In celebration of Banned Book Week (go ahead, let your hair down!), I thought I might muse about some good news. Since I already posted on my banned book (Slaughterhouse Five) I need another angle of approach. One of the less envious aspects of being an editor at an academic press is being yoked to facts. Many authors have a basic misconception about numbers in their heads. They think their book will sell on the scale that Barnes and Noble, such as it is, will stock them on the shelves. I have to admit that I dream of walking into a bookstore and finding one of my titles on the shelf—and I know it’s not likely to happen. Those of us who work in publishing see the hard figures, how many copies have actually sold. And the results can be quite sobering.
The news isn’t all bad, though. I ran across an article by Andrew Perrin titled “Who doesn’t read books in America?” and the way the question was phrased made me think. I’m used to thinking of it the other way around: how many people read, or buy, books? I once read that about 5% of the US population constitutes the book-buying market. Now, that is a large number of people, even if it’s on the smaller end of the overall spectrum, but Perrin’s article from the Pew Research Center states that only 24% of Americans state they haven’t read a book, whole or in-part, over the past year. This, I think, is cause for celebration. It means more of us are reading than are not, even if we don’t always finish the books we’ve started.
Think of it like this: whether print or electronic, people know to turn to books for information. Oh, there are all kinds of details I’m leaving out here—the safeguards of a reputable publisher over the self-published manifesto, as well as the self-published brilliant book over what managed to squeak through the review process at a university press because an editor felt the pressure of a quota—but the numbers are encouraging nevertheless. Looked at this way, more people are reading than are not. And the best way to promote books is to suggest they should be banned. That’s why I don’t despair of the shallow books praising Trump—if they’re banned they become prophetic. Academic books, my colleagues, don’t sell as many copies as you might think, even if they’re not banned. The good news is, however, that we haven’t forgotten whence to turn for knowledge.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Holidays, Literature, Posts, Publishing
Tagged academic publishing, Andrew Perrin, Banned Book Week, literacy, Pew Research Center, Slaughterhouse-Five
I have to admit I feel overwhelmed by the task. You see, I spent twelve years living in a town that went from one small used bookstore to none. Within a half-hour’s drive I could be at two bookstores—indies, of course, since B&N doesn’t always count. One of the shops was the Princeton University bookstore, so that was almost unfair. Now I live in a region with many bookstores. I wasn’t truly aware of this when deciding on where to settle; the decision was made on practical matters such as being able to get to work, and affordability. It turns out that central eastern Pennsylvania is unexpectedly bookish. I’m not complaining, you understand. I haven’t had much time to explore, and that’s why I’m overwhelmed. That, and Banned Books Week.
I’ve been to the oldest continuously operated bookstore in the world, The Moravian Book Shop, in Bethlehem. Twice already. But there are many more within an easy drive from here. “Lead us not into temptation,” the prayer goes, but if we’re honest we’ll admit we love the challenge. Home owning is expensive. There’s always something that needs to be done—the sort of thing you used to let the landlord handle—they are lords, after all. And time for reading is scarce. Add to this that there are bookstores I haven’t even entered yet, not far away, and a kind of anxiety grows. You have to realize that even in Manhattan reaching a bookstore on lunch hour was difficult. They are few and far between. It’s overwhelming being in a region where indie bookstores have held on.
My wife recently showed me an ad for an indie bookstore over the border in New Jersey. They were looking for new owners. We’ve often discussed how perhaps a retirement job for us might be just such a thing. Of course, business sense isn’t my strong suit—just learning how to own a house seems pretty hard. The idea of making a living surrounded by books, however, is appealing. (You might think an editor reads all day, and while that sometimes happens the reading is generally embryonic books. Besides, there’s something serendipitous about discovering fully fledged books that you didn’t know were coming.) To buy a business requires capital, and we’re more the minuscule type, when it comes to finance. As we settle into our house we decide which books go where, and it is remarkably satisfying. After I’m done being overwhelmed by all there is to do in the house, I’m looking forward to being overwhelmed by exploring the bookstores of central eastern Pennsylvania.
The weather around here has been appropriately gloomy for the autumnal equinox. Although Hurricane Florence gave us a day of rain, the heavy clouds have been part of a pattern that has held largely since May. Given the gray skies, we opted to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds last night. My wife isn’t a horror fan, but she does like Hitch. We’ve watched The Birds together many times, but this is the first time since I wrote Holy Horror. I was somewhat surprised to recall how much Scripture plays into the script. This is mostly due to a drunken doomsday sayer in the diner. After the attack on the school kids of Bodega Bay, he declares that it’s the end of the world and begins citing the Bible. He’s there for comic relief, but the way the movie ends he could be right.
When I was writing Holy Horror I had a few moments of panic myself. Had I found all the horror films with the Bible in them? Could anyone do so (without an academic job and perhaps a grant to take time off to watch movies)? I eventually realized that I was merely providing a sample in that analysis. Several weeks after I submitted the manuscript I watched The Blair Witch Project. There was the Bible. The same thing happened last night under a glowering late September sky. The Birds has the Bible. Two weeks ago I saw The Nun; well, that one’s almost cheating. But you get the picture—the Good Book appears rather frequently in horror. That’s what inspired me to write the book in the first place.
Now that nights are longer, and cooler, the grass has somewhat poignantly relinquished its aggressive summer growth. Most of the ailanthus trees have been cut down (I must be part lumberjack). My outside hours are limited not only by work but by the fading light. In the words of the sage, “winter’s tuning up.” We moved to a house we saw in the spring as days were lengthening. Now we’ve come to the dividing line that will slowly leech the light from our evening skies. I suspect that as I go back and watch some of my old favorites again I’ll discover something I already knew. The Bible and horror belong together because both are means of coping with the darkness. Call it puerile if you will, but there is something profound about this connection. It just has to be dark for you to see it.
Posted in Animals, Bible, Memoirs, Movies, Posts
Tagged Alfred Hitchcock, autumnal equinox, Bible, Holy Horror, The Birds, The Blair Witch Project, tree of heaven
Like most people I have a cell phone. If I use it to take a picture, I can send that photo any number of places with a tap, swipe, and tap. It works that way with scanned documents as well. Using a hand-held phone, I can scan important papers, convert them to PDFs, and send them via email, text, “AirDrop” (whatever that is), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—you name it. Except fax. That I cannot do. The other day a company wanted me to send them a document by fax. Within seconds I had scanned it with my phone and was ready to send it, but instead experienced electronic constipation. The company had no email; it had to come by fax.
Now, like most reasonably modern people, we have no fax machine at home. We still have some in the office in New York, but they are clunky, noisy, and seldom actually work. The technology to receive documents has improved beyond the photostatic smear that facsimiles represent. I worked for a company where the warehouse insisted on orders by fax. You’d fax them the order and wait for the phone to ring. They couldn’t read the fax and you had to tell them what it said. Well, this particular company I was dealing with wanted a fax. I downloaded two or three “free” fax apps. They suspiciously wanted my credit card info. Besides, if you send more than one page they wanted at least ten bucks for a “package” deal. I had to send a three-page document. I checked to see if my laptop could do it. The manufacturer’s website said it could, but the menu option it told me about didn’t appear. Who insists on faxes any more?
This is the dilemma of mixed technologies. It’s like those movies where the streets of some exotic city are filled with rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. The fax, in this analogy, is the pedestrian. My mother doesn’t have email, let alone the capability to text (or fax). Ours is a telephone relationship. Yet in my hand I hold a device that can send this document anywhere in the world with a tap, swipe, and tap. I recall my first trip to Jerusalem where hand-drawn carts, cars, and yes, camels, shared the streets. This was in the days before the internet. To contact home even by telephone was cumbersome and costly. Yet somehow we survived. I’d arranged the trip utilizing a travel agency and funded it by a letter-writing campaign. The Ektachrome slides I took are now a pain to look at because technology has so improved our lives. Unless, of course, you need to send a fax. Delivery by camel can at least be arranged via the internet.
Posted in Current Events, Just for Fun, Posts, Science, Travel
Tagged Ektachrome, email, fax, Jerusalem, Luddite, technology, text, travel agency