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January 29, 2009 06:06 PM

I'm a bit embarrassed that I completely forgot to mention this last week, when I first heard it, but better late than never: Culiarnia Eugenius, also known as EW's food columnist, Jennifer Burns Levin, reminded me with her recent post that hey! Mark Bittman ate at Bellly last week! And that's kind of nifty. Here's what The New York Times food writer had to say about his experience:

Dinner: Belly, a popular new Eugene restaurant run by a lovely young couple doing honest, straightforward food and doing it well. (Among other things, I ate tripe and pig’s foot stew, and a braised lamb shank.)

From the rest of the post, it sounds like he also ate at Plaza Latina, too — though I can't figure out which take-out pizza join he means. Clearly, someone should've sent him to PRI.

January 23, 2009 06:04 PM

I dithered.

I didn't want to.

I never cared.


What a pack of hooey.

Battlestar Galactica isn't perfect. Television almost never is, even the television I love best. (OK, Deadwood comes fucking close, and if you've ever seen it, you understand why it was vital I swear in the middle of that sentence.) But it's astonishingly good, and powerful, and sometimes beautiful, and incredibly acted.

I came to BSG late. Really late. Late as in I spent the last few months watching the first three and a half seasons, racing, faster and faster, when I realized that the last episodes would begin on Jan. 16. I ranted to friends, I ranted on the internet. At least once, I cried. No joke. I loved it and then, for a time, I hated it; in season 2.5, characters seemed to get rewritten and lame one-off episodes shoehorned in (should you feel compelled to start from the beginning, I recommend just pretending "Black Market" doesn't exist). But it turned back around again, and improved, and kept improving (with one or two stumbles), and kept working, sometimes uncomfortably, making real-world parallels and asking endless questions about what it means to be human, and what we'd do in impossible situations, and how two incredibly different yet incredibly similar peoples might or might not ever find a way to live together after ages of conflict.

Read more. Lots more. Warning: I ramble.

It would take too long — far too long — for me to go through all the things in BSG's previous seasons that I was awed or horrified by, and really, I'm not writing this for non-watchers. It's too late for that. It's too late to catch up on the nuances of the frak-or-fight relationship between Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Portlander Katee Sackhoff) and now-former pilot Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber, whose natural English accent never, ever slips through). It's too complicated to explain the show's history with regard to the Cylons, the "toasters" who were created by humanity but then turned on their makers, obliterating the humans' 12 colonies. There's too much to explain about the way the show beautifully writes its characters while sometimes stumbling over storytelling and keeping characters, well, in character. And while I'm sure I'll get into it over the course of this season, at the moment I haven't time to address the ways in which it sometimes seems the show's writers are flying by the seat of their pants, occasionally rewriting the story's history in ways that just don't quite fit with what we've been told before (two words: Resurrection hub. What?).

But here we are at the beginning of the end. "Earth," said President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) at the end of season 4.0's finale. Earth wasn't what it was supposed to be. Earth was supposed to be the goal, the missing 13th colony founded by the human race when they left their home planet of Kobol. Earth, instead, was a wasteland.

Episode 4.11, "Sometimes a Great Notion," picked up right where 4.10 left off: on the decimated Earth, which managed to still have plenty of things to reveal on and under its soil. The Earth scenes were all but colorless, stripped of hope and beauty — or nearly so.

"Sometimes" built up to a surprising reveal: the identity of the last of the so-called final five Cylons, four of which were brought together by "All Along the Watchtower" at the end of season three. I clung to the possibility that it was a ploy, that it was more complicated that they were letting on, that it was misdirection; no way was Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon) the fifth Cylon, never mind how thoroughly she seemed like a Cylon when she first appeared. But various online interviews with executive producer Ron Moore shot down all those theories: Ellen is the fifth. She's not an aged Six (Tricia Helfer), despite the suggestions made last season. She just is. It makes sense on one level: When Ellen died, we never really saw the body. No one familiar with science fiction/fantasy conventions believed that death for a second.

But I didn't believe she was the fifth, either, and not just because I wanted it to be Zach Adama, the dead son of Admira Adama (the fantastic Edward James Olmos), or, somehow, Lieutenant Dualla (Kandyse McClure). Still, you gotta suck it up and move on, like these last survivors of the human race gotta suck it up and move on, leaving Earth in their wake (though when last we saw one singular Cylon, D'Anna Biers [Lucy Lawless], she was planning to stay on Earth. Whether that sticks remains to be seen).

But one of them couldn't move on — or at least the show decided she couldn't. I'm still wrestling with the death of Dee, who fell apart at finding a set of jacks at the ocean's edge while on Earth's surface, then calmly, cooly shot herself after one last lovely evening with ex-husband Lee. "I just want to hang on to this feeling as long as I can," Dee told Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Jiuliani), a wounded friend and fellow officer, minutes before putting a gun to her head. She couldn't hold on for long, though — and therein lies the problem. We've had no reason to believe Dee would crack so badly. She's long been a calm, consistent, capable presence on Galactica's bridge; she's never freaked out or fallen apart, not even when Lee sent her to rescue Starbuck, knowing he was sending his wife to save the life of his would-be lover. And on a different level, it's frustrating that for the second season in a row, BSG killed off a female character whose main purpose was to be the girlfriend. To some viewers, Dee's death wasn't something to mourn so much as something to be pissed off about — with reason. As Lisa Fary writes, "Her death served no purpose other than to make things for Apollo and the Admiral suck more, so they could have big emotional moments. Anyone could have come unhinged and committed suicide to drive home the hopelessness (again). But, this is BSG, so it had to be a woman because women on BSG are devices."

I can't agree that all the women on BSG are devices, but there is a certain "it had to be a woman" feel to Dee's death, especially coming on the heels of the death of Cally (Nikki Clyne), whose character was also mostly defined by her relationship (which is a whole 'nother can of worms). I've read that BSG is supposed to take place in a post-gender world, but I'm having a hard time swallowing that theory between the deaths, the relative dearth of female pilots and soldiers and the lack of gay characters who aren't dead. If gender doesn't matter, why would sexual orientation?

I wrestle, though, with what BSG does (or has done) relatively well with regard to gender, race and sexuality — and what it stumbles over. On the one hand, it's not an entirely lily-white show; it has had a small handful of gay or bisexual characters; it had the smarts to make the fleet's hotshot pilot female; the two main leadership roles are not played by old white guys. That's more than a lot of shows and even movies manage. But when the show takes these steps toward being smarter, it almost makes the missteps even worse.

I don't have any answers; it's just something I think about when I'm watching, and also something I find difficult to explain and write about with stammering and stumbling over myself. Maybe that's why the show stumbles, too. Maybe you have ideas. And speaking of both ideas and things I don't have any answers about, it's time — before I run out of time in the day — to talk about Starbuck.

But where to begin? With her disappearance and reappearance? With her crazy time on Caprica, when the Cylons may or may not have stolen one of her ovaries? With the weird way she's so trusting of Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) now, after he locked her up on New Caprica, trying to get her to love him and finding himself killed over and over again instead? Or with the simple, basic question everyone now has about her: What is she?

Someone somewhere theorized that when Starbuck's Viper exploded over a mandala-shaped storm, she both died and didn't die, and I like that idea; in a way, it fits one of the show's oft-repeated underlying themes: This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. In some other life, Starbuck lived and crashed on Earth. In some other life, she came back to the fleet. In some other life, something entirely different happened. But here, the lines are crossed; what if the Starbuck whose body was on Earth was from some other time? What if when she nose-dived into the storm, chasing a Raider that may or may not have been there, her timeline split? It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility for this show.

Neither is one of the other theories: that she's some sort of deity. Or that she's really the first Cylon-human hybrid (which reminds me, when are they going to talk about the second Cylon-human baby in the fleet? Ever?). Or that when the old hybrid said she was the destruction of the human race, it meant ... well, that she had been, in a way; maybe last time, she nuked Earth, and eventually, that meant the Cylons nuked the colonies; therefore, in a roundabout way, she was their destruction. Nothing has to mean what it seems like it means.

At least, that's how the show seems to be playing it. But I'm a little wary of reading too much into BSG right now, as sometimes the writers take things far more literally than I expect. The close watchers in the audience see hints and conspiracies, suggestions and layers in the episodes' complex narratives. But it feels, right now, like all that thought we're putting into the show may not result in a satisfying payoff. Sure, last week's episode was great. But will the greatness continue?

Sometimes, though, it's worth watching just for what's on the screen right then, without worrying about how the story got there or where it's going next. And last Friday gave us that experience in every scene with Starbuck (and, to be fair, with Dee). When she found that downed Viper — her downed Viper — and creepy, future-seeing, Starbuck-obsessed Leoben backed away from her, scared and confused, the show hit a high note: bleak, spooky, wounded, uncertain. And then it topped itself with the unforgettable image of Starbuck, a black silhouette against a deep blue sky, building a funeral pyre for herself. And then it topped even that with one lingering shot: Starbuck, sitting alone, elbows on knees, watching some other version of herself burn, the pyre a strange, haunting beacon in Earth's empty darkness.

For moments like that, all the other things I've said here aside, Battlestar Galactica is more than worth it.

(Even more reading: This post is wicked awesome.)

January 22, 2009 10:33 AM

Ho, hum.

I realize it's a little bit weak to comment when you've not yet seen all the films, so I'll be brief: Even the surprises this year (Melissa Leo, Richard Jenkins) don't feel like surprises. Slumdog Millionaire ceased being an underdog even before it got here, and while it a perfectly fine film, it is not a Best Picture. Not, not, not. I think I'm attached to exactly one category: Man on Wire had really best win Best Documentary.

That said, yes, of course, I know the Oscars mean less and less. But there's still something fun about them. Or there can be. But this year is so epically predictable — and it feels like about 12 movies got all the nominations, which is painful (shall we discuss, however, the horrifying phrase "Oscar nominee Wanted"?) — that my ability to care is taking a big hit.

January 16, 2009 05:08 PM

Yesterday, the Oregon Arts Commission announced the recipients of its annual fellowships, given to "performers and writers of exceptional talent and demonstrated ability, professional achievement and continuing dedication to an artistic discipline." The cash awards ($3,000 each) can be used "to complete work in progress or embark on a new body of work, undertake research, study or experiment with new materials or media."

Among the 13 winners were two Eugeneans: writer Debra Gwartney, who in 2006 co-edited Home Ground with Barry Lopez, and trumpeter Brian McWhorter, who teaches at the UO and is frequently mentioned in Brett Campbell's music columns. Congratulations to both of them — and all the other recipients!

January 15, 2009 11:58 AM

Yesterday, I got one of those makes-your-heart-skip-with-joy press releases: a new And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead album, Century of Self, comes out in just over a month! They're independent again! MTV News says they've "amped up the guitars!" And they're coming! To Portland!

Well, you can't have it all. (You apparently can't have anything, if you're me: Mates of State are passing us by again, too. What gives?)

But you can also have The Decemberists. Not in live form — at least not yet — but in new album form: The Hazards of Love comes out March 24 (which the rest of the world told you about last month, but hey, I just got a freaking press release; cut me some slack!). They're still not independent indie rock, but whatever; I know no one cares (my own noting of this small detail is just a holdover from college, when working on a strictly independent music fest rendered me incapable of not noting when indie means independent and when it means, er, indie). Apparently, The Decemberists have created one of those records you're supposed to listen to all the way through numerous times so that you may properly understand and appreciate its story, which is described thusly:

The Hazards Of Love tells the tale of a woman named Margaret who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal; her lover, William; a forest queen; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake, who recounts with spine-tingling ease how he came “to be living so easy and free” in the aforementioned “The Rake’s Song.”

"The Rake's Song," you ask? What's that? It's the one tune available for download at thedecemberists.com. You have to sign up for the major-label-run mailing list to get it, though. So, y'know, tell me how it is. I get enough mail already. (This doesn't mean I don't love The Decemberists. Any band that uses copious footnotes on its website is probably all right by me.)

Should these two established somewhat-indie (or not at all) rock acts not be to your taste, the next few months will also bring (among many other things):

• Changing Horses from Ben Kweller (who lets me down a little bit more with each record, much as I hate to say it and hope this one proves me wrong);
• Grrr... from Bishop Allen, a band whose records I continually intend and yet fail to pick up;
• at some point, a new Wilco record, supposedly;
• Dear John from nice Swedes Loney, Dear;
• Lily Allen's It's Not Me, It's You;
• Hold Time from beloved Portlander M. Ward;
• and the oh-so-exciting Middle Cyclone from Neko Case, whose label, Anti-, is running a nifty thing wherein each time a blog posts a link to download the first single, "People Got a Lotta Nerve," Case and Anti- donate five bucks to the Best Friends Animal Society, an animal rescue organization. You know you want to hear it.

January 14, 2009 06:17 PM

Economy got you down? How about the weather? Looking to make a little more money but also get out of the rain?

Australia would like you to apply for what they are ever so casually calling The Best Job in the World: The Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef (their excess capital letters, not mine). You live on a teeny island for six months, get paid good money for it and tell the world about how totally awesome the experience is via blogs and photos. Responsibilities of the job include:

Explore and report back
There’s so much to see and do, so you’ll have plenty to write about in your weekly blog. And with so much life above and below the water, you’re sure to capture some entertaining moments for your video diary and photo gallery. To keep you busy, Tourism Queensland will organise a schedule of travel and events on the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Your schedule could include sampling a new luxury spa treatment at qualia on Hamilton Island, trying out new snorkelling gear on Heron Island, or bushwalking on Hinchinbrook Island.

Feed the fish
There are over 1,500 species of fish living in the Great Barrier Reef. Don’t worry – you won’t need to feed them all.

Clean the pool
The pool has an automatic filter, but if you happen to see a stray leaf floating on the surface it’s a great excuse to dive in and enjoy a few laps.

Collect the mail
You’ll have some time on your hands, so why not join the aerial postal service for a day? It’s a great opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the reef and islands.

Among the selection criteria, you'll find this slightly iffy phrase:

"Presentation skills (being media-friendly)"

... which sounds an awful lot like "Look pretty for the cameras!"

But I do particularly enjoy the last thing on the list of criteria:

"At least one year's relevant experience"

... which would be what, exactly?

Still, nice work, if you can get it.

January 13, 2009 01:27 AM

If you missed the Eugene State of the City event last week, here's the condensed video highlights:

January 13, 2009 04:35 PM

At the very tail end of last year (I admit it: I'm still stuck in 2008), The New York Times had one of those I-wish-I'd-thought-of-that pieces, this one about the rising popularity of salted caramels, now available not just at Starbucks, but in your local (er, well...) Wal-Mart.

The story reminded me of a discussion I had with friends a few years ago that split into two topics: One, what members of the group perceived as trendy foods at the time, and two, what seemed like specifically Northwestern food trends (this also had an offshoot conversation about the things everyone accepts as completely normal now that were practically unheard of when we were kids. When, for example, did you have your first sun-dried tomato?).

So, of course, I came to pose these questions to you, dear (possibly mythical) blog readers. What do you see making a run at being the Times' trendy food for this year? (Quinoa gets a nod at the end of the article linked above.) And what do you think of as specifically Northwestern foods — trendy or no?

January 9, 2009 07:22 PM

The Oregonian has picked up on the story that EW first ran Thursday about Oregon National Guard soldiers' exposure to a highly toxic chemical in Iraq.

The Oregonian reported that as many as 52 soldiers were exposed to the hexavalent chromium. Two Indiana soldiers that were exposed have contracted cancer and one has died. The Oregonian cited a doctor saying that exposure to a concentration of "about the size of a grain of salt in about a cubic yard -- has shown a 50 percent increase in cancers."

January 8, 2009 12:23 AM

In her fifth state of the city speech tonight, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy called for tapping into the Obama federal stimulus package, an Economic Summit, discussion of an in-house city attorney, locating a solar panel factory at the abandoned Hynix plant and hinted at possible tax measures for more jail beds, crime prevention and affordable housing.

Here's some key excerpts from Piercy's speech to a standing-room crowd of more than 300 people in the Hult Center lobby:

  • "Eugene has a list of over $200 million in 'ready to go' projects that fit the stimulus criteria...We expect these projects, if funded, could create 4,404 well-paying jobs by the end of next year--with an emphasis on green industry."
  • Piercy called for an Economic Summit early this year. She called for "more jobs that pay well" and decreasing "our impact on climate change and finite resources." The mayor said, "Moving from Hynix to solar is our community goal."
  • "We cannot have this revolving door in our jail, and a court system that cannot do its job. While our city is still rated one of the safest, this won't continue if the system is not fixed. Eugene voters will support specific, balanced and accountable solutions that are not simply a forwarding of failed policies."
  • "The Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee to finance Homelessness and Housing Programs will report its recommendations to the council on January 26. It will then be important for a larger community discussion to occur about the steps this community is willing to take to reduce the numbers and ensure that more citizens have basic needs met, including treatment programs, mental health care and shelter options. It will not be cheap."
  • "The City Manager has stated that he will examine whether or not an in-house city attorney makes good governance sense for a city of our size and complexity, and will be seeking input from the city council as part of his analysis."

The Eugene police union attacked Mayor Piercy's last state of the city address as a “bizarre,” “three-ringed circus” for focusing on environmental issues. This year, Piercy included an award to a group of violent crimes police detectives as part of the ceremony.

January 6, 2009 06:21 PM

One of the quirks of living in Eugene — or any other secondary or tertiary film market — is that one cinematic year is usually not over until about a third of the way through the following year. We're yet to see some of 2008's best-reviewed films, from National Society of Film Critics Best Picture winner Waltz With Bashir to the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In to Kelly Reichardt's follow-up to Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy. Heck, we're still waiting for Gran Torino (this Friday) and Frost/Nixon (possibly next).

That said, there are a few early-’09 mainstream movies that look interesting. Interesting enough that I'm keeping an eye out for them despite my obsessive wish to see more! more! more! of the ’08s before compiling a top ten list.

The big "duh" in this list is obviously Watchmen, assuming the legal wrangling ends and the film comes out on time. The bummer here is that every time I read or watch (in those annoying pre-film commercials at Regal) director Zack Snyder talk about the movie, my hope that it won't suck is diminished. Still, the preview is mostly damn nifty. (March 6)

Another duh, at least for me, is Coraline: It's based on a book by Neil Gaiman, and it's directed by Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. I don't love the voice casting, but I still have faith. (Feb. 6)

I'm not sure I can begin to explain the plot of Youth in Revolt, the novel by C.D. Payne, without a refresher; it's relatively complicated and involves, if memory serves, its hero dressing in his grandmother's clothes (OK, I checked Wikipedia to make sure I got that part right) to get closer to the girl he has a thing for. I think. And that's a small piece of the plot puzzle. The adaptation, from director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl), is supposed to come out Feb. 20, but I'm a bit worried by the absence of, oh, y'know, an official movie site or trailer.

Though I wasn't particularly impressed with The Last King of Scotland, director Kevin Macdonald's follow-up, State of Play (based on a 2003 BBC miniseries), has my attention. Ben Affleck in a grown-up role? Helen Mirren as a hardass editor? Russell Crowe in a relatively unshowboaty part? Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn and Viola Davis? And a screenplay written, at least in part, by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)? That's enough to get my hopes up. (April 17.)

And then there are the slightly guilty pleasures:

1. Push. Superpowered teens and twentysomethings? Sign me up. (Feb. 6)

2. Taken: Liam Neeson kicking everyone's ass in a movie written, in part, by Luc Besson? Hope springs eternal, and all that. (Jan. 30)

What are you excited about?

December 24, 2008 01:11 PM

The week of Winter Reading, you could give us the whole paper and we'd still want more space. And, for that matter, more time; it's the time needed to read, consider and review that keeps Winter Reading somewhat under control.

But there are always more books that look nifty. For the past two years, I've had room in the Procrastinators' Gift Guide to list some of those cool-looking books — generally the ones I haven't read — as some additional book-gift suggestions. This year, I ran out of space — and now I'm pretty much out of time, too. But the stacks are still here, and hey, even if you don't need to buy more books for others, maybe you'll need some reading for yourself once the holidays are over. Or you'll have gift cards to use. Or whatever. It's not like you need an excuse to buy books.

Here, then, are a few of the semi-themed piles that have been sitting on my desk for several weeks:

Books for Film Geeks
• The grandpappy of this stack is David Thompson's "Have You Seen..." A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. It's hefty but not dense; each film gets one two-column page of history, context and commentary. The few writeups I've read so far give the impression that these almost serve better as afterwords than introductions — the context of having seen the film makes Thompson's take just that much more interesting. David Gilmour's The Film Club is less about film than it is about the process of watching a child become an adult, but Gilmour's premise — that he let his son drop out of high school if he agreed to watch three movies a week — is fascinating for a film buff all the same. And The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love offers both an interesting list of writers (including Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan, Stephanie Zacharek and — for those who like tormenting themselves — Peter Travers) and an odd list of films. Are Reservoir Dogs and Croupier B movies? Most of those films included, however, seem to pretty neatly fit the bill: Carrie 2: The Rage, anyone?

Books for Snobs
• Are you or do you know someone who only wants the very best? There's always Best Music Writing 2008 — this year guest-edited by Nelson George — or Best Food Writing 2008 or any number of other best books, like Best Places Portland. It's kind of overwhelming how many best books there are. Also, it's kind of a bummer that Rob Harvilla's awesome "Hot Hot Heat" only turns up in Best Music Writing 2008 in the list of other notable music writing of 2007, because it's wicked funny. Maybe the graphics kept it out of the book.

Books for People Who Like Pretty New Editions & Compilations
• I'm totally drawn to these pretty, pretty George Orwell compilations, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays and Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays. Weirdly, though, the images on both Amazon.com and Powells.com aren't images of the books I'm presently holding. Huh. Well, anyway, the new edition and translation ("based on the restored text") of Kafka's Amerika is nothing to shake a stick at. And Kingsley Amis' Everyday Drinking is so charming, a colleague already stole my copy.

... to be continued ... maybe.

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.