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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, July 30, 2010 2:15 pm
Weeklings: Apocalypse Amazon, Luxury Books, and Grawlixes
Posted by: Keir Graff

In “Before the Flood,” Margaret Atwood describes what made her go back to the dysopian future in “The Year of the Flood” (by Guy Dixon, The Globe and Mail):

One of the things people are working on now, and were working on in 2001 when I was actually halfway through Oryx and Crake, is the ability to create diseases. We can do that now. You can create a disease to which nobody has any immunity. The only reason people have not let them loose yet is that nobody has any immunity.

Makes you wonder how she sleeps at night. And, speaking of apocalypse: publishing. In “The Trouble with Amazon,” Colin Robinson notes, correctly, that “Amazon has not grown to where it is today by being touchy-feely.” But aside, from anecdotes about Amazon’s “bullying,” he also touches on a fascinating point that counters those exuberant adherents of long-tail theology:

Many would argue that the efflorescence of new publishing that Amazon has encouraged can only be a good thing, that it enriches cultural diversity and expands choice. But that picture is not so clear: a number of studies have shown that when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming. In this situation people often respond by retreating into the security of what they already know.

I don’t know about the studies he cites, but this makes sense intuitively. Much as I love the idea of niche people being able to find their niches, I do think general readers get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice we have these days. But Ruth Franklin was ready with a counterpoint. For The New Republic, she writes “In Defense of Amazon“:

Before it appeared on the scene, if you lived in a part of the country that happened not to be served by a great independent bookstore, you were out of luck when it came to getting books other than bestsellers. As a child growing up in suburban Baltimore—not exactly a backwater!—I felt keenly the lack of ready access to the books that I wanted. (Remember the joke of a selection at your local mall’s Waldenbooks?)

Moving on, in the Globe and Mail again, Russell Smith muses on an even rarer kind of book–the kind, I’m pretty sure, that is not available on Amazon. “Can your coffee table support a 37-kilogram book?” he asks.

Kraken Opus, a publisher already known for producing impossibly priced picture books about sports and sports icons, is about to start selling a book about Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar that will include one page that is manufactured from a mix of paper pulp and Tendulkar’s own blood.

This has nothing to do with apocalypse, publishing, or Amazon, but I was fascinated by this history of the grawlix (you may know it as an obscenicon).

And, finally, for one more fun picture, you’ve just got to check out the electronic home library, as envisioned in 1959.


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