November is National Novel Writing Month, and that's creative and wholesome and challenging and all that. If you have bookish/writerly/creative friends, your Facebook feed is surely scattered with people's NaNoWriMo progress. And great! Good for you, novel attempters. That is courageous.
But what if you nerd harder than that? Here's a new challenge I just found out about: National Novel Generating Month. It is apparently the idea of Darius Kazemi, who tweeted a new take on noveling. "Hey, who wants to join me in NaNoGenMo," he asked on the first of the month. "Spend the month writing code that generates a 50k word novel, share the novel & the code at the end."
It's been moving along nicely, with Kazemi posting a novel nearly right away. It begins like this:
School was in session and my friends Barb and Chrissy came to visit and give me a $150 check. Then Barb told me to call her that night. When they left it was raining. Our class was leaving somewhere (they were very excited) and some kids were going on these airplanes and some kids were going on buses, but the last 10 kids were going (on) gurneys even though they weren't hurt, and they were going on a bus.
I was at a sewing class and you picked out your design on the computer. The lady that was teaching us how to sew took me outside. We started running around the town. It was getting dark and I got scared that I would never see my parents again. But the lady brought me back to a room that my family was in.
Just looking at these two local literary magazines, it's hard to imagine two more aesthetically opposed publications. The first print edition of the online magazine Spartan is minimalism personified: neat and trim, with the title in a plain black font running down the pure white cover. There are no illustrations; the 20 stories are all tidily justified and look as close as possible to a plain Word document. On the back cover, you'll find the magazine's motto—"Minimalist Prose. No Strays."—and nothing else.
Spartan bears no visual relation to the seventh issue of Les Sar'zine, which is colorful and elaborate and tries to overwhelm the reader at every opportunity. Sar'zine, the house magazine of local writing collective Les Sardines, doesn't look like a book so much as a tiny bookshelf, a golden cardboard box about the size of your palm, filled with six small, colorful pamphlets. Each of the pamphlets is made up of a single folded piece of paper and contains a single story or a few poems and at least one illustration by David Mecklenburg. Stacked together on a nightstand, Spartan and Les Sar'zine are so mismatched that they could practically headline a funny cop movie together.
But if you ignore the aesthetic trappings, the two books have a lot in common...
What is so magnetic about Rookie? The online magazine, started by teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson and run by a stable of editors and contributors of all ages, says of itself, simply: "Rookie is a website for teenage girls." So why, then, is Rookie's work—essays, interviews, art projects, playlists—some of my favorite contemporary media? Why does nearly every twenty- or thirtysomething woman I know read Rookie on a regular basis? There's nothing else quite like it, on the web or in the world.
Take the newest physical book they've put out, Rookie Yearbook Two (Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95), basically a greatest hits compilation from the past year. About the size of a magazine but three times as thick, it's a talisman of modern young feminism. The cover image is of two androgynous humans, one giving the other a haircut—let's subvert the gender binary, and by the way, let's hang out and do each other's hair! Inside, pages are ringed in images of sequins, flowers, drawings of M.I.A., sliced up photos of Grace Jones. It feels like a thoughtful and inherently feminine object, and to hold it is to love it.
The Taiwanese news-animators get passive-aggressive about Tuesday's news that local author G. Willow Wilson is bringing a Muslim teenaged girl superhero to Marvel Comics:
Well, it's another day on Earth. The sun has risen in the east and will soon set in the west. Fish still swim in the sea. And BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski has found more instances of plagiarism in Rand Paul's latest book:
In this case, Paul copied nearly verbatim a section from an article by Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation that ran in Regulation, the Cato Institute’s quarterly journal in January 2012. In another instance, Paul copied nearly verbatim a section from an article by Jonathan Adler that ran in the magazine in 2010. Another section copied nearly verbatim a section that ran in Environmental Protection.
A few days ago, I said I thought this scandal was blowing over. And it probably would have, if Paul didn't choose to respond to these charges by, in the words of Rachel Maddow, "melting down." I kind of can't wait to see how he responds to these newest charges, now. At some point, he's probably just going to break into tears.
Isaac Fitzgerald, a cofounder of The Rumpus and a former employee of McSweeney's, is now BuzzFeed's books editor, Poynter's Andrew Beaujon reports. It's good that they're hiring someone with a books background and not just some schmuck from Thought Catalog who read a book once, but I'm really troubled by this quote from Fitzgerald:
BuzzFeed will do book reviews, Fitzgerald said, but he hasn’t figured out yet what form they’ll take. It won’t do negative reviews: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about books, that it is something that people have worked incredibly hard on, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place.”
He will follow what he calls the “Bambi Rule” (though he acknowledges the quote in fact comes from Thumper): “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
I agree that you should publish way more positive book reviews than negative book reviews, but if you only publish positive book reviews, you're not a critical outlet; you're a consumer goods promotion site. Part of the reason why book culture has marginalized itself on the internet over the last ten years is this goody-two-shoes, let's-all-play-nice-together culture that has permeated book blogs. Everybody is a cheerleader for Team Books, and that's great. But with self-publishing exploding and publishers catering to a more and more insular audience, we need negative book reviews more than ever.
Without a negative review every now and again, there's no way to align your tastes to a critic; you need the poles of a positive and a negative review in order to understand what a critic considers a good book to be. If a critic loves everything, there's no drama, there's no understanding of what the critic dislikes, and every review becomes meaningless.
Ten years ago, there were plenty of literary blogs, and every day those blogs had news and gossip to report. People got into arguments. Authors fought with each other. Lofty discussions about the future broke out everywhere. Now, it seems, everyone is just smiling and nodding primly to each other. It's so cutesy-pie that nobody cares. You're pro-literacy. I'm pro-literacy. Everybody who reads about books agrees that more people should read more books. That's great! Now tell us why. Be passionate. Make mistakes. Tell us who's doing it wrong. Tell us who's doing it right. Argue with me about e-books. Make it lively. Make it fun. Make people want to see what you're going to write next. But for fuck's sake, don't just promise handshakes and rainbows from day one. The publishers and authors might love you for it, but real human beings will tune you out immediately. If book culture continues to go down this cheerleader path, we'll diminish ourselves culturally to the point where we're a tiny insular Smurf village of love and peace and happiness. And nobody will ever give a shit.
In other news, Fitzgerald also says the section will focus on "shareable content," so you've got that to look forward to.
I'm reading Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's new book Double Down: Game Change 2012 right now. It's exactly what you'd expect: A gossipy insider's account of the 2012 presidential campaign that is obsessed with trivia and wholly unconcerned with policy. I was especially interested in a chapter titled "The Uncle Joe Problem," in which the authors said Vice President Biden and his staff tried to do battle with the public perception of Biden:
Joe was perfectly aware of the widespread caricature of him as a clownish gasbag. He understood that the image was largely self-inflicted but hated it all the same, and he was intensely concerned that being vice president would only exacerbate the problem. Biden even had a name for the trap that he was determined to avoid: the Uncle Joe Syndrome, which would leave him looking not only buffoonish but irrelevant.
Like every other vice president in history (with the possible exception of Dick Cheney,) Biden is obsessed with how he's seen as the number two guy in the nation, and he's always calculating about a potential run for the White House when his boss's second term is over. I don't think Biden should run for president—I think he's been a great VP, but he makes for a terrible frontman. But Biden's awareness of the Uncle Joe Syndrome was enough to make me feel a little sorry for the guy. And then I read this story at Time today:
Vice President Joe Biden was kind enough to call Marty Walsh to congratulate him on his electoral victory Tuesday to become the next mayor of Boston. “You son of a gun, Marty!” he said. “You did it!”
One problem: Biden had the wrong Walsh.
Oh, Uncle Joe. You just can't win.
Donald Fagen has canceled his Nov. 7 appearance with Ross Reynolds at Town Hall for "personal reasons." The notoriously perfectionist keyboard player/singer/lyricist for Steely Dan recently published Eminent Hipsters, a witty and illuminating collection of reminiscences about his major cultural influences and an extensive diary from his 2012 tour with the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald.
Today, Amazon officially announced Amazon Source, a program in which independent booksellers would sell Kindles and then earn a small percentage from every e-book sold to that Kindle. Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader explains:
Booksellers will be able to sell Kindles, Kindle Fires, and accessories in store (at a 6% to 35% markdown). They’ll also earn a 10% commission on the ebooks purchased via the Kindles they sell. The retailers can also buy the hardware at a deeper discount (9%) but they’ll have to forgo the 10% commission.
Back in May and June of this year, I wrote that Amazon representatives were reaching out to booksellers across the country for a program that sounds a lot like Amazon Source. Every bookseller who forwarded the e-mails or tipped me off to this program back then couldn't believe Amazon's audacity. I bet they're flabbergasted by the news that it's gone public.
The Amazon Source page features testimonials from two Washington State booksellers who have agreed to take part in the program, the University of Puget Sound Campus Bookstore in Tacoma and JJ Books in Bothell. I can't imagine that many booksellers will take part in this program. Through the American Bookselling Assocation, independent bookstores already sell devices and e-books through Canadian e-book retailer Kobo, and Amazon has proven to be the enemy of independent retailers time and again. Still, it's another sign—combined with what appears to be the failure of Amazon's attempt to get into the publishing business—that there is a piece of the book-buying market that Amazon can't quite manage to crack without the help of brick-and-mortar stores.
Today, local publisher Fantagraphics Books put their entire spring publishing lineup—39 books—on Kickstarter, with an eye on a $150,000 goal. This isn't an attempt to shift the publishing paradigm over to a crowdfunding model. It's because 2013 has been a really shitty year for Fantagraphics:
Earlier in the year, one of our founding partners, Kim Thompson, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died four and a half months later, on June 19. Because Kim was such an active part of our company, his death has had repercussions — emotionally, of course, but financially as well. Kim edited our European graphic novel line and as a result of his illness, 13 of his books scheduled for the Spring-Summer season had to be cancelled or postponed, representing the loss of nearly a third of that season. Our fixed costs stayed the same —because they’re fixed— but the income 13 books would’ve generated was lost, disrupting our cash flow, and leaving us in a tight spot.
There are a dizzying number of rewards, including finished copies of the books you'll be helping to fund, original art and signed copies from cartoonists including Stranger-certified literature Genius Jim Woodring, and various other weird and wonderful objects and services. I generally don't promote Kickstarter projects on Slog*, but Fantagraphics is the best damn comics publisher in the United States, period. They contribute immeasurably to Seattle's literary importance. And they've also got a proven track record of publishing books, which means that, unlike other Kickstarters, you're probably going to get to enjoy your rewards in a timely manner. Go see what you can give—and get.
* I don't link to Kickstarters on Slog for many reasons, but one huge reason is that every time I mention Kickstarter on Slog, I get deluged with people trying to get me to promote their Kickstarter or Indiegogo or Gofundme or Gimmemoney campaigns on Slog. So let me be clear about this: I'm not going to promote your Kickstarter on Slog. You are not the exception to this rule. Once you publish amazing comic books for decades and foster the careers of some of the greatest cartoonists the world has ever known, then you can come back to me and ask me to promote your Kickstarter. Otherwise, I'm just going to ignore you.
Card announced the other day that he's writing a new young adult series set in the Ender Universe called Fleet School, which focuses on all the genius children not smart enough to hang out with Ender and his crew of lovable miscreants.
This is a smart financial move for Card, obviously. But I'm frankly not sure that the man has got any more good books left in him. The Ender's Game sequels that do already exist are reportedly unfilmable, and readers generally agree that they get worse and worse as the series progresses. (I haven't read them, but I'm basing this on the commentary of several trusted sci-fi nerds in my circle of friends.) Given that his last major release was a book that tried to make Hamlet into an anti-gay screed, I wonder if Card is going to be able to keep his politics in line long enough to win a new audience of young readers.
Slog tipper Stesha points out that Seattle author G. Willow Wilson won the World Fantasy Award for her debut novel Alif the Unseen over the weekend. I can't believe that I missed this news; the World Fantasy Award is a pretty huge nerd award and a big honor for fantasy authors. I read and very much enjoyed Alif when it was published last year; you should read my review and then pick up a copy, now that you know professional nerds enjoyed the book enough to give it a big-time award.
Today brings some new G. Willow Wilson news, too. the New York Times just posted the exciting information that Wilson is writing a new superhero series for Marvel Comics. It's about a superhero named Ms. Marvel, and here's the pitch:
With most superheroes, when you take away the colorful costume, mask and cape, what you find underneath is a white man. But not always. In February, as part of a continuing effort to diversify its offerings, Marvel Comics will begin a series whose lead character, Kamala Khan, is a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City.
I expect conservatives to be overjoyed by this news. (Just kidding! They'll lose their shit over the fact that there's going to be a superhero who isn't a white guy. Expect lots of "what's next, a one-legged Samoan midget superhero?" sneers and other, less polite comments all over the internet.) This sounds really promising to me. Ms. Marvel was the name of one of Marvel's first female superheroes to headline her own series in the 1970s. (The original character has since graduated to the title of Captain Marvel.) So there's a history of this name being used for progressive causes in the comics industry. Congratulations to Wilson for winning the World Fantasy Award and for the Ms. Marvel news. I can't wait to read this comic book.
I imagine the creation of most video games as a fairly straightforward procedure involving a lot of coding and testing and talking and other boring office-type procedures. Only when the process goes horribly wrong—like the ET tie-in game or Duke Nukem Forever—do we traditionally tend to notice or care about the background of video games. Surely there's not enough interesting material behind the creation of a single video game to warrant an entire book, is there?
Tonight, Goldberg and Larsson are celebrating the release of their new book at the UW HUB with a free "all-day LAN party" and reading. The event starts at 2:30 pm, features junk food and soda, and if you're a Minecraft fan, you should seriously consider attending. (The reading part starts at 6:30, if you're curious but have a day job.) Find more information at University Book Store's site.
Oh man it's dark out there. Full-on silent-reading vibes in the air. Who doesn't want to sit next to a fireplace in a big chair and read? In case you're new to the silent-reading party, that's all that happens: People sit and read whatever they feel like reading, to themselves, while waiters wait on everyone and a man plays a harp. It's free. It happens the first Wednesday of the month at the Sorrento. And there are always two special guests who don't do anything: They just sit there and read like everyone else.
This week, the special guests will be Alice Gosti and Kate Sumpter. Gosti is a choreographer and durational performance artist; Sumpter acts with Satori Group. If you were at Spookhaus over the weekend, Gosti was the woman staring with dead eyes and a bloody mouth at a bunch of TVs, and Sumpter was the one losing her shit on a mattress covered in bed bugs. (Wasn't that great?) Earlier this summer, Gosti curated the Yellow Fish durational performance festival at Hedreen Gallery, which is where those self-mummification photos above come from. And both of them have upcoming projects that I will ask them about in Q&As that will appear here on Slog on Wednesday.
Anyway, mark your calendar, and get there right at 6 pm if you want to get a good seat. This month's drink special will be announced Wednesday, too.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Brad Stone's new corporate biography of Amazon.com, The Everything Store, here on Slog. Today, a new review of the book is getting a lot of attention. According to Tech Crunch's Matthew Panzarino, the controversial review comes in the form of a customer review on Amazon, and it's from a highly biased reviewer:
In what can only be seen as a moment of delicious cyclical irony, a new fairly negative review of the book has been posted by none other than Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos’ wife, MacKenzie Bezos. We’ve confirmed the identity of the reviewer, the only peson to leave a one-star reaction so far.
MacKenzie’s review is an intriguing read, and features the incredible qualifying disclosure “Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.”
Other Amazonians have reviewed the book negatively, calling some of Stone's details into question and accusing him of being too negative about Bezos. Frankly, I'm not sure what their problem is. As I said in my review, Stone doesn't exactly dig into the company in his review: He's coming from a roundly positive place, and his adoration of Bezos as a tough-talking genius with daddy issues clouds his perspective in Amazon's favor on multiple occasions. Outside of some sort of "authorized" pabulum, I can't really imagine a more positive Amazon biography.
Over the weekend, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski noticed that Rand Paul doesn't just plagiarize descriptions of movies from Wikipedia entries. He also apparently cuts-and-pastes passages from think tank documents directly into his books:
An entire section of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 2013 book Government Bullies was copied wholesale from a 2003 case study by the Heritage Foundation, BuzzFeed has learned. The copied section, 1,318 words, is by far the most significant instance reported so far of Paul borrowing language from other published material.
The new cut-and-paste job follows reports by BuzzFeed, Politico, and MSNBC that Paul had plagiarized speeches either from Wikipedia or news reports...In this case, Paul included a link to the Heritage case study in the book’s footnotes, though he made no effort to indicate that not just the source, but the words themselves, had been taken from Heritage.
How's Paul handling all these charges? By passive-aggressively challenging his accusers to an imaginary duel:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) fired back Sunday against accusations that he plagiarized portions of his speeches from Wikipedia articles, musing "if dueling were legal in Kentucky" he could "challenge" the charges.
Plagiarism in politics is a pretty serious deal. The whiff of plagiarism can linger on a candidate for years—reporters are people who take plagiarism very seriously—but it's not insurmountable. It just takes about twenty years or so for the stink to go away.
This could very well be the new most beautiful bookstore in Seattle. Ada's Technical Books, the science-obsessed bookshop that's been thriving at the very end of Broadway for three and a half years now, is moving a few blocks up the hill to the old Horizon Books house on 15th Avenue East, with a grand opening party today at noon. Owners David and Danielle Hulton bought the house last May and have been renovating it ever since.
That year-and-a-half investment has paid off with a jackpot; when Hulton gives me a tour of her new space—David is a full partner and active in designing and working on the space, but Danielle is the day-to-day manager—I can't help but gush. Walking down what Hulton calls the store's "spine," you're dazzled by glass and repurposed wood—about 90 percent of the wood fixtures have been repurposed from the old space, including old doors that partially separate the airy cafe on the left from the tall stacks of books on the right. To riff on a famous Hemingway invention, the new bookstore is a clean, well-lighted place for books and the people who love them.
With its comfy seating and welcoming fireplace, Ada's is the kind of space where you just want to spend time. The store's sections—technical electronic manuals, computer guides, kids' books, science fiction, biographies of scientists, a small-but-sure-to-grow set of shelves for cookbooks and guides to the sciences of coffee and tea abutting the cafe space—all feel slightly foreign when compared to the liberal-arts-friendly sections found in most general-interest bookstores. They demand inspection. There are puzzles and games and science kits available. Plenty of outlets line the walls and floors for laptops—Hulton was an electrical engineer before she opened Ada's—and the back room features a convertible screen and projector that can be used during readings. For the first time, Ada's has an official events coordinator, and they intend to ramp up their already quite full calendar of book clubs, presentations, science talks, and traditional readings in the months ahead.
Hulton had never worked as a bookseller before, and she credits Ada's success in part to her lack of experience in the field. She sounds jaw-droppingly optimistic for a bookstore owner. "Books aren't going away," she says...
It's not a collection of food writing without recipes, and this year's Best Food Writing includes recipes for clam chowder, gingerbread cookies, and poached eggs with Canadian bacon on toast, among others. (I don't know exactly what a "Monkey Lovin' Mocha Mouthful" is, but I'd like to eat one now, please.)
But maybe the most important reason to buy a copy of this book is for the familiar name right up at the front, on page 12:
Congratulations to The Stranger's own Bethany Jean Clement, who has also previously appeared in Best Food Writing editions in 2012, 2009, and 2008. With a record like that, I think it's safe to say that The Stranger is home to one of the best food writers in the world.
Also tonight: Gorgeous artwork and comics from hot young local talent. And, good music!
I'm not a huge Halloween person, but Tasha Robinson's essay at the Dissolve makes for some good holiday reading. It's all about Stephen King's feelings on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, and it examines why King's own television miniseries adaptation of The Shining just didn't work. Just because you know what makes a book scary doesn't mean you have any clue how to make a scary movie.
The first new Sandman comic in well over a decade was published yesterday. If you've never before read the comic that introduced Neil Gaiman to the world, you shouldn't start with Sandman: Overture. But if you've already read the other books, you'll find a lot to enjoy here. Because Gaiman is writing the book, it doesn't have the cash-grabby smarm of, say, DC's awful Before Watchmen series. There's an unmistakeable reunion feel, a kind of clubby getting-the-band-back-together vibe, but it's not crass or overly sentimental. We get to see a lot of the characters from the old Sandman books, specifically Dream and the Corinthian, although there are a other cameos, too.
New issues of Sandman: Overture will be published every two months for a year, and I think this is a series you might enjoy serially, picking up in comics shops on a regular basis. I saw firsthand last night that Phoenix Comics has plenty of copies, but I'm sure that every other comics store in Seattle will have them, too, from Zanadu downtown to the Comic Stop, The Dreaming, and Comics Dungeon around the U District, on out to Arcane Comics and Dreamstrands Comics up north. (There are probably others that I forgot, too. You can check out the Comic Shop Locator for comprehensive information about all the shops near you.) This comic is worth the trip.
1. Bill Ayers reads at Elliott Bay Book company tonight. The man who famously inspired Sarah Palin’s comment that President Obama was “pallin’ around with terrorists” will read from his new biography, Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident. This reading is free, and there will probably be a few weirdos in attendance.
2. Speaking of patriots, Simon Winchester reads at the Central Library in a free event tonight. The beloved author of the wildly popular historical book The Professor and the Madman returns with The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation Indivisible.
3. Meanwhile, up at Third Place Books, it's time again for a visit with Dan Simmons. Simmons is the author of many very good sci-fi and historical fiction novels. His new novel, The Abominable, is about a quest to climb Mount Everest in 1924, and the secrets that three explorers are hiding.
4. And at Town Hall, Darrin M. McMahon, the author of a book that is described as "an intellectual history of genius," will be reading at 7:30. That sounds like a great idea for a book, but it also kind of makes me want to read a moronic history of genius, just to see what it reads like. Tickets for that one are five bucks.
5. We've got a readings calendar that's packed with more information, too.
Jason Del Ray at All Things D reports that Amazon is getting into the charity business:
The Seattle-based retailer today announced a corporate philanthropy program called AmazonSmile, which allows Amazon shoppers to direct 0.5 percent of their purchase totals at the e-commerce giant toward a charitable organization of their choice. Amazon will then donate the money on behalf of its customers.
Speaking as maybe the first reporter in the world to ever write about Amazon's lack of charitable giving, this is great news, and I applaud Amazon for finally doing something like this. But I'd also like to point out that this doesn't let Amazon off the hook for their stinginess with regards to corporate giving to Seattle-area arts programs—while they've since started giving a few tens of thousands of dollars annually to nonprofits including The Stranger's Genius Awards, Amazon is still dwarfed by Microsoft, Boeing, and other local businesses. And as far as I know they still don't have a charitable matching program for their employees, either. I don't say this to diminish the Amazon Smile program, which will raise a lot of money for a lot of good causes. I just hope that this is a great first step in what I hope will be a long journey to corporate responsibility.
The most fun superhero comic to be published this year didn't come from Marvel or DC Comics. Instead, it was a book published earlier this month by First Second called Battling Boy. I've been a fan of comics artist Paul Pope for almost twenty years, but he's always been an artist whose potential far outweighed his output. He's never made a book that fully lived up to his considerable skill as a cartoonist, until now.
The inventiveness of Battling Boy is its real charm. The monsters are silly doodles springing to life on the page, belching fire and waggling their crooked teeth around menacingly. Pope's messy style evokes Kirby, but it doesn't slavishly imitate him; all the characters have Pope's signature beestung lips, and the linework is brash and subliminally sexual in a way that most American comics artists can't seem to manage. Battling Boy's powers come from his collection of magic t-shirts. Each shirt has a different animal on it—a bull, a lion, a t-rex—and he gains the power of whichever animal he decides to wear. ("The pictures [on the shirts]—they appear to shimmer and shift, as if they were alive! These were painted," Battling Boy explains, "with inks made of pulverized moonblood!") It's a great gimmick, one that you can imagine Jack Kirby laughing over. Battling Boy quickly develops its own mythology, creating a world where the sole apparent superhero, a cross between Batman and the Rocketeer, dies, leaving his daughter with a bunch of beautiful toys and a mission that will surely set her onto a collision course with Battling Boy.
The only problem I have with Battling Boy is that it ends abruptly, and there's no indication in the book that the story will continue anywhere. (I checked with First Second, and Pope is thankfully at work on a second volume of the book now.) This is a great book to give to kids who are interested in comics but who maybe need exposure to something a little more artistic than the standard superhero stuff. For someone who was raised on superhero comics, it's a great little jolt to the brain-stem.
We got a copy of American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, the new biography by Deborah Solomon, in the mail last week. The book has been sitting around the office ever since, passively inspiring emotions in Stranger staff. First, it inspired a rant about Rockwell's total pointlessness. Then it inspired a counter-argument that Rockwell was a propagandist, but a talented propagandist. That kicked off an argument about whether propaganda is art, whether it's even possible to love or loathe Rockwell, and how much technical skill is on display in his work. Nobody, it seems, can let Norman Rockwell just sit there. How about you?
When Katherine Losse heard about Dave Eggers's new novel, The Circle, she felt ripped off. Losse hadn't read The Circle, but the description of the book—a young woman starts working at a huge social network—sounded awfully close to her memoir The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, about her experience as one of the few women to work at a new startup called The Facebook. Losse wrote a blog post accusing Eggers of plagiarism: "From all appearances, it is the same book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived in this world and am also a good writer)." Eggers claims not to have read The Boy Kings. Losse later deleted the post, but not before the text of it churned around on the usual literary blogs.
But aside from a few interesting anecdotes, The Boy Kings is vapid. One of Losse's recurring insights is that Facebook is like the Eagles song "Hotel California." If that strikes you as deep, you may have found your next favorite book. The story goes nowhere; Losse decides to write a book about Facebook, so she quits Facebook. The end.
Outside of the fact that the protagonist, Mae Holland, is a woman starting work in customer support for a tech company, The Circle bears no resemblance to The Boy Kings. Unlike Losse, who was at Facebook from nearly the start, Holland is a cog in a galaxy-sized machine. The Circle is an internet goliath that seems to have eaten nearly every other online service you can think of, from PayPal to Twitter to YouTube. The corporate culture combines the zaniness of Google's extravagant sense of play with Facebook's intense, almost religious fervor for transparency. The employees barely want for anything; the company provides free clothes and shelter and food. All it asks of them in return is their continuous and unwavering devotion...
Big news concerning Amazon's attempt to become a major force in U.S. book publishing: Shelf Awareness has learned that Larry Kirshbaum, editorial head of the company's New York and Seattle adult imprints and children's publishing, is leaving the company early next year and returning to agenting. In connection with his departure, the most ambitious part of Amazon's publishing operations will be scaled back. Already several editorial people have left or been let go, and Amazon has not been a factor in bidding on major books the way it had been just two years ago.
Amazon will continue with its more specialized publishing imprints, such as Thomas & Mercer, which publishes mysteries and thrillers, the sci-fi and fantasy imprint 47North and Montlake Romance.
A year ago, Amazon consolidated their publishing arm under Kirshbaum, so this can't be good news for Amazon's publishing ventures. As always, Amazon won't comment on this, but I suspect that they were surprised by the pushback they got from traditional booksellers, many of whom refused to carry the books.
I don't think this is an outright failure, but it's more Amazon deciding not to waste their resources on a venture that wouldn't have many tangible benefits for the organization. They'll continue with their profitable self-publishing ventures, and they'll presumably still dabble in the genres, which are run in a more straightforward, manufacturing-like model. But it looks like they couldn't just buy their way into publishing.