Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Monday, January 31, 2005

Bizarre Coincidence

Another truly bizarre coincidence to report. Although my house is extremely well constructed, there is one area where it is sadly lacking in quality. The pipes are not insulated for sound and when you release the water from the tub, it sounds for all the world like it is just cascading down the wall. It really doesn't sound like it's in a pipe at all and it still unsettles me to hear it. Although we've been in the house for about two and a half years, my wife just noticed this the other night. After explaining to her that this situation is very common, she went to sleep and I sat down to read which I almost never do that late at night (1 A.M.).

I decided to pick a story from Mark Helprin's new collection, The Pacific and Other Stories (The Penguin Press, 2004). I paged through the book and selected the most interesting story, Vandevere's House. It was short (12 pages) and it had an intriguing opening:

A year or two before Melissa left, Vandevere had fallen into the rhythm of making the house better, day by day.

Three pages into the story, I get to the following unbelievable passage:

Though you could not see them, the things you could not see were flawless. The plumbing supply lines, for example, were made of an alloy used in United States naval ships to coat areas subject to the greatest corrosion. When water ran to sinks and tubs, you could not hear it coursing within the walls even with a stethoscope, and when it drained it cascaded inaudibly down stainless-steel pipes with sides two inches thick, themselves encased within walls as heavy
with plaster as the White Cliffs of Dover.

When I recovered from this passage, I somehow managed to finish this wonderful story about a man who could not let disorder into his hopelessly ordered life. Like all of Helprin's books, this is a treasure to be savored one great story at a time.

Bookies Atwitter!

Wow, I have really been lazy. Twenty eight days since my last entry. Wish I could say I've been reading madly but we all know that's not the truth. Anyway, in a really weird coincidence, I decided to use the seldom heard word "atwitter" in the title when I thought of this entry a couple of weeks back. I can't remember the last time I heard "atwitter" spoken nor would I want to guess when I'll next hear it, but the day after the word popped into my head, I heard it mentioned on the news. I'm sure if you gave me a dollar for every day that goes by without hearing it again, I'd be rather rich.

In any event, this entry is occasioned by a now misplaced article in The New York Times in which the stagnant fates of the book industry were bemoaned. Actually the article wasn't really that negative. The publishing industry seems to be treading water but in this economy that's not such a bad thing. Witness the music industry which is on a slippery slope to oblivion as sales keep heading south. Fortunately for the music industry, they're a lot more creative than the publishing industry, and keep trying to reinvent themselves. Their latest effort, the Dual Disc (video on one side, music on the other) seems to have run afoul of technical difficulties with more than a few hardware manufacturers warning consumers that they are to use the discs in their equipment at their own peril. Seems the thicker than normal discs are not reliable, to be charitable, and warranties will not be honored for damaged players.

The rather staid publishing industry should be glad that they're not beset with the technological advances that threaten the recording industry, and also that, with the exception of the advancing age of their customers, they don't really have any natural predators. You can copy a CD for about 15 cents, and blank DVDs are now only 40 cents each. Of course, you could probably copy a book at work for free if you were so inclined, but of course except in rare instances, nobody's going to go to the trouble.

The answer to the publishing industry's problems can be summed up in two words: added value. There is little incentive to buy a hardcover when you can just borrow the book from the library, or wait until the inevitable paperback comes out at half price or less. Now if there were a few extra added attractions to tantalize us. I'm betting though that you won't see any supplemental material until the industry is down for the count, which may not actually be too far off. People are now starting to realize that they've got way too many unopened DVDs laying around and you can see that business choking on product. As people embrace digital music on their iPods, CDs are suffering. Pity the old fashioned book. How long before it's on life support?

I just spotted the anniversary edition of William Gibson's Neuromancer in my local library. Now if ever a book cried out for supplemental material, that's the one. Except for a new introduction by Gibson, and a fairly substantial afterword by Jack Womack, there's really nothing here to make you want to buy the book. How much do you want to bet that the forthcoming 75th anniversary edition of The Maltese Falcon has nothing extra to offer either?