Roundup

  • Given the publishing industry’s many complexities, one would assume that the many imprints that pump out books harder than four ventricles burdened with an endless rush of cholesterol-heavy canapes would have the whole branding thing down. But as Sarah points out, this is not really the case at all. The smaller presses do indeed know their audiences and choose the volumes that fit. But while attempting to identify the qualities of a particular house is certainly an interesting parlor game, I’m wondering if this is really matters all that much. After all, publishing houses are in this business because they want their books to sell and make money. If the bottom line (that would be revenue) shows that one particular imprint is profitable and another is not as profitable, presumably this creates a sense of competition within the larger company. But an equally important question to consider is whether or not the people who bought Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn probably wouldn’t be able to tell you that it was published by Little, Brown and Company. If the various imprints under one publishing house exist to create the illusion of choice, then Sarah’s question is perfectly valid. But perhaps this all comes down to internal politics, or all this is a way of ensuring that a production process doesn’t get huge and unmanageable (although I suppose if all the imprints abandoned their imprint names for the corporate moniker, you could have Random House III, Penguin IV, and so forth). So the real question is this: if all this is about profit, does branding really matter in the end? It certainly matters for the indies, because many of them are designed and set up to cater to a specific audience. But if a corporate publishing house that has ineffective branding among its imprints makes more money than one that has their branding together, and the results that are rewarded are the quarterly revenue of all imprints, then it’s small wonder that only a handful of people care about how their imprints appear to the general public. Will more aggressive imprint branding sell more books? Well, this assumes that the people behind an imprint can explain to you what the hell their imprint actually stands for. It might help if someone starts systematically asking publishing people this basic question.
  • Top Shelf if having a $3 sale for the next ten days. There’s something in the area of 125 graphic novels available. So if you want to load up on comics or sample the waters, this is a great opportunity to help support one of the best indie comics publishers.
  • Over at Jacket Copy, David Ulin continues the ongoing discussion of Denis Johnson’s noir serial, “Nobody Move.” Part 3 was just unrustled to newsstands.
  • Terry Teachout doesn’t do Wagner. Funny that. Yesterday, I found myself arguing with someone about the pros and cons of Wagner. Oddly enough, I feel similarly about Bob Dylan, who is perhaps the most overrated, needlessly imitated, and excessively celebrated songwriter of the 20th century. Which is not to say that I entirely loathe Dylan. I’ve listened to just about every album through Shot of Love multiple times, and I like “Destination Row” quite a lot. But if we’re talking popular songwriters, I’ll take Davies, Porter, Arlen, Waits, Young, Wilson, Costello, Cohen, Lennon, Springsteen, and Weller — hell, even Prince — any day before Dylan. My inability to “get” Dylan probably has more to do with me. Each of the above cited songwriters had a goofy side that offset their intensity. It’s not that I can’t appreciate angst or deep brooding. Far from it. I’m just deeply suspicious of any artist who can’t be bothered to blow a raspberry from time to time. (And does “Rainy Day Woman No. 12 & 35” really count if everyone was shitfaced during the recording session?) You can find humor within the bleakest Mike Leigh film. You can find absurdity within James Joyce, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, and Dostoevsky. But Dylan doesn’t have much of this — at least not to my ears. Of course, if there is some Dylan opus that I’ve completely overlooked, I’m happy to be set straight.
  • The invisible pregnancies of presidential daughters. Yeah, I’d say that Slate was overreaching. Maybe just a mite. Of course, William Saletan has a history of writing these generalization-laden essays. Witness his “Who really wants to debate the morning-after pill?” article and his strange fascination with IQ by race. What next? Will Saletan start lauding Samuel George Morton’s junk science? Or will we get a Saletan essay on whether women voters are naturally inferior to men? I’d like to see some intrepid journalist — if they can’t afford to hire anybody, maybe they can have an intern do this — run around the Slate offices with a ruler and start measuring the penises of all the male contributors. From here, this essential data can then be siphoned into a 4,000 word investigative article (or perhaps a weekly “discussion”) on the relationship between penis size and rhetorical ability. These are, after all, the most important issues of our time. (via Joanne)
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8 Comments

  1. The Basement Tapes is a rowdy affair, isn’t it? There’s a lot of early Dylan where he sounds like he’s having fun. There is perhaps more of this on the bootleg material than on his official records.

    Pollard, Jim O’Rourke, Will Oldham and Nina Nastasia are current faves…

  2. I guess I “get” Dylan, and love his stuff, but until I read your post I never recognized his relative humorlessness. Even when he is being “funny” it always has an ironical/knowing edge that stops it from being whimsical.

    As Nick says above – Neil has more of the common touch to let himself go and be wacky. Re-ac-tor might not be his best album, but I love “Ain’t got no T-bone”.

  3. I’m not a big Dylan guy either, but I’ve always sort of figured that he’s being goofiest when he’s being most serious. On his (terribly mediocre despite great reviews) most recent album, he spits the line “the fighting power of the proletariat’s gone” or something to that effect. It’s just such a weird line that I think he’s half joking. I always thought “Masters of War” was half a serious ‘I don’t much like this war business’ song, and half a tweaking of anger on the anti-war side. ‘Spit on your grave’ type stuff. I’ve just always gotten the vibe that he doesn’t take himself all too seriously at all, and the more he seems like he is, the more he’s actually poking fun at himself.

  4. Ed, you make a good point about Dylan, although you have to consider the proper context. At the time that Dylan was putting out nasty pop songs like “Positively 4th Street”, we had songs like “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In”, “The Men In My Little Girl’s Life” by Mike Douglas (!) and the boneheaded “Wild Thing” by the Troggs. Believe me, Dylan’s relatively intellectual intensity was a welcome offset to such dippy and syrupy fare. And if one couldn’t tolerate the man’s intensity, there were all sorts of softer versions of his tunes, from The Byrd’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” to Manfred Mann’s “The Mighty Quinn” to Sonny and Cher’s “All I Really Want To Do”. And you’re right about “Desolation Row” — it’s one of Dylan’s most remarkable achievements. But yeah, he’s not exactly a laff-riot. (And when he went electric at Newport he was basically saying “I whipped folk music’s ass and now I’m going to give pop music a good thrashing.” And guess what? He did.)

  5. Dylan is far from po-faced. There is humor all over his records, particularly the first several. (Also, “Love & Theft” is very funny.) It’s beyond me how one could miss this.

  6. I’m gonna grow my hair down to my feet so strange
    So I look like a walking mountain range
    And I’m gonna ride into Omaha on a horse
    Out to the country club and the golf course.
    Carry the New York Times, shoot a few holes, blow their minds.

    Now you’re probably wondering by now
    Just what this song is all about
    What’s probably got you baffled more
    Is what this thing here is for.
    It’s nothing
    It’s something I learned over in England.

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