Down the stairs, onto the porch, into the truck, up a different set of stairs...are all those book boxes we've lugged from college to first apartment, from first apartment to our first home, from city to city, becoming a thing of the past? The debate about e-books is one thing, but when we start talking about whether to simply get rid of all the books - as some of us have done with records, and then CDs and DVDs - it feels like the distant drummer is right outside on that porch. In today's New York Times, Nick Bilton, a converted e-book reader, struggles with what to do with his print book collection before he moves from NYC to San Francisco, and readers respond in the comments.
I've thought about the same thing, of course. When we moved from Vermont to Montreal two summers ago, we culled a third to a half of our large book collection, but brought the rest. They were one of the first things we unpacked, because filled bookshelves are one of the things that make us both feel at home; arranging a bookshelf has to be one of the most satisfying acts in establishing a new place, and rearranging it can be cathartic and symbolic. Dismantling the library of someone we've loved is like taking a final walk with them, and almost always contains revelations. Like some of the commenters on Bilton's article, I can't imagine a home without books; to me they are the soul of a home, a collection that is open to be "read" not only by their owners but by visitors who stand and browse the titles: a short course in the characters of the book collectors themselves.
But the last four books I've read have been e-books (read on both my PC and my android) and I can feel myself sliding into greater acceptance of the new media. I buy books more selectively now than I ever did, partly because I don't want to acquire a lot more things and partly because English-language books are more difficult to get here in Quebec. But I do still buy them -- the ones I know I'll want to keep, poetry and certain novels especially -- and can't imagine a time when I won't.
Music? I haven't bought a physical CD in a very long time, and we moved our entire music collection to mp3s. Are the two media parallel? Will print books go the way of CDs eventually? Or will we continue to have bookshelves - perhaps housing smaller collections -- for the comfort they give, and because, like art, they are objects that we like to see every day, both for their beauty, and for the way they chart our path through life?
The Canadian postal strike has finally ended; yesterday we rode past a postal truck filled with packages, and today received a phone call at the studio about a package delivery at our apartment. I'd gotten used to not checking the box, actually. Except for the occasional package, most of what we get is either financial, or advertising. With the prevalence and convenience of door-to-door service of other delivery companies, the post has become increasingly irrelevant.
I was thinking of that yesterday, too, as I downloaded the Nook reader for PC, and ordered my first e-book. Yes, I'm still behind the times; I don't have a Kindle or any other kind of hand-held e-book reader but I do read everything else on my laptop, so why not a book? But the real reason was that it's not always easy to get English language books here, either in stores, by mail order, or at my preferred outlet: the library. The Bibliotheque nationale is a fabulous resource, though the majority of their holdings (including the vast majority of their fiction) are in French - it is, after all, the Quebec national library. I can use interlibrary loan to order just about anything, but it takes time and a special trip to the library. I buy some books from a used book stores, and I order some, but shipping is very expensive here, and slow, especially from the U.S.
There are a lot of good reasons why I've been stubborn about printed books, one being that by evening I am tired of looking at a screen of any kind. Another, of course, is that I'm a designer, and excellent typography and page layout matter to me. We said all the same things in the early days of website design, and I'm sure that e-books will eventually have many of the design features we've become used to on the web, and the differences will become increasingly irrelevant. As a publisher, I'm also going to have to bite the e-book bullet. The main reason, though, is that I just love printed books; I like reading that way, I like holding them and turning the physical pages, and I like having them around me. A room without bookshelves seems as bare to me as a mind devoid of literature: but what a telling remark that is! I recognize that these visible symbols are a kind of claim to intellectual status as well as a comfort, and that part of my attachment to printed books has to do with identity and pride.
I don't buy the claims that e-books are a financial advantage: that's only true if you're comparing prices for recently-published books. I found a lot of discrepancies. Yesterday, for instance, I looked at the prices for "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill from B&N. The e-book was 11.99. paperback, 12.32. Hardcover? 2.99. And both paperback and hardcover were available in the marketplace for 1.99. Is it really worth it to me to pay $9 more for instant gratification? Uh, not exactly. On the other hand, the book I did download, "Nemesis," by Jo Nesbo, was 4.99 for the e-book and 9.03 for the paperback. I have no desire to keep that particular book on my shelf, and it's a good one to read while traveling, so the e-version makes sense. Still, I know when marketing is capitalizing on human impatience and our desire for the latest technology. I don't like being manipulated; the library and used bookstore retain their appeal.
I'm curious about your own experience: do you have an e-book reader or a way to download and read books on your computer? How many books do you download in a month? Have your book purchases gone up as a result? What do you have to say about the advantages or disadvantages of reading this way?
(read other readers' comments at the original post on The Ca
Nic Sebastian's new chapbook, Dark and Like a Web,edited by Phoenicia Publishing's Beth Adams, has just been published under the Nanopress model that Nic invented. Under this type of publishing, the author partners with an editor to work closely on the manuscript until it is ready for self-publication. The book is then made available in various forms, including an e-book, a free .pdf download, an audio book/CD, and an inexpensive print edition sold at cost through Lulu.
When Nic first asked me to edit these poems, I was excited because they speak to me personally, and were already close to being ready for publication. I would have been happy to publish the chapbook at Phoenicia. These are "via negativa" poems, looking at the divine obliquely, and through obscurity. The book includes process notes from both Nic and me, and an explanation of how we came up with "Broiled Fish and Honeycomb Nanopress." We both hope you enjoy this project as much as we did! Here's one of many favorite poems from the collection, but I urge you to read the whole chapbook, where a greater meaning emerges as one poem and one experience is followed by another.
the girl and the hours
the girl lives in an iron shack
her homeland is red
it is dry the passing of the first hour is rich
blue salt, the second
the girl pulls up
a rough wooden chair
in hot wind
she observes the sleek hours
passing in single file before her
on a catwalk
one is smoking vermillion
another dream black and muscled
dark whale song
the striding hours are elegant
they have a fine sense of color
and they are not afraid
the girl watches deeply
under constant sun, never feels
she is alone
As I wrote in my editor's note:
"When we create, I think we all long for the close reading, the deeply attentive listener or viewer. Making our work public is an act of courage, risking not only dismissal or rejection, but also intimacy. Editing, by its very nature, requires an intimate engagement with the text, closer perhaps than anyone’s but the author. I see that intimacy as both a responsibility and a great privilege.
I’m changed each time I enter deeply into the words and world of other writers who have asked me to edit their work. Certain phrases and ideas enter me, and they stay. In one of my favorite poems in this collection, Nic asks, “how have you sharpened/into this thin bright hook/pulling me after you still/as though you were some great moon and I/some helpless tide.” This stunning image speaks equally to me about the pull of the divine, and the pull of the creative impulse, two forces not so separate as they may seem."
This is the third year qarrtsiluni has run a chapbook contest, with the winning manuscript published by Phoenicia. There are lots of contests out there, some with no reading fee at all (this one costs $11). If poets simply want to be published, there are also a number of chapbook printers now who masquerade as publishers. So why go to the trouble of entering a contest like this one? For one thing, the judging process is completely anonymous. (I know: I'm the contest coordinator!) We receive entries from known poets as well as people who've never submitted before, but all identifying information is stripped out, including acknowledgments, prior publications, biographical information -- even the "created by" tag in the file data is removed. So the judge has no way of knowing who is who, who has a degree, whose manuscript is filled with previously-published poems, and who doesn't but just happens to be a very good poet with something unique to say and an arresting way of saying it.
Second: Our contests typically don't receive hundreds of entries. Your work won't be lost in the shuffle, but read carefully.
And third: your entry fee goes toward the honorarium for the judge (for 2011, that's Luisa Igloria) and the cover artist, and to defray the expenses for review copies and postage. This is a break-even proposition at best, and you can feel positive, knowing that your fee helps support poetry itself. All ten shortlisted poets will receive publicity and publication of some of their works.
In both 2009 and 2010, the contest was won by accomplished but relatively unknown poets. The subsequent publication of their books and the publicity they received, as well as the credit, has helped both of them in their careers. Dave Bonta and I take seriously our role as publishers and promoters of the poets who are chosen for the shortlist and as winners, and we do all we can to get the work out into the world in a beautiful form -- whether that's as printed or online books, or in the audio version -- where it can be read and appreciated. We also try to make the process an enjoyable one for everyone involved.
To all my poet friends: you should seriously consider submitting to this contest. I won this contest last year, and Beth Adams & Dave Bonta have have been so awesome that they have ruined me for any other publisher. This year's judge is Luisa Igloria, who won the 2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry.
So we hope you will consider entering the 2011 contest; send us your best work, and good luck to all! The deadline is June 15, and all details are here.
above: Clayton Michaels
All Phoenicia's poetry books are on sale through the end of April!
like a neil young song
Everything sounds sadder in a
reed thin falsetto.
Like a Neil Young song
circa After the Gold Rush
1970 or 72.
The words almost cease to
matter when a voice is
spread that thin.
When with one stray syllable
the entire fragile
dynamic can just dissolve.
Then again, sometimes when it
breaks it can be far more
‘Mellow My Mind’
from Tonight’s the Night.
In a reed thin falsetto:
should you ever choose to,
this is how I would like
you to remember me.
Marly Youmans has just published part 1 of a 2 part interview at her blog, "The House of Words." We talk about the strengths of Phoenicia as a micro-publisher, and what's rewarding about doing this work. To my surprise, Marly has illustrated the interview with some of my own artwork. Thank you, Marly!
We were delighted to read Rachel Barenblat's appreciative review of Ren Powell's "Mercy Island" today, at her blog The Velveteen Rabbi.
Rachel speaks of her appreciation of Ren's poems about growing up, "childhood, in these poems, isn't necessarily safe" and also mentions her own anguish at reading "Girl-talk with the Poet from Ramallah" which speaks of horrors endured by a Palestinian girl.
But she also writes that the book contains great beauty. At the end of her review, Rachel quotes the first stanza of "View From an Island," the final poem in the book,
I am a Russian Doll
land within land
and says: "I love the opening couplet with its suggestion that each of us contains multitudes within ourselves. Lichen, heather, craggy beauty, mackerel slapping on the dock: despite all of our human sorrow, these beauties remain... This is a gorgeous collection of poems."
Inheriting the Garden
We promised ourselves we'd plant posies
but all that time the bed lay barren.
It was summer when we moved from that place.
And the world seemed filled
with the bursting of dandelions.
The former tenants of this house understood seasons:
snowdrops, lemoinei, jackmanii --
But now, here, in late autumn
two monstrous roses press,
vulgar against the kitchen windowpane.
And too often at breakfast
I find myself holding my breath.
from Ren Powell's Mercy Island: New and Selected Poems
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