As you’ve probably noticed from the new byline attached to the review of Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land that I posted earlier today, we’ve been joined by a new contributor at The Millions. Noah is an old friend of mine whose book reviews have appeared in a handful of publications, and I’m glad to have him aboard.
Join us in welcoming our newest regular contributor at The Millions:Anne K. Yoder is a writer living in Brooklyn. She is the former books editor of KGB Bar Lit, and her writing has appeared in Tin House, BlackBook, and PopMatters. She moonlights as a pharmacist in the West Village.You may remember the two pieces Anne penned for us recently. Her next offering will be up shortly.
[Max: This is the introduction to a new monthly feature written by Corey Vilhauer who blogs at Black Marks on Wood Pulp]For the most part, I’m a young reader.I’m not well versed with years of thoughtful reading. I’m only 27, and in that time I’ve only read so many books in between finishing school, staring a career, and watching too much television.Now I’m struggling to catch up. Luckily for you, I’m broadcasting this struggle to the masses.Each month on my blog I recap everything I’ve read – a “What I’ve Been Reading” column. There’s a lot to be said about the paths a mind takes when selecting a new book, and part of what I do is try to make those connections. Why would I bother reading a George Orwell essay right after finishing Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island? It could be that I was obsessed at the time with English culture and wanted to continue riding the wave. Or it could be that Bryson mentioned a certain Orwell passage while recounting his three month jaunt around England.Or, it could be as simple as “I bought it and wanted to start it immediately.”Well, I can’t bring all of that to The Millions. What I can bring, however, is my favorite book of the month. Call it the Vilhauer Book of the Month club. Some months it’s going to be a classic, like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Others are going to be more obscure – think Jonathan Safran Foer’s The Unabridged Pocketbook of Lightning (a 70th anniversary Pocket Penguin released only in the U.K. and Canada).Regardless, I’ll bring it to you. You’ll get the background as to why I’m reading it. You’ll get the story itself. You’ll get why I like it. You’ll get what it led me to read next.All in all, you’ll get every stinking second I’ve spent on the book – from selection to completion – and you’ll have no one to thank but Max for allowing me to spout off on this site. Thank him later, if you wish.Corey Vilhauer
I find it hard to believe, but today is the one year anniversary of The Millions, making this little Blog About Books a veritable ancient in the “blog world.” Authoring this blog has been a great experience for me. It turned me from an unmotivated, but ostensibly “aspiring” writer, into someone who writes for an audience every day and can now seriously contemplate life as a writer without much dread. If there’s any folks out there who are contemplating a similar sort of writing life, putting together a blog is a great way to get the kinks out, not to mention all the web skills you pick up along the way.When I first started The Millions it wasn’t even a blog about books, it was just a… blog. My buddy Derek had had a blog for a while and was really into it. It looked like fun and I was getting tired of trying to muster up the energy to write in my journal each day, so I decided to give it a try. My first post appears to have been about politics, and I think it was my last post about politics. I kind of meandered along like that for a while, writing intermittently about art lectures and rock and roll shows and things like that until one day in the shower, where I have most of my epiphanies, I had an epiphany. A Blog About Books. “I’ve decided to reinvent The Millions…”, I wrote. A manifesto soon followed. And it was followed again and again by more and more manifestos. And of course I went bookfinding and bookspotting. And occasionally people read the blog and they seemed to enjoy it and some of them even left comments or emailed me or asked me a book question. It’s been fun. I hope to keep doing it, too. I don’t have a lot of readers, 30 to 60 a day, and most of those are family members, but I’m pretty addicted to it. This year brings lots of busyness and lots of changes. I’m getting married, moving, and going back to school, but maybe I’ll find the time to make it to The Millions anniversary #2 on March 24th, 2005; you’ll have to keep reading to find out.The anniversary might be a good time to post another manifesto, and since I think I may have written a (small) one today in responding to an email from a reader, I might as well put it up here:I lean perhaps too much on the side of being uncritical about books. In fact, I prefer to allow the books I read to be a jumping off point for conversation or to talk about the experience of reading a particular book. I feel like that there is so much qualitative judgment being passed on books (…and music…and movies) that it tends to drown out the other stuff… so I haven’t wanted The Millions to add to the din of the review culture. Having said that, I think it IS important to pass qualitative judgment on books, but it is far more important to single out (and try to get people to read) the good ones instead of knocking down the bad ones. I also fear that my usual positivity makes me seem like a corporate shill for Amazon, but I’m hoping that most of my readers aren’t so cynical. I just happened to have all of this on my mind since it turns out that today is the one year anniversary of The Millions.Thanks to all you trusted fellow readers!
Over the years, Millions contributors and guests have penned many book reviews for the site. However, this wealth of content has long been buried in the archives.And so, in the spirit of starting off the new year on the right foot, we’ve created The Millions Book Review Index, which lists every review, squib, appreciation, and consideration we’ve ever run here alphabetically by author. As we add new reviews to the site, they will appear in the index as well, so we encourage you to bookmark the page for easy access. We hope you find the index useful. Stay tuned for another great year at The Millions.
For too long The Millions has been an entirely male operation (occasional contributions from Mrs. Millions and a few other female regulars notwithstanding.) I’ve long want to rectify this deficiency of ours, so it is with great pleasure that I welcome Emily Wilkinson to the site as a new regular contributor.Emily Wilkinson is a graduate student in English at Stanford University, where she is writing a dissertation on the genre and aesthetics of miscellany in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English literature.I think you’ll find that she brings a unique and interesting perspective to the site. Emily’s first post as a regular contributor will be appearing shortly.
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.
Though Garth made his first appearance yesterday with his post about the Illustrated Pynchon, I’d like to formally welcome him aboard. I’ve known Garth for a long time – at least a dozen years, I think – and we’ve always talked about books, so I’m glad he decided to join us. He’ll have other reviews and dispatches up soon. Let the hazing commence.