As late summer sets in, I find myself lazy, distracted. Like the stockbrokers and lawmakers who spend August relaxing or taking their “recess,” I, too, will be taking it easy. Expect posting to be lighter than usual in the coming weeks, and try to take things slow, if you can.
It’s my pleasure to introduce to you a new contributor to The Millions. Emre is an old friend of mine and I’ve always enjoyed our literary discussions. Emre read a lot of books last year, and he put together a diary of his reading experience. My plan is to post a segment of it each week. I’ve decided to share the whole diary with you because I think it represents one way that we, as readers, can get more out of the time we devote to our obsession with the written word. The post above this one will be the first in the series, but before we get to that, here’s a little more about Emre:Emre Peker currently slaves away as a paralegal in New York. Emre likes the city, food, drinks, books, music and good people. After winning the lottery, Emre will purchase a private island, derive a way to declare independence, and establish his own kingdom. Until then, Emre hopes to keep sane by reading and writing.One more thing, Emre grew up in Turkey, but has lived in the US for the last six years or so. This explains why some of the books he read last year were in Turkish.
The Millions was started on this day seven years, four urls, and umpteen layouts ago. Though it is now unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t visited since nudging their Internet Explorer 6 over to that long gone blogspot address, the core mission that I developed in that first year for this project largely remains unchanged.
In those early months, when I was nearly broke and working at a bookstore, before I was married and went to grad school, and before I had much notion that this site would be anything at all (let alone what it is today), I wrote what would probably be the closest we’ve ever come to a manifesto (going against my subsequent preference to let The Millions’ larger purpose be self-evident). The nut: “Given that you and I will only be able to read a finite number of books in our lifetime, then we should try, as much as possible, to devote ourselves to reading only the ones that are worth reading, while bearing in mind that for every vapid, uninspiring book we read, we are bumping from our lifetime reading list a book that might give us a profound sort of joy.”
I’ve probably not lived up to that lofty goal in the years since, but it’s a nice sentiment to aspire to.
Funnily enough, at the end of that piece I wrote something that nearly seven years later is like a time capsule from an internet stone age: “Anybody know of any decent book blogs or websites about books?… I haven’t been able to find any besides Arts & Letters Daily and the various newspaper book sections, of course.”
Granted, this could be partially chalked up to my being an online neophyte at the time, but by any measure the last seven years have been a period of proliferating discourse about books and arts. And though the gloom in many corners of the publishing and media industries is sometimes warranted, I maintain that there’s never been a better time to be reader in terms of access to books and communities of fellow readers.
While this is a big day for The Millions, it’s nowhere near as big as August 16, 2009 was. That was the day that we relaunched The Millions in this new incarnation and the site, almost overnight, grew up and became something different (and thankfully our loyal long-term readers came along for the ride, in no small measure because our designer Sean Tice understood what The Millions was all about when he embarked on the design.) In future years, we may point to that date as when The Millions really came into being, everything up until then being a long period of gestation for the site you see today.
I wouldn’t have expected this, but two things happened right away after the redesign. First, the more magazine-like look unconsciously pushed us farther in the direction of focusing on standalone, long-form content. With the Curiosities section offering the perfect repository for interesting links and one-off observations, our writers set themselves to the task of putting out essays and reviews that (in my biased opinion) are with few peers in the world of cultural coverage. The Millions has never been shy about posting longer (if not always weightier) pieces, but this year the site seemed to find its calling as a regularly updated font of such things.
Second, pitches from writers all over the world began flowing into my inbox. It was as though the redesign was also a huge “writers wanted” sign. The Millions has long had a tradition of publishing terrific guest contributions, but since the redesign especially we have posted many dozens of thoughtful pieces by both talented “beginners” and established pros. A look at our “About” page reveals The Millions as a place where precocious college students (and younger) can be published alongside National Book Award winners. I don’t know what this means, necessarily, but it makes me happy.
With the redesign, the securing of our domain name just prior to that, and our ongoing commitment to paying our regular writers, this year also represented the first year of significant investment back into The Millions. Without caveat, this was made possible by the generous patronage of our readers and we sincerely hope that you’ll continue to lend your support going forward. Click here to find out how.
Finally, because anniversaries are a nice moment to look back, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite things from The Millions over the last year. Garth updated his “Walking Tour of New York’s Independent Bookstores” and we joined readers in taking the tour. Fun was had by all. We hope to do something like this again one day. Garth and I put together a three-parter on the future of book coverage online (starting here). We named our favorite reference books. We learned about finding Indie opportunity on the Kindle, the overseas frenzy over Haruki Murakami’s forthcoming opus, and what goes into getting your book cover designed. We tallied up the prizewinners and wrote an open letter to Kanye West. We asked, what’s your “just one book?”
We tried to determine the best book of the millennium (so far) and our readers helped. Edan ogled author photos, Emily M. worked the double shift, and Emily W. prized apert Twilight. We had our Year in Reading. I interviewed a book pirate and Anne interviewed John Banville. Kevin reflected on his parents’ bookshelves, Andrew his grandfather’s papers, and Edan her own. Lydia reviewed Pamuk and won a prize. And Patrick, once and for all, devised a unified theory of reality TV.
Look for more in year 8. Thanks for reading The Millions.
This Thursday, December 6, Gallery Bar on the Lower East Side will host an opening for A Field Guide to the North American Family: The Exhibition. Co-curated by Mark Batty Publisher and the Humble Arts Foundation, this month-long exhibition will showcase prints of the photographs I selected to illustrate my book. Here’s your chance to see the works of brilliant photographers like Jon Gitelson, Tema Stauffer, and Matt Nighswander in person – and even to take one home, if you’re inclined to purchase.Just as importantly, the opening, which runs from 7 to 12 p.m., should be a rocking party. Wine is free from 7 to 8, and drink specials run all night. I’ll be signing books and getting my social chops back in shape for the holiday season. Hope to see some of you there! For more information, see the Gallery Bar website.Then, on Sunday, it’s back on the Lower East Side. I’ll be reading at Bluestockings Bookstore with Alex Rose, trail-blazing author of The Musical Illusionist, the second release from Akashic’s Hotel St. George Press. I hear that Mr. Rose has a multimedia extravaganza planned to coincide with his reading, so I’ve been hard at work on my own visual aids. The reading’s at 7, and again, it would be great to see some Millions readers in the crowd.
I’ve got a great opportunity for any aspiring writers in Los Angeles. My good friend Edan Lepucki, an excellent writer and teacher (see her bio below) has decided to start her own fiction writing course. Edan and I met when we worked together at Book Soup in Los Angeles. While there we both led a book club, and her teaching chops were evident from the very start. Our book club members all became big Edan fans. Anyway, if you’re interested, email Edan. This is definitely a worthwhile opportunity. Here are the details:Class Description and Information:This fiction writing course is open to anyone who adores, fears, and/or is challenged by the English language and narrative craft. Each week, we will meet at my apartment in Los Feliz to hone our skills as storytellers, discussing published work as well as the work of our peers. There will be in-class and out-of-class writing exercises, each one designed to tackle a different element of craft, including but not limited to: characterization, point of view, scene, setting, and voice. Light refreshments will be served.Thursdays, 7:30-9:30 pmSeptember 14th to October 26thMaximum enrollment: 9 studentsFee: $295 (plus the purchase of Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, $18.00)–various payment plans available…Instructor Bio:Edan Lepucki is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she won the Richard Yates Short Story Contest and taught classes in both literature and creative writing. Her work has been published by, or is forthcoming from, Meridian, Filthy, and West, the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine. Last summer she was a fiction fellow at the Vermont Studio Center. She likes Paris, dogs, and filling out forms.If interested, please email Edan at [email protected]
Thanks to an onslaught of comment spam, which until now I’ve been dealing with manually, I’ve decided to turn on Blogger’s “word verification” to put a stop to it. It’s annoying because it adds an extra step to commenting here, but it’s the best solution right now. If a better way of dealing with the spam problem comes along, I’ll switch it off. For now though, it’s been added to the Commenting at The Millions primer (if anyone needs a refresher.)
The Millions is six years old today. We’re another year deeper, and as in past years it seems an appropriate moment for reflection.Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shape and format of what we do here. The Millions is ostensibly a blog, a publishing format that seems to have had a brief heyday around 2005. Prior to that, blogging was maligned as some sort of barely human form of discourse, the rantings of madmen and -women or the laughably amateur efforts of the idle or obsessive.Gradually, the form matured, and was adopted and institutionalized in many corners. For The Millions, maturing meant bringing on regular contributors and working with publishers and publicists to wrangle interviews with and essays by notable writers. It also meant thinking of ourselves as a legitimate (even “mainstream”) publication.But now, suddenly, blogging is feeling a little old-fashioned. First Facebook, then Twitter and Tumblr, have fetishized brevity and broadcasting, leaving blogs looking ponderous and even insular by comparison.There is, no doubt, huge value in these tools. Facebook and Twitter offer connectivity, though with built-in limitations to communication. And add Tumblr to the mix and you have three incredible tools for filtering, or, as it is sometimes better better termed, curation.In the vast wildness of the internet, we rely on curators. Some people are very good at it. There are also algorithmic curation tools and community-driven curation tools, though their output tends to be robotic in the case of the former and reflective of a form of self-reinforcing mass peer pressure in the latter. Meanwhile, through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more prosaic means like email and chat, our friends and “friends” curate for us, shooting links our way to make us laugh or think.We do some curation here too. Over the last year we’ve regimented our “Curiosities” posts, with all of our regulars providing links, making for a curious weekly mix of goodies from around the web.But much more of our energy is devoted to something else: generating original reviews and essays, some quite short and others very long. Increasingly, it seems, this sets The Millions apart. It dictates that, though there are nine of us, we rarely publish more than one or two items a day. It also means that we tend to have a lot invested in each item we post. We invest time in each piece you see here, but each also bears the promise of The Millions’ survival and future growth – the more that people care about what we write, the more The Millions grows. And, of course, the opposite holds true as well.This isn’t meant to be rant of any kind. I wanted to bring it up because I value the work that the contributors here do and because I appreciate that all of you out there read it and all the professional and amateur curators who link to it. That is a big part of what makes running The Millions worthwhile.In thinking about all this, I spent some time skimming through The Millions archives of the last year, and while these aren’t the longest or most popular or even necessarily the “best” things we’ve run all year, they are, I think, a worthy sample of what The Millions is all about:This year, Garth cracked wise about novel titles. Garth and Kevin reviewed one of the most talked about books of the year, and later, the book’s author made an appearance. We had visits from other illustrious guests, as well. Andrew reviewed a quirky book and wrote about music. And Emily asked, “Why So Serious Batman?” Edan did many a great interview. Garth tried to make sense of tragedy. We did group posts and covered notable literary events and generally offered our own twist on things.Thanks for another great year, Millions readers. We continue to value your intelligence, curiosity, and feedback.