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Archive for February, 2011

Readers, where are we headed?

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Wondering about books…….

What does the impending demise of Borders mean for other stores, and for the book industry? First, though Borders’ executives say they can keep going, their creditors believe otherwise. Borders is closing 200 stores (5 in metro Atlanta) and its ability to add new stock is diminishing. So will book-buyers head for their local independent — as many of us hope — or to Barnes & Noble, the surviving big chain operation? Or will everyone fold their tents and get online for Amazon?

Wish I knew. But the larger question is really what’s about to happen to books in general. Is the physical book yielding to its digital cousin? The rapid growth of e-readers like the Kindle and ipad and other devices suggests this phenomenon is happening now. Publishers are realizing this and trying to figure out how to best sell their product in coming years (and they’d better figure it out quickly while we still have books around us).

I’ve always been adamant about the primary of the physical book. Until I got a couple of electronic devices for Christmas. Now I’m not so sure. The convenience of reading a 900-page biography of Georgia Washington on a tiny Kindle rather than the six-pound book is unquestioned, especially if you’re traveling. In other words, technology is changing the book business so fast it’s hard for anyone — including publishers, authors and bookstores — to keep up must less stay ahead of what’s happening.

And yet — at the well-organized Savannah Book Festival in mid-February, thousands of people celebrated authors, bought books and in general had a blast with this “old-fashioned” technology: a real, live book. It was fun to see and to be involved with, and also a bit reassuring, though it is awfully easy to get complacent about where all of this may be headed.

Any thoughts you want to share on this topic? Your forecast is surely as good as anyone else’s, and I’d love to know where you think we’re going.

Good Bye, Reynolds Price

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I’m embarrassed to be discovering this news nearly a month late, but perhaps there are others like me who will find themselves shocked and deeply saddened at the death of Reynolds Price in January. He was one of our finest writers, and I was honored to be able to call him a good acquaintance, a man I had the opportunity to visit and interview on many occasions. 

From his remarkable debut novel “A long and Happy Life” in 1962 through the three dozen books he published in a prolific lifetime, Reynolds Price held a prominent place on the American literary stage. He published 13 novels as well as short story collections, plays, essays, memoirs, reviews and translations, an output of work accomplished at the highest levels. 

And yet Reynolds Price was always accessible. He was a teacher at Duke University for most of his life, a mentor to many students and a man who shared his public literary role with readers. To me, who encountered him as a book editor, he was invariably generous with his time and thoughts, and later, with his limited energy. He was paraplegic for the last 25 or so years of his life after suffering a spinal tumor. He accommodated himself to that, writing courageously and compassionately about his ordeal in his powerful 1994 book “A Whole New Life.”

He was native North Carolinian who lived and wrote of his home for his entire life. His writing relfected his classical interests, but it was often nestled quite comfortably into the language of the people of North Carolina. His translations showed us one side of him; his remembrance of his youth as a mountain camp counselor showed readers another.

His died January 20th at the age of 77, of complications from a heart attack, according to The New York Times. When I found his obituary, by accident, I felt a heavy weight descend on my heart. He left us a legacy that we will long celebrate, but no legacy can make up for the loss of the man himself. A very brave man, a very gifted writer. I grieve for all who cared for him.

Honoring American Writers

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Imagine a museum dedicated to American writers. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? After all, we’ve already got museums devoted to natural history, modern art, classic automobiles, string, bottles, crocodiles and dust. I’m surprised we don’t have one celebrating writers. Yeah, I know, who reads anymore, but that’s a subject for another blog. A lot of states have created halls of fame for their own authors; we have one in Georgia, though for mysterious reasons it remains largely a secret from the public.

The topic of a writers museum comes up because there’s a search underway now to find a home for such a museum. A group called the American Writers Museum Foundation apparently has been searching around the country for a suitable place to locate this an institution. They seem to be close to settling on Chicago. I wonder if they tried Atlanta (or more appropriately Decatur, the center of Georgia’s literary life)?

Anyhow, the leaders of the foundation have taken note of the Windy City’s considerable literary resources — the nation’s largest library system and ties to a wealth of writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Saul Bellow, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, etc. — and have already met with a delegation from Chicago. Whatever their decision, I wish them well. Honoring writers is a matter always overdue; we’ve had a lacrosse museum for many years before we’ve gotten around to celebrating writers.

And finally, the U.S. Poet Laureate W.D. Merwin thinks it’s a good idea too. In his words, “The literate world has long known and prized American writers since the generation of Emerson and Thoreau. Whitman and Emily Dickinson have influenced poets and readers in English and in translation into many languages. The great current continues, and a museum honoring and portraying American writing would be an honor to the suffering and vision from which our literature came.”