Weeklings: J. D. Salinger's Privacy, iPad's Place in the Digital Hierarchy, the Many Faces of Bloomsbury, and Martin Amis' Death Booths
J. D. Salinger has died. The writer who lived so privately has, in death, once again become the subject of the kind of intense public scrutiny that infuriated him. After the reflections of our own Daniel Kraus, the pieces I enjoyed the most were sort of quirky, personal views: Joanna Smith Rakoff’s memories of working for Salinger’s agent (“Dear Jerry, You Old Bastard,” Slate) and the Valley News piece about “one of the most enjoyable municipal conspiracies ever” — protecting the privacy of Cornish, Vermont’s most famous resident (“J. D. Salinger, Recluse of Cornish, Dies“).
“You very quickly got kind of wrapped up in the joke of it all. They were all so desperate to see if they could talk to the great man,” he said.
In news more of the moment, the release of the unfortunately named iPad (which Ian Chipman is quite excited about) has prompted people to publish articles about e-books almost as fast as it’s possible to read them. The iPad’s effect on the market does seem to provide a welcome check and balance on the seeming dominance of the Kindle, and even emboldened publisher Macmillan to push back with a proposed new pricing model–a move that caused Amazon to remove the “Buy” buttons from Macmillan’s books.
But, amidst all the swirling heat and dust of battle, the most interesting article about the iPad took an entirely different tack. Writing in the New York Observer, Lee Siegel concerned himself not with price points and market share but with the very nature of the beast, explaining “Why the iPad Is Actually a theyPad“:
The keyboard-weak, camera-less iPad simply won’t allow you to easily construct a blog, make a video or comfortably make extensive revisions to your Facebook profile. The new gadget exists solely as an instrument of the new digital hierarchy, which has to create new passive audiences in order to survive, just the way the old hierarchy did.
Siegel is, of course, the guy who pseudonymously defended himself on his own blog, so readers may take his thoughts on Web 2.0 with a large grain of salt. But he provides an important reminder that we need to think big thoughts about the latest, greatest gadgets, even while we’re slavering over their cool new features.
In a similar vein but striking a different note, Adam Penenberg wrote, pre-iPad launch, that the “e-book . . . is, at best, a stopgap measure” (“Forget E-Books: The Future of the Book Is Far More Interesting,” Fast Company):
A visionary author could push the boundaries and re-imagine these books in wholly new ways. A novelist could create whole new realities, a pastiche of video and audio and words and images that could rain down on the user, offering metaphors for artistic expressions. Or they could warp into videogame-like worlds where readers become characters and through the expression of their own free will alter the story to fit. They could come with music soundtracks or be directed or produced by renowned documentarians. They could be collaborations or one-woman projects.
Visionary, perhaps, but also requiring a complete redefinition of the phrase “writing a novel.”
And it’s been awhile since we had a good publisher screwup: Bloomsbury USA faced ire for putting a white girl on the cover of Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass, which has a dark-skinned heroine. (“Bloomsbury USA faces another race row over book cover,” by Alison Flood, Guardian). An honest mistake? Well, they did the same thing last year on Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. Those who cannot remember the mistakes of the past et cetera et cetera et cetera.
But author feuds are ever so much more fun! Fightin’ Martin Amis has proved that bold words sell newspapers, at least in Britain (“Martin Amis in new row over ‘euthanasia booths’,” by Caroline Davies, Guardian).
Now 60, Amis has picked a fight with the grey power of Britain’s ageing population, calling for euthanasia “booths” on street corners where they can terminate their lives with “a martini and a medal”.
Came one response:
“What are these death booths? Are they going to be a kind of superloo where you put in a couple of quid and get a lethal cocktail?”
Came another: Joan Brady, calling Amis an “aging provocateur” and quoting Shirley Maclaine, writes:
“You think it’s not going to happen to you,” she said, shaking her finger at the grinning younger man in the chair opposite her. “You just wait. It is going to happen.”
But, to be fair, Amis, who is a granddad, isn’t whistling in the dark. He had already said, “Well, I’m not a million miles away from that myself.”