Thursday, June 30, 2011

Part 3 The Nature of Books and Business - A Tour of the Books In My Bedroom -

Preface: This one took a while both because it is long and I couldn't find a way to make it shorter, and because it is possibly the most personal set of things I have ever put on the internet and I struggled with that.

Ostensibly, this experiment is to use the books in my bedroom to explore the meaning and relationships of books, reading and content through the experience of one person and the differences that occur when electronically based reading becomes not just present, but actually usable to a reader.

I should not be surprised that describing the books in my personal setting honestly, requires the examination of things that were truly personal. Books have meaning, the content of the books has meaning, the room that is one's bedroom has meaning, so of course if you are describing those things, if they are meaningful at all there is no surprise that the writing (if honest) will expose those things. Yet, I am still surprised.

Many people are gloriously open on their blogs with many personal details and I admire those people and their writing greatly, I tend to cover my trail a bit with metaphor and allegory. But here with the books this will be different, because otherwise it's not really an experiment at all.
Names, as always, are obfuscated to protect the un-innocent, but there is no way to talk about the books in my bedroom without talking about bedrooms gone by, so with apologies I will steal from a far, far better writer and label the contents as follows: Warning; Contains Me.

Plus it's long - I've broken it up into sections again.

Today's Tour of The Books in my bedroom will focus on The Stack of Books in Front of the Window.

This stack of books is on the Stage Right Side of the Armoire shown in Part 2.

Section 1 - Recap for those just joining the tour:

I am writing about books and my changing relationship to them both in terms of physical space and emotional resonance. I have a lot of books but my use of ebooks, while all "early adapter" was present for the last year or so the addition of a tablet based e-reader has changed my physical relationship to books. Books are ridiculously important to me so the change has meaning.

I explain the background and outline the experiement here in Part 1.

I begin the tour that actually starts with The Books That Became Decor here in Part 2.

This entry will focus more on the emotional attachment and meaning of the books and my personal history with them in relation to my bedroom.

This is Part 3, which should really be titled: when Good Systems Go Bad. Or if this were a horror movie the title would be "OVERFLOW"

Section 2 - The way it was supposed to work . . .

In a perfect world, in my mostly clean bedroom there would be no television, the clothes would be in the hamper and the closet would have shoes in slight disarray kicked into them as soon as I got home. The paper in the room would be a small stack of mail being reviewed before being tossed/acted upon/and filed. There would only be a small stack of books at each night table. 3 or 4 at most, consisting of the "current read" and the "to be read next" books. There would be a stack of catalogues because there is always a stack of catalogues, however it would not involve more than say . . . . 20 of them.

That's the perfect world. Of course part of that is because I didn't list the comics. I'll get to the comics later.

Section 3 - Computers and Books and Bulletin Boards . . . oh my?

The truth is that there is a television in the bedroom. It's behind the doors of the armoire, it doesn't actually get a TV signal, nor is it connected to cable. Our friends who do have televisions in all the pertinent rooms in their houses tell me that it's not like having a TV at all. It is connected to a PS2 because a PS2 also plays dvds. When The Children who aren't really childish anymore were actually children, they were different genders and 5.5 years apart. I had a very strict no-TVs-in-bedrooms-or-living-room policies. There was one TV in the Family Room. The problem with this arrangement was disagreements and one child or another being frozen out of the room if their sibling had friends over. It is unfair to make five year olds tolerate 11 year olds and vice versa as the odd person out. It become more unfair to force 8 year old boys and 14 year old girls to always have to interact with each other in the only public space. Thus, the compromise was to put a TV and the extra PS2 that came with marrying The Perfectly Normal Husband into the bedroom, so the PS2 in my room was the escape hatch for the sibling surrounded by the other sibling's social circle.

A TV in the bedroom means you don't have to leave the room much. The last time there was a TV in my bedroom I was recovering from a back injury that laid me up for 3 months. Never again. But I could rationalize that this didn't count and it was enclosed in furniture so I didn't see it, and the Children could co-exist peacefully. Most of the time the three of them played multi-player together anyway.

Now with the ages in late teens and early twenties their social circles interact and overlap. The Armoir is almost never opened except to vacuum out dust - and that doesn't happen nearly as often as it should.

I'm not holier than thou about electronics, it's just our focus is different. Each child had a computer, a handheld game and a large bookshelf in their rooms. They got their own computers around the age of 8. Much to the dismay of my peergroup of Luddite Suburban parents.

They shouldn't have wasted their time clucking at me. I have more spyware on our network than a data-entry sweatshop, so the Children know that I know every keystroke they type. They had been sharing my computer with supervision for years prior to their independent access, they also had limited access due to parental controls and me blocking access at the network level based on their passwords. All of that was basically training wheels.

I believe as a city kid that you don't protect your children from dangers, you take them out with you and teach them how to protect themselves and be aware of, and assess dangers. The internet looks just like riding the buses or crossing the street to me. Teach them the dangers of the forests, arm them, let them make short trips until they are ready. Then at around 11 years old after three years of close supervision the deal is I keep the spyware up but loosen up the parental controls. Don't type or visit anything you don't want your mother to know.

It probably sucks to have a mom who uses the tech before you do. Or maybe not. I kept waiting for one of the kids to hack the system. When The Boy finally did it was to fix a problem with his school computer to reclaim their admin password that they had forgotten which locked up his school based computer. I was so proud, but a little concerned, it's a little weird for kids not to rebel against control. The Boy explained he never really did anything that he wouldn't admit to anyway. There was very little point. The House exists under a very laid back liberal environment with strict authoritarian control.

He primarily used his computer to go to Japanese websites to read Manga, most of which didn't make it over here or took months to get to. The computer has always been an extension of reading, even though The Boy has difficulty reading in general if the words are in mixed media, the difficulty disappears. Words along flick across his long term memory like ninjas on rooftops, Memory knows they are there, but cannot catch and keep them. However with sounds or words Memory can catch them.

The Boy has books, and many of them have pictures. The Girl's computer is there primarily to make pictures, view and share pictures, and connect with her friends. The world of Harry Potter led to tiny pre-teen fanfic and shared BBS worlds of unofficial roleplaying games. She learned more tech setting up websites and making art banners and character sketches than she did in anything that tried to orient her that way in school. Words in books sink into The Girl's Memories like a laser carving the Rosetta Stone into the moon, everything stays. Forever.

When The Girl loves a book or a book series it is best for me to re-read it. Her memory is insanely detailed and occasionally her love for something where I am ambivalent at best becomes akin to having a pop quiz during most conversations. Thus, her deep, deep love of Lord of the Rings meant that I actually had to finish the series. Yes, that's right - I don't automatically adore all things Tolkien. Mea Culpa.

I loved the Hobbit. The Hobbit and Narnia started my reading of Fantasy which led to books I did love with the same passion that many save for Tolkien. I liked Fellowship but I never got past The Two Towers for years and years and years. Until I had a Rings-Mad child. Then I forced myself through it. A different story, for a different subject.

This is about computers, bedrooms and books and business.

So the computers and books were connected for the children from the very beginning. When they were done with their books they would frequently be next to their computers as they looked things up. Finished books went on their shelves but frequently came down.Where my friends and I would create worlds and new stories based on what we read in Brian Saunder's backyard ( he had the only one big enough to play in ), my children found online communities and played let's-pretend with kids all over the world. It was the same, but different.

Which all leads back to the reason there was no tech in my bedroom.

Section 4 - When the Computers Took Over

Before The House there had been a computer in my bedroom for a good portion of my adult life because my bedroom usually functioned as the non-shared space I wrote in.

When I ran the magazine, initially I lived in a place where I had a separate office and there was simply one baby. Bedrooms were for sleeping and collapsing in. One reads for pleasure, or reads in comfort in the bedroom. Work was in the office. But video games started sneaking in on the single TV. So if the house had a family room, the TV was there, if the house only had a living room then the TV was in the living room instead. Generally if there was no office the computer lived where the TV was.

That arrangement lasted until the second baby arrived and the grownups stopped sharing a computer - trust me, it's generally better that way. I can share sinks, closets, drawers, books but sharing a computer leads to all sorts of dynamics I'd rather avoid. When that step happened the "second computer" ended up in the master bedroom and the main computer eventually migrated there too when it's space needed to be used for a play area. This led to people in the bedroom being up all night with the computer in the early internet era. The future of the Children and words, and books didn't exist yet. Computers and books were separate things. The computer was work, entertainment and games. And if one partner is up all night in a room with a glowing screen and the other isn't, I can promise it leads to a disconnect if there are already underlying fissures.

Section 5 - The Way We Were

But when the underlying fissures became the faultlines complete with earthquakes and landmasses sinking into the ocean, I still had a computer in my bedroom. Unfortunately, now it was mine. I was getting a degree in Multimedia. I was working, going to school being the single mom with the help of my very good friends and then finishing all those MM projects so now I was the on with the screen glowing all night.

It was stressful, the computer was a big reminder of my workload, I had two giant metal laboratory bookshelves filled with my books. My books being nearby had always given me comfort, they were there, they looked good and full and brought my worlds with me whereever I happened to land. But in the giant gray metal shelves on either side of the computer desk from staples with a mattress and box spring on the floor and a second computer desk and computer where perhaps a dresser should have been, I was no longer comforted by the books alone. I was depressed and stressed at how little my life and my space reflected anything like my taste, or my desire for peace, or even just being a grown up.

Also I found other people in the room playing Everquest was really, really, irritating while I was working. I had a new partner. His relationship to the computer superseded all other forms of interaction. He was very visual and interactive. He had books and loved them, but his first love was video games closely followed by television. With his arrival, cable TV also came into the house. None of us were used to that level of media consumption in that manner. Books at that point were a refuge from screens, and quite honestly a way not to see what my room had become.

When my dresser had to be replaced, I realized I had never bought furniture for myself as an adult person. The dresser was actually my nursery furniture which had been my Travelin' Grandma's furniture. Everything in my room was donated by family members or a found object. As a parent, as a wife and now as a student/girlfriend/mom, I always took care of designing the bedroom - MY bedroom last. I was in my early 30's and had never owned a brand new piece of furniture in the place that was supposed to be my personal space. It was nice, but it was all arranged from happenstance rather than taste, the only thing in my bedroom that was mine alone were my books. It was shocking. I'd never really thought of myself as the self erasing type, but when the veneers came off all of the relationships around me I realized that I was pretty damn close. But not in the disappearing way, in the "Don't worry about me - I can take care of myself" way. And I could. I just did it last. Which means I never got around to doing it.

Well, that sucked. It covered up a bunch of other stuff too. No matter what the house, the children, the marriage looked like, no matter how strong, or balanced or personality based things seemed to be, the reality was in that bedroom. I never got around to doing it well because I was the lowest priority, and I pretended it was OK because I did that on purpose. However I did it on purpose for close to a decade. At that point, you have to admit that you are not your own priority.

So I bought a dresser, real nightstands and a bedframe.

And eventually I bought a house - the one that we now refer to as the House. I had moved every year and half in my first marriage and had never lived anywhere for more than 4 years growing up- pretty impressive for someone who isn't an army brat. I never moved because I wanted to, it was always in reaction to something or someone else.

I'm not moving again. Maybe if I get rich I'll buy additional houses but not leave this one ever, ever again. I'll be the grumpy old guy in UP. I have friends that are physicists and engineers, we'll get it to fly if we have to.

The computers were killing the relationship between that partner and I. Truth is computers played a supporting role in the destruction that came with the marriage that preceeded it.

On reflection perhaps I should be more ambivalent about computers. Or at least more cautious about the men who love them.

When I bought The House, I did not know for sure that this person would be moving with us. He said he couldn't live with us. I agreed that he'd be happier living on his own. He was a little confused when I asked if that meant he wanted to break up. I guess he thought it was a given once he said that. What was important wasn't location but our relationships to things and environments were very, very different. He did not buy The House with me - but when I was looking at houses I was looking for a place to make sure that there was a place for computers to be out of the bedroom and away from other people in the house.

The partner did indeed move with me after all but then earned his nickname "The Bridge Troll". He was a very nice troll, he was only cranky sometimes, but one of the things discovered when the computers moved into spaces of their own was that The Bridge Troll moved to where the computer was and the rest of the household never really saw him again unless we pushed very, very hard to ask him to come with us.

In the world outside the office, I had bought myself real and grown up furniture (and a headboard!) and was planning on finishing the set in my new space. My bedroom here in the House is smaller than the master bedroom suite in the rental I was in before, but the Children's rooms are larger and the office is slightly down the hall and away. Bookshelves went into every room in the house. Every room except my bedroom.

The Children didn't realize we shared a bedroom, the Bridge Troll and I, because he was never in it when I was. Perhaps they thought we took turns. Perhaps because we did. The virtual world was where he wanted to be, and the portal to it was in the office. And therefore so was he.

When we helped him move out - we made sure that the place where his computer was had lots of natural light and helped him decorate so that when he left his virtual bridge he didn't become overwhelmed with the haphazard collection of things that had depressed me so completely before The House. It didn't work out between the Bridge Troll and I because I'm a little too interested in being here in the world and he was barely intersted in that at all. But when you love someone, just because they stop being good for you and you stop being good for them, doesn't mean that you have to let go of caring about them. So we cared about where he lived when he came visit the world we were in, and helped make it pleasant, but elsewhere.
Not in the House.

Now finally grownup in every way and self-supporting, I got to have my books displayed in places where they served a purpose, looked good and were still mine. I didn't need them in my bedroom like protective insulation of the self. They could simply be read, enjoyed and then become part of the House, another tiny bit of treasure or a feather in the nest.

But until writing this series it never occured to me that the reason I kept the bookshelves out of this room might be because I had to keep the bookshelves in my room before. Like I might lose me altogether if I didn't see my books, and I was finally able to just be in my room. Just a few books were enough to make sure the room was still true, but after moving every year or so I was finally home, I wouldn't have to move, the books all had a place of their own because the place was mine.

The Children had their books and computers integrated by this point, but I finally had myself, my books and my living space integrated. I still interacted with books like I always had, but the Internet cut down on my need for magazines so there were no new subscriptions.

Computers quietly had already supplanted some of my casual reading materials for news, gossip and journalism. I was willing to pay for subscriptions just not paper ones.

Section 6 - So here in the imperfect world . . .

Well now what have we got? We have the history of books in Drinne's Bedroom. Before the Perfectly Normal Husband joined the House, my bedroom here worked really, really close to the Perfect World scenario because I had a ton of book storage space in the basement. Also, while almost every other roommate and sig other left their books, when they left, the Bridge Troll took most of his books with him. It wasn't all that many books, just about two or three boxes - one decent bookshelf's worth.

But one of the things that made the Perfectly Normal Husband attractive enough for me to even think about risking the idea of marriage again was his lovely, lovely collection of books. And he even came with his own quality-grade bookshelves! He had the perfect mix of enough familiar books that we shared reading tastes and enough different books that he had practically a whole new library for me to read!

The Basement-Family Room easily absorbed his books and bookshelves and our books are now quite the collection of his/hers/ours because we have been together for some time now. Just at the point where we were starting to worry about storage (Remember when I explained how we shopped for book as a family?) we discussed the idea of giving away or selling off duplicates.

This was a big step. When the Bridge Troll wanted to get rid of duplicates - he wanted to keep his copies and get rid of mine. This included gaming books. I said "no" flat out to the gaming books. Several people reference game rules at the same time. I'd been running since I was 12. The only way you can have too many rules reference books is if you have more copies than people in your group. We did not.

I did actually ask him what would happen if we broke up. His lack of a clear answer led to me keeping all of my books. Even if his answer was - "if you get rid of the extra books to make space and we break up, I'll buy new ones or will buy new ones for you"- I would have gone along with it, but there was nothing except a denial we would ever break up ( this is not a convincing line to a person who has already survived a divorce) and a lack of empathy or reassurance. More than clothes, jewlery, pictures, my books are what shows a reflection of me, my family, things we've done, vacations, life events . . . my bookshelves are a scrapbook of our lives. I don't have many pictures on the walls. I do think my books serve the same purpose that photo albums and all those incessant videos of life events serve for non-reading people.

The Bridge Troll was asking me to take the chance that he would leave with copies of books that he had not been around for. And he was not offering to replace them. I don't need the original physical object, the story by itself was sufficient, but I didn't want the expense of replacing things I already owned simply to satisfy his need for minimalism. Certainly not without him at least understanding what he was really asking.

Now in the light of hindsight, I realize he knew exactly what he was asking. He was asking me for permanence, he knew if I took his copies and got rid of mine I would be saying that we were truly together for all time. That I expected us to make it. But he was asking me too soon, and he didn't know or understand enough to offer me a saftey net in return. Now in this light my reaction looks kind of cruel, and perhaps it was, but you shouldn't corner wounded animals and I certainly qualified.

So six years later I am discussing getting rid of duplicates with the Perfectly Normal Husband. There is not a care in the world, we'll simply take the one that is in better condition and get rid of the other (or others). It was like walking through an shift in time. I suddenly saw clearly how little trust I'd had in other relationships. Not that they'd all asked me to get rid of duplicate books, the reality was most of the books were mine so it was almost never that specific issue until the Bridge Troll. But except for that first time, I had never expected anyone to stay. Ever.

Not family, not friends, only the one husband, that first time and when that proved so incredibly untrue, I figured that category of partner permanence was also not something that happened in real life. You are supposed to leave your parents, your children are supposed to leave you. Life may keep your friends around you virtually, but not physically. Everything changes, everyone can go. Except the books, they stay, you can't take them away from me.

It's OK. but it's one of those moments, planning this winnowing of duplicates that I realized how much I'd healed. I still don't trust anything to stay, except him. Not even him really, life happens, I'm difficult. Healthcare is not subsidized and I've seen people have to divorce or move away because of needing healthcare. He can have my books, because even if anything happens and we can't be together, he knows what they mean. Even if he takes them with him he'll know what they mean, so it would be OK as long as he's the one that has them.

Even if he gives them away it will be OK because he's the one giving them.

That's how much I love him.

And besides, we needed room for new books.

But just at this epic point in personal development a wrench was thrown into the works - The Girl discovered reading for pleasure in a really big way. And what she was reading was all the stuff we had read. But the girl loves her books like the Velveteen Rabbit got loved, and she sometimes misplaces them. Whereas the Perfectly Normal Husband and I barely break the spine, The Girl gives the meaning to the phrase "Dog Eared". She carries her books like pets. They get into scrapes just like pets.

New Plan. We keep duplicates and give the disposable copies to The Girl, which saved us replacement money. But the backlog then began.

Section 7 - Perhaps we could build an Aztek Pyramid out of them?

The Perfectly Normal Husband reads and subscribes to magazines and comics, in his field of history and, well just comics. He also gets Amazing and Analog and a few other magazines. There are three 2ft stacks around his night-table. He packs them up and puts them in archival boxes in the attic every now and then, but he switched jobs and hasn't had nearly as much time.

We receive books for the holidays and they land in the bedroom first. The become the "to be read pile" There is usually a difficulty because these are beautiful books that we like to look at, that should have a place of pride on a shelf, so they don't go down to the basement because they would be stuffed in willy-nilly. There is a 1.5 ft stack of books on one side of his lamp and a very impressive jenga like structure of books measuring about 17 inches long by 30 inches high on the other side.

Poor Perfectly Normal Husband no longer knows how much of that pile is read vs. unread. I will not take pictures - I don't want to embarrass him, it's not really his fault, it's because we have more books than shelves and any attempts to fix it without suddenly pitching the house into looking like a dorm room are insuffecient without really addressing the basement - which became the new "Do it last" room when working on home improvement.

The area around his night table are his personal books. The area around mine suffers from catalogues - but I have the option of throwing them out, and I do frequently. I used to have books around mine but when I got a laptop I found that I used it more like a magazine and not so much like a work item. When the laptop was in the bedroom, I wrote letters(email) to friends and family and read magazines in their online format. The computer once it was not attached to the desk started just being a magic book I could read anything at any time. I hate reading long things on my desktop but I was fine reading long form on the laptop because I could lay in bed be comfy and all of a sudden it was more like reading for pleasure.

Instead of a pile of books I had my laptop tucked into a charger at the side of my bed. The first change in my attitude towards electronic reading was the ability to change the environment of where I was reading. That made me the one who brought the computer back into the bedroom. But I was using it like a Victorian Ladies Writing Desk and an infinite magazine. I did not do any kind of actual work on the laptop.

And there were still books. Shortly after the laptop started changing my habits, I became irritated and exhausted by the basement and the stacks of books in the bedroom. We gathered all the "extra" books finished and unfinished and separated them into hardcovers and paperbacks so we could see how much more shelving we would need and look into some sort of discreete transitional shelving that wouldn't overpower the room.

The hardcover books from that exercise are what is in the pile that is neatly infront of the window.

In this stack are the following:

  1. A Guide to Jewish Religous Practice by Issaac Klein
  2. 1635 : The Dreeson Incident Eric Fling and Virginia De Marce
  3. Spinoza A Life - Nadler
  4. American Shaolin - Matthew Polly
  5. Team of Rivals - The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln( We had it years before Obama's administration made it a household name)
  6. Watchman - Alan Moore
  7. Jewish Wisdom - Rabbi Joseph Telushikin (This is an awesome book - it's historical while illustrating things that became part of spiritual practice - so it's not all "do this" it more like "think about this and this is where it came from" proving that people did most of the religion making not God but that doesn't mean it's not spiritual)
  8. The Book of Ballads - Charles Vess with - lots and lots of cool people
  9. Reserved for the Cat - Mercedes Lackey
  10. The Everyday Guide to Wine Course Guidebook - Jennifer Simonetti Bryan
  11. Modern Philosophy of Language - edited by Maria Baghramian
  12. The Jewish Book of Why - Alfred J. Kolatch
  13. 1634: The Ram Rebellion - Eric Flint with Virginia DeMarche
  14. Mirror Mirror - Gregory Maguire (The cover I have is better I never would have picked the book up with the new cover)
  15. 1634: The Baltic War - David Weber & Eric Flint
  16. The Grantville Gazettte IV Eric Flint
  17. 1634: The Barvarian Crisis - Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce
  18. Liberty Medows Cold, Cold Heart - Frank Cho
  19. Girl Genius - Volumes 6 & more - Phil and Kaja Foglio
  20. Buffy Omnibus 2
  21. The Yiddish Policeman's Union - Michale Chabon
  22. Consuming Habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology - edited by Jordon Goodman et al.
  23. JPS Hebrew -English Tanakah ( this is the Jewish Bible, direct translation with original hebrew next to it - no rabbinic commentary)
  24. Venus vs. Virus
  25. French Women don't get Fat - Mirelle Guilani
  26. The Salmon of Doubt - Douglas Adams
  27. The Hidden World - Paul Park
  28. Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Roleplaying game

Hmmn that's a lot of books.

They're stacked neatly on another item of imminent home improvement - the custom glass tile that needs to go into the backsplash in the kitchen. We needed to hire a tile specialist and ran out of time then had time but ran out of money. If it ever gets finished ( it will I swear Fantastic Artist Who Made the Tiles!) I will blog about it then, but right now the box is in safe and plain view and protected by the books in this stack.

Section 8 - Would E-Books Have Made Any Difference to this Stack?

The 1634 Books are books that get re-read when the newest one in the series comes out that's why there are several. For a long time we couldn't wait for the year delay until the paperback came out so we bought the hardcover, right up until the Dreeson Incident. 1634 is a shared writing environment and I really cared about the characters but when they shared it out to so many writers they put down a fiat - write about the everyday people, not the main characters of the original story. Which is all well and good for a bit but then there were way too many characters and I wanted to get back to the main characters of the original story and thus found my enthusiasm waning. The Dreeson Incident was bought on release, but I couldn't quite muster the desire to open it up, the world was drowning in details, all side dishes and no main course anymore.

I haven't actually bought a new Ring of Fire book since. They were early adapters of electronic formats though and I subscribed to the Grantville Gazette. Once again short stories worked well on the computer, but not full books. If I could have purchased The Dreeson Incident on my iPad and not have it reside accusingly next to my armoire I probably would have bought the subsequent books figuring I could get to them with fresh eyes at some future point. Interestingly when I realized how long I had but haven't read the book, I went to look for it on kindle. It isn't available.

Sorry guys, I love everyone good and bad in Grantville, but unless I get an actual book with Mike and Rebecca as the main characters again I'm just not invested in keeping up anymore.

You lost me with Spinoza.

The other books in the pile are art, non-fiction, and religious books and what I would call deep pleasure reading. The would probably all still be physical books - only the Ring of Fire books would change to electronic format, and even then it would be on a trial basis. When I do like them they are good reading and I tend to read them on trains and vacations. I almost feel like the fault is mine for being put off of them. Like I'm guilty of betraying them.

The upshot is that about 25 of those books would still be in the House regardless of the availability of electronic books. Because of them being gifts or containing high quality art content.

And of course the comics. I'm still not sure what to do about those.

The yellow bag is full of them. They are mostly mine. What they are is irrelevant. I enjoy them immensely and love the art and don't want to see them on a computer but wish to the heavens above that they were on my tablet instead. Waiting for them to be graphic novels worked well but I would pay for them to be virtual instead of physical - I have no sentimental attachment to the physical object of a comic at all, even though comics have been part of my life as long as books have. Webcomics like Looking for Group and Girl Genius show that full page comics work well as a computer format, if I could just have an e-version of the physical comics I'd be perfectly happy.

So the conclusion is that if I could get my hardcopy comics electronically on my tablet ( but not on my computer) I would. I don't know what would happen to get Ring of Fire books on my tablet instead of my floor - but it's possible that one of the turn offs was the amount of physical space they were taking up.

But now knowing just what physical books meant to me and how they kept peices of me intact through scary times, knowing that asking me for my books has such emotional impact let's look at what that would have meant during the crisis points in past bedrooms.

If the Bridge Troll wanted to get rid of physical duplicates and I had electronic copies would I have said no?

I would have gotten rid of the duplicates, I would never have reacted to the underlying signals that he couldn't read my needs or that he was passive aggressively trying to push me into defining our relationship on terms I wasn't willing to accept. There wouldn't have been any tension, but there wouldn't have been any insight either.

On the other hand, if I was the one who was lying in bed with a small portable computer and the sig others who brought the computers into the bedroom started using computers in relationship damaging ways, would I have ever brought it up?

No, I lose a sort of moral high ground, I brought the computer in, I'm laying in bed looking at a tiny computer, I would never have been able to say "please stop sitting at the desk playing Everquest" because the legitimate answer would have been, "Well you're using a screen too!" and I would have conceded the point.

Once the Perfectly Normal Husband received an Ipod Touch from Anti Claus and All of Us, he stopped playing so many "sit in front of the large screen" games and we have a tendency to sit in the living room together, or lay in bed next to each other and read, it's just on screen, but the behavior is book-like even when we are actually playing games. The form factor changed the interaction. We can hand the other person the amusing thing or the picture we are looking at. We share interesting quotes or sentences, just like when we are reading.

The house looks almost the same as when there were nothing but books, but where even laptops took a lot of space and form limitations still dictated locations, tablets and smart phones made us revert to our natural physical behavior with books. So if you took a picture of us in our quiet everyday downtime say 18 years ago and took the same picture now, it would only look like what we were reading on changed, but if you took a picture anytime between those two pictures the snapshot would show us at desks, in rooms isolated from other people or gathered together around a screen watching the same thing.

What happens moving forward as more books go on my tablet? Ironically too many books in my bedroom makes me feel like something is broken now instead of making me feel whole, but the idea of no more physical books feel like staring into a vortex.

It took all that time for technology to behave like a book behaves in your life.

But what would I have had in all of the bygone bedrooms when the books were the only thing I had that really belonged to me?

If it were just the stories, and not the books, would they really belong to me at all?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Helping a Friend Open a Store in the 7th Dimension

The Nature and Business of Books Part 3 will be up tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Nature of Books and Business - A Tour of the Books In My Bedroom - Part 2

OK everybody, this is going to be a long one, feel free not to read it in one sitting.

I've figured out I'm going to do this series once a week posting on Tuesdays until I'm done.

A Recap -

Way back at the beginning, when I first started this blog my third post was about the books in my house and why I suddenly was crushing on Ray Bradbury.

The reasons for blogging were new for me, but late to the party for everyone else. I had found that I had become less willing to expose myself or my ideas in print. The writing that used to be my outlet felt more like a threat. The work that put food on the table and books on the shelves demanded as light a footprint as one could possibly leave anywhere, especially on the internet. But my head was full of ideas, and I was trying to work through them. Words were failing me changing my little design and crafty "fun" subversive things sliding them into a place where even I had to admit that they crossed from hobby to art. They were holding too much in them.

But books were almost the first things I wrote about. When I was young, writing was what I was making money at. If you'd asked me I would have told you I was an actress, but I wasn't making money at it. My mother was the artist, although I pulled off some artistic things it wasn't part of the identity at all. No matter who I thought I was, or who I actually was, there were always books and there were always spaces I called my own. Those spaces were defined by books. They still are, but I am developing a different relationship with reading and books at the moment based on e-reading. Unlike many other people, discussing the future of books was a big part of my life 15-20 years ago so I find myself somewhere where I predicted this future, but none of the emotional or preferential effects. I think it might have something bigger to say about culture, or change or hubris or me. So that's what this series is - me trying to figure it out - as the poppets and Lisa would say, "Silly Human".

But writing it out is the tool I'm most familiar with and sometimes I don't see things until I try to talk about it with someone else.

This is Part 2 of the Tour of the Books in My Bedroom. Part 1 is here.

The Tour - The Books That Are Actually Decor

Section 1 - The Bedroom

Before we start the real tour I should probably show you my bedroom:

unlike every other bedroom I ever had, this one doesn't have bookshelves in it, or it didn't until very, very recently. That's because I have a house. The books in the bedroom are the books that are in use, or in transit, or stayed in the room because I can't have a room with no books, so some of them officially became "decor" after being read.

A book-free zone is unthinkable. My dream is to convert my garage into a full formal oak paneled library. I have enough books to do it. My concept of heaven is a comfy leather armchair by a fireplace with a comforter and a cup of hot cocoa in a library with all of the books ever for me to read into eternity. Literally, when I made this -

it was because like all people with Poppets, I imagined that the Halloween Things would want the same things I would want when It Wasn't Halloween.

But I also like things clean and neat and nicely, if eclectically decorated. One of the truths I learned as an adult, that was not true when I was a child; is that when my house is disordered it's because something is wrong with me. A little lived in clutter is fine, I'm not OCD about it but the tipping point from "I can function in this because it's just showing that we are living in it" to "This is a constant irritation and I just can't get to it" gets narrower and narrower.

And when things went really, really wrong I learned to say something, or do something, or spend money to fix it rather than wait "until I was well enough" to do it myself. So when my house is too messy or too disorganized, I know that if I get sick ( physically) and I don't have things set up in advance I could risk making my recovery ( physically and mentally) that much more difficult if I don't take heavy action. The inhabitants of the House are well aware of this now. It took me years to learn it, but only about a year to fix it and then communicate it.

So now the Children Who Are Not So Childish anymore know that everything in the house has a system, and if the system gets overwhelmed a new system will be developed to handle it, things will be planned, built, bought or purged. January post-Holidays is the big organizational month once we realized I usually get sick in February/March, and deep cleaning usually gets to coincide with Passover. I was not always this good about these things. My mother remembers my childhood bedroom with horror. I am a multimedia designer even when I am all of the other things I am. I do actually use things that I made or did from 20 years ago. We still actively play in the Dungeons and Dragons world that I've run since I was 12 years old. We still use notes and references from my tiny self while playing now.

If I did not hate "the look" - my house would easily have become the collection of bookshelves and collectible items that only my basement currently emulates. It is a look I know and love in many homes of friends. The walls of Caldor Shelving (or O'Sullivan as soon as they make some cash). There is a joy in staring at a friend's bookshelves and seeing what they have that you have, or what they have that you don't, that they like . There is the beauty of the books themselves, the spark of connection when you see how varied their brains and reading tastes are. Bookshelves are the markers of Academics, SF fans, Scientists and Jewish Households. In some households there will simply be built-in bookshelves in the family room, filled to the brim but the childrens books on the easy-to-reach shelves. In some homes there are only books by the desks and maybe one full bookcase of "important" books. Mystery readers seem to be more willing to buy and sell their books through used booksellers to keep their book collections down to a single wall. Some parents of my friends were romance novel readers and they varied between hoarders who made some SF collections look paltry, and those who either did the library thing or the used bookstore thing and kept things very, very neat.

What I never saw growing up, or until I was a grownup, was a house without books. There were always books. At least on a bedside table.

And honestly, I read everything that stayed still long enough. And then I kept it. And I still do. Until about 3 years ago I couldn't even have thought of a book I would want to read and not actually keep. Then I went through a phase of reading "chick lit". I enjoyed it, and would not denigrate it, but I realized I didn't really want it taking up space in my house. You see someday I will have my library , and in my garage right now are two sets of metal industrial laboratory shelves - packed full with my books and covered over waiting for me to build the right library system to start in the family room until I someday have enough money to convert the garage. But I am not converting that garage now. Those are books that could be safely in my house, but because I needed a light laugh and I find almost all sitcoms to be either exercises in sadism or just not funny "Shopaholic Sleeps With A Demon in A Cross Marketing Buffy-Inspired Bonanza" is in the house instead. It was purchased, and enjoyed but it's served it's purpose - which was disposable entertainment. I doubt I'll be rereading it. I'm not sure any of my friends would like it. It's not that I'm embarrassed that I read it, it's just that space could be taken up by something cool like "I Will Fear No Evil" which is currently out in the garage.

I had never thought of disposable books before.

Section 2 - The Lifecycle of Book Placement at The House

The way books cycle in is this - We go the the bookstore - we come back with books - the ones we were looking for and the ones that were joyfully discovered. Between the Perfectly Normal Husband and I, we are good for a minimum of 5 books each. Possibly one or two hardcovers a peice. The other way books come in is that they are specifically asked for as presents for the Holidays. Books we might not get ourselves because they are expensive and will never, ever come out in paperback and both the Perfectly Normal Husband and I have impulse control and a strong sense of budget. However, he can actually use the library, and I cannot because they have a terrible habit of wanting their books back and I have a terrible habit of keeping the books. We've declared detente. I don't use them so they get to keep their books. I donate duplicates and participate in fundraising. Libraries are important - and I'll write about me and libraries some other day.

The books initially come into the house and go to the bedroom. We read in the bedroom, the living room, and the office. Although the primary home for the books and where they live is the family room, we do not generally read there because it is the media room where the TV and games are. Sometimes we read when the TV is on. We read alot in the dining room. The rooms were we primarily don't read are the bathroom and the kitchen. However, if the book is yours it starts in your bedroom and returns there at the end of each day until it's done, even if it travelled with you.

You read it before you go to bed at night and lay it on your night table, put it in your pouch or the side of your bed. When it's done you move on to the next book. But all the "getting ready to be read" books are in the bedroom. The "just recently finished books" are in the bedroom. The Children who Aren't so Childish Anymore each have significant and decorative shelving in their rooms, but I knew from experience that as much as I love my books, for my bedroom to be calming and a place of relaxation I couldn't let the bookshelves live in the bedroom or very soon it would look like a nerdy college dorm except there would be even more books where the beer cans were supposed to be.

But you need some books. You just do.

So the first books that became decor were from the piles of "recently read" because when we were done with repainting the room and the general renovation of the House there needed to be some books that just lived there - but they needed to have a space and a form of their own.

However, now the system is breaking down, because the basement hit saturation point. And the office is only a transitional point for non art/work/school books too. Additional books do not get added to the ones that "live there". Slowly over the last year we started avoiding bookstores so as not to bring more books into the house.

You may now picture us reading the Sunday Book Review like pathetic little children, our noses pressed to the imaginary glass, eyes wide looking at the shiny reviews thinking "but maybe just that one, one won't hurt that much". We then deaden the desire by filling it full of internet articles and the very reviews we are reading electronically.

Or I buy it on Kindle, a guilty selfish pleasure, because until the iCloud, there was no way to share it without sharing my device. A book is something that always has the promise of being able to share it with someone else. An ebook seems more portable, but is far more isolated and isolating. I can recommend a book I have on my Kindle App, like Bill Bryson's At Home but I can't lend it to a cash strapped friend.

But "Sequel to Shopaholic raises Baby Half Demon and Hires Fae the Nanny" was a selfish pleasure in the first place, so now I don't have to give it bedroom space. I was never going to lend it out anyway. At 6.99 it's cheaper than the trade size version they seem to think all chick lit must come in, and cheaper than going to a movie. So I win! But it will never make it to "decor" like the books we are about to see.

Section 3 - The Books that Live on the Tall Dresser

There are only 4 books that live there but several Poppets.

This portion of the tour will be brought to you by the Poppet Pretending to Be Silas, from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. You can find a Poppet Playing Silas to live with you here, and The Graveyard Book here.

At the bottom of the decor pile is The Ultimate American Gardening Book and right above it is The Ortho Home Gardner's Problem Solver.

They are large and beautiful books. You might get the idea that they are there because I love gardening or am interested in it. Or you might think I have them there because I think or want you to think I'm good at it.

They are actually there because I'm completely lost with the whole gardening thing. Well not completely, but I'm at the very least easily disoriented by being someone responsible for living things in my home that I would like to be healthy and grow up strong and remain as wonderful and pretty as they were when I first became responsible for them. So those two books are loaners from someone who is much, much better at this stuff than me. Because I have a garden and trees and bushes and plants and stuff. I know what an ecosystem is and I know that my little plots of land have good ones, but sometimes stuff eats them, or they grow too fast, or some new thing happens. Then I use these books because these are thoughts or conversations that happen in the bedroom. Quick questions get looked up on the internet . If it an "I need to understand and process that" situation I go to these two books, so they live here as decor, because this is the room where I end up needing them.

Above them is an illustrated book called "The Rabbi's Cat" by Joann Sfar. Other people apparently know this author through some children's book called the Little Vampire. But The Rabbi's Cat was purchased in an indie bookstore while on my honeymoon in Washington DC. It is a graphic novel for adults taking place in a Moroccan Jewish world in the 1930s and deals with Talmud and Torah and mysticism and reality in deep and fokloric ways, while still playing with modern sensibility. You do not have to be Jewish to understand this book. If you are Jewish and not Sephardic, this book might do strange trippy things to your brain and your sense of identity and things that you were sure were absolute will, quite properly, not look so absolute anymore. But it's OK you can ignore all that and just enjoy the pretty book with the story about the talking cat and go back to your nice modern middle class world afterwards. It's OK to just like it for the neat story and the pictures.

( Sephardim are the group of Spanish,Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jews who were targeted by the Spanish Inquisition who stubbornly insisted on surviving anyway instead of Ashkenazi which were the Europeans and Baltic and Russian Jews who were targets of the Nazi's and Pogroms who stubbornly insisted on surviving anyway - Most of the Jews you see in stories, on TV or meet on the East Coast are Ashkenazic. Most of the Jews you hear about over in Israel are Ashkenazic. Most of the Jews who are actually IN Israel are Sephardic. Very few people know much about actual Sephardic Jews even if they are Jewish. I have learned that the type of Jew I am by linage is something a little in the middle of both. As I reconstruct things, our family's traditions, our deep stories are strongly linked to Sephardic practice, but the family worked hard to present as Ashkenazic - there are reasons- they are a different essay. )

That book stays in the room as decor. It is meaningful as an object I purchased with my new husband, a story I never thought I would see, and content that does what books do, it makes something open. I share that book with people in the house but when they were done with it, it lives with me in the bedroom, like a talisman or a dream-catcher.

But here's a truth. If the full color graphic novel version of it were available electronically, I would carry it in my iPad and break it out to look over it or think of a panel in it while I was waiting for things like buses or doctors. I would use it to break myself out of moods or destructive thought processes. I would show other people bits of it in conversation. It's a book I wish I always had available. I would pay for it twice to be able to always have it near me without risking damaging the one I have on this dresser. I would use it differently if I had it electronically, but it would still mean something to me even in it's Kindle or iBook based form. I would have it because it was important, not because it was disposable.

It is not currently available that way. But I'll keep checking. Actually I stopped typing this entry just to check and see if maybe it was in the iBook store since I'd never checked there. It isn't.

I'm a little sad. Writing about it made it real enough to make me feel like I should have already had it that way.

The last book on the pile is Ill Met By Moonlight by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis. The Fairy GoodReader is usually near this book. It's a mash-up of Mercedes Lackey, one of my most consistently enjoyable fantasy authors, Roberta Gellis who hid historical fiction and cultural studies in "romance" novels my mother bought (and who taught me how to stock a keep) and Shakespeare thrown together with the whole Tudor and War of the Roses thing. It was like someone was throwing together some kind of specific genetically engineered bait for me. Especially before the whole Tudor and Anne Bolyen thing became "hot". Now I kind of wince when I see something set in that milieu, but Roberta Gellis is one of the first authors who created a kind of "consciousness raising" effect on me about women, and history and the reality of historical information on real people. I'll read anything she writes if I come across it, but interestingly I don't seek her work out. It's almost like I would prefer to stumble across it.

Maybe the book graduated to decor because of the synergy in it, maybe just because it never made it down to the basement. Once I put it there I liked the blue of the spine on the stack. Perhaps it's also because the line "Ill met by moonlight proud Titania" is one the the most sublime lines of A Midsummer Night's Dream to me, with entire universes in that moment between Oberon and Titania when he says it and she reacts to it.

However, it's a book that now would likely end up being bought electronically rather than in hard copy. I purchased the first one This Scepter'd Isle, not realizing it was going to be a series and most likely, until I'm sure it's finished I will buy ebooks for the subsequent ones. I'm too compulsive, I need to know what happens next, but it might not be worth more books coming into my house. If I love it as much when the series ends as when it started, I will buy used copies to live together on my shelves in the family room or hopefully, someday, my library. For this book I do not want or need the physical book, yet oddly it has a place of pride in my bedroom.

There was a fifth book there called The Great Pretenders but I needed it for something so it moved from a decor book to an office book. and will most likely move down to the basement.

Section 4 - The Books that Live on Top of the Armoire - Stage Right

This is the Stage Right side of the Armoire arrangement. The poppet guiding us on this side is Poppet Reads The Graveyard Book. When he is not being a tour guide he generally lives on the tall dresser. You can find other Poppets reading other copies of The Graveyard Book here sometimes although as I write this all the Poppets there are pretending instead of reading.

This is an interesting pile of books. It is mostly interesting because they were initially put there to get them off the floor because a good portion of them stubbornly refused to be good enough to finish.

The Secret History of the South Sea Bubble: The Worlds First Great Financial Scandal was interesting to me and timely reading since I read it in 2006. I like it but it's pretty dry. All of the drama coming from the reality of it instead of any great mastery of prose. The Rise to Rebellion is a book by Jeff Shaara that I borrowed from The Perfectly Normal Husband, but I can't remember whether I read it or not. I love the revolutionary period, most especially from a cultural anthropology standpoint. The seething roiling change everywhere all across the world, the intense juxtaposition between the known and the unknown, the differentiating experiences of The Enlightenment combined with the power of philosophy to create real economic and political systems almost seemingly out of thin air. It's an amazing, amazing time, but I can't remember if I've even opened the cover on that book. So there it is waiting for me to get around to it to check.

Great Jewish Short Stories was bought on a recommendation. I'm sorry I did it. They were not great, they were trite, overwrought, well trod, second-generation-whining stories that reinforced any number of tropes and stereotypes that were banging about in old vaudeville, high form Woody Allen movies and every self hating "American Jewish Novelist" from 1960 through 2000.

Even thinking about reading this book makes me want to go re-read The Rabbi's Cat to cleanse my mental palate. I keep it as a negative example. I may have subconsciously made it decor in order to keep anyone from reading it by accident. As I read it I kept thinking "Is this what people think I want to read because I happen to be Jewish? Is this what Jews write because they think this is what being Jewish is? " and then I wanted to hide for a while until the thinking stopped. There is better stuff out there covering the same themes. Saul Bellow is not a man I want on any synagogue committee I'm involved in, or literary review board either.

There was a science fiction collection that was worse. Thank God for Peter S. Beagle and Josepha Sherman writing short stories with Jews in them that happen to be good stories and the characters just happen to be Jewish instead of Irish, or British or Hispanic.

If I had bought the electronic version of it I most likely would have deleted it. I don't know why I'm holding on to it. Perhaps I can let this book go.

Reluctant Voyagers - I think someone else brought the book into the house. I think I read it because it stayed still, I don't recall the book at all. When I run out of other things to read I will go back and look at it again. I do know it got put there for aesthetics of color and spine height and because when I set up that arrangement it was one of the books waiting to go down to the basement.

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. Love her. Love reinterpretations of fairy tales because they are so interconnected and important. Loved her writing since I was a teenager and read The Blue Sword, so this is another one of the decor books that's there because it was a current read at the time I needed books for furniturescapes. It goes back to my younger bedrooms when they were filled with books. Like a little refraction of past bedrooms to this one.

Phule's Errand by Robert Asprin. I reread the Phule's Company books the same way, and for the same reasons, that people watch reruns of M.A.S.H. or the DVDs of Wooster and Jeeves.

I like these in book form. They're small. Exactly the right ergonomics to love a book and read it wherever you want to, or slip it into a purse, briefcase or backpack. It's a light afternoon couch read. It is most likely on top of the decor stack because I put it down and didn't want to have it accidentally go into the basement since the Phule's company books live together in the living room bookcase. It would have been placed there before the system broke down. This is a book I would go to the bookstore to buy. I don't want it electronically. I am very sad that there will not be anymore, and that I own all the ones that have already been made. This was the one in 2006 with Peter Heck. The decor books on the armoire are the frozen moment of time when the redecoration was pretty much done.

Section 5 - The Books that Live on Top of the Armoire - Stage Left

This side it full of books I loved that I wanted to keep in the bedroom, plus two books that just had no place else to go. The Wizard Poppet shows them off.

Princesses: the Six Daughters of George III is an amazing book with exactly the kind of history I love to read that sheds light on history's impact in hidden everyday actions. It shows the inaccuracies of impressions gleaned from studying the history of the Revolutionary Period from only American sources or popular culture. It in many ways reminds you how not-very-long 200 or so years is in history and how events and marriages and love affairs from then effect things that are happening now. If you think about it for a moment you will realize that it's true in your own life and not just because these people happened to be royalty. If your great grandma married in an arranged marriage in 1847 and then your grandma married for love but had to run away from Ireland to do it, you are eating in McDonalds in Idaho because that's where they could afford to buy land in 1852. You think you are from Idaho and you are, but you're there because of the rules governing women and marriage in Ireland in the 1840's. It affects you directly. If great grandma had been willing to stand up for her daughter's choice to marry you might be in Dublin looking for work instead.

I've always thought of royal families as public allegories for their countries' populations anyway and I've seen nothing recently to dissuade me from that thought.

I've also thought about how difficult it must be to be a public allegory when it's so hard to muddle through as a regular unknown human.

It's a good book. It's a straight history book. Furthermore, it's a straight history book that isn't military. Just be warned. This is a book that I might have bought for myself for half of the very high price electronically, but it was given to me as a gift and it is a beautiful book besides.

A History of Japanese Religion - this book is mind blowing in a literal way. It's a straight reference book originally written in Japanese by Japanese academics and then translated by the same academics into English. Once I knew that, I had to change the way I was reading it because phrasing that I would have dismissed as connective or "flavor" had a different weight when I knew it wasn't being taken through an extra layer of Westernization. I can only read this book in short sittings because it opens my mind to things about other things almost ever page or so in ways I haven't thought before. I haven't had enough time with it to finish it. Someday I'm going to take it on vacation with me. This might be a book that I would want both physical and electronic copies of because of the way I am reading it, but I don't know how I would use it when I do finally finish. For me this book is like a journey.

Lost by Gregory Maguire. He wrote more than just Wicked. It's his original work for non-children's literature and does not reference any fairytales. I liked it. I'm glad I have the woodcut-looking-cover instead of the Harlequin Romance-looking-photo-based cover they have now. It looks market tested. Pope Joan: A Novel is a book that I wanted to be better than it was. It's in there for color and aesthetic balance. Village of the Vampire Cat rocks. I read it with The Boy back in the day, and New Comic Fantasy was purchased in a fit of hope. It would be a book that I would now purchase exclusively as an ebook. I just bought "My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding" from iBooks and have discovered that I infinitely prefer to read my short stories this way on the iPad. ( Why yes, Esther Friesner participating in these two anthologies is indeed a commonalty, and now you know something more about what will make me buy a book and something about my general age).

Section 6 - The Business and Nature of Books Part

Lets's take a look at that last bit again. The part where I bought an anthology because Esther was writing in it, but when I went to look for it on Amazon her name wasn't even on the cover. Instead there were three names that were actually a turn off for me and would have made me pass by the book in the store. Charlaine Harris writes the Sookie Stackhouse novels which involve vampires, which I was sick to death of back when Anne Rice became big. I like Buffy because she killed the vampires and the vampires were actually evil demonic things unless they got ensouled. And when they did get ensouled it wasn't all a happy-day-in-the park and you might have to kill them anyway. Buffy spawned almost as many imitators as Rice did, which led to someone publishing Twilight. Which is great for the publisher, but I hate vampires. So Ms. Harris may be the next Shakespeare but I don't care because she's writing primarily about vampires. LA Banks seems like I should sort of like her, but the back cover blurb reads too much like an overheated LARP. Its full of vampires and vampire lovers and I don't care if these vampires were hip hop. And I've never heard of Sherrilyn Kenyon - which is no reflection on her, remember I'm out of touch - but it's not going to make me pick up a book I want to read for humor's sake. Actually none of those names is going to entice me to pick up a book for humor's sake. Esther writes humor, they write supernatural. Esther writes all that other stuff too, but she excels at selling me humor.

I'll tolerate vampires if they are funny. You are marketing a funny book full of collections of amusing stories. You kept the only funny person off the cover. If I hadn't found it when I was cross referencing author's name, you wouldn't have gotten my 6 dollars with no print costs. So you lucked into the sale.

Older readers that have books for decor and go to the bookstore coming out with 10 books a trip ARE your market. Perhaps you should remember that publishing is not the movie industry and that while the tween market is profitable, they are not the sole movers and shakers of funding. Couldn't you have Ms. Harris AND Ms. Friesner? And part of the question is this : which type of book would you rather move? I bought the e-book and might have passed on the physical book even with Esther in it. But I'm over 30. Most people older than me are still physical book centric, they might not know Esther was in it. How many of them are exactly like me - not willing to take up space for an anthology that I might only like 2 stories out of 10, but still willing to spend 6.$ for the chance of 2 good stories if they take up no space?

I can see why this is scary for a publisher.

Can you define this market? Can I predict how I'll react to a book now? The objects in this entry are permanent. I'm not planning on changing anything other than Phule's Errand going back to it's proper place. Can you predict what I might buy based on my "decor" books or how I might buy it now? Remember in the last entry I listed Troll's Eye View on my Kindle. I'd read about it online and ordered it right away. I think I can safely say I'm likely to never buy a physical anthology collection again. I do think I would buy a physical single author short story collection though. Like Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things. The reason would be the expectation of consistency. I wouldn't buy a singly authored collection unless I was always predisposed to the author's writing in the first place.

But the need for ebooks will become different in the next entry next week when I describe how the books in the bedroom churn and what happens when the system breaks. I won't describe each book - the way I did here for the decor books, there are too many, I will list them and explain why they are where they are, instead of what they are, so this might be the only part of the series where I tell you my opinion of a book. These are just my opinions, so if someone thinks that Great Jewish Stories is a heartbreaking collection of staggering genius and you've made it down this far please feel free to defend it in comments. But I'm thinking perhaps it's time for me to let it go - or make art out of it or something.

So this is the end of Part 2 where at least some of the books as decor wouldn't have had a physical form to display if ebooks had really been viable when I did the room. There's already a sliding impact.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Nature of Books and Business - A Tour of the Books In My Bedroom - Part 1

I'm going to write about books and fame and authorship and the publishing industry and the identity of being a reader.

I can write about this with a simulacrum of authority, and I think it might be some variant of important since I'm really one of the little people, but I can approach it a bit differently due to things I used to be.

I used to be kind of a big deal.

But not in any special kind of way that matters.

Some Background:

It was pre-internet, although I was using it, so its closest modern equivalent is "internet famous". I used to call it psuedo-semi famous. If I walked in anywhere that touched the world where I was sort-of-famous people who knew me and I did not know them would come up to tell me where they met me or saw me, or if I helped them. ( Or sometimes if I hurt them).

I am not by nature a kind person, but I did my level best not to hurt anyone. It's important to remember that people see you as something other than what you know yourself to be Both good and bad. And with any kind of status you get some power. As Steven Moffat made the Doctor say last week "Good men don't need rules." I too have a lot of rules. Truly good people will be good regardless of race creed color or religion. I'm religious so that I can at least check myself against what a truly good person might do.

These pieces of information are important because you are about to see the books in my bedroom and what they mean, and what it means for the publishing industry. While I'm showing you, I'm pretty sure I'll drop a fan or miss a step in this burlesque show and you'll see me nakedly struggling with the fact that I'm working hard to decide what I want to be when I grow up and the past is informing the present.

It's what the past does. No one should be really surprised.

Some present-round with pitches for very nice writers:

Two weeks ago, I was somewhere in that world where I used to be kind of a big deal - but I went away. Now almost no one knows anything about me. All fame is fleeting, niche fame more than most. It makes me happy in a kind of subversive way. I do something different there now. I am an enabler, not an event anymore . I like it. It's very useful. I am happiest when I am useful.

People who write books and publish things are there too. For various reasons we end up talking. I almost look like "the public" to them so I am representational. I usually have not read their work. This is because I am out of touch, not any failing on their part. Sometimes when I meet them I will then read their work. This surprises me when I think about it because it used to go the other way : I will have read their work, and then I would meet them, and then sometimes it would change the way I viewed their work. I developed a theory back then that you should never meet anyone who's work literally changed the way you think or look at the world, because there is almost no way for it not to change something about you, or them, or the work.

There is a very good book about discovering things like that written by Laura Miller, you'll see it later.

But now I almost never hear about a new genre writer unless, due to the oddities of my life I meet them.

So I have met Paolo Bacigalupi, who is very cool and whom I enjoy hanging out with but whose books I have yet to read. There are two of them in my house. You will see them too. I confessed that after an entire year of his winning every SF award in sight I was possibly the only person left on the planet who hadn't read it - but at least he knew I liked him for himself.

Paolo is really the reason for this blog entry, and perhaps James Knapp, who won the Compton Crook Award for State of Decay which is being marketed as a Zombie Genre thing but it isn't one. It's traditional hard SF. I would never have looked at it if he hadn't won the award putting him in a position where I was facilitating a podcast interview reading of his first chapter. ( I don't know if it's posted yet but I'll update if there is a link.)

Perhaps this is where I need to admit what I was fairly semi-famous for. Once upon a time I created and edited a magazine. This was when publishing opened up because of new tech, the closest thing I could compare it to is the way podcasting works now.

Some Nostalgia:

So I ran a writer's group, which was very different than contemporaneous writers groups, as it was focused on things other than getting published and it wasn't juried. It was exploration and craft based. And I hosted and ran workshops, and I wrote a bit. Thus when I started the magazine, which was a non-profit kind of incubator thing - I promoted the hell out of it. So people saw me pretty much everywhere on panels, as a guest, and with people who were much, much, more famous than me.

(It doesn't matter which one . . . those days are over and you're all way too young to remember something that would in effect be hipster like from that era anyway . . .)

What that does mean, is I used to know a lot about the publishing industry, all of the pieces of it not just genre stuff, because I was deeply involved in trying to get the publishing industry to distribute my magazine, which was dedicated to giving writers a chance to write, take chances and possibly fail without having to publish a novel first. Because that was the way it was then. I was consciously recreating a John Campbell style environment in order to try to get writers to be more creative and less focused only on getting published. I was good enough at it to get a real distribution deal. I was in Walden and Borders. However 14 years is a long time.

16 years ago ( maybe longer, it's fuzzy now ) when electronic books were still fiction and the convention hall was packed with people who hoarded their books like dragons hoard gold, I was on a panel where every single person on it was the equivalent of Madonna famous and I was something equivalent to say . . . Moonshine Willy. The panel was on whether or not people would buy electronic books, and the bibliophiles in the room all of whom embraced science fiction with the passion that fueled real world rocket ships to Mars were saying "No, bloody hell no!! We will not go!! To the last musty page we will defend our books!!"

And I was saying something along the lines of this: we grew up with books, but access to paper at this level is new, books are a form of wealth once, but there were penny dreadfuls and dimestore novels and pamphlets. We love our books because that's what we held in our hands when we discovered our worlds and that attachment is sentiment, not necessarily ergonomics, economics or comfort. We will always have some physical books, but they will once again be objects of wealth, education or eccentricity. The reality will be when the form factor becomes usable, children will remember their electronic books and their teenage discoveries of literature with the same fondness we have for our pulp art covers.

At this point I should perhaps mention I was the youngest person on the panel being a mere 24 years or so old and I now shockingly recall the only female. And at least two of the Really Big Deals conceded the point and when it ended everyone had agreed with me that the tech wasn't anywhere close to being pleasant to read now so we weren't in any danger of having to figure out where it was going to go. ( In the late 80s/early 90's).

I was invited to be on a lot of panels about the future of books after that. Reflected starshine. I'll bet hardly anyone remembers that was a really big deal 20 years ago.

What Happened in the Bar - With That Guy:

So flash forward to now - We were talking about reading a book vs reading on the e-readers with Paolo checking out my iPad and me explaining that the Kindle on iPad is what I'd been waiting for and we were cross comparing iBooks and Kindle for stores, sorting and readability.

I showed him my Kindle library - and he looked at me and said "You're willing to show me that you read Kelley Armstrong?". And there, in that moment; was the moment others said we were going to lose when books went electronic. That moment when you know something about someone because of what's in their library just by seeing it. A social signifier. In Slate there was an article called Judging a Girl by Her Cover. It used to be what you saw the stranger reading created the intimacy or the shared knowledge, but now sharing what I was reading was an act of trust and therefore intimacy.

Here an author ( a good one! I have read his journalism) was now looking at something very real about me, knowing I hadn't gotten to his book yet, seeing what was sitting there instead. And he immediately saw Kelley Armstrong; author of Dime Store Magic, the title that made me buy her books. And he also immediately teased me about it, and I immediately told him the truth. They're light, they're popcorn and not particularly brilliant but they are filled with female characters that make rational choices in unnatural situations making them one of the very few "supernatural" series with female characters who don't make me want to kill myself or someone else.

It was just as if he'd seen it on my bookshelf.

The iPad mostly gets read in my bedroom. So the books inside it count for the tour. Here were the other books in my Kindle for iPad, their covers floating at him in glorious color:

  • The Jeeves Collection by PG Wodehouse
  • At Home by Bill Bryson
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Seder K'Riat Haftorah - My People's Prayerbook
  • Cleopatra a Biography - Duane W. Roller
  • Hobson's Choice - Harold Brighouse
  • The Great Transformation - Karen Armstrong
  • The Magicians: A Novel - Lev Grossman
  • The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia - Laura Miller
  • Son of a Witch - Gregory Maguire and two other books by him
  • All of the Stieg Larsson novels - I had read them exclusively on e-formats
  • Living with the Dead - was the Kelley Armstrong he saw initially - I have three of her others on the iPad Kindle
  • A whole bunch of Mercedes Lackey - because she almost always tells a good consistent story that doesn't leave me hanging
  • And the Regency Dragon series by Naomi Novik because they gave me the first one free I bought the other two.
  • Troll's Eye View - edited by Ellen Datlow
  • Fall of the Roman Republic - Plutarch the Rex Warner translation
  • Buried Child - Sam Shepard
  • Pride and Pejudice - Jane Austen
  • Aesop's Fables - the George Fyler Townsend translation

But of them all honestly, Kelly Armstrong's have the most striking lurid covers recalling modernized pulp fiction infused sensibility. Of course he's going to focus on that instead of the strange religious book and the philosophy and history stuff. But really all he got to see was the new cyber effect of "what's in my purse". Does it show anything about me? Well yes.

I read history, I read about the nature of God through a lens other than my own, I tried Bill Bryson's book and it was awesome, his book reads like my brain thinks but it's non-fiction. I read plays and translations and when I read fantasy I obviously read it frothy - or at least I do when it's on my Kindle app.

There is nothing there to indicate whether I would be a target market for Paolo's book - The Windup Girl. But we had a fantastic conversation about female characterization, the nature of ebooks and whether or not it was going to change things.

It was a funny full circle thing - but much reduced. Paolo is now maybe Adele level famous ( to keep with the music analogy) and I'm practically unknown. We were at a table in a bar instead of a convention lecture room and I believe, although I am not sure, that I am older than him. But it's the same conversation with the primary difference being the e-book is in my hand instead of being imagined.

And truth be told right now I am far more likely to buy an ebook than a physical one.

But there is a caveat- those books on my Kindle were books I bought when it was on my iPhone. I just got the pad, they were transfers. The iPhone is a 4 inch screen. I specifically bought books that I knew no one in the house will be interested in besides me ( until the announcement of iCloud there was no way I would have anticipated being able to even share them with family members). So these were books that I COULD read on a 4 inch screen and my "serious" books in that collection "At Home", the Plutarch, the Karen Armstrongs, the Cleopatra, were otherwise large and expensive books that only I would be reading. I made the effort to read them on my tiny 4 inch screen but I longed for a Kindle sized electronic format to read them in. I hate unitaskers. I needed an eReader that had other uses, I am not personally fond of the electronic ink for reading - although it is a preferred tech for many and I did buy a Kindle for my mother - it's not to my preference ( this is not a holy war, there are lots of different kinds of paper and bindings too).

So by default the things I was sharing with him were my "light" things and my selfish reading indulgences. On reflection it was very personal indeed.

And now, of course, I felt guilty. I still hadn't read The Windup Girl. When I started it back in November in our dead tree oversized trade edition I realized that I wanted to take my time with it. It wasn't something I wanted to read like disposable popcorn. After we returned from the trip two weeks ago I broke open the book again. I have taken some time off and it was a perfect opportunity.

I came to a horrible realization. It would be much better for me right now to read this on my iPad. It's more comfortable, it's more portable. The physical book is beautiful, the print is easy on the eyes but it's not readily available without me making special effort and time for uninterrupted physical space. Whereas the electronic version is readable late at night without keeping lights on disrupting the Perfectly Normal Husband, I can't just lean over and pull up the Windup Girl or read it on a six hour jag start to finish. Which is the way I prefer to read books. But I can only read electronic books that way now. Physical books are taking up space and lend themselves to interruption far more than ebooks.

Even back when I was sure ebooks would be a given (I can carry a library in my purse!) I didn't predict this.

But I can't justify spending money on the electronic version of something I already have.

So that got me thinking about books and how I use them. The way I relate to them. The tipping point between hoarding and cherishing. They are meaningful to me, ebooks are simply interesting to me, but I haven't bought any eBooks that are "Important" yet.

So in the context of the other things that have happened over the last two weeks, I started wondering how to sort out all of that thinking. I realized that if Paolo interacting with my ebooks was a sort of "what do you know about who you are moment" that the books in my bedroom are perhaps a better indicator of how I relate to books now and in the future.

It's a microcosm of book culture, and desire and market. So the next few entries will be an experiment, much like the ones I used to give the writer's group. I will describe the books in my bedroom and why they are there. And ponder things like "what does it mean to Farenheight 451 if the screens are the books too". Because frankly, I believe that's what's really going to happen.

But the publishing industry counts on the me from 20 years ago behaving the same way today. And that endangers authors. The model underneath is changing, but the people in that room with the Madonna famous writers love their books and the culture of books, and the handling and smell of books.

I'm pretty sure of one thing:

If the books become the screens, when the Firemen come -we'll still be the first against the wall.