Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On editing

File:Maxwell Perkins NYWTS.jpgThere’s a good thread on the ADBooks list serve I’m not quite following about big books. I’m on record as loving me some short novels and admiring authors who can do a lot in a little space. One thing, however, that bothers me, is the notion that these books needed to be “edited down.” Or that they’re overlong because they’re “under-edited.”
Being aware of a book’s length relative to its audience's expectations is unquestionably part of the editor’s job, but what I bristle at is the notion that the only meaningful tool an editor wields is a machete and that we cut despite an author’s wishes. Editing at its best is far subtler, more multifaceted, and more collaborative. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to this American RadioWorks podcast , where a radio editor beautifully describes his craft. Couldn’t say it better myself.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What passes for outrage (Nonfiction Monday)

Serie Master Senior de Madrid 16 by Nelmol.Outrage comes with the territory if you’re sports fan. There is the acceptable outrage that comes naturally if painfully from following a team or an athlete who falls short or is slighted for one reason or another. With credit to John McEnroe, call this “Are you kidding me!?” outrage. As a fan. it puts some color in your cheeks, but that’s about it.

Then there’s the social outrage, the outrage that arises from some sort of fundamental violation of the rules of the game. Think of every cheating or game-fixing scandal from the Black Sox through Pete Rose and on to the [Joe Jackson, Cleveland AL (baseball)] (LOC) by The Library of Congresscurrent steroid scandal. Call this one “say it ain’t so” outrage. Almost any sports fan feels a deeper, more wrenching outrage about these things, manifested more in a turned stomach than in flushed cheeks.

“Say it, ain’t so” outrage tends to stem from cheating and doping, but I’m more interested in the outrage that comes from when the culture of the sport is at odds with social justice. Segregation in baseball is an obvious one*, but there are many others. An outrage I think we now see on the horizon involves the NCAA and the NBA and its eligibility requirements. The NBA wants to keep players from jumping straight to the pros from high school. Obviously, the NCAA wants the best players to do at least one year in college, too. And so we get some of the most talented 18-year-old basketball players pretending to go to college for a year (I realize there are exceptions), risking injury and deferring income. In some cases, this means we’re asking kids of limited or truly deficient economic means to put off (and to risk) their best shot at socio-economic upward mobility for no reason that makes sense to them, while all around them colleges, coaches, and corporations make scads of money of their performances (Div1 college coaches average nearly a million bucks in salary). In what way is this fair? How is this not a form of exploitation? Why is what Brandon Jennings has done as a teenager always portrayed as somewhat unsavory, especially in light of what’s going on with the adults who run the NCAA Div 1 world he chose to forgo?

The book industry makes a lot of books about sports for kids, many of them excellent and very thoughtful, especially on the fiction side. But teenagers are at the very centers of serious questions about sports, society, and American culture. Sports is now and has always been much more than “Friday Night Lights” and being a local hero in high school. Are we making books for them that fully address this?

*By the way, is anyone else tired of sports writers yelling that we should go back to the pre-steroids-era records of Ruth, Maris, and Aaron as though that era were somehow pristine? Was segregation a lesser sin against the purity of the game and its records than steroids? I think not.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A new parent-child dynamic

There's an interesting piece in the NYTimes this morning about college and industrial towns in Ohio. Lots of typical stuff about no more jobs for kids without college, but I thought this was particularly fascinating from a storytelling point of view:
"Erik Newton, who just graduated from West Carrollton High, will be going to Sinclair to study firefighting with Brandon Abney. His mother, a laid-off G.M. worker, will also be there, studying to become a social worker."
So, now we've got two generations attending college for the first time at the same time. Very interesting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More slouching toward digital

A couple weeks ago, I mused about what the recent resurgence of vinyl records might be able to tell us about books. This week, teh interwebs are slightly abuzz with news of the end of another old but fervently beloved media format: Kodachrome film.

I know nothing about film and very little about photography, but this is an interesting event. Kodachrome has been around since 1935, a little longer than the 33 1/3 RPM LP, and it was, I gather, the first popular color film. Apparently, processing Kodachrome is very labor intensive but it has fanatical adherents, who love its color and range. Processing can be something like art itself. Only one lab in the world still processes the film and after this year, they’re done.

Digital photography has supplanted film in a way far more dramatic and rapid than digital books could ever supplant print, but I think there’s a lot of interesting information to be had in studying the end of an old media type. And thankfully we have a new media type, blogs, to make it all possible. Check out the Gizmodo post and head for the comments section.

Monday, June 22, 2009

ebook weekend

I’ve gotten in the habit of ambushing people who come to our house with my Sony Reader (a couple weeks ago, several colleagues from my old job; this weekend, my parents). If they don’t get too bored, I then show them the various readers on an iTouch. I’m fascinated to see how people interact with the devices, especially if they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the future of ebooks, like I do.

Apparently I’m not the only one. There’s a great piece in this weekend’s On The Media about reading a book in multiple formats (one tree, two e, and one audio) and the subtle, situational advantages of each. The winner is a little surprising.

Once again, this makes me wonder if focusing on selling formats ala carte is missing out. Would people be interested in buying multiplatform books? One price gets you audio, ebook, and tree book. Is there a case to be made for trying this in YA? Is this the audience most likely to give it a fair shot? (Of course, I’m thinking ebooks on smartphone/iPod screens, not Kindles.)

Also, does this begin to address the ownership issue that arises from the current ebook chaos? Gizmodo has a good piece on this from over the weekend. Not surprisingly, Amazon is making this out to be the publishers’ faults. “If they’d just give us everything we want, then there’d be no problem.” I think it’s much more complicated than that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Depressing news about art in schools

The New York Times reports that eighth graders have “mediocre” art skills. This is based on a comparing results of a 2007 nationwide test with results from 1997.

More depressing than the result, though, is the methodology, which borrows unironically from the very thing that is most hurting art instruction in schools: testing. According to the test,

“[O]nly about half of eighth graders who listened to a passage of George Gershwin’s instrumental classic, ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ were able to identify the solo instrument as a clarinet.”

Horrors! They also point out that only half could identify a Renaissance painting or a half note.

This kills me. Yes, those things are easily testable, but they’re not art. Art education should be as much about doing art—writing, fine arts, music, whatever—as it is about rote knowledge of art concepts. It’s the creative part that’s missing from test-driven education, not the acquisition of knowledge part. It’s the rarest of children who becomes interested in art without ever creating art first.

(At the moment, this article is on the web next to a big ad for John Updike’s last collection of stories. Advertising-as-social commentary at its finest.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Will work for . . . free?

There’s an interesting piece in the New York Times about Google soliciting artwork from illustrators to be featured as part of its Chrome browser. A number of prominent illustrators are chafing at the fee, which is nothing. Google wants authors to think of exposure as their compensation.

I would imagine there were some children’s book illustrators in the group Google solicited and I’d be interested to find out how they reacted.

Bad News for Oulaws at BEA

R. Gregory Christie, illustrator of Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson sat down for an interview at BEA last month. We just got the file; check it out.

From: BookExpo Authors Studio

The timing is excellent, since the book just arrived, and it's gorgeous.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: a blow to the head

Header by RBradburn.There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today about concussions and high school athletes. Concussion and high school sports, especially girls’ soccer and basketball, have long fascinated me as a subject for fiction and nonfiction for teens. Girl’s soccer is second only to football in total concussion incidents nationwide. Briefly, I’m interested in the unique pressure that comes from wanting to look tough playing sports that aren’t considered “tough” by the mainstream. The New York Times’s Alan Schwarz has done good reporting on this before on youth soccer and football.

The new NY Times piece is really fascinating because it raises the tension between medical best practice and incentivizing nondisclosure of concussion. An international panel of neurologists has recommended that young athletes suspected of sustaining concussion should not be cleared to return to play the same day under any circumstances (previously, they could return if cleared by a trainer or doc). Another group of concerned docs and trainers raises this counterpoint:

[Doctors], many of whom work the sidelines of high school athletic events, said they feared the effects of such strictness. They predicted that athletes would respond by hiding their injuries from coaches and trainers even more than they are already known to do, leaving them at risk for a second and more dangerous concussion.

Obviously, this is complicated. I can believe that though most teens are perfectly capable of  making the correct choice between staying on the sidelines and going back in with a possible concussion under calm circumstances, many will make a different choice in the amped-up intensity of the game.

I think there’s a lot to say on this subject that teens would be interested to hear, both from experts and their peers.

Photo from Bob Bradburn, used under Creative Common license.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I want a shoe book

From the New York Times...

The Vans by Flottenheimer.I can’t be the only one who remembers every single pair of shoes he had from seventh grade on and how they moved the needle on my personal popularity.

I want a book about sneakers that talks to people like this guy and to the designers who made the shoes and I want it to be for teenagers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Han Solo P.I.

You’ve probably seen this. Yes, it is very, very funny, but I think it is also a fascinating look at how universal the grammar of quick storytelling is. Movie trailers, TV title credits, book jackets and trailers—they all try to sum up vastly different stories with a fairly common set of tools.