Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPadding

Well, here it is - the potential "Kindle Killer", the Apple iPad. (I know that the Catapult isn't a breaking news source, but all the specs etc, if you're interested, can be found on the Apple site linked above.) So far it seems sort of like a giant iPhone with ebook reading capabilities - which is fine, really. Color screen, sleek design, a new Apple iBooks store, and a bookseller-friendly EPUB open source ebook format...has the death knell begun for Bezos and his lockdown on the ebook market? I have no idea, of course, but it's good to see a company like Apple enter the fray, especially with such a swanky looking alternative to the stale Kindle. Not to mention that 5 of the major publishers are already on board with the iBooks idea, since the too-low Amazon price point has the potential to kill everyone in its path. Ebooks through iBooks will have a slightly higher price tag, set by the pubs, rather than Apple. David Young, CEO of Hachette, told NPR that he felt there was "no future, as I saw it, at $9.99, other than ruin" - and I would have to agree with him. Now if we can just convince Mr. Young and his fellow CEOs to allow independent bookstores to purchase and sell their ebooks at a more reasonable rate than the current hardcover-type prices, we'll all be happy.

With all the hyped-up media coverage on this, the following was the best piece of reporting I found, from The Onion Science & Technology desk:

Frantic Steve Jobs Stays Up All Night Designing Apple Tablet 

CUPERTINO, CA — Claiming that he completely forgot about the much-hyped electronic device until the last minute, a frantic Steve Jobs reportedly stayed up all night Tuesday in a desperate effort to design Apple's new tablet computer. "Come on, Steve, just think—think, dammit—you're running out of time," the exhausted CEO said as he glued nine separate iPhones to the back of a plastic cafeteria tray. "Okay, yeah, this will work. This will definitely work. Just need to write 'tablet' on this little strip of masking tape here and I'm golden. Oh, come on, you piece of shit! Just stick already!" Middle-of-the-night sources reported that Jobs then began work on double-spacing his Keynote presentation and increasing the font size to make it appear longer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

This is a total cop-out, I realize, but I really liked what I wrote about Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin on the Warwick's blog this afternoon, so I'm rehashing & re-posting most of it here. (If you're one of the 3 people who read both sites, I apologize.) I'm surprised at how much this book has stuck with since I finished last month - although, that really is part of the point to it, I suppose. Read it & you will understand what I mean...

If you read The Book Catapult with any regularity, you know that I love those novels with multi-layered, labyrinthine structures that try to engage the reader by tripping them up when they think things are safe and normal. I want to be challenged when I read fiction - the books that have a playful structure are always the ones that stick with me, long after I've closed their covers. Colum McCann has created just such a novel, with just such a structure, but in such a simple, subtle way, as to not confuse or alienate the reader - hence the National Book Award win, I suppose. Jonathan Mahler said it best in his NYT book review, that this book "will sneak up on you", beginning "slowly and quietly on the other side of the ocean".

The story drifts easily between multiple narrators & differing storylines - all set somewhere around the day in 1974 when Philippe Petit walked his tightrope between the Twin Towers - while the characters float in and out of each others sections, showing the reader how easily all of our lives can be connected.

Ciaran & John Corrigan are brothers from Dublin, making their way on the mean streets of New York. John - "Corrigan" to everyone who knows him, even his brother - is a priest who forgoes all personal pleasures & ammenities in an attempt to make the lives of his local cadre of prostitutes slightly better. Claire Soderberg is the lonely Park Avenue wife of a city judge who's mourning the loss of her son in Vietnam through a women-only support group. She finds an unusual bond with Gloria, a middle-aged black woman whose three sons were killed in the same war. Lara is a recovering addict & a trendy Greenwich Village artist struggling with her identity in the wake of several drug-fueled years. Corrigan's van is hit on the FDR by Lara & her boyfriend, killing Corrigan's passenger, Jazzlyn. Jazzlyn's prostitute mother, Tillie, is sent to prison by Claire's husband, the Honorable Judge Soderberg, whose next case happens to be that against the tightrope walker, just brought to earth. Lara, crippled by guilt, seeks out Ciaran for reasons she's unsure of. Gloria, seeking a new meaning to her life, ultimately adopts Jazzlyn's two daughters, one of whom seeks answers from Ciaran later in life.

All plots within are circular, wrapping around and through each other to create a magnificent, beautifully told tale of, well, life as a human being. It's at times a love letter to the city of New York and its multitudes, a polemic on the duplicitous nature of humanity, and an ode to the fallen Towers, in their innocent prime in '74. But more than anything, it is a story about people and how you just never know how your actions, thoughts, and prejudices affect those you come in contact with every single day. So, hang up that cell phone, look one another in the eye, and remember what our common bonds really are, because you never know who you might be talking to and how integral to your own life they just might be.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Amazon Replaces the Wheel

I foolishly thought I was on vacation this week.  I was quietly sitting by the fire in my mother's house in Connecticut, trying to ignore the howling winds outside, when I came across a Newsweek interview with my latest nemesis, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com. I would like to share the following excerpt from the end of the interview to illustrate, yet again, why Mr. Bezos is the antichrist (see below).  I'm not sure what to say about his theory, except that it makes me sad, even if I think he's wrong. Is the world a better place and are we really going to be a better society without printed books like the Gutenberg Bible, Carl Jung's The Red Book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, or Cartier-Bresson's The Man, the Image, and the World?

Newsweek:  Do you think that the ink-on-paper book will eventually go away?

Bezos:  I do. I don't know how long it will take. You know, we love stories and we love narrative; we love to get lost in an author's world. That's not going to go away; that's going to thrive. But the physical book really has had a 500-year run. It's probably the most successful technology ever. It's hard to come up with things that have had a longer run. If Gutenberg were alive today, he would recognize the physical book and know how to operate it immediately. Given how much change there has been everywhere else, what's remarkable is how stable the book has been for so long. But no technology, not even one as elegant as the book, lasts forever.

NW:  Do you still read books on paper?

Bezos:  Not if I can help it.