“[Your brother] said you might be able to tell me about opportunities in the poetry field. The poetry field, I thought not even bothering to pull the phone away from my ear like they do on teevee and look at it in disbelief. The poetry field, that’s good. I wonder if my stepbrother was screwing around.”—
I’ve decided that I’m going to make an effort to read 12 books from presses or imprints that I’ve never read before. Or at least that I haven’t read since I started keeping track a few years ago on Goodreads. I’m hoping that this will force me to explore smaller or newer presses and perhaps even genres that I haven’t tried before. I’m open to suggestions, and I’ll post thoughts on both the book and the press here.
“The cancer process is not unlike the creative process. Ideas emerge slowly, quietly, invisibly at first. They are most often abnormal thoughts, thoughts that disrupt the quotidian, the accustomed. They divide and multiply, become invasive. With time, they congeal, consolidate, and make themselves conscious. An idea surfaces and demands total attention. I take it from my body and give it away.”—
One of my favorite dense paragraphs of years passing, from Chapter 10:
"He stepped from the dark porch, into the moonlight, and with his bloody head and his empty stomach hot, savage, and courageous with whiskey, he entered the street which was to run for fifteen years.
The whiskey died away in time and was renewed and died again, but the street ran on. From that night the thousand streets ran as one street, with imperceptible corners and changes of scene, broken by intervals of begged and stolen rides, on trains and trucks, and on country wagons with he at twenty and twentyfive and thirty sitting on the seat with his still, hard face and the clothes (even when soiled and worn) of a city man and the driver of the wagon not knowing who or what the passenger was and not daring to ask. The street ran into Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south as Mexico and then back north to Chicago and Detroit and then back south again and at last to Mississippi. It was fifteen years long: it ran between the savage and the spurious board fronts of oil towns where, his inevitable serge clothing and light shoes black with bottomless mud, he ate crude food from tin dishes that cost him ten and fifteen dollars a meal and paid for them with a roll of banknotes the size of a bullfrog and stained too with the rich mud that seemed as bottomless as the gold which it excreted. It ran through yellow wheat fields waving beneath the fierce yellow days of labor and hard sleep in haystacks beneath the cold mad moon of September, and the brittle stars: he was in turn laborer, miner, prospector, gambling tout; he enlisted in the army, served four months and deserted and was never caught. And always, sooner or later, the street ran through cities, through an identical and well-nigh interchangeable section of cities without remembered names, beneath archways of midnight…”
I think in many ways, this refers not only to Joe Christmas, but also to Faulkner himself…
P.S. The contemporary cover is my least favorite of all of these…
I’m just gonna come out and say it: I dislike print-on-demand (POD) technology.
Yeah, I’ve heard about why people love it. They think it’s the next big thing in paper books, think it will save bookstores, think it will save small presses, think it’s all that and a bag of chips. No overstock! No waste! No warehousing! No shipping! Backlist in print forever! Any book you want in 5 minutes!* (*most titles not yet included)
But frankly, I feel that P.O.D machines produce an inferior product, and a rather blah object. And as much as we all know that content is king, a blah object is harder to feel passionate about. And harder to sell. A few cases in point.
Case #1: I found this book on the sale cart at my college bookstore the day after commencement. It was almost too perfect of a find — a novel in first chapters, full of possible new beginnings. Like my life at that point. This is how I recommended it in the bookstore: “If you were telling the story of your life, where would you begin? With your first breath, your first memory, your first love, your first loss? With the story of your family or your people? Each chapter in “I, The Divine” is a new beginning, each chapter a puzzle piece in the life of Sarah Nour El-Din. The effect is kalaidescopic — you see hues and shapes and stories that you recognize, but never in the same place twice. By the end, Alameddine forces you to step back and marvel at what a beautiful object you hold in your hands.”
And then. A couple of years ago, we reordered the book. And it its place, we received a P.O.D version with a price tag that was $5 HIGHER than the original paperback. Somehow not the same beautiful object. Now, I can hardly bring myself to recommend it or even stock it in the store. Shame on you, W.W. Norton. You should know better.
Case #2: In 2010, we did an event at Skylight Books with Erika Lopez, and I was reminded of her earlier book, Flaming Iguanas. The hardcover was this beautiful object with craft paper pages and inkblot illustrations that just screamed at me from the shelf. And guess what the paperback is now? A crappy P.O.D version that looks like it took about 5 minutes to print. Oh wait, it did take 5 minutes to print. It looks better on a computer screen than it does in the store. Talk about heartbreaking. Simon & Schuster, hang your head.
Case #3: Finally, I was recently talking with graphic novelist Ariel Schrag. She asked me why, at the last festival where she was signing books, did the bookseller have what appeared to be bootlegs of her first book? Crappy covers, not embossed, and poor quality images on poor quality paper. I had to tell her that no, they were legit and created that way by her publisher. I was dismayed (but not shocked) to find out that the author/creator has absolutely no say in a publisher’s decision to change a title to P.O.D status. And it’s even more heartbreaking when they do it for a medium that relies so heavily on its visual presentation. Simon & Schuster again, hang your head even lower.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy is hidden by the seemingly happy promise that now, “Your book will never go out of print!” Yeah, great. The rights will never revert to the author, they will have no say on whether their book is a quality paperback or a shitty P.O.D version, and booksellers will be forced to sell a crappy, nonreturnable, short discount product for a high price. The Evil Empire can’t even discount these books (much). Awesome. I’m sure that’s what authors and booksellers everywhere dream of.
Would I rather a book exist or not exist? Exist, of course.
Would I rather read only e-books or only POD books? I honestly don’t know. I hope to the heavens that I never have to make that decision.