Posts Tagged ‘bureaucracy’

These cats are “sitting” on a goldmine!

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Dear readers!  I am just back from Tel Aviv, where I went to interview some important world literary-historical cats.  They are literally sitting on some invaluable manuscripts!  Neither they nor their caretakers (the daughters of Max Brod’s late secretary) have been especially forthcoming to the press.  But that didn’t stop me and my colleague Avi Steinberg from creepily lurking around their front yard for like an hour.

Because I am a professional and think of everything, I had an artificial mouse in my pocket, with which I was able to attract the attention of one of the archival interns:

Although this “opening gambit” of the mouse enjoyed a certain self-contained success, it failed to spark the lively debate I had been anticipating about the legal and cultural battle surrounding Kafka’s legacy. Rather, the intern seemed somehow unable to move beyond what one might call the pourparlers, so that really all I learned from our encounter was his position on artificial mice.  (pro)


Reply to T. Mercer

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

I was so happy, entertained, and confused to receive a response from pro-Kindle Amazon reviewer T. Mercer regarding my last post (Kindle Schmindle), that I decided to answer as a new post.

Dear T. Mercer,

Thank you for your kind message, and for your interest in The Possessed.  I was deeply gratified to learn of your willingness to pay $15 to read it electronically.  As it happens, I don’t have an electronic version to send you.  The last few rounds of editing are done on paper proofs that are literally sent back and forth via UPS.  In the end, the marked-up proofs are shipped to Ghana to be retyped by orphans.  So if you really want to “cut through all this middle-man bullshit,” you’d probably better get in touch with those orphans.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about whether I would send Kindle fans an electronic copy if I had one… and I’m really not sure!  I don’t know who is right and who is wrong in the standoff between Amazon and Macmillan (which owns FSG)—from what I see, it’s two huge corporations pursuing their huge corporate interests, far from the realm of ordinary human existences like yours and mine.

So let’s leave that out.

In general, of course, I’m in favor of books being made available electronically and at a low price, and it seems that in the future this will happen according to the model you suggest, with authors releasing material directly to the public.  But, the state of the world today being what it is, I’m actually really grateful that FSG published my book—and I’m super-grateful to my super-editor Lorin and his super-assistant Georgia and the super-publicist Brian, and the numerous super copy-editors, who are all such great people and worked so hard to make The Possessed as good as it could be, and to get it out there.  And if you and I cut out the middleman, what do they get? I mean, guess I could give them their cut myself, but I’m a writer, not an HR manager—I don’t have the time, training, or temperament to go around dividing up checks.

Furthermore, I’m also grateful to Amazon for selling my book under the list price.  (I am disappointed that they’ve now hiked it up to $10.20, which can still get you a single Brita replacement filter with $.04 left over—and needless to say I would love The Possessed to be on Kindle—but still, a $10 paperback is not bad at all.)  But, at the same time, I’m also definitely in favor of independent bookstores, and I know they can’t afford to give $5 discounts whenever they feel like it.  So maybe I’m wrong to send people to buy a cheap copy on Amazon (which giant sinister corporation now gives me 6.5% of the price of every book sold through the URL on this website, so I’m extra-compromised!).

In the end I decided it’s OK to leave the question of Amazon vs. independent up to individual readers to work out between their ideals and their pocketbooks. But of course if I go around selling the book myself, that’s bad for independent booksellers and Amazon!

In short, T. Mercer, the more I think about it, the more I realize the only thing I’m really sure of in this mess is that you should definitely read Oblomov. I notice it’s available in multiple Kindle editions.

Всего лучшего!

help ghana orphans

Unreimbursed work-related expenses

Monday, September 21st, 2009

If there’s one thing about the writing life that recommends itself to young people, it’s the limited capital outlay.  You don’t need to pay salaries, rent a recording studio, or make weekly trips to Denver… but does that mean it’s all about sitting back and watching the money roll in?   Alas.  Today I bring you a cautionary tale about how easy it is to wind up with between $817–$1,067 work-related expenses.

It started one day in August, when I received a notice for a missed UPS delivery.  The only package I was expecting at that time was the first uncensored translation of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle, which the publishers had been trying to mail me for some weeks, as part of a campaign to get people to write Solzhenitsyn profiles:

Although Solzhenitsyn died last August, the following individuals are available for interviews: Solzhenitsyn’s widow, Natalia (who made headlines last month when she rebuked Vladimir Putin during a meeting with him); the author’s son, pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who is musical director for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia; and Edward E. Ericson, Jr., the noted Solzhenitsyn scholar. They can discuss:

· Where Solzhenitsyn fits in to the great Russian literary realist tradition bequeathed by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky;

· The two decades he spent as an exile in Vermont, stripped of his Russian citizenship.  How he lived in such fear of the KGB that he built a barb wire fence around his home;

· The differences between Stalin’s regime and the Russian leadership of today—and what might happen if Solzhenitsyn were writing today;

· How he damaged his reputation in the West by championing Christianity and railing against American pop culture in a rambling commencement speech at Harvard;

· The “censored” portions of IN THE FIRST CIRCLE, which included suggestions that Stalin had been a double agent, and that the Soviet Union should not possess the atomic bomb;

· And much more.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1974)

Being overdue on three deadlines, I am obliged to leave the Solzhenitsyn-profiling to other and better C-list writers, whom I certainly wish a pleasant phone chat with the musical director of the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra on the subject of AS’s famous “rambling speech” of 1978.


Merci, chouettes!

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

This Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful to all the erudite readers of My Life and Thoughts: to SW Fosca, for the edifying gloss on müteferrika (sounds to me like İbrahim was the Ottoman chief of morphology!); to Webreader7, for sending me a second-century-BC Chinese poem called Rhyme-Prose on the Owl (written by Chia-yi, a scholar-bureaucrat-poet who had been exiled “to the south” and was in this sense a second-century-BC Chinese müteferrika); to LK, RMcC, and Tara, for their kind and witty comments; and to Tom Hansen, for identifying the previously unidentified bearded guy as… Rodin photographed by Nadar! Vous êtes tous chouettes!

I leave you with my favorite couplets from “Rhyme-Prose on the Owl”:

Profound, subtle, illimitable
Who can finish describing it?

Who is that bearded man?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

In my capacity as a relatively obscure writer, people come to me with all kinds of questions. “Will I enjoy Infinite Jest?” they ask me. Or: “Does Turkey belong in the EU?” Sometimes, they send me pictures of bearded men to identify—for example, this one, from the cover of a Korean book about IQ:

I have no idea who he is.

The other day I received another bearded man image, from n+1 web editor Charles Petersen who, when not web-editing n+1, also works at the New York Review of Books. This bearded man was made of bronze, and was located in Sahaflar Çarşısı (the book market near the Istanbul Grand Bazaar), and the NYRB had chosen his likeness to illustrate an essay by Orhan Pamuk, titled “My Turkish Library.”

Pamuk’s essay appears in the December 18 holiday issue… which I already received by FedEx, in recognition of how I successfully identified the bronze man as İbrahim Müteferrika (d. 1745), who ran the first Ottoman Turkish printing press using movable Arabic type! Based on Müteferrika’s achievements, Bob Silver even instructed the editors to “make room for an extra large caption”:

But even though the caption was extra large, it still couldn’t fit all the interesting information about İbrahim Müteferrika, so it’s a good thing I have a blog.