Plainsong Encomium for Another Dead Hero

I read Infinite Jest when I was eighteen. I picked it up on a lark at the Tower Records bookstore on Newbury Street in Boston. I needed something to read to take my mind off the music that had encompassed all of my waking brain time in my first semester at Berklee. It was thick and I figured it would keep me busy for a while at least. Little did I know.

Four months later, after dilligently working through that monster of a novel, I was quite possibly a different person. It was precisely the right book for me to read at precisely the right time in my life. I'm not sure it would be possible for me to state completely how much an influence his voice had on both my writing and my views on art in general. suffice it to say that I doubt there is anyone else I've ever read who had a greater impact.

This future that promises no more brilliance from that man's brain, when there should have been so much more, is not as good as the one we had a few days ago. His is a terrible loss to American literature.

Over the years, I've known a few brilliant people who decided to take their own lives. It never makes any sense. Having sat on that fence once or twice myself, I can't even fathom my own thoughts in that direction, and feel very grateful for the confidence I've found that I will never go there again. Suicide is one of the great tragedies of our form of life, a gesture at eternity that expresses a pain that defies words. I'm not a religious person, but I hope with all my being that whatever pain Wallace was feeling he has found some peace and relief from it now. I hope he knew at the end how much he and his work meant to people who, like me, had never even met him. We are all darkened a bit when our brightest lights go out. There is no question in my mind that David Foster Wallace was such a light.

Godspeed sir, my life has been better because of what you have given to us all. May you rest in peace.

Comics Legend Award

Up at Filthy Habits right now is my report on attending The New York Comics Legend Award and meeting Stan Lee.

Report from the New York Independent Book Fair Day 2

Yesterday was day 2 of the New York Independent and Small Press Book Fair, much more sparsely attended than the first day, probably because of the snow. The first panel I attended was an agent talking about how to pitch agents, whose tone I found extremely condescending and when she said "Remember the golden rule: show don't tell" I realized I wasn't in 8th grade anymore and left the room. However, later I conferred with my friend Jon who was in attendance and he said "Did you hear the questions being asked at the end? Condescending might have been the right way to go with these people." The second panel that I attended was on self-publishing, which I think was about summed up by from Booksurge (one of only two panelists) who citing some frighting statistics about how 70% of all books published don't earn out their advance and then said "Self publishing is more about a passion about your book than about making money." Fair enough. Of course, you can make money self-publishing, and he cited some counter-examples, but that's not the expected result.

One thing I noticed on both days of the fair was that, judging by the questions being asked, a lot of would-be authors, especially older ones, find themselves increasingly bewildered by the Internet. I feel for these people; Lauren at the publicity panel yesterday talked about how the most effective form of publicity is done online, and that more and more of book coverage is going on online, and the self-publishing panelists talked about how self-publishing didn't really exist before the Internet (which is not strictly true, as James Joyce and Walt Whitman knew, but it's true that there has been an explosion in self-publishing because of the Internet and that the Internet is today the primary distribution method for self-published books). It must be very confusing to people who spent most of their lives without the Internet to try and cast their lot in a world (publishing) in which the Internet is increasingly important.

Then I saw an excellent reading by Aaron Petrovich, whose novel The Session I bought.

Lastly, there was the literary quiz smackdown between the New York Review of Books and A Public Space, which looked something like this:

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In which the much more wizened (read: older) New York Review of Books team won a narrow victory over the spritely A Public Space folks. (A Public Space, if you're wondering, is a pretty excellent literary magazine.) Present at the gathering were some bloggers, who looked something like this:

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That's (left to right) Sarah Weinman, Ed Champion and Levi Asher, conferring on how they know the answers the contestants don't. The bloggers (myself included) spent most of the time heckling the contestants and at the end Ed officially challenged the winners to a bloggers vs. NYROB match-up. A good time was had by me.

Report from the New York Independent Book Fair Day 1

Today was day one of the New York Independent and Small Press Book Fair. Predictably, I spent too much money buying cool books that will now go in the ginormous stack of books I have yet to read. I attended two panels: The first was on publicity, and the second was a Q&A with Ian MacKaye of the band Fugazi. If, like me, you might wonder "why is a guy from some rock band doing a Q&A at a book fair," the answer is because he published a book about the band, and is in general one of the pioneers of the DIY (that's Do It Yourself) movement, running his own record label and self-publishing his own music back when that wasn't at all common. The two panels were interesting contrasts, since the publicists were (as one would expect) all about how to sell books, talking about how they work for months trying to get their books reviewed and one publicist (Sarah Reidy of Soho Press I think) talked about how she "takes bloggers to lunch." (Is it ethical for bloggers to let publicists buy them lunch? I don't know, but if any publicists are reading this, I like Chinese food.) Ian McKaye, on the other hand, said things like "Everything is being used to sell something else. Weekly papers these days are like advertising circulars with a bit more content." It reminds me of a guy I knew who worked in the publicity department of a small record label, and he tried hard to convince me that reviews were just another form of publicity. Of course, to a publicist, reviews are a form of publicity, but it's imperative that reviewers don't see it this way, because if a reviewer looses her integrity than she is useless as a reviewer. Readers have to be able to trust reviewers. More to the point, the reviewer's job, unlike the publicist's job, is not to sell you on a product, but rather to give you enough information about a product so that you know whether or not you want to buy it. This is a very, very important distinction. But to be fair, in the book publishing world just getting the name of a book out to people is a bit of an accomplishment. I don't envy book publicists their jobs.

But I digress. The Ian MacKaye Q&A was marred mostly by people asking him questions that had nothing to do with publishing or DIY and were instead about his bands and his music (including a long answer from him to a question about some controversy with Nike stealing one of their album covers that I couldn't have cared less about). I really would have liked to get a lot more from him about how to start a business with a DIY aesthetic, how to market products without subscribing to a culture that he thinks "is always trying to sell you something else" and what he meant when he said that "punk is the freespace, and it's been around forever" a statement that I thought was very strange and enigmatic. I would have asked him about these things myself but I didn't get a chance to. Maybe I'll send him an email.