Archive for the ‘bookselling’ Category
You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (Knopf, 1/10).
Let’s just get this out of the way: I really like this book. This book changed the way I think about the Internet and intellectual property, and I think could change a lot of minds, but only if a critical mass of people start reading it and talking about it. So this is my Queen’s Gambit. (I apologize in advance for not citing page numbers with quotes, but as I was reading a review copy, I have no idea what the actual page numbers will be.) This review is long, so if you are in a rush and have some faith in my book recommendations, just go out and buy it in January and meet me back here when you’re done.
Okay! There are too many ideas in this book that I underlined and starred and ?ed and yes!ed to count. I’m just going to touch on a few, and especially the ones that made me think of books and publishing.
Probably the most interesting idea in this book, especially for the book world, is how the Internet’s push towards the hive mind (also known as the noosphere, a word so creepy that I almost become a Luddite every time I read it) has already damaged and threatens to essentially destroy art as we now experience it. As Lanier puts it:
“The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush.”
A thing, I’m sure we can all agree, that is not great for writing, which pretty much lives and dies by things like the strength and believability of an author’s individual voice.
A he writes, “Authorship—the very idea from the individual point of view—is not a priority of the new ideology.” Which is pretty well borne out by a quick glance at Wikipedia (an entity to which I am not opposed, by the way). The argument on behalf of the hive mind is that many many people working together will come up with a better answer, and faster, than individuals working alone. Lanier pretty conclusively demonstrates that this is not always the case, even for things to which humanity already knows the answer. And what about novels, of which there is no clear question, let alone a clear answer? Read more »
Just quick post regarding this item in today’s Shelf Awareness:
“The French National Book Centre awarded more than 400 independent bookstores the new three-year quality label. Bookseller.com reported that booksellers ‘had to respond to a number of criteria to qualify for the LIR, or librairies indépendantes de référence. These included deriving at least half their turnover from the sale of books, proof of independence, diversity of stock, the quality of staff and services, and a strong programme of events.
‘In exchange, they are entitled to exoneration from the payroll tax, or taxe professionnelle (TP), that is levied by local authorities, starting from next year. The label, which was officially launched last April, was one of the proposals in the ‘Plan Livre’ that was adopted by the cabinet in November 2007 to bolster the book business.’”
Ever since someone told me that in Switzerland, booksellers are required to be certified, I’ve been thinking that US booksellers should hop on the bandwagon. (NB: I have no idea if that’s actually true about the certification, but it got the wheels turning anyway.)
Bookselling, in our culture and for the average person, is a retail job. A slightly more interesting retail job, and maybe even a cool one? Certainly. But it’s also a job you take while finishing your MFA. There is very little professional credibility in working full-time for a bookstore outside of the book industry.
Now, you and I and the lamppost know that this is ridiculous. Most people in bookselling are woefully over-educated, and in addition, have a strange skillset that makes them good at their job. We tend to know too much about a few select types of books (collections of 18th century love letters, Russian literature of the mid-1970s, books about the cultivation of oranges, etc). We also tend to know enough to get by while talking about almost any book, and enough to bullshit when talking about the rest. Some of this we learned while completing useless bachelor’s degrees, but the rest we obtained honestly, through hours and days and weeks of time logged behind the counter and on the floor, the way you learn any trade.
So I think we should have a certificate or something, I don’t know what. A school. A quality label. Whatever! Something that would make materially clear what we already know to be true. Would it be very hard to quantify what makes a good bookstore and a good bookseller? Probably. Would it lead to squabbling? Almost certainly. But it’d be worth it, I think.
This is all scrabble-dash, though. What do you think? Would people be reassured to see a pretty certificate in a frame when they walked in the shop? Could it lead to a greater awareness of the greatest asset of the indie bookseller—knowledge—which currently does not seem to resonate with the wider public? Discuss.