Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Part about the Office

Reviews of Bolaño’s 2666 tend to focus on the book’s epic scope and darker aspects—primarily, the femicides in Juarez (called Santa Teresa in the book) that continue to this day—but Bolaño is also at times quite a funny writer. In the book’s final section, I laughed aloud at the following passage, which takes place in the offices of an elderly publisher named Bubis. It’s a bit long, but I want to set the scene for the discussion of lapsus calami, or slips of the pen, that so animates Bubis and his employees. There is nothing here that will give the plot away, so just enjoy.

“The atmosphere at the publishing house was one of feverish activity. Sometimes, however, everything halted, and the copy editor made coffee for herself and [an author] and tea for a new girl who worked as a designer, because by now the house had grown and the slate of employees had grown and sometimes, at a nearby desk, there was a young copy editor, Swiss, why on earth he lived in Hamburg no one knew, and the baroness came out of her office and so did the head of publicity and sometimes the secretary, and they talked about all sorts of things, about the last movie they’d seen or the actor Dirk Bogarde, and then the bookkeeper and even Marianne Gottlieb would drop by with a smile, and if the laughter was very loud in the big room where the copy editors worked, then Bubis himself would peer in with his teacup in his hand, and they would talk not just about Dirk Bogarde but also about politics and the dirty business that the new Hamburg officials got up to or they talked about some writers who had no ethical sense, self-confessed and happy plagiarists who hid expressions of mingled fear and outrage behind a cheerful mask, writers prepared to cling to any reputation, with the certainty that they would thus live on in posterity, any posterity, which made the copy editors and the other employees laugh and even prompted a resigned smile from Bubis, since no one knew better that posterity was a vaudeville joke audible only to those with front-row seats, and then they started to talk about lapsus calami, many of them collected in a book published long ago … and it wasn’t long before the copy editors got out a book … and began to read aloud a selection of cultured pearls:
‘Poor Marie! Whenever she hears the sound of an approaching horse, she is certain that it is I.’ Vie de Rancé, Chateaubriand.
‘The crew of the ship swallowed up by the waves consisted of twenty-five men, who left hundreds of widows consigned to misery.’ Les Cages flottantes, Gaston Leroux. …
‘ “Let’s go! said Peter, looking for a hat to dry his tears.” Lourdes, Zola.
‘The duke appeared followed by his entourage, which preceded him.’ Letters from My Mill, Alphonse Daudet.
‘With his hands clasped behind his back, Henri strolled about the garden, reading his friend’s novel.’ Le Cataclysme, Rosny.”

The list goes on, followed by commentary about particular pearls that if anything is funnier than the pearls themselves. I submit that the reason writers and editors so enjoy this kind of humor is that they—we—are all too conscious of the ease with which such goofs can make it into print, and so we laugh loudly (while knocking on wood to protect against further embarrassments).
I will end this post by reproducing the typo I make most often, and that on dark days I suspect describes me a little too well: edioter.

Got Macmillan?

Not anymore you don’t, not if you shop Amazon. On Friday, Amazon removed all its buy buttons for Macmillan books, disappeared them from wish lists, and removed downloaded Macmillan sample chapters from Kindles as well. Apparently, the world’s biggest bookseller is retaliating against the publisher for its move to establish a better pricing system for e-books, one that Macmillan says “provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably [emphasis mine].” You can read more about it at Publishers Lunch, which also contains a copy of the ad Macmillan ran to alert its authors, illustrators, and agents. So far Amazon has said nothing publicly.

UPDATE: This just out from Amazon:
Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


This has nothing to do with the book biz, but if you're about to send a donation to aid relief efforts in Haiti, you want your dollars to go where they're most needed. Today on Talk of the Nation I heard about an organization that rates charities. Do yourself a favor and check it out: . There's a handy index and also a list of the top-rated charities. Oxfam's on that list, by the way, and the Red Cross is not.

In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.
~Bertolt Brecht