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.

1 comment:

JupiterAdept0209 said...

I enjoyed this post, Mrs. 'Drinne