THE BLOG @ TIR
February 14, 2011
Borders will be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization this week, according to the Wall Street Journal. Then it will probably close between 150 and 250 of its 500 superstores and 165 smaller stores. I suppose some of the local independents will be happy to hear about this, all while feeling bad for the thousands of book store employees who'll be laid off as a result.
The book stuperstore has long struck me as a wildly luxurious phenomenon, especially after I learned that they don't actually buy those books from the publishers in order to display them in the store, at least not most of them. During the Depression, according to Jason Epstein in The Book Business, retailers were hurting and the relatively well-off publishers decided to help them out by allowing them to return unsold books for a credit on future purchases. The practice stuck and then spread and now is standard. After three months or so, a lot of titles come back, leading to the industry quip, "gone today, here tomorrow!"
So basically what you see when you go to a "retail" bookstore today is a consignment operation, with lots and lots of stuff that, when not purchased, will be sent back to a distributor or publisher, which they'll try and sell again, provided they're not too damaged. For lit mags, with their limited shelf life, the end of this process is pulping. For TIR some years that can be as much as 500 copies. Not a hugh number, by accounts I've heard, but plenty wasteful and sad, and really only the tip of the iceberg.
The stuperstore takes advantage of the old Depression-era leeway by taking on hugh quantities of stuff, in a way that independent bookstores, the kind that the original arrangement was intended to help out, are simply not in a position to do most of the time, because they don't have the space.
And now Borders, it seems, will have less of that, too.
February 10, 2011
There's a way in Russian of saying that you've read something without specifying that you've completed it. Think about how nice a distinction that would be to have at one's fingertips! Did you read that book? Yes, I did. (Da, chital, which, I suppose, if you want to get technical, would mean something like, "Yes, I engaged in the activity of reading," without particular reference to one stage of it or another, especially its completion.) Would being able to say that to others and to oneself make it any easier to stop reading something before the end, I wonder? I've often been surprised at the--sometimes quite elaborate--rules people come up with for how much of a book or essay or story they are allowed to read before moving on to something else. Allowed by whom?
Here's a system that I just read (engaged in reading) about: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/nancy-pearls-rule-of-50-for-dropping-a-bad-book/article1894727/
I really like the part about subtracting your age from a hundred once you get to fifty in order to give yourself permission to read (in the sense of complete) less of a book before deciding to quit. At 51, you can read 49 pages without feeling guilty. At 52, 48 pages. See what I mean about elaborate?
In editorial circles, I've heard a variety of rules and guidelines. You should read 80 pages of a manuscript, I heard one editor pronounce. If you don't like what's happening on page 80, it's too late. The first page of a story is enough to know, someone told me. If it doesn't have your attention by then, discard and pick up the next one in the pile. These are survival techniques to some extent, but there is also responsibility and, for many people, plenty of guilt here as well. It's depressing to say no over and over again.
I think that Russian form of the word "read" (past tense) is in fact the norm for editors. They engage in the activity of reading most of the time, without particular reference to the completion of it. Imperfective aspect, it's called, which is not to be confused with the imperfect tense in, say, French, by the way. Though it is certainly an imperfect way of reading, one premised on a ready "no" that only once in a while gets out of the way long enough to allow you to read something to the end.
January 21, 2011
As the annual AWP conference is right around the corner (http://www.awpwriter.org/conference/2011awpconf.php), we've decided to extend the deadline for this year's Iowa Review contest to a week after that, which means entries can be postmarked up until February 12! So those of you who've been procrastinating can continue to do so for another couple of weeks.
One way to put an end to your misery would be to enter at our booth in the book area of the conference. But for that, you'll need to prepare by printing a hard copy of your entry beforehand (uh-oh, this is becoming hard) and bringing the $20 entrance fee along (you're in the twilight zone now). But for your trouble, who knows, we might give you something for free. (Sarah Viren notes, "We're not desparate, we swear.") You could also just stop by to say hi, which would be downright friendly of you.
The rules are here: http://iowareview.uiowa.edu/rules. We and our illustrious judges this year--Claudia Rankine (for poetry), Patricia Hampl (for nonfiction), and Allan Gurganus (for fiction)--look forward to reading your work!
January 13, 2011
A happy new year to all! We've got mail from Saint James Harris Wood, our McGinnis Award winner from 2010 (just announced in the December issue), which I know some of you will be especially pleased to hear. Why I know this is that he tells us in his handwritten note -- his typewriter's on the fritz -- that he's been getting your letters, which he says is "unusual" and: "Something as good as this probably means bad luck for a while, but that's fine." He also notes that the latter half of 2010 was especially good to him, with our prize and an unnamed small press that has agreed to publish his collection of "rabble letters" (of which we published just five little gems): I wonder whether they'll include us, his humble pen pals. If you haven't taken a look, the five are in our August issue -- hope you can find a copy. If enough people send us requests, maybe we can find a way to put them up on our site. Drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you'd like us to give that a try.
December 12, 2010
Probably an odd thing to put in a blog post (though no odder than naming a blog 'Paper cuts'): This from a recent profile in The Economist about the creator of the fonts Georgia and Verdana: "Mr Carter doesn't own an iPad, Kindle, or other reading device, as he is waiting for them to mature. (He does own an iPhone.) He frets that, as things stand, reading devices and programs homogenise all the tangible aspects of a book, like size or shape, as well as font. They are also poor at hyphenation and justification: breaking words at lexically appropriate locations, and varying the spacing between letters and between words. This may sound recondite but it is a visual imprint of principles established over the entire written history of a language. 'Maybe people who grow up reading online, where every book is identical, don't know what they're missing.'" The rest is here: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2010/12/doyen_type_design I'm sure we're not the only ones to notice that plenty of people know what they're missing. We see it at AWP, when our letter press broadsides sell out, and where people come up to touch the pages of the latest issue. In that spirit, a new book arts MFA: http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2010/december/120910book_mfa.html Where the texture of a work is rarely a metaphor. And in a similar spirit, this from Leah McClaren's editorial in The Globe and Mail: "In the era of Kindle, Kobo and iPads, we have become literary pod people. While movies and music can still be a shared experience, book consumption is necessarily a solitary pursuit. Old-fashioned books can be passed around in a way that personal e-readers cannot. You might lend your friend a paperback, but would you lend them your entire library (especially one they might destroy by dropping it in the bathtub)? Sharing (or better yet stealing) the reading experience is no longer an option. Book buying, by extension, has become an impersonal exchange. Soulless gift cards and instant e-certificates are, of course, the only option when there is no specific book object to wrap. But giving gift cards in a long-term relationship is depressing. It's like saying, 'Here's 150 Amazon dollars. That's how much I love you. Please adjust to reflect my portion of the mortgage payment.'â€ The rest: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/leah-mclaren/how-the-rise-of-e-readers-takes-the-fun-out-of-giving-books/article1833182/ I'm curious about the focus on book buying and the quick slice through the reading experience. Does it have to be solitary? I'm reminded of the story about Bishop Ambrose told by Augustine to the effect that he had the most remarkable manner of reading without making any noise. We can translate this: Augustine thought it remarkable that Ambrose read to himself, which means most people did not. E-books aren't any more impersonal than print ones. You can read either kind aloud. To each other, I mean. I know, way radical, and so, well, ugh, social!