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June 30, 2011

Against the bestseller list

publishing's wrong numbers - bookforum.com / current issue
The best-seller list functions, in essence, as a restraint of trade, a visible hand that crushes the life out of the literary marketplace. If one were to magically eliminate every form of the list, in print and online, as well as all those best-seller tables in Barnes & Noble, what would happen? People would spend more time browsing a bookstore’s stock, they would skim a page or two of various interesting-looking titles, and eventually they would plunk down their twenty dollars. In short, they would actively engage with a greater portion of our literary culture. Customers might even discuss their tastes with the shop’s owner or staff, who would actually recommend a few appropriate titles. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues might also suggest beloved novels, biographies, and poetry collections. Without a best-seller list, authors would compete on something like a level playing field, while readers would buy the books that spoke most meaningfully to their particular interests and tastes rather than settling for the one-size-fits-all titles found in the back pages of the New York Times Book Review. After all, done right, publishing really ought to be a craps game: Win some, lose some. Serious editors hope to bring out books they can be proud of, which means taking a chance on works that seem original and fresh. Yet all too often, today’s publishing houses prefer to stick with sure things, investing heavily in a backlist of Safe Brand Names. Pay the half-million advance to Tom Clancy and his latest coauthor (who does the actual writing), and there’s virtually no chance of losing. But where’s the rush, the excitement, of taking a gamble on a new voice? Long ago, Clancy’s one great book, The Hunt for Red October, was brought out by the Naval Institute Press. Some editor at NIP actually believed in a thriller written by an unknown and middle-aged insurance salesman. Now, corporate handlers believe in the Clancy name. . . .

Photo Gallery: The Hemingway lookalike contest

SLOPPY JOE'S BAR - KEY WEST, FLORIDA

June 28, 2011

The School by Lavie Tidhar

This is a solid short story that takes the racial and sex biases of sci-fi to task. The Story They Wouldn’t Publish -- Lavie Tidhar
There had been another boy at the school, called Ender, but he’d attacked and seriously hurt and in at least one case we knew of killed one of the other boys, and they finally had to put him down, though he kept protesting, the day they came for him, that it wasn’t his fault. No-one wanted to be put down at the school. They bred us very carefully, lines of genetic lineage, great-great-grandparents and parents all down the generations selected by the board and certified and mated to produce us. If we were an aberration we were put down and our progenitors were mated again, to try and create a better version. My earliest memory is of white men in white coats holding clipboards, examining me. They measured my skull and prodded me with thick pink fingers and made careful notes. There was a war coming, they kept saying, and we had to be prepared. Because of aliens. # White people are better than brown people and white people of Nordic extraction are better than dirty-white people like the Italians or the Irish. When I grew up I learnt there had been factions amongst the Teachers and that one faction had tried, over centuries, to breed a new kind of human, blending African and Jewish genetic lines–“to mix the African’s physical prowess with the Jew’s intellectual power”, I think it says that in the original notes. But the project was disbanded and all the samples destroyed, and now they only breed us out of good white stock–the best kind. # . . .
Click through to read the rest.

Raymond Chandler explains the rules of noir

This is quoted within a larger piece that outlines how Game of Thrones is a noir masquerading as fantasy. At least in the first book. Game of Thrones and Raymond Chandler | Overthinking It
The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the fingerman for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of moneymaking, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practising; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.