Archive for January, 2009

From The Guardian online:

By Chloe Schama

” This past week, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) released a sunny report stating that literary reading was on the rise. According to the NEA’s survey, the number of Americans who read novels, short stories, poetry or plays in the past year has increased, from 46.7% of the population in 2002 to 50.2% in 2008. The absolute number of literary readers is higher than ever, with percentage increases among almost all age groups and across a range of ethnic populations.

There are a number of reasons why the good cheer rings hollow and sounds more like an attempt to place a self-congratulatory cap on programmes like Poetry Out Loud and The Big Read – initiated under the soon-to-be departing chairman of the NEA – than an honest reflection of the state of literary culture. The study focuses almost exclusively on the genre of literary fiction – perhaps because that’s where the NEA found encouraging results. The overall percentage of the US population who read a book for pleasure – either a work of fiction or non-fiction – actually declined in the same period. And the percentage of literary readers is still far below its 1982 level (almost 57%), when measures were first initiated.

Shakeups in the publishing industry over the past few months present an even more dramatic indication of the rocky state of the literary world. At the end of November 2008, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, know for publishing authors such as Philip Roth, declared a temporary halt of acquisitions. Is this a sensible business strategy in troubling times? More like a sign of desperation. “I cannot conceive of ever saying, ‘We’re not buying more books,” an executive of Penguin Group USA told the New York Times. “You might as well put up a sign saying, ‘We’re out of business.'” December saw waves of layoffs and salary freezes affecting some of the biggest names in the business, including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster. The trend has continued into the new year. Just last week, Knopf Doubleday Publishing and Crown Publishing Group underwent a major re-structuring and a round of layoffs.

The revolving door in the New York publishing world doesn’t just mean shorter lunches and less lavish displays at Book Expo America, the publishing industry’s premier convention. Booksellers are having trouble keeping their heads above water as well. Overall book sales were down 7% last October, compared with the same period in 2007. In November, book sales fell 13% in the month. Further disheartening news descended last week when the private equity firm Pershing Square Capital Management, which held almost a 12% stake in Barnes & Noble, dumped all of its Barnes & Noble stock. Holiday sales at Borders were down almost 12% compared to the previous year.

Even die-hard literary enthusiasts are showing signs of fatigue in the midst of all the bleak news. Back in the spring of 2007, when the Georgia newspaper the Atlanta Journal Constitution fired its books editor, local and national figures set up a petition, wrote editorials and furiously campaigned to show support for the newspaper’s literary coverage. Although the editor was not re-hired (she moved on to Atlanta magazine), the attention created a lively debate about the value of literature in the community. This month, however, the newspaper renamed its “Arts and Books” section “Arts and Leisure” without much obvious or immediate objection.

All this is not to say that the publishing industry and its associated partners should give up the fight. While its data might have been cherry-picked, and its overall message misleading, you have to admire the NEA for holding out hope amidst all the doom and gloom. But more than optimism, the literary world needs realism.

For me, the most striking part of the NEA’s report was not the prominent statistics about literary reading, but the almost buried facts about online reading. Almost 15% of US adults read literature online according to the NEA’s study. With even higher rates of online literary reading among young people, this seems like an area ripe for long-term growth, especially since we already knew (before the NEA study) that more than one out of every two books bought in the US is fiction. If ever there were a time when people might appreciate an escape from reality, now would seem to be it. The second largest group of book purchasers after those in professional and managerial careers are the retired and the unemployed. But the publishing industry can’t afford to indulge in escapism. It needs pragmatism.”

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Posted: January 9, 2009 in Uncategorized

From The Atlantic:

“End Times”

” But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if TheNew York Times goes out of business—like, this May?

It’s certainly plausible. Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company’s debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper’s future doesn’t look good.”

Read more …

It seems like this is happening all at once. The book industry may morph into an all-digital format, now the newspapers are having seemingly insuperable financial crises.

Many of them are on the brink of folding. The end of the “Books” sections coming rapid-fire last year were just an inkling of what’s to come. Only a very few papers kept a separate section for books; many dropped it entirely or incorporated it into a general culture section, winnowing reviews down to a bare minimum.

Here in Chicago, the Tribune has adopted what many feel (myself included) is an ugly, irritating new format, supposedly to “save money.”

We cancelled our subscription to the Trib, after roughly 12 years of subscribing. The new  format was so abominable we elected to bail, though our monthly subscription rate was incredibly cheap – having subscribed during a particularly good subscription drive.

A young man from the Trib called, begging us to come back, and my husband minced no words telling him how disappointed we were with the recent drop in quality, as well as the frankly ugly, tabloid-style look of the paper. The young man replied, “We’re going to change it back within a couple of weeks.” He also said subscribers were leaving in droves. It’s been more than a month since he called. Still no change. Hmm. Was he told to lie to former subscribers or was he making it up on the fly, for the commission? With “improvements” like this it’s not exactly going to save too many newspapers.

Pretty soon there’ll be nothing left in print, the way the world is going. Instead of bemoaning that, maybe it’s just time to adjust to the idea. It’s not like we can stand up against the rising tide at this point. It seems that time’s come and gone – a long, long time ago.

If you have a chance, read the full Atlantic article. It’s very enlightening.

So much for free time.

Posted: January 7, 2009 in Uncategorized

Starting  January 20th and running through early June I won’t have time for much more than reading, eating, sleeping (possibly) and breathing. I ordered the textbooks for the spring semester. Guess what I needed?:

For Multicultural Literature of Children and Young Adults there are 19 books, including the text book, thank God. For each of the 18 children’s/young adult books (one of them Huckleberry Finn – possibly the longest on the list) I’ll need to write a 1 – 1.5 page reader response report. A proper one with required categories. One. Every. Week.

For Information Literacy Pedagogy I only have two required texts. However, there are also four “recommended” books I haven’t bought. I’m biting my fingernails wondering how necessary they are, and if I should shell out the $ 30 a pop (cheapest price for each, checking Amazon.com and the university bookstore). Should I? Must I?

And, finally, for Collection Management there is only one text. However, that usually means lots and lots of supplemental reading as well as papers out the wazoo. No professor worth anything lets students get off with reading just one book without putting them through the wringer.

I took three courses over the fall semester, too. At times I cruised along just fine, but at others I was snatching myself bald. The key is pacing, and staying just ahead of the syllabi; as soon as you start falling behind on your work it’s the equivalent of a hamster running feverishly on a wheel. Sometimes you never catch up.

Fortunately, I have a very fast reading speed. Unfortunately, 18 BOOKS. Eighteen weekly PAPERS.

I do love reading (duh), but it feels like cheating having my husband perform most of the household tasks (bless him!) while I’m holed up with fiction books. But I get over that fairly quickly. The big downside is my children spend five months feeling like they’re living in a single-parent household. I become the mom who has no time – the inaccessible lady in the ivory tower. You know she’s there, but you never see her.

Taking three courses means I have homework every, single night, plus weekend days. I become a stranger in my own home. At the end of last semester my kids saw me and wondered, “Who is that lady walking around our house? She looks vaguely familiar.”

That’s the price I pay for wanting my MLIS as quickly as possible, but I’m also a little worried about sullying my perfect 4.0 GPA taking on a full course load while also working 25 hours/week and having a family at home. Just a little nutty.

When I started the program they told me nobody finishes in just two years. At the rate I’m going, I will, setting a standard that should effectively make future MLIS students hate my guts.

Two weeks and counting until classes start. I’d better make the best of them.

December was one hectic month, between finishing up the grad school semester, the holidays, and my daughter’s December birthday. I’m hoping to be much better about posting in the New Year. Consider that a resolution!

I had a great holiday, a full, relaxing two weeks at home with the family. We played a lot of games, worked on putting together a puzzle (though we didn’t meet our goal of finishing by the end of break) and ate way, way too much. In short, a typical holiday was had.

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday season, whatever you celebrate or don’t. Happy New Year! I look forward to sharing much more with you in 2009.

Lisa