Metafilter member “the man of twists and turns” said: I’m going to stick this quote into every discussion of why libraries are important.
Repeating: “I’m going to stick this quote into every discussion of why libraries are important.”
Book trailer 1 for GUN MACHINE.
I did the narration for this, because Warren is my friend and sometimes my mentor. Also, GUN MACHINE is fucking amazing.
From Amy: “Seeing your facebook posts in relation to self-publishing today, i’m very curious as to why you seem to be so upset when continuously you encourage self publishing of other media. Just look at Vlogbrothers itself. In fact, you addressed this in Hitler and Sex. What about all of the amazing musicians that DFTBA Records picked up. The internet enabled these people to get out there and start something big. Why are books not okay?”
I haven’t sorted my feelings out, and I may be inconsistent/wrong. But to be clear: I did not intend to attack or criticize self-publishing itself. Many great books are being self-published, and that has been the case for centuries.
I wanted to criticize Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, because I felt that in his introduction of the new kindles, Bezos repeatedly peddled the lie that a book is created by one person, and that therefore a book’s author should be the sole entity to profit from the sale of the book. (Aside, of course, from Amazon itself.)
Bezos and Amazon are consistent in their promotion of this lie, because it encourages the idea that the publishing landscape today is bloated and inefficient and that there is a better, cheaper way to do it—a way where all books can cost $1.99 with most of that $1.99 going to the author. Readers and writers both win then, right?
Well, no. Because the truth is, most good books are NOT created solely by one person: Editors and publishers play a tremendously important role not just in the distribution of books, but in the creation of them. Without my editor, there would be no great perhaps in Looking for Alaska, no Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, and no Agloe, New York in Paper Towns. Without copyeditors and proofreaders, my books would be riddled with factual and grammatical errors that would pull you out of the story and give you a less immersive reading experience. Publishers add value, and lots of it, and without them the overall quality and diversity of books will suffer.
There is lots of room in this world for indie publishing, and I’m excited about all the reading opportunities that the Internet has given us, from blogs to fan fiction to direct-to-ereader novels. But comparing publishing to music or TV is really troubling to me, because people listen to a lot of music: In an average week, I probably listen to 200 songs. I probably watch 5 hours of television or YouTube. But in an average week, I read one book (and that puts me on the far end of the reading bell curve among Americans). Given how few books are read—perhaps 500 million a year—the current publishing landscape does an astonishingly good job of making sure there are plenty of books available to a wide variety of audiences. There are books about little people who survived the Holocaust and the Islamization of the Uzbeks and how to swing a golf club.
My fear is that if there are only two or three voices in the publishing retail landscape—say, Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon—that diversity will dramatically decrease. Only a few dozen books a year will be available at large retailers like Wal-Mart; the rest of literature will exist only in the kindle store. Those books will have difficulty being discovered, because there are so few readers and so many titles. (You are starting to see a similar phenomenon on YouTube right now, actually, but in publishing it will be far worse, because it usually only takes a few minutes to watch a YouTube video.)
Here’s my concern: What will happen to the next generation’s Toni Morrison? How will she—a brilliant, Nobel-worthy writer who doesn’t have a huge built-in audience—get the financial and editorial support her talent deserves? (You’ll note that there’s no self-published literary fiction anywhere near the kindle bestseller lists.) Amazon will have absolutely no investment in that writer, and they won’t need to. Over time, I’m worried this lack of investment will hurt the quality and breadth of literature we actually read, even if literature remains broadly available.
So my issue is not with self-publishing. My issue is with Bezos profiting from this false narrative that an Amazon monopoly will benefit both readers and writers. In truth, I don’t think it will benefit anyone. In the long run, I don’t even think it will benefit Amazon, because if they succeed in destroying publishers, the quality of the books they sell will suffer, and even fewer people will be inclined to spend their evenings reading.
FWIW, I agree with John.
It was 1963, and 16-year-old Bruce McAllister was sick of symbol-hunting in English class. Rather than quarrel with his teacher, he went straight to the source: McAllister mailed a crude, four-question survey to 150 novelists, asking if they intentionally planted symbolism in their work. Seventy-five authors responded. Here’s what they had to say.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THE AUTHOR PUT IT THERE INTENTIONALLY OR NOT. That is not the point. Reading is not a game of Clue; books are not a mystery that you have to solve by putting all the pieces together. That’s not the point. Find the meaning you want to find in it. That’s what we do with books because that’s what we do in life.
What Margaret said. If the point of reading is merely to understand precisely what the author intended, then reading is just this miserable one-sided conversation in which an author is droning on to you page after page after page and the reader just sits there receiving a monologue.
That’s not reading. That’s listening.
Reading is the active co-creation of a story, complete with all its symbols and abstractions.
To read well, you have to understand that sometimes an oligarchic pig is not just an oligarchic pig. Maybe Orwell intended Animal Farm to be about how dangerous pigs can be. Maybe he had a personal vendetta against pigs. It doesn’t matter. Animal Farm happens to say a lot about how humans organize themselves, and how power and social status shape our understanding of justice. It happens to capture the limits of human empathy, and how those limitations can lead to structural inequality.
I don’t see how it matters at all whether Orwell intended his book to be as good as it turned out to be. So when the story above says that a 16-year-old went “straight to the source,” the article is dead wrong, because every story has two sources: writer and reader.
English teachers forcing me to find symbolism and meaning in books make assigned reading in high school absolutely miserable. It was bad enough that I couldn’t just enjoy the story and spend time with the characters, but they also made me go on some kind of treasure hunt where I had to find something the teacher/school/board of education/someone-who-was-not-me decided was the “correct” thing to find.
As a result, I hated many classic works of literature, and actually resented them and the people who wrote them.
Years later, when I was in my mid-twenties, I spent the summer rereading the books I’d hated in high school, because I figured they were classics for a reason. I read:
Great Expectations - still hated it.
A Separate Peace - liked it, didn’t love it, but that’s a big improvement over how much I despised it when I was in school.
1984 - Loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
Brave New World - Read it just after 1984. Loved it.
Romeo and Juliet - Hated this when I was 14 (who, at 14, is mature enough to appreciate it? What a huge FAIL it is to teach this to 9th graders), and was moved to tears by it as an adult. Went on a bit of a Shakespeare tear as a result, and did Julius Caesar, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Still didn’t understand all of it, but loved every second of it.
All Quiet on the Western Front - When your authoritarian Cold Warrior English teacher isn’t somehow making this book all about how fucking great Reagan is, it’s just amazing.
There were others, but you get the idea, right? I was already an avid reader, so these (hopefully) well-intentioned teachers couldn’t turn me off from reading in general and forever, but both of my siblings wouldn’t pick up a book if you gave them a hundred dollars to do it. I understand that educators want to encourage students to dig into stories and see what they can find in them, and that’s a great exercise, but forcing them to find what some board of education has decided is the One Right Thing To Find does those kids (and did this kid) a huge disservice.
Early this morning, I learned that BN.com had accidentally shipped out The Fault in Our Stars, which will be published on January 10th, to many people who’d preordered the book. Although efforts are being made to stop shipments wherever possible, some of these people will likely receive the book…