Sophie Labbé conceives the smell of Christian Grey as an ultra-niche shower gel. Aldehydes for the bubbles, musks for the white linen shirt, jasmine, cumin and nutmeg for a subtle human touch. Karanal, which spans from “clean laundry” (it is used in detergents) to animalic (it is an ambergris note), gives the scent the slight abrasiveness of crisp linen. Oddly enough, this scent really is somewhat in shades of gray: though it has quite a powerful sillage, it doesn’t quite register as perfume but rather as a stealthy aura.
I carried the vial with me the next evening at the party of the French publishers of Fifty Shades, where of course it was greeted with squeals of glee. I’ve even had to promise a best-selling author – one of the stars of the French Elle – I’d get some made up for her. She was ready to buy it immediately! I’d wager even people who’d turn their noses up at the book could embrace this scent.
Your Indonesian characters are warm hearted and artistic, or they are thin, dangerous people with black eyes. They must all inhale deeply from a clove cigarette after every line of dialogue. It is important to give them generic universal Muslim names. Achmad is an excellent choice but Muhammad is a bit too strong. If you must include a Balinese character make sure he/she is called Weigh-Anne.
Indonesians do not have Facebook accounts. They enjoy cockfights and have an intimate connection to the world of spirits.
Your book must contain white people if it is to appeal to readers. If the book is non-fiction the white person is you. If you are writing fiction, then the white person should be a decent but tormented aid worker. The book should also contain a white journalist. If you are writing non-fiction the journalist is probably you. If you are writing fiction he is an alcoholic with a good heart.
Even if your book is set in the 21st century your journalist should be based on a Graham Greene character. He works in a small office with a ceiling fan up a flight of cracked concrete steps in Glodok. He does not have a smart phone. His local assistant is an inscrutable communist. He files only one story a month and never writes about business or the economy. This is important.
Your book should also contain a fat, sleazy American who works for the CIA.
A few years ago, I read a book set in modern day Malaysia written in English by a modern day Malaysian. I did not like it at all—I thought it read like a book about Malaysia written by a white dude. There was an American CIA agent in it, of course.
I’ve done pretty strange things after taking Ambien—my partner swears that I once asked him if cancer was important because it’s so European—but I apparently rated a book on Goodreads last night. I am mildly distressed by this because I have not finished the book—rating gives me closure, and I have now robbed myself of this pleasure. I ought to try writing reviews the next time. In Zolpidem Veritas.
“Back in the office, Edwin, who had a sweet tooth, bit the head off a black jelly baby. There was nothing racist about his action or his choice, it was simply that he preferred the pungent licorice flavour of the black babies to the more insipid orange, lemon or raspberry ‘type’ of the others.”—
Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn, pp. 4 - 5
This is why you read. You’ll eventually discover that you’re not alone in liking licorice jelly babies! (Though I like the red ones second best.)
Some weeks ago I decided that I wanted to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Lou Ann loaned me her copy. At more than 1100 pages, reading it in bed required as much strength as balancing a box of bricks in my hands. In my senior years I have developed arthritis in my thumbs, which made the effort not only difficult, but painful.
I had read about half of the novel when I was given the gift of a Nook, the e-reader from Barnes and Noble. Although I am committed to supporting my neighborhood independent book store (Books to be Red), and enjoying honest-to-goodness books, the .99 Nook edition was so lightweight that it has made reading War and Peace a genuine pleasure. For those of you who have not tackled this tome as yet, it is a page-turner.
As I was reading, I came across this sentence: “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….” Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text.
For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: “It was as if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern….”
Someone at Barnes and Noble (a twenty year old employee? or maybe the CEO?) had substituted every incidence of “kindled” with “Nookd!”
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”—Maurice Sendak
Hmm. I wish someone would compile the numbers for this. For me, immediate gratification is (almost) everything, so while I naturally love my Kindle, I never walk away from a bookstore empty-handed either. The few Kindle-owning bibliophiles I know also shop in a similar fashion, though I wouldn’t go so far as to assume that we’re representative of our group.
This post is part of “How We Will Read,” an interview series exploring the future of books from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. Read our kickoff post with Steven Johnson here. And check out our new homepage, a captivating new way to explore Findings.
Clay is one of the foremost minds studying the evolution of Internet culture. He is also a dedicated writer and reader, and it was natural that we would ask him to contribute to our series to hear what he could teach us about social reading. Clay is both brilliant and witty, able to weave in quotes from Robert Frost in one breath and drop a “ZOMG” in the next. So sit down and take notes: Professor Shirky’s about to speak.
How is publishing changing?
Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.
In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a Wordpress install.
The question isn’t what happens to publishing — the entire category has been evacuated. The question is, what are the parent professions needed around writing? Publishing isn’t one of them. Editing, we need, desperately. Fact-checking, we need. For some kinds of long-form texts, we need designers. Will we have a movie-studio kind of setup, where you have one class of cinematographers over here and another class of art directors over there, and you hire them and put them together for different projects, or is all of that stuff going to be bundled under one roof? We don’t know yet. But the publishing apparatus is gone. Even if people want a physical artifact — pipe the PDF to a printing machine. We’ve already seen it happen with newspapers and the printer. It is now, or soon, when more people will print the New York Times holding down the “print” button than buy a physical copy.
The original promise of the e-book was not a promise to the reader, it was a promise to the publisher: “We will design something that appears on a screen, but it will be as inconvenient as if it were a physical object.” This is the promise of the portable document format, where data goes to die, as well.
Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Now publishers are in the business not of overcoming scarcity but of manufacturing demand. And that means that almost all innovation in creation, consumption, distribution and use of text is coming from outside the traditional publishing industry.
What is the future of reading? How can we make it more social?
One of the things that bugs me about the Kindle Fire is that for all that I didn’t like the original Kindle, one of its greatest features was that you couldn’t get your email on it. There was an old saying in the 1980s and 1990s that all applications expand to the point at which they can read email. An old geek text editor, eMacs, had added a capability to read email inside your text editor. Another sign of the end times, as if more were needed. In a way, this is happening with hardware. Everything that goes into your pocket expands until it can read email.
But a book is a “momentary stay against confusion.” This is something quoted approvingly by Nick Carr, the great scholar of digital confusion. The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”