Thursday, March 19, 2009


Seriously. Have we learned nothing despite what we know we know? Like many other industries, publishing has been hit hard by this ugly and moribund economy. Lots of layoffs, an outdated business model and a shrinking buying public have led to promises of new thinking, innovation and efficiencies by those in charge and lots of public braying by those saying I told you so. Embracing new technologies like making digital publishing profitable for all involved (author, publisher, bookstore, etc.) seems to be the way to go and the mouthpieces at the larger houses assure us they’re hard at work at it while the rest of us Twitter away as though our very lives depend on it.

So, here sits the publishing industry at the corner of potential poverty and prosperity and what do we do? Hand out multi-million dollar advances to “authors” that have little possibility of earning out as though this industry crash has never happened.

Just today, it was announced that George W. Bush signed with Crown for $7 million. Last week, bestseller Audrey Niffenegger scored herself $4mil for the follow-up to her sleeper hit, The Time Travelers Wife and that was followed by hero/pilot Chesley Sullenberger III signing a two book deal worth $3 million; the second book will be his own inspirational poems.

Now Niffenegger is the only actual actual “author” in the bunch. I thought her first book was tremendous and the professional pep-squads are saying this book is even better. Still, good freakin’ luck earning out a $7 mil advance and don’t tell me it’s only because the book went to auction.

The hero/pilot's story is certainly compelling but what more is there to say? Don’t get me wrong: great job, Sully. You really ARE a hero but how much more is there? Birds hit plane, plane goes down, pilot saves plane and passengers, all in about 3 minutes. And your ‘inspirational poems’? Oh Christ. Not that!

As for W., it was inevitable and spinning the book as a examination of a dozen decisions he made as opposed to a straight memoir is actually great spin considering the esteem in which he’s held these days. But $7 million dollars?!? Will you be among the buying public for this title? I can assure you it sure as hell ain’t gonna be reviewed here.

Look kids, we’re drowning here and money, BIG money, is being thrown at questionable books. Can someone please tell the upstairs execs to quit it. It’s turning into big-money sports and we always say we hate that, right? All that ‘baseball has lost its soul’ stuff when Manny signs for $45 million for two years. So now it’s "well, if author X got $3 mil, we have to get our author 4". Look, I don’t begrudge Audrey a whole wheel barrow full o’ dough--she's a terrific writer. But now? Today? When we’re in the mess we’re in? Some perspective. Please. And maybe just a shred of integrity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A couple of things

Lucky me, I've gotten some wonderful books of late.

I'm smack in the middle of Jedediah Berry's marvelous debut, The Manual of Detection. Clever and wry, funny and smart, it's remi
nds me of Jasper Fforde (LOVE Jasper! Plus he answers his own emails) though not as sci-fi. It's only been out a week so I encourage you to get it. If you don't already trust my recommendations, the fine folks at Penguin have provided the first chapter online: Can't wait to finish it and write something here.

In today's mail, I received new sandals in preparation for my upcoming cruise. However, upon opening the box, not only did I find I was the recipient of two LEFT sandals but they were of different sizes. Alas. It was the doldrums for me.

Fortunately, T
om, the handsome FedEx guy, arrived an hour or so later and lifted my spirits with an uncorrected manuscript from the good people at Riverhead (Lord, I feel like I'm on the Penguin teat at the moment!). Enclosed was a copy of It Feels So Good When I Stop by Joe Pernice with a lovely note from Joe on a card with Wonder Woman on it.

you're not familiar with Joe as a novelist (his first book was part of the 33 1/3 series a few years back; a novella based on the Smiths album Meat Is Murder; ring a bell?), you might know him as a musician as he is the driving force, singer, songwriter, guitarist of The Pernice Brothers, and for my money is among the most literate songwriters around. He's one of those guys to whose music you listen to and say, "Man, that guy has a novel in him". Well, not only does he but it'll be published this Fall.

So forgive me if I'm a little giddy as I write this and know that once I finish The Manual of Detection, I plan on diving head-first into It Feels So Good When I Stop.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Hello Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio by Anthony Rudel

I love radio despite what it's become--noisy and tasteless and corporate beyond belief. While corporations have almost always been a major part of radio, what we're forced to accept now by and large has left it sterile, bland, and as lifeless as a fish on the shore after the tide has gone back out to sea.

The idea of it, invisible waves going through the air that transmit music and opinion and news to you in your home or your car or wherever you can pick it up, is almost too strange to be real. That was certainly the feeling at the early part of the last century, when, admittedly, the world was much bigger than it is now and we weren't nearly so connected or educated. Rudel explains in a light and informative style, how in less than 2o years, radio changed America and the world.

In a short time, Americans latched on to radio with paws and claws and it changed how we thought, how we listened, how we were entertained and informed and from there, it spread its reach around the world. That farmers in Nebraska could hear about swells dancing to an orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan suddenly made the world a lot smaller. It made stars of some, created business empires for others, all the while keeping the people informed as they had never been before
and changed us forever.

One of the elements of the book that caught my attention were the number of striking parallels from then and now--radio and the Internet, a nation facing a devastating economic crisis, the failures of Herbert Hoover and George W., the successes of FDR and Obama. Radio was originally the pursuit of amateur hobbyists; a small-time operation without regulation and with little sense of its own reach and potential. Who was it for? What could it do? The other question that loomed large was who owned the airwaves and who controlled them? Interestingly, these same questions were asked again in the last 10 or 15 years about the Internet. Let's hope we learn well before the Internet is completely taken from us and put in corporate hands, as well.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Leaping into the future?

I just signed up at Twitter in the hope that by tweeting regularly, it will cause me to blog more regularly and when all those Twitter types see how clever I am, they will race here and see what a wit I am and will clamor for more of that certain je ne sais quois de Reed Next, oui? Circular logic, I know but I've got to do something to spur myself on. Otherwise, I'll continue on as the most irregular blogger on the planet and will never be able to afford that operation for my maiden aunt since I'm paid so extravagantly for doing this.

You can follow me on Twitter: @reednext

I even found a photo of me I'd forgotten all about to use as my profile pic. It's from a few years back and was taken in the rumpus room with my old dog, Wally. A good dog, Wally was, and a good friend. He could hold his gin better than a bunch of Episcopalian country clubbers on 4th of July.

And since this is supposed to be a blog about books, I finished Hello Everybody: The Dawn of American Radio by Anthony Rudel last night (most enjoyable and I shall write more soon) and started the much vaunted Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
. I was only a few pages into it before the Sandman smacked me upside the head but I'm quite intrigued. Thus far, it smacks of Jasper Fforde so that bodes well.