Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Stacked and Packin' : Alive & Well in the Land of Books

Books, books, everywhere you look! Stacked to the rafters, high on the hip; on the front page of the New York Times, in high-rotation ads on Fox TV, in obits and litblogs and AP Wire postings. Suddenly the book biz has a personality again. Watch out, Teach for America: you'll have to fight a lot harder for those young Yale Dartmouth & Amherst grads next year.

Here's Judith Regan announcing her move to Los Angeles, promising Left Coast culture a shot in the arm--and my favorite kettle-calling-pot comment, from an unidentified Hollywood exec, who said, in the Daily News:
"Judith has succeeded by going for the lowest common denominator...While that makes her a standout in the book-publishing industry, it's not really so special out here."
Here's Pamela Anderson giving a boost to our collective silhouette in STACKED, the sit-com (premiering tonight) that the Calgary Sun describes as "FRASIER with boobs" [Headline: "Stacked not a bust"] and showing Middle America just how much fun reading can be. Speaking of fun, producer Steve Levitan compares (perhaps optimistically) STACKED's potential for romantic high-jinx with CHEERS's Sam-and-Diane [with Elon Gold in the "Sam" slot], and admits he had another sexy, literate, laff-riot couple in mind:
"I thought a lot about the Marilyn Monroe-Arthur Miller dynamic when I was writing this," Levitan said [in the NYTimes]. "Here was this blond bombshell who surprised a lot of people by being with this New York intellectual and vice versa. That's always been a fascinating relationship to a lot of people."
Here's Saul Bellow, resplendent in death, coming across not as egghead-genius but as hip-cat Jimmy Stewart, inspiring financial brokers across three continents to whisper a single word of investment advice: "TWEED." [Methinks I see a t.v. movie on the horizon... Bellow, Hunter S. Thompson, Arthur Miller--A Bookish Brat Pack of the Dead, with a made-for-t.v. amalgam of Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem as protofeminist sidekick.]

Here's the launch of the Litblog Co-op, offering at least the possibility that serious, unhyped literature isn't doomed in the marketplace.

Here's the Iowa Writers' Workshop conducting an American Idol-like search for a new director to replace the legendary Frank Conroy, bringing beloved-but-not-bestselling writers Richard Bausch, Jim Shepard and Ben Marcus an extra measure of attention before ultimately selecting Lan Samantha Chang.

Here's Harvey and Bob, given the opportunity to slip free, blameless, of the book trade, and chosing not to.

Here's Jonathan Burnham and Rob Weisbach and Carole Baron and Ivan Held and Lee Boudreaux and Jennifer Hershey taking on new gigs, new challenges, and sending an energizing ripple through the industry.

Smirk if you will--and the opportunities are numerous--but can this really be a bad thing? Sure, Pamela Anderson's co-stars in STACKED are sure to be chubby, cross-eyed dorks. Sure, if there's reason to celebrate Judith Regan's move west, it probably has more to do with the notion of "addition by subtraction" than with culture per se. And--sure--the shifting of leadership players of late doesn't address, in any way, the more fundamental concerns of the industry.

But you can't have everything. Meanwhile, there's always this low-tech 19th century truism that is no less a rallying cry today, nor any less true:

Change is good.


Mary Stella said...

I think that we who love books owe a huge thank you to the first store that decided to add in a coffee shop. When Borders opened in my town nine or ten years ago, the cafe and 'community activities' made the store a place for social gatherings. The whole atmosphere and experience of going to a bookstore got hip. Maybe those of us long out of college flashbacked to 'library dates'. I'm not sure. I only know that I've seen more people spend longer amounts of time with greater frequency AND spend more money in bookstores ever since.

TLG said...

Change IS good. Except when it's bad ;)

SO Stacked didn't suck? I'm surprised :)

I have to confess, Mary, I'm rebelling against the whole book store thing lately. My idea of a hot time is going to the library again :) Granted, I can't drink coffee while I look around, but there're less giggly teenage girls dressed in skimpy little outfits like prosti-tots. I've actually been waiting WEEKS for books to come in on-order from the library because the bookstore "culture" has become so out of control in this area. People who want to eat cake and drink lattes are pushing people who actually know how to READ out of the store.

Anonymous said...

Totally off-topic, but can anyone help with this:

I'm looking for ballpark figures regarding how many hardbacks you want to sell before the pub date given various advance amounts. That is, with my $10,000 advance, pre-selling 2,000 is quite good as the paperbacks will redeem me. And if I got a $50,000, I'd have to shoot for 20,000 hardbacks pre-sold, given the expected paperback sales. Anyone point me in the right direction?

Ami said...

I laughed, and then I laughed some more. Stacked was, as one reviewer has said...not unlike "Frasier with boobs."

I don't know if I'd say it's that witty, but I liked it. And I can just see the producer's phone ringing off the hook with publishers trying to get prime placement for their titles on the set.
Here's my review/rant:
OK, I admit it...

Sam said...

Yes, Regan's leaving NY for CA will raise the literary levels in both places.
Proof that it's not how you boink, but who you boink.

Mary Stella said...

TLG, I feel your pain, and still like strolling the book stacks, chai in hand. I live in the Florida Keys which has one chain store in our whole 120 mile island archipelago. The closest place to buy books (other than the supermarket) is a half-bookstore/half-health food store. Terrific people (I'd say that even if they didn't stock my book), but not a huge selection. When I go off the rock, I revel in the big bricks 'n mortar experience -- the smell of printed paper, the texture of covers, the enjoyment of pulling books off shelves to read the back cover blurbs or fly leaf. Let me gather a stack and find an empty seat where I can kick back and ogle my selections before heading for the cash register.
I might feel differently if I had to deal with the giggle/jiggle group. Then again, I'm thrilled that my teen nephews think going to bookstores is fun and will sit in front of shelves poring over books.

TLG said...

Mary, thanks for feeling my pain. It actually does help :) I'm not sure people know just how insane it makes me. I hate not being able to SIT and look at what I'm thinking of buying. Books're EXPENSIVE (especially in the quantity my husband and I usually purchase in) and I'd like to make sure I'm not getting crapola. Trying to actually CONCENTRATE... or God forbid... WRITE... *EEEKS* There's also the running into people I know thing. My sister's best friend saw me last time, and for the next hour I was regailed with her 19-yr-old tales of going to school in England--none of which actually involved schooling. Sometimes I dream of opening a 24 hr coffee/book joint that's so boring and square the teeny boppers won't think of crossing the threshold.

Anonymous said...

Yes, change is good, except when it's not.

Change may be good for the Lee Boudreauxs and Ivan Helds, if they move on to better places. Is it better for Random House that good people are forced or driven out?

Max, I am new to your blog, and I just read your piece on l.a.f.s. and it almost made me cry. I was moved by your love for the process, what you bring to it, and what it brings to you. But I also felt a helpless sadness because editors are getting less and less time with their books, and there is less time available for the copyediting and proofreading and manufacture. The type of care you take with a ms. and the care others take, all along the line, to produce a quality book is becoming increasingly impossible for editors and other staff. You said you like to allow a year before publication of a ms. If you are not being forced to shorten that to six months or even less, maybe I should come to work where you are. Where I am, we have to cut corners that shouldn't be cut in order to meet accelerated schedules. If we can produce one book in three months, we ought to be able to produce them all in three months, right? We are being run ragged and the craft of bookmaking--the part we enjoy--is being sacrificed.

Sorry for the rant. I wonder if there's a forum where publishing insiders can vent (anonymously) about the challenges of their industry, and maybe offer/get some sympathy and support? I think I could use something like that.

TLG said...

And it'd be really funny to read, too ;) Heck, I'd PAY to read that.

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A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."

PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."

PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."