Thursday, December 31, 2009

Half empty.

The theme of the new issue of Poets & Writers, which arrived with a pretty slick looking Chip Kidd designed cover, is "inspiration."

It's a great issue and includes a list of "Fifty of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World."

I have to give them points for exercising some restraint. You'll notice that it's fifty OF the most inspiring authors and not the hyperbolic fifty MOST inspiring authors in the world.

Here's my problem with the list.


"Let's not forget," the folks at P&W remind us, "that our first African American president is also a best selling author."

Technically, yes. President Obama wrote two best selling books. But does that really qualify him to be put on a list of most inspiring authors? A list that (rightly) includes Billy Collins, Joan Didion, Dave Eggers and J.D. Salinger? A list of living authors that the editors made a point of mentioning would have included John Updike, Frank McCourt and David Foster Wallace had fate gone another way in this past year?

After all, another politician put out a bestseller this year. In fact, she had a book that hit the bestseller list before ink hit old school paper (1).

I am the first to admit that I've never bought on to the cult of personality that surrounds Obama. He's an amazing politician who was able to spark something during the last campaign. But I've never seen him as anything more than a politician...which I'll quickly note I do not mean in a pejorative fashion. Seriously. I'll even note it up here in the body of the text, not in a footnote.

But was there really no one else, someone who spends some part of every day staring at the proverbial blank page trying to create something from nothing, that could have occupied that spot on the list? Someone who has committed their time and passion to the art and craft of writing? Is Obama an inspiring author or is he an individual with an inspiring story?

Maybe I'm being too cynical. Maybe after the great deficit of the Bush administration I should be pleased for the simple fact that our president is literate and capable of writing expressive, grammatically correct sentences that do not involve folksy contractions.

Or maybe I'm craving the return of the writer.

If I could just figure out what the heck that actually means.

1. Yes. I'm being argumentative.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Because we need a little business, right this very minute...

So all those e-books that the Kindle-rati have been bragging about?

The ones that "outsold" their doddering old hardcover relatives this bright holiday season?

Turns out a big portion of them were free.

According to a count done by GalleyCat on December 27, 64 of the top 100 books on Kindle's bestseller list were as free as a gay country schoolteacher on a Saturday night (1).

As interesting but somewhat depressing is the Washington Post article that inspired the survey.

From the Post: "...Amazon's customers have made it clear that $9.99 is still too high for their taste. Most titles in the company's list of top 100 Kindle bestsellers are priced below $9.99, and the most popular price point is $0.00."

$9.99 is too much for a book.


1. What?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Learning something new.

The phrase I'm thinking is "a normal person."

As in, a normal person would take a deep breath and be grateful that they have a job (1) and get on with it.

I'm not a normal person.

The New Year is coming and I'm thinking I'm ready for something new in the New Year. Something that gets me out of bed as excited to hit the ground running as teaching does.

One bit is in the works already (2).

I'm also pretty excited to have found a great new thing already.

Do you know about the The Institute for the Future of the Book?

I didn't. Till now.

How cool are these people?

Answer: Very.

1. Okay...a few jobs.
2. Later.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Synchronized gifting.

VanPelt sent a package for Christmas.

Actually, better than a package. VanPelt sent a big packing envelope with books in it.

This is something that happens every now and again and it's always fantastic.

Why is that?

Because books from VanPelt are usually the kind of amazing thing you find after pawing through the giant boxes of items donated to a church yard sale. They're little treasures that haven't been on the shelf of Borders in a while or, if they still are, they're a bit buried behind the giant display for the latest publisher-engineered blockbuster.

A favorite sits on the desk where I write. ThomPain (based on nothing), a slim little book of monologues that I adore.

Here's a passage:

"So a horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" And the horse says, "I'm dying of AIDS and I guess I feel a little sorry for myself. " So the bartender says, "My God, that's awful. I'm so sorry."

[Brief pause.]

"I'm forgetting some part of it. But you get the point, you see the hilarity. It's funny because it's true."

No, huh? Well, trust me. Later you'll think it's really, really funny. Maybe not ha, ha funny...but NEA grant money funny.

But back to the new books. Here's the cool thing.

VanPelt sent me a copy of Florida on the Boil: Recommended Novels and Short Story Collections Set in the Sunshine State.

Leopold's gift to me?

Little town of's a trip to Florida to visit my Auntie Compassion (1).

Great minds, eh?

1. Not her real name but a nickname that has far wider traffic than this blog.