Sara Paretsky and the Case of the Electronic Galley

Chicago-based crime writer Sara Paretsky recently learned that her publisher intends to stop sending her edits on paper; in the future, she’ll have to manage all edits electronically. This displeases her:

I think the blogosphere and 24 hour web news makes us sloppy as readers and as writers, and that going to a strictly electronic book will make books sloppier, less carefully written, less carefully edited.

Her editor tried to unruffle her feathers, and so does Kevin Guilfoile, her colleague at the Outfit blog of Chicago crime writers; in the comments responding to her post, he points out that one could always print out the manuscript in your e-mail in-box.

There are a lot of reasons to worry about the future of book publishing. An online copyflow process isn’t one of them. It’s possible to read an online galley just as carefully as any other document—as I’ve learned recently, working with an all-PDF system goes quite smoothly. Perhaps the “blogosphere and 24 hour Web news” are making us generally sloppy readers, but there’s no reason why careful writers and careful editors need to be caught up in the swim while working on the document at hand. And if a cratering publishing industry saves a small fortune on document shipping costs, so much the better.

Roundup: The Chicago Way

Nancy Schnog, writing in the Washington Post, figures that books like Julia Alvarez‘s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents threaten to alienate teens from reading, and that high-school reading lists need a rethink. Commentaries on books have been done to death, she writes, and “Asking our students for yet another written commentary has a certain absurd ring to it, no?” Well, I didn’t think the goal of asking high-schoolers to write about a book was to extract shiny new insights about The Great Gatsby—just to test their comprehension and analytical skills. I also don’t see how it helps to further coddle an everybody-gets-a-trophy generation by wringing one’s hands over a 14-year-old boy who doesn’t like the book about Latinas because he himself isn’t Latina. But Schnog’s the teacher….

John McCain got through his ordeal in a POW camp by lecturing on the history of American literature. His cellmate Orson Swindle says McCain’s command of the facts wasn’t especially solid, though. “We only had the facts half right, but John said nobody knew the difference,” Swindle tells the Associated Press.

The Guardian‘s review of Philip Hoare‘s Leviathan makes the critical study of all things whale-related sound fantastic. (Naturally, there’s plenty of ruminating on Moby-Dick.) Alas, it’s not yet available in the United States.

The London Times interviews Paul Auster about Man in the Dark, a book I’m clanging on about more than usual because it’s one of my favorite novels of the year. Spoiler alert: the piece discloses a late-breaking plot point in the novel.

And again in the Post, crime novelist and blogger Sara Paretsky ponders the kind of bare-knuckle Chicago politics that she and Barack Obama grew to know:

[M]y real political baptism came in 1971, on a cold November election day. The city’s elections were notoriously corrupt, and I agreed to be a poll watcher in my South Side precinct. I watched the Democratic precinct captain repeatedly enter the booth with voters while the two election judges (one Republican, one Democrat) and a cop stood idly by. When I protested to the judges, the cop frog-marched me to the alley behind the polling place, slammed me against the wall and said, “Girlie, we’ve been running elections here since before you were born. You go home.”

Marlovian Theory

At the Outfit, Sara Paretsky writes a brief but elegant tribute to Raymond Chandler‘s 1954 novel, The Long Goodbye. The story in the novel itself, Paretsky argues, mirrors Chandler’s own feelings of entrapment at the time–most pressingly, his concern that he was boxed in as a genre writer. “I might be the best writer in the country,” Paretsky quotes Chandler as writing to his editor after sending a draft of the novel. “And with two exceptions I very likely am, but I’m still [considered just] a mystery writer.” Paretsky adds:

The Long Good-Bye expresses Chandler’s bitterness and his weariness. Although Marlowe is beaten, is sent to prison, and has his life threatened, these action scenes are small punctuations in a novel about men trying to make sense of a world where they don’t feel at home. The first part of the book is an almost dreamlike series of conversations between Marlowe and Terry Lennox, a man scarred by war and by money. The middle, where Marlowe is involved with Roger Wade and his wife, has long passages filled with Chandler’s own torment about the state of his writing.

News and Notes

Jonathan Franzen wrings his hands about the God thing.

Sara Paretsky is suing an Indiana man in the wake of a traffic accident that she argues impaired her earning power.

David Morrell, author of First Blood, is quite happy with the Rambo films.

(And a quick Dept. of Self-Promotion note: I have a short review of Marc Masters‘ fine book on New York’s No Wave scene in this week’s Washington City Paper. An interview with Masters is now up on CP‘s music blog, Black Plastic Bag.)

NBCC Winners

For what I imagine was the first time in history, the announcement of finalists in the National Book Critics Circle annual awards was about as sophisticated as the Golden Globe Awards. The finalists are listed below. (The NBCC’s blog, Critical Mass, liveblogged the whole thing.) Following that list is the ballot I submitted; not much overlap. (I considered The Rest Is Noise to be a nonfiction book, more a critical history than a book of criticism, and I thought of Brother, I’m Dying more as a reported personal history than an autobiography, but making tough calls like those is what the NBCC is for, I suppose.)

Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone, Free Press
Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying, Knopf
Joyce Carol Oates, The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973–1982, Ecco
Sara Paretsky, Writing in an Age of Silence, Verso
Anna Politkovskaya: Russian Diary: A Journalist’s Final Account of Life, Corruption and Death in Putin’s Russia, Random House

Philip Gura, American Transcendentalism, Farrar, Straus
Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848, Oxford University Press
Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Doubleday
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA, Doubleday
Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, Thomas Dunne BKs/St. Martin’s

Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games, HarperCollins
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Riverhead
Hisham Matar, In The Country of Men. Dial Press
Joyce Carol Oates, The Gravediggers Daughter. HarperCollins
Marianne Wiggins, The Shadow Catcher, S. & S.

Tim Jeal, Stanley: The Impossible Life Of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, Yale University Press
Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton, Knopf
Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison. Knopf
John Richardson, The Life Of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, Knopf
Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy, Penguin Press

Mary Jo Bang, Elegy, Graywolf
Matthea Harvey, Modern Life, Graywolf
Michael O’Brien, Sleeping and Waking, Flood
Tom Pickard, The Ballad of Jamie Allan, Flood
Tadeusz Rozewicz, New Poems, Archipelago

Acocella, Joan. Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, Pantheon
Alvarez, Julia. Once Upon a Quniceanera, Viking
Faludi, Susan. The Terror Dream, Metropolitan/Holt
Ratliff, Ben. Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, Farrar, Straus
Ross, Alex. The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Farrar, Straus

Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing

Sam Anderson — winner

Brooke Allen
Ron Charles
Walter Kirn
Adam Kirsch

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
Emilie Buchwald, writier, editor, and publisher of Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis

My ballot: 

1. Shalom Auslander, “Foreskin’s Lament” (Riverhead)
2. Stacey Grenrock Woods, “I, California” (Scribner)
3. Robert Stone, “Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties” (Ecco)
1. David Michaelis, “Schulz and Peanuts” (HarperCollins)
2. Dennis McDougal, “Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times” (Wiley)


1. Ha Jin, “A Free Life” (Pantheon)
2. Daniel Alarcon, “Lost City Radio” (HarperCollins)
3. Vendela Vida, “Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name” (Ecco)
4. Junot Diaz, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (Riverhead)
5. Andre Aciman, “Call Me by Your Name” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
1. Edwidge Danticat, “Brother, I’m Dying” (Knopf)
2. Alex Ross, “The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
3. Ann Hagedorn, “Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919” (Simon & Schuster)
4. Paula Kamen, “Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind” (Da Capo)
5. Peter Schmidt, “Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action” (Palgrave Macmillan)