To Journalists

I can understand a newsppaer’s authoritarian impulse. But it seems that preventing a substantial bloc of people from accessing content is a sure path to extinction. In other words, if they can’t find the story at your newspaper, they’ll go somewhere else. Or worse: they’ll do your work for you, perhaps beating you to the punch. It was proven the other day by Jason Kottke that the New York Times‘ forced registration is having a serious effect upon its Google search engine results.

Note to newspaper editors: You want to win this war? Stop declaring this a war. It is no longer 1996. It is 2006. The playing field is level. The Internet is an undeniable fact. People click on links, comment upon posts, print things off, and send things to other people.

Pop quiz, hotshot: Who broke the James Frey story? The Internet or a newspaper?

Learn to accept the fact that bloggers are linking to your content. Learn to accept the fact that bloggers may not always be as accurate as you, but that they are faster than you and, in the best of cases, they are quick to correct their mistakes and offer multiple perspectives to a story. Learn to work with them. Credit them when they have the facts before you and they’ll do likewise. Make your content available to as many people as possible. Invite commenting and, if you are truly concerned with “family values,” hire someone to monitor the comments.

Of course, you can also live in your lofty castles and pretend we don’t exist. That’s fine. But you know what John Donne said about solipsism. And when the axe falls and you lose your jobs, we’ll be there communicating with the audience that you talked down to. All because you thought that you were the authoritarian voice and that they’d still listen to you no matter what you said. Well, if you want to play that way, you’d better be on your game. Because there will be a thousand bloggers there before you. And if even a soupcon of these are good, you’re going to be in serious trouble.

Revealing the Truth!

Alright. The cat’s out of the bag. For those who have emailed, yes, there was an interview with Dave Barry. Yes, it is a very funny interview and it should be going up in a few days. Yes, I am indeed the unnamed “local podaster” identified in C.W. Nevius’s column. Yes, C.W. did reveal his first name to me in an odd patrician tone. (He also assured me that he had “done some podcasts too,” to which I replied, “Cool. But did you engineer them?”)

But C.W. Nevius is DEAD WRONG about podcasts! For one thing, there is no “correct” way to use a podcast. Contrary to popular belief, a podcast is neither a form of social etiquette nor a small utility tool. For another thing, a podcaster would never refer to himself by his first two initials. At least not in any serious capacity.

Six Reasons Why Nan Talese is More Adored Than Jesus

If you think writers are insecure and in constant need of reassurance, try publishers! Nan Talese, who was presumably seeing a deity of no particular denomination after that little dental surgery mishap, has gushed to the Wall Street Journal about how much she’s loved LOVED loved by her minions. Never mind that the pressure of holding onto your position and the concomitant ass-kissing is par for the course in the American office. When the world revolves entirely around you, there’s simply no stopping the steady march of progress!

Now I’ll be the first to note that a standing ovation should never be taken lightly! Why, that’s the kind of magical moment straight out of Working Girl or some touching 1980s office film of your choice!

Fortunately, being a rather resourceful literary blogger with many covert agents and sources in the publishing industry, I’ve obtained six more reasons why Nan Talese will be painting the town red for many months to come:

6. While having a $200 club sandwich for lunch, a waiter generously hunched over and offered his back as a footstool, causing Ms. Talese to enjoy her meal in typical Manhattan splendor. Ms. Talese obliged and offered to pay for the waiter’s chiropractic bill, drawing the appropriate funds from a hushed up expense account.

5. A woman, recognizing Ms. Talese in the street from her Oprah appearance, invited Ms. Talese to her cell phone users twelve-step program, expressing tears of joy.

4. That kind and constantly cheerful African-American gentleman who holds the door open for Ms. Talese every day gave Ms. Talese a surprise tap dance. Just after his final foot shuffle, he said, “Nanny, that’s for you,” causing Ms. Talese to cry for many minutes and walk to the elevator without offering him so much as a George Washington.

3. On the Friday morning that Ms. Talese returned to her office, 3,000 bouquets were personally delivered to Ms. Talese between 9:00 AM and 9:45 AM.

2. During the same time, Ms. Talese also received four marriage proposals.

1. Fifteen of Ms. Talese’s personal assistants, smitten with joy at the prospect of spending the rest of their days working for Ms. Talese, offered to continue working at half their regular salaries. They also offered to sacrifice their children to the volcano gods, should Ms. Talese request it. Ms. Talese offered each of them a personal kiss of benediction.

Now, none of this can be verified by Jeffrey Trachtenberg, the Wall Street Journal fact checkers, or even the staff of the Nan A. Talese imprint. But unsubstantiated rumors have never stopped Talese from printing memoirs in the past. And it won’t stop Return of the Reluctant from idle speculation.

The Bat Segundo Show #19


Author: Jay Ryan

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Not savvy with current music but remarkably focused.

Subjects Discussed: How Jay Ryan transforms a concept to music poster, whether or not squirrels attack astronauts, Shellac, Werner Herzog, hand-drawn typography, grumpiness, what happens when bands get an unexpected poster, printing on a mechanical press, smudge marks, bleeding, Rockwell Kent, apocalypses, getting involved with Michael Chabon, book covers, unintentional obliqueness, Fugazi, subtext and association, observing people through the window, planting a seed, the disadvantages of Photoshop and Illustrator, and working within limitations.

The Best First Sentence in Fiction

Scott and I recently had a conversation about how important opening sentences are to narrative. But I’d like to take this one step further and dare you all to come up with the best first sentence in a short story or a novel that you’ve ever read. We’re talking an opening sentence so utterly irresistible, something that is so unquestionably curious and so absolutely tantalizing that you, as a reader, simply must read the whole thing!

Here’s my nominee:

“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” — Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers

And yours?

[UPDATE: Totally unrelated to the collaborative little quest here, Wendi is kind enough to point to Litline, the top 100 first sentences in fiction, which apparently was located by those swinging cats over at LHB.]

The Internet Works?

Here’s the deal: Over the weekend, bloggers have been organizing a plea to the Democrats to get a filibuster started in the Senate. The hope: to prevent Alito from becoming the next Supreme Court Justice. Amazingly, the filibuster has gone from just two supporters (Kerry and Kennedy) to being a mere two votes shy from forcing continued debate. So if this is successful, bloggers may have demonstrated that not only are they capable of getting their asses in gear, but they might be effective political force.

To show your support for a filibuster, here’s a handy link to get started. You have until 4:30 PM EST, 1;30 PM PST. Will this happen? We shall see.

Bah. 75-25. Cloture reached. Never mind. Meanwhile, how’s this for balls?

Meanwhile, meet me in the bar. This says it all.

On the Road

It sits in an oblong glass case, five of its six sides bound in a birch flame frame, a foot at one end and some forty or so feet at the other. I don’t know if it was meant to be exposed like this, caged and paraded like a newly tamed lion at a zoo. The harsh overhead lights reflect off the glass, causing one to squint at the small type. One must shift carefully when studying it on the right-hand side, for as others appear on the left, their shadows darken the ochres of fifty years’ fade, with the pitch and Kerouac’s small pencil marks waning into a wavering sea of onyx. One is dazzled, both by the manuscript’s telling details and the Barnum-like excess with which it has been unveiled to the public.

The manuscript is taking up residence for the next three months at the lower level of the San Francisco Main Library. No photographs are allowed. But it’s there for you to look at gratis. Now that it’s fallen into private hands, presumably the idea here is to take in this seminal document into one’s head and remember as much as you can until you see it again.

I look at other spectators. There is a thirtyish man blasting Sufjan Stevens in his ears and I wonder if he’s tapping his feet to the music or the words. I wonder if he’s clued in. There is a gaunt man with long stringy white hair which descends behind a rucksack. He’s at the room’s entrance, hesitant to cross over, as if he might disrupt the swing of an unseen censer. My friend and I are both troubled by what Kerouac has become. His reputation sits within some gray area between a questionable cult and something that is bona-fide literary. We speculate. Give him ten more years and he’ll be fully legit. We both read On the Road as teenagers, marveling at its fuck you authenticity, its rolling words puncturing us, reinvigorating us like blunt trills. And now here we are years later seeing how it all began and how On the Road is being redefined for the public, wondering how phony we’ve become as the years have rolled by and the responsibilities have piled up. In the end, who are we to declare this clownish presentation phony?

Peter Coyote’s voice booms from the southeast corner, a ghost from a 1985 documentary I saw many years ago, clashing against the blown up black and white images of wispy and often gloomy figures identified as Kerouac’s friends. But I couldn’t care less. For the manuscript beckons me like a mystical parchment. It was, it is, my religion. On the room’s west side, its beginning is loose, with the other end flowing long long long into a roll that ends at an unknown point deep inside a taut roll.

Kerouac used a typewriter with a small typeface. The type is perhaps 9 or 10 point. What’s amazing to me is how neat the manuscript is. Because Kerouac was a hard drinker and the text was banged out quick, I expected some sloppiness. But some obsessions go above and beyond debilitations. Kerouac was determined to use every square millimeter of this page extending into infinity. One sees that Kerouac didn’t care too much about vertical alignment. The left edge trails in a slight diagonal until Kerouac reaches the point where he must reset the typewriter. But what’s amazing is that the next line is set up within half a milimeter from the previous line. Tight, precise, continuous. The words “Go go go” that were shouted to Ginsberg when he first read “Howl” in front of a crowd might equally apply to a hypothetical spectator peering over Kerouac’s shoulder back in the day.

There are no breaks. No breaks in the dialogue, no breaks in the long paragraph escaping like a snail into a shell. One observes Kerouac’s paragraph marks pointing out how it all works for the typesetters. But in banging out this draft, the man clearly viewed white space as a hindrance. And then there are the interesting choices:

the fear fears of god

Clearly a Kerouac flourish. Only Kerouac would transform humanity’s fears into plural form. For the hard-core Kerouac crowd matching up the real people with the character names, the manuscript offers a treasure trove of crossouts and disguises. Should Kerouac refer to his girl by name? Hell no. Then again maybe it’s okay. Should he mention that Iowa town he crashed out in? These indecisions hovers over the manuscript. I should have brought the finished text to compare the roll against the book. But in the end it hardly matters. I look at the roll and see a man who got it all out and somehow created a masterpiece.

There are long stretches without a single pencil mark and then there are the deliberate efforts to reinvent the written word:

when there were no cars were coming

Yes, that’s it, Jack. Cut straight to the point. No bullshit. Get it out. Keep it going to the end of the page.

Go go go.

That’s what it’s all about.

75 Books, Books #8-11

Books #8 & #9 were books relating to a future Segundo podcast.

Book #10 was a book relating to a future Segundo podcast.

Book #11 was Kevin Starr’s California: A History, part of the Modern Library Chronicles series. Starr is best known for his mammoth work Americans and the California Dream, an invaluable series of books that are quite meticulous in their pursuit of California history from 1850 onwards. What makes Starr’s books so enjoyable is that, beyond their gushing and spirited quality, Starr takes great care to concentrate on labor history and minorities in addition to the heavy-hitters. I’m sure that I’m not alone in hoping that he manages to complete this series before his death. (The years 1951-1989 remain to be filled in.)

This comparatively slim volume finds Starr attempting a one volume history from the Bear Flag Revolt on. And the result sometimes feels a bit rushed, if only because there’s a lot of information here to cram into 350 pages. Figures and incidents are introduced with very little fanfare. (Thank goodness there’s an index to keep track of the frequent entrances and exeunts.) One reads this finding Starr just dying to break out of the confined form and riff on political figures, reluctantly placing himself in the position of precis-wrangler. While I was familiar with many of the colorful characters from other volumes, the book’s truncated form precludes Starr from offering his fiery commentary (and even his obsession with age takes a back seat). Or to put it another way: There are some writers who are intended to write lengthy books and some who are not. Starr definitely fits into the former category. I read this book hoping for morsels from the missing years and was a bit disappointed to see Governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan largely unremarked upon, although Starr does demonstrate the historical arcs of California’s obsession with technology.

Which is not to suggest that California is without merit. As Starr gets closer to the present day, his depictions of California as a land of health and a land of promise begin to kick in. And for anyone requiring a refresher course on California history or who wants a taste of Starr before delving into the California Dream series, the book is certainly worth a look.

Elizabeth Crane at the LBC

This week, at the LBC site, you’ll find the gang discussing Elizabeth Crane‘s All This Heavenly Glory. And for Segundo listeners, there’s a podcast interview with Ms. Crane and C. Max Magee.

And speaking of forthcoming podcasts, The Bat Segundo Show #19 is taking more time than expected to finish, in large part because one of the microphones malfunctioned, resulting in severe audio defects. I’m working on this as time permits and hope to get it finished soon.

Fortunately, Show #20 didn’t feature any severe technical issues (save a battery that went kaput, strangely enough at the same table at the same hotel the last time this happened) and is perhaps the funniest 25 minutes we think we’ve ever recorded. The guest remains top secret. But you’re going to love this show.

Bob Hoover’s Columns Ghostwritten?

I was hoping that Bob Hoover, who I understand to be a man of impeccable if questionable editorial standards, might have the courage to respond to the many allegations leveled against him by the blogosphere, but it appears that this week’s biweekly column, while given a Bob Hoover byline, is apparently authored by one Len Barcousky. Could it be that Bob Hoover’s too occupied right now to respond to the facts in that inimitable Hooveresque style? Darn! And here I was hoping that Bob Hoover would tear us a new one! Or perhaps Bob Hoover is a figment of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s imagination! Perhaps Hoover is really Barcousky! Or maybe there really isn’t a Bob Hoover! Which means that the blogosphere expended a good deal of energy defending themselves against the White Rabbit! I don’t know about you, but I won’t be sleeping easy tonight.

Homophobic World of Warcraft

I have refrained from playing World of Warcraft (and pretty much all video games) because I know that if I ever got involved, I would become so sucked in that I would never be able to accomplish other things. Of course, now that the Blizzard people have demonstrated themselves to be homophobic assholes, I am now officially disinclined to involve myself with anything that Blizzard ever puts out again.

Pat Holt on Frey

The James Frey scandal is enough to awake Holt Uncensored after a nine-month absence. Pat Holt’s latest column (#396), which isn’t up at her site yet, suggests that Doubleday & Co. hire the Smoking Gun to vet every memoir that comes through the house, offer a refund to any reader who wants it, and refrain from issuing the book with an expalanation. And Holt’s just getting started.

Segundo Update

Here’s the deal: I’ve got four more shows to cut for the LBC, two more shows I’m prepping on top of the LBC, and entirely new material with which to frame the LBC-related interviews. There are more author interviews scheduled in February than I think I’ve ever done within a month. And I’m also going to be giving away copies of books (in large part because, in at least one case, I bought a copy to read because the review copy came too late), but you’ll have to listen to the podcasts to find out how to get them!

So expect an avalanche of podcasting activity here in the next few weeks.

Happy 250th Birthday Mozart!

Wendi beat me to the punch. I had intended to write a lengthy post about what Mozart means to me, but, staring at my workload here, such a verbal celebration will have to wait for another day. So for now, I’ll merely say that Mozart’s “Salzburg Symphony #2” was, in fact, the first piece of music I ever laid down for a Super 8 film in film school (figuring then that, while not necessarily sharing Mozart’s talents, I too was a young and giddy bastard eager to produce), that I have always related more to Mozart than to Beethoven (while not discounting the other, the Mozart-Beethoven “If pressed, which one would you choose and why?” question is a fun personality test), and that I am extremely happy after listening to about an hour of Mozart this morning.

So thanks Wolfgang for the groovy and timeless tunes! Thank you for that uncanny visceral quality that has always made me slightly delirious and made my solar plexus extremely tingly. I have always wondered what you would have composed after the age of 35!


Large Books: A Peremptory Spiritual Quest?

Richard Powers: “I like your formulation: the largeness of the novel does depend in part upon a reader’s willingness to exercise largeness of spirit upon it. Readerly renarration involves the reader in retelling not only the printed story but also her own life’s story, in the presence of a story that did not originate with her. And I like, too, the idea that this active reader somehow recapitulates the similar, active rereading that the novel’s writer has performed on the writer’s historical moment The tale of the private life becomes a way of voicing the chaotic public sphere that did not yet even know it was a tale. But at the same time, I have balked, throughout my career, at the contemporary American aesthetic bias that decrees that the public narrative space can only be gotten to through a metaphorical correlation with the private story.”

This statement is particularly apt as I consider my feelings on Elliott Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, which I am almost done with and which I am strangely obsessed with reading, despite the book’s many problems. I’ll have more to say on this sensation once I get to the inevitable 75 Books update.

(via Wood S Lot)