Remember the fear that Google would start a print on demand business and put all the publishers out of business? Well, Google appears to be getting into the bookselling business, but there’s no printing involved, nor are they cutting out publishers. Google’s new service will allow publishers to set their own price for online access to books. Readers won’t be able to save copies of the books on their computers nor will they be able to copy text from the books, and the books will only be viewable within the browser window. This looks like a great opportunity for publishers to provide online access to their books without having to set up their own systems. (via)
(Image: New York Public Library/Estate of Stella Sampas Kerouac) In April 1951, when Jack Kerouac fed the first pieces of what would become a 120-foot scroll of paper into his Underwood portable to write the famous first draft of his novel, On the Road, he was, in one sense, blowing up the typewriter to make his own primitive homemade word processor. Sixty years later, Kerouac’s publisher, Penguin Books, is, in its own quiet way, blowing up the book to make – what, exactly? For now, they are calling it a book app, and even to my mildly technophobic eyes, the results offer a glimpse onto a potentially brave new world of publishing. I’ll admit I was suspicious when I first heard about a “book app” for On the Road, assuming I would be subjected to some tech geek’s notion of what the book of the future should look like – that is, that it would be all future and no book. So you can imagine my relief when I took the app, now for sale on iTunes, for a test drive on a borrowed iPad, and found it to be an informative, even tasteful, accessory to Kerouac’s book, not an attempt to bury the text under a blaring, technophiliac mess of gadgetry and special effects. That said, the real star of the show is the technology itself, which promises not just a slew of new apps for beloved classic texts, but also, it seems to me, a new, richer way to make books. By now, of course, e-books are old hat, and even book apps have been around at least since the advent of the iPhone, but this most recent riff on the book app takes the technology in a new, intriguing direction. Publishers have designed apps around comic books and children’s texts, and have even built a few original book apps for nonfiction takes on the periodic table and the solar system, but On the Road is among the first wave of apps designed for the adult trade fiction and poetry markets, following on the heels of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the app for which recently startled the digerati when it knocked Marvel Comics from the #1 spot on the list of top-grossing book apps on iTunes. It isn’t hard to see why Penguin is using On the Road to launch its adult trade fiction apps category. For one, it is a canonical classic appealing to everyone from nostalgic Boomers getting their first iPad for Father’s Day to tech-savvy teenage boys who love their digital devices almost as much as they love smoking “tea” and driving fast cars. At the same time, Kerouac’s book has a long and involved back story that begins with that famous 120-foot scroll and extends to the incestuous pack of Columbia grads and assorted hangers-on who made up the Beat Generation. It is here, in providing the clef for the real-life figures behind the characters in Kerouac’s roman à clef and in drawing a detailed map of Kerouac’s long road to writing On the Road, that this app shines. Chris Russell, editorial director for the project at Penguin, calls the app “a virtual museum” of the book, but to my eyes it comes closer to being a refreshing take on the standard critical edition, with primary sources replacing scholarly essays. The central feature of the app is a digital copy of the published version of the book that comes with tabs readers can tap to see bios of the main characters as well background on some of the people and places Kerouac visited on his travels. Zipping around the app, one can also find maps detailing Kerouac’s travel itinerary, Kerouac’s own maps and writing notes, as well as photos of the major players and original documents from the publisher’s archives showing the book’s tortured road to publication. Much of this added content is either pedestrian, as in the potted bios of the characters, or familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a biography of Kerouac or a history of the Beats. Some elements, though, such as the maps, do add real texture to the experience of reading the book. I read On the Road the first time twenty-some years ago when I was taking the first of several long road trips around the U.S. and I would have loved to have the graphical aid of the map of his journey to compare to my own. The app allows you to tap a location on the map and go directly to the page in the novel when Kerouac’s alter ego Sal Paradise arrives there. I also enjoyed the audio clips of Kerouac reading from On the Road, which, for me, were like seeing the Grateful Dead in concert for the first time after listening only to their studio albums: a cult phenomenon that had never really clicked for me suddenly made a new kind of sense as I listened to Kerouac’s husky, sensual voice make music of prose. Thus, while the concept is exciting, in this case the execution isn’t always as strong as it could be, especially given the app’s $16.99 retail price ($12.99 for the first two weeks). So it’s a good thing the app can be expanded at no new cost to the buyer. At the least, Penguin needs to make the experience more genuinely interactive by adding a talk-back or comment feature so fans can compare reactions to the novel and offer analyses of favorite passages. Even better would be a wiki-like feature to let readers add to the commentary provided by the publishers. For instance, one of the maps in the app shows “Mill City,” just north of San Francisco, as one of Kerouac’s stops on his journey. I happen to be from Mill Valley, Calif., which is next door to Marin City, where Kerouac briefly lived in barracks built for the World War II-era Marinship plant in Sausalito. It adds little to one’s reading of the book to know that Kerouac combined the two city names, but given his obsession with African-American culture, it does add context to know that, when he lived in Marin City, those barracks – now public housing, famous for being the home of rapper Tupac Shakur – were among the only truly racially integrated housing in the United States. But even with added interactivity, there is little here you couldn’t find on a well curated website devoted to On the Road, and cynics will suggest that Penguin is only trying to push sales of a popular backlist title by forcing fans to buy a new digital edition just to see a few cool bits of memorabilia from the archives. And, of course, the cynics would have a point. That is no doubt part of what is driving this sudden interest in putting out “enhanced” digital editions of titles like On the Road and The Waste Land, and if these new iPad apps do no more than draw in a few old Kerouac and Eliot heads, this will prove to be a pointless exercise. If, on the other hand, it draws in new readers, wired iKids who love wriggling down the hypertextual wormholes of the web, then book apps of classic texts will serve a valuable, if somewhat limited, purpose. As I dipped into On the Road’s digital archives, I couldn’t help thinking of other classics that would benefit from similar treatment. Wouldn’t you love to peek into the files that famous pack rat, Hunter S. Thompson, kept on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? (See my recent essay on Fear and Loathing here.) Or what about a book app for Tim O’Brien’s metafictional Vietnam novel, The Things They Carried, with maps and photos and bios of the real people behind O’Brien’s characters? But, again, if the book app phenomenon ends there, as virtual attics for the houses of a few great books, then I doubt the book app will draw many iPad users away from their treasured GarageBand and iMovie apps. The real promise here, as I see it, is the underlying technology, which, with any luck, will some day allow a kid now sitting in his eighth-grade English class playing Spider-Man: Total Mayhem HD to write an original literary app: a truly interactive novel that not only combines text with hypertext, but also with sound and images and reader responses, all at the swipe of a finger. This notion has been the holy grail of a certain school of digitally avant garde writers since the days of dial-up connections, but the technology has always been clunky, and the stories, at least in my own admittedly limited experience, damnably dull. Two factors suggest the lackluster track record of the interactive novel may be due for a change. First, it takes only a few minutes on an iPad to see that this sleek hand-held device, with its gleaming touch screen and seemingly bottomless array of multi-media features, is a quantum leap forward in terms of flexibility and user friendliness. Second, until very recently, the minds of the people creating interactive novels have been as old school as their equipment. If the central building block of most interactive novels has until now been the codex text – otherwise known as the book – that’s because most of the people making them were raised on codex texts. Every day, as more toddlers read The Little Engine That Could on their parents’ iPads and Skype their grandparents on their smart phones, this is becoming less true, and soon a young writer whose brain is more supple than mine may well take this technology and bend it to uses that my mind, hopelessly mired in the linear, cannot even imagine. In the meantime, old fogies like me can happily potter around in the virtual attics of classic novels like On the Road and recall a day when blowing up a venerable piece of technology took only a big stack of paper and some tape.
Random House's experiment allowing readers a limited time only free download of Charles Bock's Beautiful Children is now over and the numbers are in. Random House publicist Jynne Martin tells The Millions that during the 72 hours that the site was up, it received just under 30,000 pageviews, 20,000 unique visitors, and just under 15,000 copies of the book were downloaded.These stats are only for the Random House hosted site and don't yet included the downloads from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powells.Of the numbers, Martin said, "We're thrilled!"
Last year, we took a look at the affinity for Twitter in certain quarters of the literary world. A handful of well-known authors have acquired big followings on the platform, a result not just of their name recognition but of their mastery of the tweet, as well. Readers now also turn to twitter for book news and comment from a number of sources who are active on Twitter. Our previous piece looked at the very first tweets of these now-popular practitioners. Nearly all were halting "Hello World" efforts, and none seemed likely to win over those unconverted to the various (and admittedly sometimes maddening) wonders of Twitter. So, to present literary Twitter in its best possible light, we are returning again to those most widely followed on literary Twitter, but this time, looking at which Tweets got the most favorites, we are highlighting each literary Twitterer's best tweet. Here you'll find much wry humor, gossip, lots of politics, Margaret Atwood flirting with a Twitter-famous comedian, and even a surprising amount of insight crammed into 140 characters. They may be enough to win over some fresh converts. (For the Twitter regulars out there, we found that tweets with more RTs tended to be more about disseminating news to fans, while tweets with more favs captured some essence of the Twitterer, so we went with the latter when compiling this list. Also, if you find tweets by these folks with more favorites than the ones we've listed, let us know and we'll swap them in.) Why do people keep telling us to "get a room," @robdelaney? What's wrong with our usual dumpster out back of the #etobicoke MacDs? Cheaper!— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) November 13, 2013 Every 60 seconds in Africa, a minute passes. We can put a stop to this. Please retweet.— Teju Cole (@tejucole) May 9, 2012 Fox is now like, "What if we took states that Obama has already won and gave them to Romney - how would that change the map?"— colson whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) November 7, 2012 As #AWP13 starts today, it's a fine time for @VQR to post my massive treatise on the biz of lit http://t.co/CpDNN96iOp Thx 2 @JaneFriedman— Richard Nash (@R_Nash) March 7, 2013 Ironic that I am a judge for the Truman Capote award when Capote in a druggy interview said he hated me & that I should be executed. LOL.— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 14, 2013 For those curious about the mystery event that happened in my parlor last night, here's a clue. http://yfrog.com/gy3ugpj— Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) January 3, 2011 On a positive note, both can pronounce the word "nuclear".— Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro) October 23, 2012 Kid at our door in a suit and tie. "What are you?" we asked. Him: "The 1 percent."— Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) November 1, 2011 Next Schoolhouse Rock song is called "How a Bill Becomes a Law and Then Gets Held Hostage by Sore Losers Willing to Destroy Our Economy."— Ron Charles (@RonCharles) October 1, 2013 Thomas Pynchon's new novel BLEEDING EDGE will be published on September 17, deals with Silicon Alley between dotcom boom collapse and 9/11.— Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) February 25, 2013 Wouldn't it be fun to just totally ignore Ann Coulter? It would drive her crazy.— Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) October 23, 2012 A hard essay for me to write, and to publish. On being heartbroken and putting on a good show, on @the_millions. http://t.co/suPkVkkx65— Emma Straub (@emmastraub) July 11, 2013 Because I can lie beautiful true things into existence, & let people escape from inside their own heads & see through other eyes. #whyIwrite— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) October 20, 2011 Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011.— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) December 16, 2011 Sad day, man. I never really understood how sad the book is until now. Why did I make it so sad? Why have so many people read it?— John Green (@realjohngreen) September 25, 2013 Found this genius quote on Reddit today: Getting offended is a great way to avoid answering questions that make you sound dumb.— Doug Coupland (@DougCoupland) September 2, 2012 Affordable Care Act means health care for artists, writers, poets, dancers, filmmakers, and others in the arts without insurance now.— Amy Tan (@AmyTan) October 1, 2013 The gorgeous and talented Charlie Hunnam will be Christian Grey in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.— E L James (@E_L_James) September 2, 2013 This Twitter post, from @JohnDonoghue64 last week, still makes me laugh. Sometimes Twitter really does amuse. pic.twitter.com/yQ5yXrtp3W— Erik Larson (@exlarson) January 4, 2014 Whitney Houston: Yes, somewhere tonight Patrick Bateman is weeping, shocked but not surprised, and ordering three hookers instead of two...— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) February 12, 2012 People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don't yet have a fully adult concept of scary.— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) October 2, 2013 Not doing #twittersilence b/c I don't think the response to those who want feminists to shut up and go away is to shut up and go away.— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) August 4, 2013 Want to become a better writer? Then read this free essay: 'Developing a Theme' by Chuck Palahniuk - http://bit.ly/aNRUqk— Chuck Palahniuk (@chuckpalahniuk) October 12, 2010 Via @SciencePorn This is what a child's skull looks like before losing baby teeth. pic.twitter.com/pr7nF7w82G: [Happy Holidays, Love, Joe]— Joe Hill (@joe_hill) November 27, 2013 I'm going to wash Joe Biden's car tomorrow. With my tears of gratitude.— Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) October 12, 2012 o no i mistook mascara for concealer again! My eye sockets are black and greasy also idk what's going on in Eritrea. Can a website help plz— Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) August 14, 2013 100 Notable Books of 2011 http://t.co/1UtIx68O— New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) November 22, 2011 How to write fiction: Andrew Miller on creating characters http://t.co/JpcwgIoO— Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) October 16, 2011 Sun Ra used to perform for catatonic schizophrenics. One broke a years-long silence to ask, “Do you call that music?” http://t.co/YZuaLW29kZ— NY Review of Books (@nybooks) October 11, 2013 Little, Brown to publish JK Rowling adult novel— Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) February 23, 2012 The New Yorker brings back Haruki Murakami story for Japan issue http://lat.ms/h0rix6— L.A. Times Books (@latimesbooks) March 21, 2011 Library acquires ENTIRE Twitter archive. ALL tweets. More info here http://go.usa.gov/ik4— Library of Congress (@librarycongress) April 14, 2010 Print free 'Go Away, I'm Reading!' book covers for Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games & more: http://t.co/dQjrR0Iz— GalleyCat (@GalleyCat) March 17, 2012 SO FUN: A First Read of @bjnovak's new story collection w/readings by Novak, Emma Thompson, and Mindy Kaling! http://t.co/cP0ggj9mFp— NPR Books (@nprbooks) January 21, 2014 Our average member has read 7 of the #ALLTIME100 Best Non-Fiction Books. How about you? http://t.co/WrdBSlI http://t.co/4OMY4CY #BestBooks— goodreads (@goodreads) August 31, 2011 “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person."-Nora Ephron #RIP— The Paris Review (@parisreview) June 27, 2012 Incredible landscapes carved into books: http://t.co/jJcvdAAe // @twistedsifter— Electric Literature (@ElectricLit) January 2, 2012 An unpublished shorty story by David Foster Wallace has been posted on tumblr: http://bit.ly/aa7B38— The Rumpus (@The_Rumpus) October 29, 2010 (•_•) <) )╯I've actually / \ \(•_•) ( (> Read / \ (•_•) <) )> Infinite Jest / \— The Millions (@The_Millions) January 9, 2014 This picture is so important. pic.twitter.com/aQmlq9XE— Nick Moran (@nemoran3) October 17, 2012
The impulse -- now an industry -- to spread good news about oneself far and wide has become soul-crushing. It makes me want to retreat into the garage with my outmoded books and unfinished manuscripts. I’ve come to see social media as a skill like anything else. I’m a mediocre interior decorator also. Nor can I cook, change the oil, or dance.