I’m very sad about this

Early morning, Wednesday, 27 January

Just in from Kathleen Bartholomew, Kage Baker’s sister and care giver:

Kage’s doctor has informed us she has reached the end of useful treatment. The cancer has slowed, but not stopped. It has continued to spread at an unnatural speed through her brain, her lungs and – now – reappeared in her abdomen. It is probably a matter of a few weeks, at most.

Kage has fought very hard, but this is just too aggressive and mean. She’s very, very tired now, and ready for her Long Sleep. She’s not afraid.

We’ve been in a motel the last week or so, in order to complete her therapy. I’ll have her home in her own bedroom by the weekend, though, so end of life care can take place in more comfortable surroundings.

via Green Man Review and John Scalzi.

There are two intertwined sources of grief in this news.

First, I love Kage Baker’s books, especially the Company novels.

Second, my late friend Barbara and I read most of them together as they came out, and they were central to our recognition that we turned time and again to unorthodox time-travel books. (Other notable authors in that category are Kim Stanley Robinson and Connie Willis.)

And now not only will I not be reading new Kage Baker novels with Barbara, I won’t be reading any at all. Barbara’s last weeks at home in hospice care were rich and filled with loving friends and family, and she simply never woke up from an afternoon nap. My prayers are with Kage, her sister, their family and friends, as she continues along the path we will all walk one day.

2008 technology: Kindle

After eyeing them online, I finally handled a Kindle and talked to a couple of Kindle-owners last June. That rather undermined my defenses against buying one, and I finally broke down in August and bought one.

I love it!

Does it have room for improvement? Yes. The configuration of the buttons is a bit awkward. Putting the on/off and wireless switches on the back doesn’t work all that well with the cover (which depends on a little tab on the back to stay in place). Said cover comes off a little too easily.

Am I reading more? Yes, even if I haven’t been blogging the books. Neal Stephenson’s Anathem was really great. I’ve reread Swiss Family Robinson. I’m almost done with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.

Is it legible? Yes. You need external light. One of the reasons I bought it is that it doesn’t shine into my eyes like computer screens and nearly every other electronic device I own.

Is it easy to use? Yes, with some caveats. If you buy books from the Amazon Kindle store, it is a breeze. If you want books from somewhere else, you need to be careful about format, and then you need to use a cable to transfer the file to the Kindle. It is possible to convert formats either by emailing the file via your Kindle email address, or to use a piece of PC-only software (which actually works quite nicely).

The longer you wait, the farther away it gets

On September 15, 2006, I ordered a special 25th anniversary edition of one of my favorite books, Little, Big by John Crowley, which was then in preparation. (I even sprang for a copy of the numbered edition, I like this book that much.) There is a theme in the book, that the farther in you go, the bigger it gets. Waiting for this book to appear feels much like that. Here’s the most recent (October 3) update from the publisher:

A few folks have made the perfectly reasonable request that I post updates on the progress of Little, Big 25 more frequently and more regularly; I will do so at least once a month from now on, and as we get closer to finishing the book that frequency will only increase.

The news from September is not ideal. I threw my back out badly early in the month, and was barely able to move for twelve days. I got little work done during that time, and it’s taken me awhile to get back up to speed since. I am still immersed in choosing the art for The Wild Wood, and expect that John Berry and I will finish that within ten days or so, and move on to The Art of Memory. I will post another update at that point.

I regret to say that this means we won’t be able to get books out in time for Christmas. Better that I make that clear now rather than later. January remains a possibility.

In other news, the Numbered Edition is almost sold out: out of 300 numbered copies, we have sold 290: only ten remain. Those interested in buying a Numbered copy should enquire about availability at vranizky@speakeasy.net.

Many thanks for your continued patience and forbearance. Please look for another update around the middle of October.

It is, you will note, nearly the middle of November and there has been no update. I don’t know whether to feel resigned, sad, or angry.

Books as business, take 2

The New York article I blogged a few days ago got quite a response from Kassia Krozser at Booksquare, It’s Only The End of Rose-Colored Glasses:

Noted statistician Philip Roth estimated, fifteen years ago, “…there were at most 120,000 serious American readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade.” If this were even remotely true, then the New York publishing industry would have collapsed ages ago. Lordy, how would they make the rent on those Manhattan offices?

What is really meant by this, and what is really meant by this article is that a certain segment of the publishing industry is in jeopardy: literary (with a capital L) fiction. More specifically, literary fiction from New York publishers. Look at who is doing the hand-wringing, who is doing the worrying. If this is the end (and it’s not), then what, exactly, is ending?

Both posts have quite a few great comments, well worth the time.

Resist the present!

Not to mention the future: Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind – ChronicleReview.com

So let’s restrain the digitizing of all liberal-arts classrooms. More than that, given the tidal wave of technology in young people’s lives, let’s frame a number of classrooms and courses as slow-reading (and slow-writing) spaces. Digital technology has become an imperial force, and it should meet more antagonists. Educators must keep a portion of the undergraduate experience disconnected, unplugged, and logged off. Pencils, blackboards, and books are no longer the primary instruments of learning, true, but they still play a critical role in the formation of intelligence, as countermeasures to information-age mores. That is a new mission for educators parallel to the mad rush to digitize learning, one that may seem reactionary and retrograde, but in fact strives to keep students’ minds open and literacy broad. Students need to decelerate, and they can’t do it by themselves, especially if every inch of the campus is on the grid.

Obviously this guy is a complete lightweight, or he’d be holding the line at oral recitation. Pfft.

While I heartily disagree with him (I believe he is confusing the medium with the method, and reactively at that), his essay is worth reading.

Books as a business

Fascinating article in New York Magazine, as a reader, as an editor, and as a new owner of a kindle: Have We Reached the End of Book Publishing As We Know It?

Debbie Stier, Miller’s No. 2 at HarperStudio as this little imprint is called, has been collecting videos for their blog. “You want to see what happens to books after they go to book heaven?” she asks. On the screen of her MacBook, a giant steel shredder disgorges a ragged mess of paper and cardboard onto a conveyor belt. This is the fate of up to 25 percent of the product churned out by New York’s publishing machine.

Everyone’s eyes widen, as though watching some viral YouTube gross-out. “It’s like Wall-E,” says marketing director Sarah Burningham. “It’s depressing,” Miller adds. They had sent in a Flip camera with a warehouse worker. “You can see our books go through there,” says Stier. “The Crichton, the Ann Patchett.”

Marilynne Robinson on faith

The Spring 2008 issue of Harvard Divinity Bulletin has a lovely essay by Marilynne Robinson, “Credo.”

History up to the present moment tells us again and again that a narrow understanding of faith very readily turns to bitterness and coerciveness. There is something about certainty that makes Christianity un-Christian. Instances of this are only too numerous and familiar. . . .

My habit for a long time has been to consider disputed and in some cases discarded doctrines on the theory that if in the past thoughtful people have found them meaningful, they might in fact be meaningful, though, of course, meaningful is not the same as wholly sufficient or correct. Take for example the two terms in that venerable controversy, free will versus predestination. There are problems associated with both of them, but in such great matters problems are to be expected, and problems have their own interest and their own implications. In the universe that is the knowledge of God, opposed beliefs can be equally true, and equally false, and, at the same time, complementary, because contradiction and anomaly are the effect of our very limited understanding. As a writer it is important to me to remember always, or as often as I can, that we inhabit a reality far larger and more complex than our conception of it can in any way reflect.

Sadly, the website has only a short excerpt from her essay, but it is well worth getting a copy of the issue. (I found the following essay unreadably over-written–my colleagues assure me it is par for academia–but there’s another wonderful and readable essay on Confucian thought, “Rooted in Humanity, Extended to Heaven,” by Tu Weiming, which isn’t online at all.)

Phineas Finn

And, in a break from political videos, I should report that I finished Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, which introduces yet another misguided, modestly dissipated youth who doesn’t know his own mind, in this case the title character. There are also three rather wonderful female characters: Lady Laura Kennedy, for whom the plot is a tragedy; Miss Violet Effingham, for whom the book eventually turns out to be a romance; and Madame Max Goesler, for whom the book may or may not be a comedy. I hope very much to see each of these characters (even young Mr Finn) in a future book.