are plenty of reasons why we can’t rely on it to make those calls for us. Frankly, I think it’s up to each individual (and their family or doctor) to determine if we’re getting into unhealthy territory. There are too many factors to consider that are unique to each person – genes, body type, thyroid problems, etc. etc. Obviously, one person’s idea of a “healthy weight” cannot be applied to everyone.

Nash says she “eats healthy” and exercises “about two times” per week. According to her, that makes her healthy. That’s fine for her, but she’s given me no reason to accept her standard as the final word on what’s enough, what’s healthy, or what’s “too fat.”

Having said that, now I’m worried I’m going to get categorized with people like this (which is a response to a different fat rant, by the way). For a more balanced discussion than that, watch this video:

Meanwhile, remember when the blogosphere was in an uproar over the apparent controversy surrounding designers not wanting to dress Precious star Gabby Sidibe for the Oscars? I remember reading a post that called her “full-sized” and I recall the word “euphemism” popping into my head. (By the way, I hate using Gabby as an example, as I’m sure she’s been used as a launching point for similar debates ad nauseum, but I think it proves my point.)

Gabby Sidibe

Does it concern anyone else that Gabby’s body type is being promoted as “curvy”? Isn’t it possible that she falls into the category of “too fat”? I’m not saying she should be stoned in the streets, but I don’t like the idea of people being taught (and yes, that is what’s happening here) that this level of obesity is okay. I don’t think Gabby should be ridiculed, or criticized, or pitied, or even encouraged to lose weight by anyone other than her own fully functional brain, but it would be irresponsible to actively support this body type. Public figures necessarily end up representing issues like weight loss (and adultery etc.), and when we put a positive label on this body type,  just like when we idealize unrealistically thin models on billboards, we just end up reinforcing unhealthy standards.

So isn’t there some middle-ground we could be occupying? I feel like one camp thinks overweight people are the scum of the Earth, and the other camp refuses to accept that we have a problem with weight at all. I think, ideally, the images and messages we receive from the media would be a little more balanced than that.

On a more personal note, I would appreciate it if my rude uncle stopped recommending that I take a brisk walk each evening, as if my issues with weight could be so easily resolved. I’d be pretty happy if sitcoms and rom-coms would stop making lame jokes about fat chicks. And it might be nice to see a few less commercials encouraging me to change my life by losing weight (it’s going to take more than a few pounds shed, thanks very much).

Frankly, I don’t need your criticisms or your encouragement (which is just criticism in supportive wrapping paper). Just like any other issue that I may or may not want or need to deal with, that’s my business. I think the reason fat people get looked down on in such a socially-accepted, nonchalant, normative way is because it’s right out there for everyone to see. You can hide your giant consumer debt, but I can’t hide my giant ass (not effectively, at least).

So in that respect, I do agree with Nash. Unless you’re my family doctor or my mom, you can just shut your pie-hole.

Ugly = Sad, and Pretty = Bad

As if there wasn’t already so much evidence in support of this sad, sad truth, here’s another.

In the recent episode of Ugly Betty where Betty finally gets her braces off, she ends up hitting her head and seeing what her life would have been like sans braces in an extended dream sequence.

Key points:

Bitchy Betty

Pretty/Bitchy Betty

1. Born with perfect teeth, Betty grows up to be a bitchy, materialistic… meanie because without that imperfection to keep her grounded and humble, she doesn’t know how to be a good person.

Ugly/Fat Hilda

Ugly/Fat Hilda

2. Betty’s older sister, Hilda, who is known as the “pretty sister,” is actually ugly (read: fat) in this alternate universe because there can only be one pretty sister and the other one is ugly (again, read: fat). And, of course, Hilda is pretty miserable and never had a kid in high school (because being fat is better than birth control).

Ugly/Sad Mark

Ugly/Sad Mark

3. Mark, who is generally very put-together and confident in the show, is a miserable push-over and lacking in self confidence in this alternate reality because the Evil Betty took his job and was mean to him. Of course, this miserable version of Mark is ugly (read: wears glasses and has somewhat greasy hair).

I know the show is an ongoing commentary (of sorts) on popular definitions of beauty, but their usual comments on the subject don’t tend to bother me. This episode, however, bothered me. Why did having perfect teeth make Betty a vain bitch?

Okay, I know, I know… I get the rationale that the inevitable difficulty that comes with having an imperfection (according to our society’s standards) can keep a person humble and builds character, blah, blah, blah… But I don’t agree with the idea that pretty people end up being vain or shallow. It’s possible to care about outer beauty without forgetting about inner beauty.