Sunday, March 07, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) 10: Dave Eggers, WorldBook Day, James Joyce

Long review and interview with Dave Eggers about his recent book and about McSweeneys (Observer):
Well, you need to read Zeitoun. All I can tell you is that it is like something out of Kafka. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) should have been there only to help. But its absorption by the Department of Homeland Security, itself a creation of George Bush following 9/11, seemed somehow to have muddled priorities. As hundreds of Americans drowned, the people at the Department of Homeland Security were still worrying obsessively about the many and various ways in which a terrorist might seek to "exploit" a hurricane.

Eggers found Zeitoun via his Voice of Witness project, a non-profit venture which produces books in which ordinary people tell their stories (the first book in the series told the stories of victims of miscarriages of justice in America; Zeitoun first appeared in a volume devoted to Katrina; the next will be about Zimbabwe). "A few weeks after the storm, we started working with local interviewers, sending them into Atlanta and Houston, and all the places people had fled. I was struck by Zeitoun's story, so the next time I was in New Orleans I met the family. I was angry about the war on terror and the suspension of all sense of decency. This seemed like the absolute nadir of all the Bush policies and here was this family squeezed between all these distorted priorities. We talked, and in the first hour it was clear that there was so much to say." Eggers the novelist found a pleasing watery symmetry in Zeitoun's story; his brother, Mohammed, had been a world-class swimmer, a famous man back home in Syria. The family came from originally from Arwad, an island. An island, off Syria? Eggers had never heard of such a place. He was hooked.
What's more, when it comes to memoir, the line between truth and fiction is, for him, an agonising one and perhaps best avoided. When the James Frey row blew up – it was discovered that Frey's "memoir" about his drugs hell, A Million Little Pieces, was largely fiction – Eggers received at least 100 emails asking him to comment. "I am obsessed with explaining my processes, in my first book, and elsewhere. I didn't weigh in because I hadn't read the book. But I felt for everybody. For him, for his readers, for Oprah – I'm a fan of hers and what she does for books. He stretched things, but you can read the book how you want, and that's how it's read now. With a grain of salt." Sometimes, fiction takes you closer to truth. "Tim O'Brien's book about Vietnam, The Things They Carried, has won every award, is studied in college and is considered to be definitive. But it's fiction." He sighs. "Oh, I'm always sad at book controversies!"
Victoria Barnsley on World Book Day (Observer):

But arguably these gadgets will be serving an audience of existing readers. What interests me in particular is the ability to reach new readers through new devices or clever ways of getting content to existing devices. On Boxing Day 2008, Nintendo launched their 100 Classic Books collection for those who had just received a DS for Christmas. And they were overwhelmed by the take-up. It was one of their top-selling products of the season. Now – who would have thought that teenagers would be huddled together round their screens reading Oliver Twist? Not me for one. So there is huge potential if we provide the right content to get young audiences enthused about great stories.

No doubt those same younger audiences will devise many clever new ways to consume content, to read books, to view movies. But there is one thing that remains constant for me and connects us back to our forebears sitting around fires at the beginning of time – the fascination with storytelling, the desire to learn about ourselves and the world through the power of the imagination. The plethora of new ways to express those thoughts can only enrich this age-old culture.

It's true that World Book Day in the UK has always had a huge emphasis, rightly so, on children. We know that if they catch the bug young, children will become lifelong readers. But for those who have missed out on the opportunity, the Quick Reads series launched in 2006 has been a great success. Aimed at reaching out to the millions of adults in the UK with reading difficulties and the one-third of the British population that never picks up a book, they are written by bestselling authors for both emergent readers and for readers wanting a short, pacy read. And research shows that once they have acquired the habit of reading, they never lose it.

Joyce's Finnegans Wake has been re-edited (Observer):

Seventy years on, scholars Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon have reached the conclusion of 30 years of textual analysis. Poring over the tens of thousands of pages of notes, drafts, typescripts and proofs that make up, in Joyce's own words, his "litters from aloft, like a waast wizzard all of whirlwords", they have made 9,000 "minor yet crucial" amendments and corrections to the book, from misspellings to misplaced phrases, ruptured syntax and punctuation marks.

"I never thought I'd see this day," said Rose. "The complexity of the texts and the complexity of the social situation meant it was very, very difficult indeed, but we stuck with it and we got there. There were 20,000 pages of manuscript, and beyond that 60 notebooks, and beyond that it extended out into thousands of different volumes. It extends out and out and out – what Joyce was doing was distilling in and in and in. To reach the text we had to follow him back, and it's a lot harder to go backwards than forwards."

Author David Shields making the case for literary "appropriation" (Boston Globe):

“Reality Hunger” has a number of grievances and goals. Shields, the author of nine previous books, is sick of the traditional novel and calls for a “blurring” of genres, championing what he calls the “lyric essay” as the emerging vehicle of “chunks of ‘reality,’ ” emotional immediacy, and meaningful contemplation. In addition, the author praises the self-referential, ironic, and irreverent as seen in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” karaoke, Sarah Silverman’s stand-up routines, “Borat,” and other contemporary cultural productions.

He also makes a passionate case for the literary “appropriation” of the words of others (as in musical “sampling”). Indeed, he praises plagiarism, and more than two-thirds of “Reality Hunger” itself is unoriginal material, a collection of others’ words. The lawyers at Random House insisted that Shields cite the sources at the end of the book. The “author” reluctantly complies but advises the reader to cut these pages out.

From the twitter:

NY Law School Professor James Grimmelmann has self-archived "The Amended Google Books Settlement is Still Exclusive" in SSRN

This brief essay argues that the proposed settlement in the Google Books case, although formally non-exclusive, would have the practical effect of giving Google an exclusive license to a large number of books. The settlement itself does not create mechanisms for Google's competitors to obtain licenses to orphan books and competitors are unlikely to be able to obtain similar settlements of their own. Recent amendments to the settlement do not change this conclusion.
Project to develop "Open Bibliographic Data" (OpenKnowledge)

In the past few weeks there have been a number of developments related to opening up bibliographic metadata. At the end of January we blogged about CERN opening up their library data. Just recently Ghent University Library have published their data under an open licenseugent_biblio and ugent_catalog) - which is excellent news! (see

In the first instance this group will aim to:

  1. Act as a central point of reference and support for people interested in open bibliographic data
  2. Identify relevant projects and practices. Promote best practices as well as legal and technical standards for making data open (such as the Open Knowledge Definition).
  3. Act as a hub for the development and maintenance of low cost, community driven projects related to open bibliographic data.

Visual Books - Love the London Underground world map. (NYTimes)

Heroes of “This Book Is Overdue” are resolutely high-tech, engaged in “activist and visionary forms of library work.” (NYTimes)

And Manchester United are top of the table this morning.

1 comment:

Jorn said...

More on the new Finnegans Wake: