Yes, I confess I had not read the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction until now, when it is nearly 2007, but in theory I have repented of this fact prior to my death and consequently cannot be held accountable for it in the book-lined heaven towards which I aspire.
Marilynne Robinson’s second work of fiction, Gilead, deserves both the Pulitzer and my monumentally-less-prestigious Repentance for Not Reading It Earlier. Admirers of her debut novel, Housekeeping, which garnered the Ernest Hemingway Foundation award for the best first novel from PEN American Center, a PEN/Faulkner fiction award nomination, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination, no less, have been equally rewarded in their patient wait for this quietly stunning, deeply compelling book.
The style of the novel is clean, careful and profound. It assumes the form of a long letter written by John Ames, a 76-year-old preacher, who has spent the majority of his life in Gilead, Iowa. Ames has been diagnosed with a heart problem and has little time to live; he writes to his son, the beloved product of a marriage to a much younger woman, and much too young himself to understand any fatherly information the elder Ames wishes to give him. Ames fills this gorgeous ‘letter’ with all the things he wishes he could pass on to his child: his own family history (his father and his grandfather preachers before him), impeccably composed and heartfelt descriptions of the events of his current waning days, and, most preciously, with the truths about life he has gathered—truths about his own life, about all human life, and about spiritual life.
But lest my opening paragraph about a book-lined heaven lead you astray, you need not be Christian, religious, nor even have significant appreciation for Christianity or religion in order to appreciate this book. Part of its strength is Ames’ deep love of the human and of worldly existence, which is the only appreciation you need share to be drawn into its pages. It must be said that the novel may be slow to capture you fully, but if you persist in putting together the mosaic of its prose, the last half of the book will be a rich reward. Mysteries of the past, like sacred mysteries, surface; some resolve fully, some remain partially obscured, the truth a conjecture of tangible facts.
I am tempted to compare the book to water—in its clarity, in its beauty, in the way water is both transparent and reflective, tossing the fragments of the sun, the sky, the heavens back upon themselves. Only after this comparison leapt to my mind did I recall Ames’s suggestion that, in a sense, all water holds the capacity to bless, that water is, in and of itself, a blessing. The link of metaphors holds. This book is a blessing.
Connexions has compiled a list of a few of the 75,000 memorable quotes and beautiful moments in this book; read a really spectacular review that makes me ashamed to be ticking on a keyboard at Eve’s Alexandria.
Meta-Blogging: The Newest Literary Craze
So New, It’s Not Yet a Craze
And its Literary Merit is Also Up for Debate
After a work-induced unvacation from my blog discussions about blog discussions, I have returned to discover that the confusion surrounding Adrian Murdoch’s UNinvolvement with Simon and Schuster’s Imperium promotions has not yet been resolved. Perhaps it has been quietly sorted out, but I find no further explanation on Mr. Murdoch’s blog, Bread and Circuses, and I am somewhat loath to prod the bemused man about investigation, when I am responsible for unknowingly bringing the falsehood to his attention. And after all, the main aim of Bread and Circuses is genuine classical scholarship, not a possibly misguided rendition of Nancy Drew and the Occasionally Befuddling Habits of the Publishing Industry. Like other blogs I know. Ahem.
For those of you just tuning in on your radios at home, or for those of you too overwhelmed by the enormity of my persiflage in the last post to follow the link to the corresponding comments, let me explain. I read an article in the LA Times about the large amount of big-name books to be released this fall, in which, amongst other things, publishers noted that they were approaching bloggers to publicise new books in an effort to combat the crunch of advertising space. According to Josh Getlin, the author of the piece, Leah Wasielewski at Simon and Schuster had contacted Adrian Murdoch to promote Imperium on Bread and Circuses. I quote the original article:
At Simon & Schuster, for example, publicists and marketing directors have been reaching out to bloggers to boost Robert Harris’ political thriller “Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome.”
“This isn’t something I was doing a year ago, but I think it’s a huge opportunity for us now,” said marketing director Leah Wasielewski. “I got a fantastic response from some bloggers, and it makes sense because this approach allows us to target consumers directly and gauge their interest. You go right to the source.”
Among the sites that Wasielewski contacted were Bread and Circuses (http://adrianmurdoch. typepad.com/bread_and_ circuses), which deals with the later Roman empire; Prettier than Napoleon (http://bamber.blogspot.com), a blog on literary and legal issues; and Mental Multivitamin (http://mentalmultivitamin.blogspot.com) a literary site. All three generated reviews of “Imperium,” she said.
But Adrian Murdoch was never contacted by Simon and Schuster. About anything.
I found out about this because he was kind enough to call my attention to this error. BookInfo was not the only blog to take this aspect of the story and run with it; a cursory blog search revealed that other literary meta-blogging had perpetuated the myth, both at Population Statistic and at SmarterCompany.com.
So the question is: how did the rumour get started, and why? It’s true that Mr. Murdoch posted a Spectator review of Imperium; did Ms. Wasielewski find the post and assume that the blog must have been contacted? Or did she recognise Bread and Circuses as central enough to the community of blogging classicists to risk fabrication for the publicity, as one of the comments on Bread and Circuses surmises? “[Y]ou’re obviously someone they rate highly enough to make it up,” notes Tony Quinlan.
They’re both slightly unsatisfactory propositions, and I don’t simply mean from a moral standpoint. If Bread and Circuses already included a review in a blog post, why try to claim credit in retrospect? What publicity does it gain? It would appear to me to actually be a stronger recommendation for the book that someone posted a review about it without receiving a free copy, rather than bartering electronic words for printed ones.
Population Statistic’s author, Costa Tsiokos, when made aware of the incorrect information in the LA Times article, suggests that perhaps “the reporter flubbed it,” smartly noting that “the article never explicitly says those bloggers actually received books through S&S.” Very true. But “publicists and marketing directors have been reaching out to bloggers to boost Robert Harris’ political thriller Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome… Among the sites that Wasielewski contacted were Bread and Circuses (http://adrianmurdoch. typepad.com/bread_and_circuses), which deals with the later Roman empire… All three generated reviews of Imperium, she said” is an especially crafty piece of misinformation, if it was intended.
Perhaps it was merely miscommunication; it would not be the first time in history that the facts got unintentionally garbled from one person to the next, and I should probably put away my magnifying glass, pipe, and Deerstalker cap. But the question intrigues me in part because so much publicity about how blogs are good for publicity seems to be swarming around in the air, and never conclusively landing on the bowl of fruit. The fact that even part of one of these stories is incorrect, whether or not the error was intentional on anyone’s part, is the solitary dim shaft of light shed on the verity of the phenomenon as a whole. Though perhaps I should not seek reasons from the kind of people who also promote websites via paper fans.
And as an alternative to the blogs-as-answer-to-a-publisher’s-prayer brouhaha currently in circulation, an article found with thanks to PersonaNonData, is ready to warn us that blogging is “un-Christian,” at least according to the Reformed Church of God. (”Presumably, as simply the ‘Church of God’ they were mad bloggers,” quips Michael Cairns, the author of PersonaNonData.) Much of this is simply blathering on blogs - mindless words and idle communication. Blogs can be summed up as people talking about almost anything, but really nothing. There is no purpose to much of the contents - no direction,” explains Kevin Denee. Well, praise be! I’m saved from the double sin of meta-blogging hereafter.
At least until tomorrow.
In which new meaning is brought to the term ‘book release,’ and also in which Young Thomasina wonders whether the Blogs as Publicity phenomenon is a creation of the media, publishers, or her own overactive imagination
Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. This fall, bookstores will be crowded even before the customers/rabid fans (as in ‘fantatics‘) stampede in, with a near-superfluity of ‘brand-name’ authors jostling each other in book form on the shelves.
Lest you think I am only indulging my linguistic hyperbole, consider this: “blockbuster” authors John Grisham, Steven King, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, John Le Carre, Robert Ludlum, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, David Baldacci, Tess Gerritsen and Danielle Steel all have new books this fall. Should that list be insufficiently intimidating, consider that literary favourites Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Cormac McCarthy, Mary Gordon, Richard Ford and Alice Munro will also have new titles on the shelves, while infrequently-publishing-but-well-beloved authors Thomas Pynchon, Charles Frazier, Thomas Harris and Joseph Wambaugh will issue their latest. In nonfiction, Michael Lewis, Gore Vidal, Bob Woodward, Frank Rich, Bill O’Reilly, Andrew Sullivan, John Ashcroft, and Barack Obama will also be releasing books. With such a bevy of names, it seems as though they really are releasing the books, much as one might release a large bucket of live minnows into a stream, or horses at a racetrack, or perhaps the entire aviary at the zoo.
All of these books will be released into the wild between now and Thanksgiving, which is typically the largest season for publishing, but everyone in the industry is experiencing doubts about whether or not the market can handle this many big-name books. “It’s raised the bar for everyone in the business, at the most crucial time of the year,” said Sandi Mendelson, who has been a publicist for books for years. Meanwhile, Michael Cader, the founder of the industry website Publishers Lunch, worried: “There’s a legitimate question whether this is too much at once.”
Some speculate that publishers were simply too eager to compensate for what has been a moderately dull year in publishing so far, with no ‘breakout’ book defining the earlier seasons. Book releases are planned just like movie releases, and many publishers have apparently aimed their blockbusters at the heavy season, with the result that the heavy season now resembles the monsoon. Jerome Kramer, the editor of Kirkus Reviews, echoed this point of view exactly: “Publishing is caught up in the blockbuster mentality,” he said, “and there was a clear pattern this year of saving everything up for the holiday season.”
The article in the Los Angeles Times explained that it was more difficult for publishers to schedule or hold back the release date than it is for those in Hollywood, on the grounds that the former are at the “mercy of their writers’ abilities to actually deliver manuscripts.” A lamentable plight, no doubt, but not a terribly logical justification, as studios are at the comparable mercy of their screenwriters, in addition to their producers, directors, cinematographers, assitant directors, location scouts, second assistant directors, casting agents, second second assistant directors, possibly moody actors, costume designers, possibly scandal-plagued actresses, sound designers, hair and makeup artists, editors, catering companies, key grips, and, quite frequently, the weather.
Pardon my digression. I simply got into the habit of making gigantic lists at the beginning of this post and haven’t gotten out of it. The point is that those in the book industry have now published themselves into a corner, and are not only worried about who is going to buy ten books in a month, but how they can possibly acquire the marketing room to advertise to those people who have rash and impulsive book-purchasing tendencies such as my own. There is simply not enough window-space in Borders, or, most importantly in the eyes of a publisher, the appearance of an author on a TV show or interview. “There are too many new books to fill these slots on news, cable and magazine shows,” said David Rosenthal, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster. “So you have to think outside the box.”
And “outside the box” apparently means “inside the computer,” because Simon & Schuster has—excuse me while I faint from surprise—decided to go to bloggers to publicise the new political thriller from Robert Harris, entitled Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome. Simon & Shuster contacted Bread and Circuses, Adrian Murdoch’s blog on the later Roman empire, and the literary blogs Prettier Than Napoleon and Mental Multivitamin.
“This isn’t something I was doing a year ago, but I think it’s a huge opportunity for us now,” raved Leah Wasielewski, marketing director of the publishing company . “I got a fantastic response from some bloggers, and it makes sense because this approach allows us to target consumers directly and gauge their interest. You go right to the source.”
The irony (perhaps) is that the blogging response is not always prolific or positive. Only Prettier Than Napolean features a review written by the author of the blog; she calls it “a fine book” and praises the fact that “modern attitudes do not intrude.” From the point of view of someone who has not read the book, it is informative, specific, offers detractions as well as admiration—the kind of review I’d like if I were, say, the marketing director of Simon & Shuster.
It’s clear, though, that the publishing company remained honest and didn’t buy anyone out, because Bread and Circuses and Mental Multivitamin only include or link to different reviews, neither of them jubilant. Bread and Circuses’ embedded Spectator review says of the novel: “This novel is a hill with several hazy peaks, but no summit. Just after Harrisâ€™s regulation 400 pages, it doesnâ€™t end. It stops. …Meanwhile, there are unsettling infelicities on almost every page.” The excellent review that Mental Multivitamin links to, The View from the Foothills, is equivocal: “Itâ€™s by no means a bad book, and Iâ€™m not sorry I spent the time with it; and I might even cock an eye at the sequel that Harris is clearly planning to write. But I didnâ€™t cordially love it, either, and it lacks some breath of life that I canâ€™t quite put my finger on.”
On the other hand, perhaps this is the all-publicity-is-good-publicity theory, as favoured by scandal-plagued actresses mentioned above. After all, I diligently went and searched out the posts on Imperium, and perhaps this is all that was supposed to happen. I know about the book now, do I not? Imperium Imperium Imperium. Still, Daniel Menaker, editor-in-chief of Random House, may have actually had a slightly more accurate view of blogging publicity when he confessed that for him “the Web is like a teenager’s room. It can be very messy, and you don’t quite know how to bring order to it. But you can’t ignore it. You have to deal with it.”
Maya Reynolds writes about the same too-many-good-books ‘conundrum,’ with the suggestion that it is “Time to Visit The Bookstore.”
Penguin Group publishing company has been working very hard promote direct sales via its website, provided, apparently, that the marketing campaign be slightly illogical. A fortnight ago I investigated the promotion of their website via a new set of serialised novels in the nineteenth-century tradition, but I still could not have foreseen the marketing of their online presence through the distribution of thousands of fans.
No, not ‘fans’ as in ‘fanatics;’ excited book-lovers were not hurled out of the backs of vans at people blithely listening to their iPods on the sidewalk. ‘Fans’ as in ‘the implements waved back and forth in front of the face in order to cool oneself,’ last widely seen in primary school classrooms made of accordions of folded paper, or in—ta da!—nineteenth century salons. Either I’ve cracked the code of their bizarre marketing schemes or I simply relate everything to the nineteenth century tradition, anachronism that I am.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, the fans-as-in-cooling-implements advertised a 25% off discount on one side, and on the other, Penguin branded gear, including a tote bag, baby clothes, tea cozy and salver. (No, I made the last two up. But it would follow the trend, wouldn’t it?) 5,000 fans were handed out in New York City over the course of four days. The promotion did not occur elsewhere in the United States or in the United Kingdom: this is the summation of Penguin’s attempt to “take its bookselling presence to the next level” and raise “consumer awareness through advertising.” But no one except for heat-afflicted New Yorkers reads books anyway, right?
Like Kassia at Medialoper, who wittily titled her article on the subject, ‘How Not to Sell Books,’ my initial befuddlement passed into deeper confusion. In an echo of the ‘Glass Books of the Dream Eaters‘ website’s failure to deliver, Penguin’s main bookselling website is not particularly well put-together in order to facilitate the online sales. Medialoper summed up the website’s situation as follows:
Not a word about this sale, not a peep about the promotion. The closest the website comes is a series of links for â€œShopping Toolsâ€. I kid you not.
There is no storefront, no encouragement to buy books. The campaign truly appears to be limited to the handing out of fans.
The 25% off campaign has since expired, so it’s not surprising to find no mention of it currently; even so, the website has hardly styled itself as bookseller. On the other hand, neither did the promotion of fans.