• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Is This the Beginning, Or is This the End?

Just this week, Newsweek reports that Kindle sales exceed Amazon’s hardcover list. A new weekly digital magazine is launching headed up by former magazine journalists and editors. The NYT reports that ebooks have gone from 2.9% of trade book sales to 8.5% over the last year. Predictions are up to 40% within 3-5 years. And, for fuck’s sake, Pete Hamill is publishing his new book only in an e-book edition. Though he did wonder what he’d sign at the book signing. Good question.

Peeps, is the sky falling or are we at the most exciting revolution in the evolution of reading and the dissemination of content?  Would you be happy with just having an e-book? Why does it feel like straight to video to me. I have to admit having schlepped two manuscript bags to Baltimore that I wondered if I should break down and get a Kindle, Nook, or Finger Fuck.

As an agent, I have to take it seriously and make sure that my clients are getting best royalties and are aware of the ebook opportunities. But as a human, I simply have no interest. Books are perfect objects. But hey, I still miss removing a record from its sleeve and settling it down on the turntable, lowering the arm, the hiss, the pop.

Today, a client showed me a first edition signed copy of Finnegan’s Wake. When I saw Joyce’s inimitable signature in pale blue ink, I got goosebumps. What is more beautiful than a bookcase? How better to seduce a woman? What is a house without books?  Oh, and that lovely pocket in the back of a library book, the card stamped with crooked dates, the pages talc with use. Am I a fool? Are the trees no longer weeping? Are there books in trees? Caps for sale? Oh lord, take me up, lift the type from the pages, set them free. Kill me.

54 Responses

  1. I once held a 500 year old book in my hands. I consider myself and imaginative person but I have trouble picturing people 500 years from today being as awed by an e-Kindle as I was at the feel of that handmade paper between my fingers.

  2. Maybe your new logo should be pencils coming out of the Kindles: The Forest for the E’s?

  3. My town library emailed me to say that FFTT -which I reserved about 2 months ago – was finally in. Yesterday I went to pick it up. The librarian said “It’s not in great shape, I’m afraid”. Its spine was broken so the cover didn’t “cover” the book so much and the plastic jacket was stained with a coffee ring mark and some sort of black sticky stuff. Other than that it looked fine to me. Fine? It looked FABULOUS – I’ve only been waiting for an eternity.

    It was first borrowed on 31 May 2001 and then fairly regularly – 2-3 times a year ever since. I love that history of prior readers that I get from library books (and inscriptions in used books) and I don’t see myself getting that from a Kindle, but I haven’t tried one yet. Perhaps I will be seduced by e-books. Then again, maybe they’ll go the way of the 8 track. . .

    Oh and in FFTT, on page 8 (introduction):

    “devices for downloading books on handheld screens are being touted”

  4. Didn’t PW have a recent article that stated the demographic downloading the most books on IPad was comprised mainly of young men? Not your traditional market of book buyers. And look at the staggering sales figures for Stephanie Meyer’s novella despite the fact it was offered up for free reading on her website before and during the release date. It gives hope there will be some hard core hanger-on-ers for a while.

    IPad was just recently realeased in Finland. It will be interesting to see the trend of book sales since the population is largely homogeneous and very accepting of new technology. So far, I haven’t seen other electronic readers for sale and online bookshops don’t seem to be offering ebooks either. Physical copies of books are usually expensive so it might take off quickly.

    I can only imagine what a mess figuring out royalties on an ebook offered at numerous locations is. I was able to download excerpts of new releases on my IPad overseas. I haven’t tried to purchase the actual books yet but wonder how the foreign rights work in that case.

    Question: Is there any standard for payment of ebooks starting to emerge?

    • Clarification: I was wondering about the whole foreign rights- royalties issue because with my limited knowledge I would think I couldn’t download an ebook to an ip address located in a country where foreign rights haven’t been sold. ?

  5. Hi Betsy and All,

    I love physical books, my library has had as many as 3,000. After considerable downsizing in both income and living space, I gave away all but about 1,000.

    About seven years ago, I moved to unabridged audio books whenever possible to conserve bookshelf space. I can collect a lot of books on an external hard drive without wondering how I can pile more books on top of, say the microwave.

    Also, e-books are easily searchable. Since I am perpetually trying to remember where a certain quote or reference is, I can now do that with a few keystrokes. That is a real timesaver.

    So, yes, I joined the iPad movement without question. The Kindle and Nook are too limited in their uses for my tastes. And the PRIMARY feature that I appreciate in my iPad is the ability to read many forms of e-books. I also have several e-book apps on my laptop. At this point I have nearly as many e-books (this includes .pdf versions of books) as I ever had physical books.

    I am never, ever going to stop reading. I simply HAVE to stop accumulating piles of books everywhere.

    My physical books include some rare and cherished volumes. Nothing can take the sentiments away that I feel for these beloved tomes. I still pick them up and leaf through them with gentle fondness. And after having moved all 1,000 of them several times, I have sworn to myself that I will opt for e-book versions of new books each and every time I have the chance to purchase e-books.

    What happens in a power failure? Dunno, maybe I will improvise a treadle-like device to provide just enough power to keep reading during black-outs, brown-outs and even Armaggeden.

  6. I have a Kindle, which I thought I would be great for traveling. Only problem is, it falls into the category of “electronic devices” that must be shut off before and during take-offs and landings–which, with all the taxi-ing and circling, can take more than a few minutes. So unless I also bring a physical book with me, I’m stuck paging through the dog-eared, often ickily sticky airline magazine while I wait for permission to get back to my ebook.

  7. I don’t really care as long as I can still be an author.

  8. I love words in any form, but for now I am partial to books.

  9. I adore ebooks. They’re more efficient, convenient, and -precisely- as pleasurable. Technology improves everything.

    Ebooks are this: http://bit.ly/TpdYY

    Upgrading perfection. What could possibly go wrong?

    • if you get the version with the mouth, does it read out loud?

      • Yeah, but the one with the asshole emits MFAs.

      • I spilled my coffee laughing– that was inspired!

      • It was all in your set-up!

        I actually don’t have a problem with e-readers, just like I don’t have a problem with fleshlights. Granted, I find them both a little creepy–and in exactly the same way. But hey, whatever gets you off.

        I’m not so fond of e-reader evangelists, though. The current technology works fine for me, thanks. Maybe if I lose both hands in a Dvorak accident, I’ll try something new. Otherwise, my complete lack of interest is simply a sign that I’m completely uninterested. I don’t hate the technology, I just don’t intend to cram anything that I’m fond of into a cold plastic technosheath.

        The smartest thing I ever read on this subject: “I don’t need one more person asking me about Kindles and IPads and what they mean to publishing. What they mean is that some people are going to read on screens, but most people still won’t read at all.”

        Publishing is in the shits for any number of reasons, all of ’em more pressing than digital blah blah e-reader blah blah piracy.

        Publishers sell our books on consignment like used prom dresses, except they don’t, because the sales force doesn’t work on commission, unlike the sales force in any industry that intends to remain afloat. The lifespan of a book is designed to move from who-the-fuck’s-gonna-pay-that-much-for-a-hardback to mildewed-on- the-remainder-table in about thirty-two minutes. The last innovative idea any marketing department in the country ever had was pasting the book cover onto a big sheet of foamboard like an 8th grade class project, so they outsource their job to a group of people notorious for being unstable, prickly, egotistical, demanding, neurotic, angry, needy, baffled, and incompetent. Every town in the country gives our product away for free, and unlike in less-shitwitted countries, we don’t get a dime in royalties. On the one hand, editors spend $5,000 on manuscripts that are designed to fail, and on the other, they spend $500,000 on manuscripts that are design to fail. Would the guy who wrote the Passage have scoffed at $100,000? Is it wise to gamble eleventeen million on ‘Cold Mountain II: Return of the Chill’ or ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’s Endodontist’s Wife’ and let 50 midlist novels wither on the vine?

        Ereaders don’t scare me. Everything else scares me.

  10. Easy on the expletives. Makes for hard reading.

  11. You’ve chosen to highlight one of my favorite books from childhood. I remember Captain Kangaroo reading it to me–and me alone, I’m pretty sure–on his show. As for the new reading device you mentioned, the name alone will likely spur sales.

  12. Oh, Betsy. I could cease speaking and writing altogether, and feel secure that you’d express my feelings more eloquently than I was ever able.

  13. “You can have my books (and replace them with an ereader) when you pry them out of my cold, dead hands.”


    the only way i will buy an ereader of any type is if you manufactured and marketed your very own and named it the FingerFuck. that i would buy (but only download erotica to read from it).

    my hope is that somewhere down the line this all balances out and books will still be available for those who want them (and not just the ultra rich who can afford lavish items like $150 newly released hardbacks).

  14. I have always been mad for Dante. Probably because I know I’m bound to walk down all of those circles of hell thingies. My therapists says I’m real good at magical thinking. Anyway, a couple years ago I go to Florence, Italy with my sister. I wanted to visit Dante’s home and the church in which he met Beatrice and then to the National Library to see his works under glass. Down the cobbled streets went went, to the end, and there, there is Dante’s house! and there, there is a sign: “Closed for Renovations” yes in English! Then we go back down another cobbled lane and to the church. Yeah! it’s open. I go in and do lots of magical thinking, pretending I’m Beatrice and follow the romantice story of when Dante first put eyes to ME!
    Then off to the library. We go to the door, enter the first one. There is another door. There are ladies at a desk. They ask, in Italian, “what do you want?” (I’m really rusty – well, inept with the language- I say, “I want to see Dante’s books.” The ladies look at each other and laugh. One says” “you must be a writer with a paper certificate (or something like that). My sister asks what’s the problem. I tell her I think you have to be a writer – like a historian – with a letter to get in.
    My sister is the type of sister that when it comes to defending me there are no bounds. She shouts” But she is a wrtier! She writes books! Stories! She went to school and got a masters degree in history.”
    Oh, Dante….I guess I have to wait for you when I go to hell.

  15. Progress, it is, as Yoda might opine. We may be looking at the biggest change in publishing since the invention of movable type. Yeah, I believe printed books are on the way out and this is the beginning of the end in that format. Brick and mortar stores. They are dead only the corpse hasn’t figured it out yet. The reasons for the demise of the printed book are legion and include everything from simply being environmentally responsible (though I think I saw something that that may not be true–something about carbon footprint being larger with, I don’t know, producing Kindles or whatever– but certainly there would be less trees consumed). And, of course, as you pointed out, why schlep a bulky book, manuscript, whatever around when it can all be stored on an e-reader? Yep, progress will not be denied. Kiss the printed book goodbye though I will concede there will continue to be a specialty market, though small and highly expensive for those wishing to purchase a printed book. Collectors, luddites, whatever. A niche market will exist but in time that too shall pass and then books will become these antique collectibles traded at auction houses for ridiculous sums. Your friend’s signed Joyce book could one day in the distant future be auctioned off with all the hoopla that surrounds the sale, say, of a Van Gogh today. That, as I see it, is the future. We may mourn it now, but one day printed books will be a mild curiousity that will seem quaint and oh so crude.

  16. When I first got an iPod i started buying the songs i wanted to hear from iTunes instead of getting the occasional CD. A lot more of my money went into the pockets of the artists (and, yes, record companies, too). The same thing happened when I got a Kindle. I started buying books rather than getting them from the library or waiting for them to show up on the sale table at B&N. My money is getting into the pockets of authors, and it’s doing so much earlier in the publishing cycle where it will have an influence on a book’s success. I downloaded Columbine, for instance. Wouldn’t have sprung for the hardcover. But 9.99? yes.

    I don’t miss vinyl discs. I want the music. i don’t miss paper. I want the words.

    • I want the paper: the finest reading experiences include the book itself. So although my fabulous agent fights for my e rights, I write only for dead tree format. I design my books as a reading experience in slow time that doesn’t exist outside of verso and recto pages. But then, I have a thing for material culture. And I’m kind of dumb.

    • Good comment. I don’t think publishers look enough at the fact that people would buy e-books who would NOT but other books because of the price, too often they just focus on the group of people who already buy books anyway.

    • Excellent point here Steve. And clearly it’s not that Steve doesn’t buy books, just that he might not have had the $24 or whatever for the hardcover of Columbine, but wanted to read Dave’s book. That *is* good news, all romanticisms aside. So we’re talking here about even readers reading (buying) more than they otherwise might.

  17. I only read books on my ereader when I’m desparate for something to read. Ugh. I hate pushing the button and I hate the feel of the thing in my hands. No, you can’t improve on perfection. Pull the book out of your bag, open, read.

    I have a copy of CAPS FOR SALE signed by the author, but my favorite books are the ones I read over and over to my kids. I love to pick them off the shelf and re-read them sometimes, like the THE LITTLE FUR FAMILY (with a furry cover–don’t think you can replicate that on an ereader).

  18. It doesn’t help to wish something wouldn’t happen. Ask someone with an incurable disease. Or ask someone who, like me, loved and worked in newspapers all her life and has been watching their increasingly fast demise. It’s terrible but it’s happening.

    As for books, I was given a Kindle for my birthday and use it only when I travel. No more scrambling to find an English-language bookstore in Lisbon or Tel Aviv. The rest of the time I read real books. Most of the rest of the time. When a novel comes out and I don’t want to pay the hardcover price or wait for the paperback, That $9.99 is awfully appealing. So I’m part of the problem.

  19. But . . . what about the smell of the paper, the feel of the cover? What about opening up a used book and seeing the inscriptions and jottings of those who have come before? What about the random ephemera that falls out of library books? How will that experience be replicated on an e-reader???

    And I can’t take an e-reader into the tub with me for a long soak. Dog forbid I drop the thing, or bump it too hard.

    I’m a writer (so I’ll have something entertaining to read) and a hobbiest bookbinder–so I’ll always have something entertaining to read, in my preferred medium.

    Viva papel! Viva, viva, viva!

    • I HATE the jottings of those that came before me. It muddies my “relationship” with the author. I’m not down on real books- just on contaminated ones.
      Just sayin’. . . .

  20. I am reading a friend’s manuscript on my boyfriend’s Kindle at the moment because as Betsy said, lugging around manuscript pages around is no fun and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test it out. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either and definitely don’t prefer it to a book. Also, it ran out of battery strengh right in the middle and I don’t have the power chord. I’d hate to see what would happen if I spilled wine/ coffee/ nail polish remover on it.

    I tend to get sulky when people suggest I publish in e-book form on my own. Maybe eventually I will but right now it still feels like defeat.

  21. I’m working with a successful Internet marketer to develop an effective way to drive traffic to a directly uploaded (no agent, no publisher) ebook in the Kindle Store. With that, the 70% commission starts looking really good.

    Personally , I would love a world without the smell of paper and printer’s ink less.

  22. Books are immanently human; their passing out of the world of things into a kingdom without space will reshape our humanity and our vision of the world accordingly. Not knowing what to sign at a book signing is indicative of the coming loss. Just think of a morning commute without sneaking peeks at what others are reading. As I would gladly give up my daily Betsy.com for an occasional Betsy-and-cocktails, I would happily give up a few royalties for a real book.

    • . . .and yet it keeps happening, that neat things pass away, replaced by other neat things. Scrolls and parchment, papyrus and quills were all lovely things, but I’ll take Guttenberg any day. ebooks will be replaced someday. It’s just that- – I want my bookshelf. It’s a visual thing, to have a wall of books to enfold you and browse through. . .

  23. I agree, as a human I have no interest in a kindle. It doesn’t appeal at all. I use all kinds of apps on my iPhone, but have no interest in reading an ebook.

  24. Last Sunday night I found myself in a dimly lit hospital room after my super fit relatively young husband’s shit-shock heart attack. Watching him all hooked up I needed to soothe myself and I don’t drink or smoke or do crack and wouldn’t have there anyway, not under the nurse’s nose. So I downloaded a brain candy book to my IPhone using my Kindle app.

    Yes, I have a Kindle and yes I kind of hate it. Not because it’s a clunky semi analog piece of shit technology that doesn’t display multimedia and navigates like a 1980s toddler toy. And not because I hate e-books. I’m a librarian. I love books any way they come—hardback, paperback, audio, large print, Braille—I don’t care about the format but I do care very much about wide open access to the content I want to read. Technology is not free. So far I don’t see public libraries passing out expensive ereaders to citizens who can’t afford one. When that happens I guarantee they will bust out all over and our dear libraries will skid down another steep slope.

    But here’s the real stroke inducer for me as I struggle with agent expectations to revise my book for this new market. I wonder more and more about the necessity of publishers in this self serve economy. If all the development save marketing is on authors and their agents, if a focus group mentality is turning everything into the lowest common (the dreaded women’s fiction) denominator why in the hell aren’t more kick ass agents like Wylie creating a one stop shop for writers? That, I think is the real question Ms. Betsy.

  25. There will always be books — at least the ones we have now will last for the next fifty years or so that I hope to be alive. So, whatever. I won’t read books on a screen, I don’t like it, but what other people want to do is none of my beezwax.

    I mean, if people want to destroy the world of physical books that I love so much (library stacks, your finger holding the page, the scrawled notes…), well, go right ahead, I can’t stop you.

    Caring just causes pain, you know?

  26. I think I’ll just take the chance of upsetting everyone by saying you can probably always count on girls being romantics. Records were before my time but I crave them. MGM musicals are my lifeblood. Antique books make me happy – just being around them. Not just reading them – I love their smell, their look, having them strewn instead of neatly lined up on the bookshelf. I just like books as part of my world. And as long as modern day girls are still pining off men in top hats whose wedding proposals take an entire paragraph, I just don’t see literal books fading away.

  27. Wow, for some reason I thought Pete Hamill was dead. Glad he’s not.

    “Would you be happy with just having an e-book?”

    No, but I’m not happy with lots of things in this world. I’d take the deal and make the best of it. But I do think I would only do this through an agent. I try to keep up with all the changes, but it’s starting to feel overwhelming.

    • It’s hard to imagine getting a book published exclusively as an ebook. You’d never get to hold it in your hand and say, “I wrote this!” It’s like a birthday party with no cake or presents. You know it’s your birthday, but that’s about it.

  28. I installed two new IKEA bookcases this morning, and then spent the afternoon dusting and reshelving hundreds of books. I love my books. Love, love, love them. Like Jackie O, I want to die surrounded by books. And painkillers.

  29. The sight of the cover of “Caps For Sale” gave me a deja vu or something — looked it up on Google, & the plot summary there was familiar; I know my mother must have read it aloud to me when I was a child.

    That made me think of other childhood favorites: “Alice In Wonderland” (plus “Through The Looking Glass” and — something else, not written by Lewis Carroll called “Alice In Orchestralia” — musical instruments as characters, I think…obscure, probably)

    and “Pooh”
    “Bartholomew And The Oobleck” and
    “Caddie Woodlawn”
    and — also by Brink: “All Over Town”
    All of those books seem woven into the Fabric Of The World because I experienced them at a young age when, I guess, there isn’t as much other stuff IN a person’s brain….
    But — “Caps For Sale”: I would have never remembered that story if not for your blog, thanks.

    E-books: I. Don’t. Know. Following the Music analogy:
    The I-T where I work is in his early twenties and does not even own a CD player: he gets all music from internet. ( I discovered this when I loaned him “Blood On The Tracks” and, with a bemused expression, he informed me that he didn’t KNOW whether he had any equipment on which to play it. But he was going to look into it.)
    Erk. Kids these days.

  30. I adore this post. It’s so lovely. I just bought a new desktop computer and was forced to consider whether I wanted a disc drive with Blu-Ray playing capability. “No,” I thought, “I really don’t want that. But I had better get it.” I feel similarly about the iPad. Do I want it? No. But I had better get it. Every lit Blog I read these days is obsessed and perplexed by the rising popularity of ebooks, B&N for sale, the end of the agent or editor as we know it, online publishing, self publishing. I almost get … angry. I have the feeling of heading into something that I don’t want, never wanted, but am powerless to stop.

  31. I suppose you can read an e-book just as well as a paper version, but you certainly lose something tangible and special: not being able to hold, read, look back and forth at the cover, read, look at cover, ponder and then read again.

    Mankind, in his rush to be on the technological cutting edge, doesn’t realize what is lost until it’s too late, if ever.

  32. Goldman says U.S. book sales will rise 5.8 percent through 2015. While this probably means (sadly) that print book sales will fall even as ebook sales increase… an overall increase in book sales would be good for all concerned.

  33. My biggest problem with ebooks (which I don’t read, but am not opposed to in principle) is their dependence on electricity. The printed book pre-dates electricity; doesn’t need it to be made, doesn’t need it to be read.

    Other than that, it’s great to be a creative writer in this digital day and age. Market research used to be an overwhelming pain in the ass, and nowadays it’s merely overwhelming. And what a market! I only get a piddly little bit of traffic on my website, but the monthly usage reports give me some interesting indications of where the hits are coming from (no, the Seychelles Islands don’t count, but it’s nice to see hits coming from NYU and Columbia. And the month the Department of Homeland Security dropped in, that was interesting. Don’t know what they were looking for, but I feel more secure.)

  34. Books – no batteries or charger required.

  35. It doesn’t have to be all one thing or all the other. I love my Kindle and I love my house of books, and I love my job in a publishing house. The books I have on my Kindle are books I don’t care about owning long- term, like mysteries. Or, they are books I already own, but want to re- read without carrying around. I don’t want to carry “Infinite Jest” around for six months, so would love to have it digitally as well.

    For traveling, I still take too many books, but now I’ll take just a handful, along with the Kindle. For some subjects, I have to have printed books to maintain the integrity of the “collection.”

    There will always be books. We’ll order them print- and bind-on-command from ubiquitous kiosks.


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