September links: How to do literary criticism, yet another piece on changing literary standards, and ch-ch-changes with publishing and reading

* The Literary Critic as Humanist: Frank Kermode, 1919-2010, exemplified an ideal that is dying.

* Essential reading: The New Social Novel.

* John Grisham: “Boxers, Briefs and Books,” which is about how hard and rewarding writing is, even when it doesn’t necessarily look it.

* Of Two Minds About Books, from the New York Times.

* The great book glut of 2010. This is a great time to be a reader, especially if you’re buying used from Abe Books, Amazon, or an equivalent, for reasons described here:

Lastly there are those riding the glut by listing 100s of thousands of cheap books and making money even on books listed at one penny (it’s the postage–they like light books). These are mainly ISBN ( I Sell By Numbers) sellers who catalogue with a barcode reader and buy books by the pallet at breathtakingly low prices. These are held in vast warehouses ( the ‘fulfillment’ sheds are near Luton.) A long way from the rambling old second hand bookshop.

* A brilliant idea for New Yorkers (and, hopefully, the rest of us): RentEnforcer. You say where you live, how much you pay, and your apartment size, then find out if what you’re paying is similar to or different from what others are paying.

* How Censoring Craigslist Helps Pimps, Child Traffickers and Other Abusive Scumbags.

* The Washington Post exploits “owning a substantial share of the public debate” by pushing its own financial interests. I hadn’t actually realized this is true.

* How did I end up living in a state as crazy as Arizona?

* This post on the changes in reading because of the physical experience that reading on a Kindle entails basically describes me.

* Don’t Quit!: “Very, very few novelists get to stay home writing all day.”

* There’s another of these posts about how the publishing industry is doomed or at least changing—but, this one, by Paul Carr, is not mindlessly “rah-rah ebooks.”

A quote from Seth Godin: “The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic. Today, even though all other media has accelerated rapidly, books still take a year or more [to be published].” But the amount of time from acceptance to bookstores isn’t really about the technology: it’s about marketing, finding space on bookstore shelves, etc.

At some point between now and 25 years from now I don’t doubt that publishers will have changed, perhaps to the point of redundancy. But this just isn’t happening that fast.

This one from the Carr: “And so yes, Seth, you’re right: you definitely should consider what the shelf-life of your idea is. And if you find it’s so short that it’ll be redundant in a few weeks, let alone a few months, then you shouldn’t – mustn’t – wait!” Yeah—and if your idea is so insubstantial that a few weeks might obviate its necessity or importance, perhaps that idea is so trivial as to be unimportant. That’s my basic problem with Twitter.

The article continues:

For all of the reasons above, there are really only two types of person for whom it makes a jot of sense to tear up their book deal and abandon the professionalism, billion-dollar print market, and immeasurable cachet of traditional publishing. The first is highly skilled self-promoter likes Godin who have successfully identified their entire (niche) audience and who know they will only ever sell a certain number of copies of their books to that same audience. […]

The second type of person is more tragic: authors who, for whatever reason, fear they’re about to be dumped by their publisher (or at best paid a tiny advance for their next book) and who want to save face by using innovation as an excuse.

And here’s both the problem and the solution at the moment, at least from the perspective of a novelist: “The catch-all argument is that, thanks to today’s technology, publishers are redundant: anyone can write, publish and market an ebook.” Anyone can write, publish, and market an ebook, but no one is doing any kind of quality control on those books. I’ve been sent a variety of self-published books, and one thing stands out: they were universally awful. Most of them weren’t even laid out well, visually. That’s why, as Carr points out, publishers aren’t going anywhere for the time being.

* Should you self-publish? See above. Short answer: only if you already have an obvious readership.

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