The Seattle Review of Books – The publishers’ dilemma

The Seattle Review of Books – The publishers’ dilemma

The publisher as distinct, unique entity is the foundation of Roberto Calasso’s The Art of the Publisher, a small collection of connected essays and transcribed talks about Adelphi Edizioni (the Italian publisher Calasso has worked for or run in some capacity since 1962) and about publishing in general. Calasso immediately complicates the idea of the publisher, pushing it past purveyor of art and into art itself: “What is a publisher,” he asks, “but a long snakelike progression of pages?”

A publisher, then, is a sort of super-book that contains hundreds, maybe thousands of distinct but “mutually congenial” individual books. Each publisher is a multimedia, multidisciplinary project (including everything from editorial to publicity) whose essential concerns are whether and how a book gets published.

Things, then, haven’t really changed in 500 years. Whether and how have always been the primary concerns of the publisher. The former is a complicated question. It’s a bit like asking, “What makes a good book?” The answer might be beautiful or moving, but it’s just as likely to be subjective, overly reliant on current trends, biased, or myopic.

Calasso pokes fun at the question of what makes a good publisher even as he fails to adequately answer it: “A good publishing house [is] one that… so far as possible, publishes only good books.” Elsewhere he invokes publisher-as-book: “publishing the wrong book would be like putting the wrong character in a novel.”

#142: Rebound

#142: Rebound

I’ve mentioned before that my laser printer is one of my best friends during the editing process, but another best friend, especially for quick reads, is my Kindle. With relatively little headache I can export my Word document as an epub, pop it on my Kindle, and have, effectively, a prototype of a typeset book; book-like thing.

I say it’s great for quick reads because on the Kindle I tend to read with more of a reader’s frame of mind than a writer’s (or editor’s, for that matter, as it’s just tedious enough to make annotations on e-ink to discourage me from making too many).

It’s probably a holdover from my design days, this wanting to see a prototype on the native device. Once you’ve built the whole widget yourself, it can be hard to work in one stage of the process while knowing how much your decisions in later stages can affect the overall experience. Book jacket designer Chip Kidd famously wrote his first novel THE CHEESE MONKEYS in the page layout software Quark 3.2, which is kind of like trying to carve a turkey with lasers. (But I understand, Chip!)

This is also why I admire the quality in screenwriters that allows them to entrust a director with a movie script, to give that baby away and see someone else raise it. Or to be more precise: the Quality is a trusting non-attachment, an awareness of being a part of a larger ecosystem/community/world. I’ve been trying to cultivate this quality, both personally and professionally—I’ll be working much more with others to publish this book than I did with the previous one.

The Useless Agony of Going Offline – The New Yorker

The Useless Agony of Going Offline – The New Yorker

Levy writes that when we choose to cast aside “the devices and apps we use regularly, it should hardly be surprising if we miss them, even long for them at times.” But what I felt was more general. I didn’t miss my smartphone, or the goofy watch I own that vibrates when I receive an e-mail and lets me send text messages by speaking into it. I didn’t miss Twitter’s little heart-shaped icons. I missed learning about new things.

it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing. I still read deeply, and study things closely, and get lost for hours at a time in sprawling, complicated pieces of literature.

Blockwriter +

Blockwriter +

Alternate title: How to turn your computer into a manual typewriter. 

As we all know, the surfeit of distractions available on a personal computer these days can make it exceedingly easy to get nothing done. There’s the constant haranguing of emails, the intrusions of instant messaging, and the endless nagging of countless other attention-hungry applications and utilities.

In looking for ways to defuse this, I noticed a few years ago that some serious writers, at least in the early drafting stages of their work, were turning to manual typewriters as a method of sidestepping all of those distractions. It’s a great solution: what better way to thwart a computer than to step away from it completely? There’s no email to check on a typewriter, no beeps and pop-up reminders from other applications, and no access whatsoever to the Internet and its tantalizing abundance of productivity-killing diversions.

What’s more, a manual typewriter is a powerful antidote to authorial dawdling, that propensity to continually re-edit a sentence or a paragraph — thereby imparting the feeling of working without really working — instead of continuing to write new sentences or paragraphs instead. Unlike word processors or even the simplest text editors, manual typewriters don’t allow you to easily re-edit, insert and revise a sentence once it’s been committed to paper. This makes for an entirely different writing experience: the ideas come first, and the act of finessing them, of word-smithing, comes after all the ideas have been set to paper.

Why Hardware When Software Will Do?

At some point, it occurred to me that it really shouldn’t be necessary to purchase another piece of hardware to accomplish the same things that writers look to manual typewriters for: the ability to focus without distractions, and the ability to work in a mode that disallows excessive editing and encourages continued writing.

Neither of those things are beyond the capability of software, so why not just write software that does those things? I almost don’t have to write any more in this blog post and most readers will get the entirety of my concept: build an application that functions almost exactly like a typewriter.

For lack of a more marketable name, I call it Blockwriter. And because I’m no programmer and I’ll never get around to learning enough Cocoa skills to build Blockwriter for myself, I figured I’d just do what I know: throw together some mock-ups of the user interface to get my ideas across.

Draft Only

Of course, Blockwriter is intended only as a drafting tool, as it’s clearly impractical for the vast majority of text editing and word processing. To quickly knock out a rough version of any piece of writing that requires concentration and complexity, from a lengthy blog post to an article or even to a full-blown book manuscript, it’s the perfect tool. It provides a very narrow feature set that keeps you on task, along with one-touch methods of shutting out the rest of the system. And it’s a lot less bulky than a typewriter.

Alas, Blockwriter itself is only a draft. As I said, I haven’t nearly enough programming talent to make it happen. But I had a good time putting together the interface — more and more Web sites are referred to as “software” these days, but designing a desktop application is an entirely different experience, even a faux one like this. So the hour or two I put into Blockwriter was an interesting foray into a different kind of design. What resulted isn’t perfect, clearly, but maybe someone will find some of these ideas interesting enough to build it for real. I can’t imagine it would be particularly hard for anyone who’s comfortable with Cocoa.

Do You Read Differently Online and in Print?

Do You Read Differently Online and in Print?

The Internet may cause our minds to wander off, and yet a quick look at the history of books suggests that we have been wandering off all along. When we read, the eye does not progress steadily along the line of text; it alternates between saccades—little jumps—and brief stops, not unlike the movement of the mouse’s cursor across a screen of hypertext. From the invention of papyrus around 3000 B.C., until about 300 A.D., most written documents were scrolls, which had to be rolled up by one hand as they were unrolled by the other: a truly linear presentation. Since then, though, most reading has involved codices, bound books or pamphlets, a major advantage of which (at least compared to the scroll) is that you can jump around in them, from chapter to chapter (the table of contents had been around since roughly the first century B.C.); from text to marginal gloss, and, later, to footnote.

In the age of print, nonlinear reading found its most elaborate support in the “book wheel,” invented by the Italian engineer Agostino Ramelli in 1588: a “rotary reading desk” which allowed the reader to keep a great number of books at once, and to switch between them by giving the wheel a turn. The book wheel was— unfortunately!—a rarity in European libraries, but when you think about all the kinds of reading that print affords, the experience of starting a text at its beginning and reading all the way to the end, which we now associate with “deep” reading, looks less characteristic of print in general than of the novel in particular: the one kind of book in which, we feel, we might be depriving ourselves of something vital if we skipped or skimmed.

The quality of digital media poses one kind of problem for the reading brain; the quantity of information available to the wired reader poses a different and more serious problem. But it’s worth noting that readers have faced this problem before, too. Gutenberg printed his first Bible in 1455, and by 1500, some 27,000 titles had been published in Europe, in a total of around 10 million copies. The flood of printed matter created a reading public, and changed the way that people read.

Retrotechtacular: Electronic Publishing in the 1930s | Hackaday

Retrotechtacular: Electronic Publishing in the 1930s | Hackaday

We are living in the age of citizen journalism and the 24-hour news cycle. Reports about almost anything newsworthy can be had from many perspectives, both vetted and amateur.

Just a few decades ago, people relied on daily newspapers, radio, and word of mouth for their news. On the brink of the television age, several radio stations in the United States participated in an experiment to broadcast news over radio waves. But this was no ordinary transmission. At the other end, a new type of receiver printed out news stories, line drawings, and pictures on a long roll of paper.

Radio facsimile newspaper technology was introduced to the public at the 1939 World’s Fair at two different booths. One belonged to an inventor named William Finch, and one to RCA. Finch had recently made a name for himself with his talking newspaper, which embedded audio into a standard newspaper in the form of wavy lines along the edges that were read by a special device.