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December 16, 2008 05:24 PM

I've been saving links for nearly two weeks now for this post — since December 3, when the publishing industry, by all accounts, imploded. Dramatically.

I suppose that for some people, considering the fate of the publishing houses, most of which are in New York, seem monolithic and don't generally rate everyday discussion, seems slightly ... esoteric? Pointless, when so much else is going wrong? Old-fashioned, when there's print on demand and plenty of small presses? But I believe in publishing in a way that I don't believe in, say, major record labels or monstrous (in size, not necessarily mentality) Hollywood studios. This is due to two things: One, I've always been a reader. I'm an only child who would get up before my parents, get down a packet of graham crackers and curl up with Tintin books as soon as I could read. I put (made up) Dewey decimal numbers on my books with masking tape and read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain too many times. And two, I used to work in publishing. I'm attached to what goes on there, both as a book-lover of the highest degree and as someone who used to be in the system. I'm particularly concerned about what goes on in the world of kids' and young adult books — a smaller, more specific world that's hurting in its own way.

So it's been difficult, to say the least, to take in what's happened recently. A rundown of some lowlights: Read more. Please.

Nov. 25
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stops buying new books. Industry folk react here.

Dec. 2
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publisher resigns.

Dec. 3
More HMH troubles: Executive editor Ann Patty informed us this morning that she has been "fired," along with an unspecified number ("a lot") of other employees.

Publishers Weekly reports, "Simon & Schuster announced today that it has eliminated 35 positions." This included the head of the children's group and its senior VP and publisher.

The New York Times discusses the S&S job cuts as well as the major restructuring of Random House.

The Observer has more on the Random House rearrangement, including the letter from Random's chairman, Markus Dohle.

Dec. 4
Publishers Weekly: Penguin Freezes Raises for Those Above $50,000

HarperCollins also has a pay freeze.

Dec. 5
More news from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Dec. 10
Chronicle Books cuts "under 5%" of its staff.

Macmillan, like Penguin, freezes pay for anyone making more than $50,000.

Dec. 14
"Macmillan Publishing has eliminated 64 positions ... As part of the restructuring, the company is forming a new unified children’s publishing division that will bring all of its imprints under one umbrella."

Dec. 15
Layoffs at Macmillan, reports The New York Observer, "include head of production Tom Consiglio and the editor Denise Oswald, who primarily acquired books on music and pop culture for FSG's Faber & Faber imprint." (I'm a fan of Oswald, who I ran into at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle and whose recent books, if I'm not mistaken, include How Sassy Changed My Life and Amanda Petrusich's It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music, one of the only nonfiction books to make me tear up a scrap of paper so I had something with which to mark the most gorgeous passages. And I'm only about 20 pages in.)

Dec. 16
Publishers Weekly has more detail about the cuts and restructuring at Macmillan, which include the associate publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, Michael Eisenberg.

The New York Observer offers more detail on the FSG layoffs, earlier layoffs in the industry and what will become of those laid off.

And it's not just publishing houses, of course. The AP is reporting that "Powell's Books is asking employees to scale back their hours or take sabbaticals to cope with disappointing sales." Powell's. How do you think things are faring with Smith Family, J. Michael's, the UO Bookstore, Tsunami, Black Sun?

There will be more news like this. More cuts, more pay freezes, more closing bookstores. It's the economy, stupid — of course. And everyone's going to have a pet concern within the greater economic disaster. This is mine. It's about the books; it's about the people; it's about the history and the importance of books in our culture.

Why am I telling you this? So you'll think about books. So you'll consider the books you loved when you were a kid, and the books you love now, and ask yourself whether those books could make it to the bookstore in a shrinking, consolidating industry. Yes, the publishing world has its flaws. Yes, there are changes to make. (I vote for acquiring less mediocre-at-best books, folks: My review copies shelves are overflowing with mediocrity! Buy fewer, better books for smaller advances!) Yes, small presses are going to play a bigger part one of these days. But for book people, well, we want it all — and that all includes the names we've come to trust. We want the reliable literary fiction of FSG (from its adult and YA departments); we want to keep on believing that a Vintage paperback is almost always worth picking up; we want to be sure that the people keeping their jobs at publishing houses are the ones who believe in making a book the very best it can be before it hits shelves.

I have a lot more on my mind about this, but it's still muddled; this is just the beginning. I'll try to post in a more timely fashion as more news crops up, and with more specific commentary.

Of course, I'll hope there's not a lot more bad news. But I'm not holding my breath.


Over the next week and change, I'll be posting lists of suggested gift books — pulled from both my reading over the year and from my ongoing mental list of books what look cool — as a sort of supplement to Winter Reading. This downer of a post is, er, sort of an introduction to these upcoming lists. And stuff. Hey, how about a little good news? Suzi nabbed this from Facebook: "Starting right now, through Dec. 26th, purchase an eGift card for your favorite biblio, and Powell's will credit an additional 15% of the gift amount into YOUR account. That's right. We're rewarding you for your gift-giving shortcomings, while making you appear brilliant and thoughtful at the same time. And eco-conscious to boot!"

December 9, 2008 05:10 PM

Don't love Nintendo? Love books? What if they crossbred? In the UK, people will soon be able to read classics on the Nintendo DS. COOL.

Nintendo, the Japanese video games has announced a deal with the publisher HarperCollins to make the classics available to read on its DS games consoles.

The unlikely partnership means that the names of computer game characters such as Donkey Kong and Mario will sit alongside the likes of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters on the hand-held gadgets.

The 100 Classic Book Collection will cost about £20 and will be available initially only in Britain. However, if the collaboration is a success, Nintendo may expand the range of books available.

I'm a hopeless Nintendo girl who's always one console behind — still replaying Twilight Princess on my GameCube 'cause I'm too broke to bother trying to search out a Wii — but this, should it make its way to our shores, is just one more reason to covet a DS. As well as a Wii, of course. I want to play that weird game that's always advertised before movies. The one with the insane rabbits. That you play with your butt. Yep.

December 3, 2008 06:44 PM

How does the national media love the man Eugeneans voted Best Bartender? I'll spare you from counting the ways; you can check the press page of his website for that. I just want to mention the two latest, er, mentions:

• Last week, The Wall Street Journal did a story on Repeal Day, the growing-in-popularity sorta-holiday that celebrates the end of Prohibition:

The demise of Prohibition, 75 years ago this coming Friday, is something of a cause for celebration, and it will be treated as such with Repeal Day parties in Washington, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York and elsewhere. The trend got started a couple of years ago, when Oregon bartender and blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler promoted the anniversary as an informal holiday suitable for quaffing.

Pretty nifty, right? Keep in mind that that is THIS Friday we're talking about — the fifth of December. Which is also the night of the First Friday Artwalk, the Meet Your Maker craft fair, the Downtown Holiday Party and other things too numerous for me to remember off the top of my tired head. Be sure to raise a glass of free artwalk wine (or other beverage of choice) in honor of the 75th anniversary of once again being able to legally raise a glass.

• Yesterday, a The New York Times story appeared discussing what the writer calls eight new bartending philosophies. Oregonians in general make a strong showing here — the other two included are Kevin Ludwig from Clyde Common and Daniel Shoemaker at the Teardrop Lounge, both in Portland. Morgenthaler turns up under "Home Brewers," and to absolutely no one's surprise (this drink also turned up in our online Best Of Eugene Staff Picks), the writer highlights his gin and tonics, "made with his own recipe for agave-sweetened quinine syrup."

It's worth noting that the majority of the other bars and bartenders — bars on the edge, the story calls them — included in this piece are in big cities: New York, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta. How long, we worry, until Morgenthaler ditches us for the big leagues? Maybe you should drink up while you can. I mean, since it's legal and all.

November 20, 2008 05:15 PM

Word from the WOW Hall is that tonight's scheduled appearance by Mistah F.A.B. is canceled. No other details were given.

November 20, 2008 01:05 PM

We got a little ahead of ourselves this week with the movie reviews; as it turns out, Synecdoche, New York does NOT open tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 21, but Wednesday, Nov. 26. You see what a holiday week will do to a person? Confuse her, that's what.

On the up side, now you've got more time to peruse reviews and articulate your pro- or anti-Kaufman stance before the movie actually arrives at the Bijou.

November 19, 2008 09:44 PM

So now that Peter Matthiessen has won the National Book Award for Fiction for Shadow Country, will the literary world erupt into a noisy discussion about whether a "reworking" of an older trilogy should really be eligible for the award at all? I admit to a bit of skepticism myself, but the book description on Amazon goes to great pains to suggest it's a totally different thing (except not):

Peter Matthiessen’s great American epic–Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone–was conceived as one vast mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken up into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has cut nearly a third of the overall text and collapsed the time frame while deepening the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout. In Shadow Country, he has marvelously distilled a monumental work, realizing his original vision.

So it's a bold new rendering, but is it a new book, published for the first time this year? Does it have to be? The NBA rules simply say, "Judges consider only books written by American citizens and published in the United States between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year." Nothing about first publication. Thus, it counts. I still can't seem to get very excited about it, but it counts.

The other NBA winners are:

Young People's Literature: What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell. I'd almost say this was one of the category's dark horses; previous finalist Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak) also had historical fiction on her side, and people (myself included) really liked E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I have to admit, I do love that the Booklist review quoted on Powells.com begins, "Blundell, author of Star Wars novelizations ... ."

General Nonfiction: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, Annette Gordon-Reed. Interesting. Based simply on their titles, the two current-events books may have canceled each other out, but nothing here seemed like the standout choice based on my inexact estimation of buzz and awareness. The author had previously published a book about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, but with a university press; this Norton title doubtless will find a bigger audience.

Poetry: Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems, Mark Doty. This book "collects the best of Mark Doty's seven books of poetry, along with a generous selection of new work," according to the publisher's description.

For more about the whole NBA dinner spectacular, see The New York Times, whose writers doubtless had the luxury of, y'know, being there.

November 8, 2008 04:14 PM

A record crowd of more than 1,000 people packed the Lane County Fairgrounds pavilion to watch the elections and Barack Obama victory speech on projection TVs.

Here's a short look:

November 7, 2008 03:21 PM

Not sure what to make of this disgruntled insider video of KEZI news from a year ago. Have things changed?

November 7, 2008 01:14 AM

No, it hasn't been that long since I last saw Frightened Rabbit at Holocene and blogged a little about it; yes, it's still worth seeing the Rabbit every single time you possibly can. I mean that. Even though it's taken me a week to say so.

Last week's show was my present to myself: Best of Eugene is done! Over! Finished for another year! Time to celebrate with one of Holocene's delicious old-fashioneds — best made by the guy with the mustache — and my current favorite Scottish band (yeah, I used to have a thing for Idlewild. So? Maybe I still do). And so I drove up Thursday, ate at Patanegra (good, though not astonishing; perhaps we ordered the wrong things) with my pops and headed eastwards to what's rapidly creeping up the list to hang out with the Wonder Ballroom as one of my favorite Portland venues.

With all due respect to Blue Skies for Black Hearts, I wished a little that we got a repeat of the last show's opening band. But I was there for the Rabbit, and they delivered. I was wary of the night; I was alone, and there were two girls next to me in giant giraffe costumes which, while cute and clever, were doubtless blocking the view of those folks not quite eager enough to stand in the very front, staring up at Scott Hutchison and company. But the fact is that it doesn't have to matter. It doesn't matter who you're with or how self-conscious you are about the fact that your current OMGILOVETHIS band is playing that song, the one you can't stand still for or get goosebumps for every time. It just mattes that you're there, and they're playing all your favorites — nearly everything from The Midnight Organ Fight, I think — and that it's fucking perfect, or as close to as can be expected.

There's no single thing about Frightened Rabbit that makes them stand out, no musical genius or extreme prolificness or astonishing past. If anything, what they have going for them is human-sized and modest: the relationship between singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison and the drummer, his brother Grant; a contained anthemic power that turns ditties like "Old Old Fashioned" into miniature manifestos and songs like "Head Rolls Off" into something inexplicably compelling and inspiring; and the sheer nakedness of the lyrics. People always say that about really good, really lovelorn lyrics, but that doesn't make it any less true, or any less meaningful. A friend told me recently that when he was on the phone in a van, breaking up with his girlfriend, his bandmates put on Frightened Rabbit, and I immediately understood how totally wrong that was. You don't lock this band in to a precise feeling, a specific moment, like that. You let them describe all the possibilities that heartache and rawness can bring.

And when they do it best, it's simple, easy, wrenching and true. At the very end of the set, everyone left the stage but Scott. He walked to the edge of the stage (I admit to momentarily wishing I had my camera), closed his eyes, began to play his guitar and, without a microphone, broke into "Poke." This is what it looked like in Los Angeles a few days later:

Everyone went silent. No one moved; no one sang along. They saved that for the next and last song, which (if memory serves, and I think it does) was "Keep Yourself Warm," a perfect set-closer in the way it shrinks in on itself and explodes into a strange glorious moment at the end. But at the song's quietest moments, you could hear Portlanders singing along, softly, quietly, in tune.

I only stayed for a few songs of The Spinto Band. They were adorable, they were good, the singer looked like a more indie rock Michael Cera, if that's possible, and I'm sure at some point I'll regret not staying to see their whole set, just like I regret not lurking just a little longer to see if a merch guy would appear and sell me that damn supercute Frightened Rabbit T-shirt I can't find online anywhere. But I'd had my moment. I was done.

Still. I hope I have it again soon.

November 6, 2008 05:32 PM

After crashing and burning, the McCain-Palin campaign, along with the Republican party, continues to implode.

Here's the Republicans at Fox news on just how clueless Palin is:

Meanwhile, Palin is catching widespread media ridicule for getting fooled by a Montreal phone prankster pretending he was the president of France:

Remember the $150,000 in campaign funds Palin blew on a designer clothing shopping spree? Newsweek reports it's even worse than it appeared:

An angry [Republican] aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

November 6, 2008 02:44 PM

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, Lane County Commission candidate Rob Handy and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley have all won their tough and pivotal election fights.

In unofficial final results, Piercy beat Jim Torrey by 2 percentage points. Handy beat Bobby Green by just one percentage point.

Merkley leads by three percent with 79 percent of the statewide vote counted. Smith reportedly plans to concede shortly.

November 5, 2008 01:59 PM

At 11:39 am, Gordon Smith lead Democrat Jeff Merkley 47.5 percent to 46.7 percent in the squeaker U.S. Senate race.

But late voting in Lane and Multnomah counties could mathematically push Merkley to a narrow victory, assuming current voting trends in the two counties and the rest of the state continue.

An EW analysis calculates that Merkley could end up with an estimated 48.4 percent of the total vote when all ballots are counted. Assuming percentages for a third party candidate and write-ins remain the same, that could mean a narrow Merkley victory over Smith.

Almost half the votes in Lane and Multnomah counties remain to be counted. The two urban counties hold a big chunk of the state’s Democrats, and vote counting there has lagged behind the rest of the state.

A big uncertainty is whether Constitution Party Candidate Dave Brownlow will continue to pull votes from Smith at the same statewide rate in the two counties.

November 5, 2008 12:16 AM

The Lane County fairgrounds pavilion was packed with more than a 1,000 whooping, clapping people during Barack Obama's victory speech.

November 5, 2008 10:16 PM

The pivotal Rob Handy v. Bobby Green race for Lane County Commissioner has tightened and remains too close to call.

At 7 pm with about three-fourths of the vote counted, Handy holds on to a lead of just 113 votes, 0.44 percent. Earlier returns had showed Handy with a lead of up to 2 percent.

State law triggers an automatic recount if the margin is less that 0.2 percent.

Lane County Elections will release it’s next results, what appears likely to be a near complete vote count, at 10 am Thursday.