In The Year 2000

Remember the hilarious bit that Conan O’Brien used to do on his pre-Tonight Show show called “In the year 2000…”? I think he still does it, but unfortunately for Conan, I cheat on Letterman for NO ONE, so I don’t know for sure. Anyway, the sketch always featured Conan and a sidekick predicting ridiculous and over-the-top circumstances that will happen in the “space age year,” 2000. (A personal favorite: In the year 2000, Ted Kennedy’s head will be placed on Mt. Rushmore. Not a statue… his actual head.)

These comically grim predictions weren’t so different from those given at a reading/panel I went to on Sunday at The Mysterious Bookshop (which is a really cute bookshop in downtown Manhattan that focuses on mystery and suspense novels). The reading portion of the event was by Vincent McCaffrey, who was promoting his new novel, Hound. The main character of the book is a book-lover of yore who has become highly skeptical of the future of books. Timely indeed.

During the panel discussion, called  “The Future of Bookselling,” but could have just as easily been named “Curmudgeony Old People vs. Idealistic Youth,” I saw that Vincent, a former bookseller, must have modeled his main character very much after himself. As intelligent as I found him, I must say, I did not agree with hardly anything he said. It was as if the invention of e-books were a personal betrayal, and the thing is, I know that other people probably feel this way too. Still, it’s hard not to write someone off as outdated or (at best) sentimental, when he begins a discussion, led by the fabulous Stephanie Anderson of WORD Bookstore, with this question: Will books even exist in the future? – cue La Bamba chanting, in the year 2000… in the year 2000…

Luckily the two younger booksellers, Jessica Stockton, who just opened Greenlight Bookstore, and Christine Onorati, who owns WORD, answered Vincent’s question with a resounding YES! As an optimistic youth, I was reassured, but also disgusted that his question was even posed in the first place. What you do you all think? If e-books take over physical books completely (which, by the way, won’t be in any our lifetimes anyway), does that make them not books? I still like buying CDs, but if I download all of the same songs off of iTunes, I wouldn’t say I haven’t bought the album.

The panel continued to discuss independent book-selling. Living in New York, as I imagine in many places on either coast, it’s sometimes easy to forget that most people might have access to a Barnes and Noble (physical access, that is), but may not have an independent bookstore. Still, and remember that I’m one of the idealist youth, I’m not convinced that other parts of the country wouldn’t support indies, so where are they? One panelist brought up a good point that many people like the idea of independent stores, but their economy simply can’t support them, so they end up going to Wal-Mart or B&N. Non-coasters out there, if you exist, please give me your thoughts or let me know what your favorite independent bookstore is.

The older booksellers remained convinced that indies just won’t make it in our crazy technological world. Now that B&N has an e-reader, there’s no stopping them on all fronts. But, the young remain hopeful and as Jessica from Greenlight noted, booksellers are going to start seeing many different methods of bookselling and publishing. What’s important in order to stay relevant is to cater to as many outlets as possible until there is something resembling an industry standard.

In other words, prepare for chaos. Because it’s Y2K all over again.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect them to have the answers because it’s impossible to know how to deal with something that hasn’t happened yet. The important thing is that they are thinking ahead even if they can’t actually plan ahead yet.

I don’t pretend to know any answers either, but I do know that the end won’t be nigh if we just prepare for the change to come. And I can’t wait for the day when, after spending countless nights in our bunkers with duct tape and bottled water, awaiting impending disaster, we wake up and realize we’re all still alive – and more importantly, so are books.

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Playing Favorites

Everyone has their favorite author, favorite book, favorite genre, or even their favorite opening line. I’m not talking about grand and often pointless debates of what is “the greatest.” I believe that a person can simultaneously recognize that his or her favorite might not necessarily be the “best” of something. (e.g., my favorite Harry Potter book is #3 while it can be argued that either #4 or #6 are “the best.”)

All that aside, I’ve been thinking about favorite paragraphs. These are the paragraphs that I just had to read over again immediately, and then again even after I’ve moved on. Here is my list, which I won’t call my “all-time” list because I never know what I might read tomorrow.

Favorite opening paragraph: “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson – accomplishes everything an opening should: establishes the narrator (who happens to be my favorite type of narrator, the wise-beyond-her-years, outcast youth) while letting us in on the darkly comic story we’re in for. 

Favorite ending paragraph: “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon – like most things Chabon writes, this particular ending makes you wonder how one person can create such a brilliant group of sentences, all at one time. 

Favorite general paragraph: In which Raymond Carver describes a hideous baby in his short story, “Feathers” – if Carver didn’t have fun writing this, then I doubt he’s ever had fun in his life.

Does anyone else have favorite paragraphs? If so, please share!

Enjoy the long weekend,
Sarah

Getting to Know You

Where have my manners been? I’ve been so caught up in trying to get the word out on this blog that I’ve forgotten to ask about YOU, my followers, my readers, and (dare I say?), friends. So let me start off by asking: how many of you have been published? Sending out queries? When did you start writing? Or, do some of you not yet consider yourselves writers? When does one make that distinction, do you think? For me, I think you’re allowed to call yourself a writer, even if you haven’t been published, once you think of writing as more than a hobby.

I used to call myself a writer, to the point where I’ve even answered the question, “What do you do?” with “Well, I’m a writer, but right now I’m working in a coffee shop.” Which brings me to my next question, how many of you have used that exact phrase before? Today, though, I do not consider myself a writer. Like many MFA graduates, I used my degree toward getting a job I could have gotten without the MFA, but thought it sounded fancy. Writing as a career choice took a backseat to my actual career, and now if someone asks me what I do, I might answer, “Well, I used to be a writer, but now I’m a full-time publishing assistant…. who also still works at a coffee shop.”

The cool thing about all of these writing/publishing/editing blogs is that writing no longer needs to be solitary (well, as solitary). I like the idea of writer’s communities being formed, but what do you all think? Do you think these websites have improved your own writing? Even though I don’t really write anymore, I must admit that the reading more of these blogs, and starting my own and seeing your submissions, have inspired me. I even recently dabbled in fiction last weekend! But so far that’s remaining safely hidden on my laptop.

A few more things I’m wondering this morning:
Did Friday creep up on anyone else? I think this week went by FAST!
Is anyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year, or has participated in previous years? Please tell your experience/how you’re preparing because it sounds intense!
How excited are you for this? my answer: “extremely!”

Hope I didn’t bombard you too much; I get a little overzealous sometimes.

Enjoy your weekend!