6.25.2005

I guess this NYT link is as good as any to start this blog off-

In Friday's New York Times, William Grimes give a little shout out to Harry Frankfurt's much asteriked title. And unlike other mentions of why the book is valuable in today's media-scape or its quirky history, he focuses on how the book is short and sweet. At least he mentions Paul Strathern's work and two others. While he does mention there are a lot of these single subject books already out on the market (such as Sharman Apt Russell's last 2 works- An Obsession With Butterflies and Anatomy of a Rose, or Continuum's 33 1/3 series) he seems to want more! The logic behind this call to (smaller) arms is that some subjects just don't need the scholarship behind them and that readers some times want a short, concise description (for some reason it seems a disservice to Auschwitz to claim that 176 pages is enough on the subject). Well, if the reader wants a short synopsis of a famous life or subject and they're thinking about buying a book that they can read in an hour or 2, I would like to introduce you to my friend, the wikipedia.


Now I can forgive someone wanting a lightweight book for the summer months so they don't work up a sweat on the subway/ bus hauling 700-1,000 pages (after all those are for summer vacation at the summer house in the Hampton/the Cape). But I can not let this comment just pass- "But like mainstream Hollywood films, nonfiction books have shown a tendency to expand in recent years, for no particular reason." Let's ignore the obvious fact that the only movie shorts I know about are shown on PBS (at least for now) and the shorts festival that usually last 3 or more hours or that a lot of them there comedies in theatres run about 90 to 100 minutes and get right to the publishing heart of the matter. There are very obvious business reasons why the books have ended up on a weight-gain formula. Nonfiction these days doesn't have the robust readership it once had when works were only 225 pages. Add the fact that the cost of material and actual printing has gone up and suddenly you're looking at having to charge $30.00 for a book regardless of the page count. The sales figures just aren't high enough to create a big enough print run to cover costs in the twenty dollar range. If you're going to charge $30.00 for a hardcover, then you better make the book seem worth it since most people these days feel that they should only pay $10.00 to $20.00 for a book. How would Mr. Grimes feel about paying $30.00 for a 225 page book? A lot of people (at least in the mind's of the buyer at major bookstores) are looking for a value in books. The can get everything else on sale, why not books? The consumer doesn't care that the industry does not have the same mark-up as CDs, clothing, and electronics. I can't count the number of production meetings I've been in where we've had to increase the price after the sales force has come back with sales estimates. Suddenly you're looking at a mid-list book that was prices at around $24 needing to go up to $27 to make it worthwhile to publish.

And that's just for the books that probably shouldn't be as long as they are but get caught up in the business of books. There's still the fact that with the added informational resources available, writers have access to a lot more information for their subject which can lead to a more complete overview than 10, 20, 30 years ago. But I'll leave the actual criticism of the article in literary terms to a more eloquent voice.

Now if you excuse me I have a work by William Vollmann that's crushing several micro-histories on my bookshelf.

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