The Future Of The Future Of Books

Thoughts on Amazon, e-books, and the future of how we read words.

Nathan Pyle / BuzzFeed

Everything Is About to Change (for Real This Time)

The year I graduated high school, the media was overrun with speculation about a new technology set to shake the foundation of the world. What was it? We weren’t told, exactly. All we knew was that code name “IT” was so revolutionary that we would have to rebuild our cities from scratch. Techie god Steve Jobs declared it “as big a deal as the PC.”

At the end of the year, the product that was about to blow our minds to the future was revealed: the Segway.

A dorky scooter.

Instead of forcing us to rebuild our major metropolises, the Segway managed to be a prop for blowhards on TV sitcoms. I think I’ve seen one twice in real life.

I was thinking about the Segway again as I’ve fallen into a hole of reading about Amazon versus Hachette, e-books, self-publishing, and Kindle Unlimited. Most articles and nearly every comment thread are filled with declarations that e-book dominance is already here. The publishers are “dinosaurs” who don’t see the “paradigm-shifting” “sea change” and aren’t creating “proactive” new “business models” in the wake of this “disruptive” “revolution.” Anyone who reads print is a “luddite” propping up a “dying industry.” If they don’t get on board soon, they’re doomed!

Strangely, you can read those same comments in articles from last year. Or five years ago. Or 10.

It’s been over 15 years since the first dedicated e-readers were released, and over seven since the first Kindle. Today, about 15% of consumer spending on books is electronic and about 30% of books sold are e-books. The majority of book readers still only read in print, and only 6% of readers read e-books exclusively. It’s clear that e-books are here to stay, but it’s less clear that the complete dismantling of the publishing industry is around the corner.

Technology Is Only a Straight Line in Retrospect

I’m the online editor for Electric Literature, an organization dedicated to new literary models and technologies. I’m active on social media, I’ve crowdfunded a book, and I’ve published e-only works. I’m hardly a luddite who hates the internet, and indeed I get excited about the new possibilities for reading and literature out there.

Still, I roll my eyes at the constant declarations that the future is here all over again. Every new product is a revolution, every app will completely change how we communicate. A pair of “smart boxers” that monitors your farts per day is the future of underwear. An e-toothpick that tweets your gum health is a paradigm shift in dentistry. It’s true that there are always people who resist change, and industries that collapse because of it. It is also true that new “revolutions” fail to occur on a monthly basis. Even the most forward-thinking writers get their predications way off.

Technological progression always looks like a straight line in retrospect, but only because we ignore the supposed sea changes that fail. Movies were black and white without sound, then black and white with sound, then color with sound. But what happened to Smell-O-Vision? And five years after Avatar, why hasn’t 3D completely taken over the way we watch movies instead of being a declining sideshow? On the one hand, it’s easy to see the progress from early cell phones to modern smartphones. And yet, the fact that it was phones that progressed that quickly instead of, say, consumer vehicles (still no flying cars?) would shock time travelers from as recently as 1994.

The Future of Books Is Hypertext! No. It’s POD! No. It’s Enhanced E-Books! Apps! Netflix for Books! None of Those? Wait. It’s Cloud Storage!

In Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky recently declared that the Amazon-Hachette dispute is silly because both companies “fail to recognize is that in the world of digital literature, book ownership will soon be an anachronism.” The actual future of books, according to Bershidsky, is “an enormous digital library in the cloud, where any book could be borrowed.”

I could see a cloud service working, but it’s another amusingly confident prediction that contradicts previous confident predictions. Is the future cloud borrowing instead of Netflix model? Is it “an interactive novel read on a Google Glass“? Is it apps? Social writing networks like Wattpad? Print on demand (POD) machines on every corner? Nano-narrative book bots plugged directly into your eyeball?

Likely all of those things will have some role, however small, in 10 years’ time. But one thing that all of these predictions miss is that people actually like physical books. They like holding them. They like putting them on bookshelves and coffee tables. Hotels and retail stores buy bulk used books for decoration. Many people who buy exclusively e-books still like to browse in physical bookstores and look at physical books.

The printed book is far from dead.

Nathan Pyle / BuzzFeed

Books Are Not Music

The favorite comparison for print doomsayers is the music industry. Although Bershidsky rightly points out that financially the publishing industry is adapting to the digital world much better than the music industry did, he still falls back into the default comparison:

[…] the book market is following the music market’s technological development path. It progressed from hardcover and paperback books — analogous to vinyl LPs and CDs — to Amazon’s Kindle, which could be used to purchase books from Amazon the way Apple Inc. sold songs to iPod users through its iTunes store.

Since this comparison is made ad nauseam, I’d like to take a detour and list some reasons why I’ve always thought it was off:

  • New music formats were improvements while new print formats were variety. New music formats had more functions (fast-forwarding, skipping around, etc.), were smaller, and held larger amounts of information. Trade paperbacks were cheaper, less sturdy version of hardcovers, and mass market paperbacks were cheaper and flimsier still. Book formats were meant to capture different parts of the market; music formats were meant to replace previous formats.
  • In a 20-year period, consumers were asked to move from vinyl to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s –and to buy new devices to play them with each time. You read paperback and hardcover with the same set of hands and eyes.
  • There are numerous industry differences too, but in the interest of keeping this relatively short I’ll stick to one: the music industry was built around using singles to sell albums. Customers often felt forced into paying full album price just to access the one or two songs they wanted. Readers, however, do not buy novels to read the one chapter they like over and over.

Dinosaurs Don’t Always Die

Even if you believe that the publishing industry is just another bunch of “dinosaurs” like the music and movie industries, it doesn’t follow that the big publishers are dying. Last time I checked, the rise of Netflix and YouTube haven’t stopped the box office from being dominated by the same movie studios rebooting the same franchises with the same famous actors. While a few superstars have risen from self-publishing, it still remains the usual pack of Big 5 Kings and Rowlings topping the best-seller lists.

As a fan of independent music, small presses, and weirdo films, I’m not cheering this on. I wish that the early ’00s vision of the internet allowing the passionate indies to topple the giant corporations had panned out. At best, though, we’ve traded a handful of old corporations for new, larger ones (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.) and actually made it harder for artists to survive.

The internet has made people expect “content” (a gross term for art) to be very cheap or free…even when that content is advertising for rich corporations. While everyone can produce and spread art, it’s becoming increasingly hard to actually make any kind of living off of it. The people in position to capitalize are always the rich, and so the big movie studios are able to leverage the global markets and the established music industry players have been able to leverage music licenses to car commercials. While a lot of self-publishers have this idea the Big 5 hate and fear them, the truth is closer to the opposite: The Big 5 have started to look at the typo-ridden Wild West of self-publishing as a kind of digital slush pile from which they can snatch up the works that build an audience. (Publishers are even trying to re-create this dynamic under their umbrellas.)

The dinosaurs, it would seem, are much better at adapting than we think.

The Future of Books Tomorrow…Today!

Since I’ve taken some jabs at other people’s overconfident predictions, here’s where I post my own predictions for future bloggers to mock.

It’s possible that in the distant future we will “read” by injecting word venom into our bloodstream, but I don’t think printed books are going away anytime soon. (Predictions beyond a decade are pretty pointless in conversations about contract negotiations or what way to publish your work today.) E-books will continue to grow, but print will remain a large portion and probably capture a majority of dollars spent for the near future. If there’s a reason to be bearish on print, it’s the shuttering of physical bookstores (although indie bookstores are experiencing a bit of a comeback). If there is any reason to be bearish on e-books, it is that dedicated e-readers are already nearly obsolete.

The reason that neither e-books nor print will die is that both have separate advantages. Print books are easier to flip through, easier to write in, look nicer on your shelf, and — as recent studies have indicated — the human brain processes information on them better. (That’s before getting into questions of DRM, poor formatting, the inability to loan or resell your e-books, and so on.) E-books obviously have advantages too. You can bring one slim device on a long trip instead of a half-dozen books. If you are connected to the internet, you can purchase instantly, look up words, and share bits with friends. Etc.

The film industry seems like a good comparison in how the mediums don’t compete as much as capture different markets. Diehard fans go to the theater and buy Blu-rays, regular fans go to theater now and then and maybe rent from iTunes, and casual fans just watch whatever happens to come to Netflix or Redbox. It’s easy to imagine diehard readers buying special editions or hardcovers, while regular readers get the paperback or e-book, and readers who don’t care as much about specific authors will buy whatever e-books go on sale.

And what about these “Netflix for books” services? People have been predicting their ascendance for some time, but I’m still skeptical. A big part of how Netflix works is by having a ton of crappy films and shows that casual viewers would never pay movie ticket prices for but will watch for no additional charge. My guess is that there are fewer readers like that, and people who do read that way can fill that need with extremely cheap used books or self-published e-books (thousands of which can be gotten for between $0.00 and $2.99). Unless these services figure out how to offer something new — exclusive content à la Netflix? — they won’t be a major force.

The ease of e-book publication combined opens up a lot of possibility for companies and organizations to become their own publishers. We have already seen magazines and newspapers start to publish e-books. Not only will this trend increase, but it will expand to other areas. TV shows and movie franchises publishing additional e-book material for diehard fans perhaps?

What about self-publishing versus print generally? I tend to think that framing them as opposing forces obscures the fact that they are, to a large degree, different worlds. Self-publishing has opened up new markets — some that big publishers overlooked, some that they didn’t want to be involved in — more than it has eaten away at traditional publishing sales. (If Amazon succeeds in drastically lowering e-book prices, the reverse may happen though.) Rather than self-publishing or traditional publishing, authors in genres like romance, fantasy, and sci-fi will increasingly go “hybrid.”

Despite the regular hyping of enhanced e-books/hypertext/apps/interactive books, I don’t see those going anywhere outside of a few specific markets like children’s books and textbooks. The problem is that we already have a whole industry devoted to interactive narratives: video games. Art forms survive by figuring out what makes them unique, not by trying to emulate other mediums.

What Can Books Do Better

Currently, publishers just convert their paperback books to e-book and self-publishers POD the same books they sell digitally. Just as art forms need to push their unique advantages, I think the future of books is pushing the unique advantages of different formats.

In print, you will see more focus on design. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in special editions, beautifully designed and smartly curated series, and books that really have to be read on paper due to unique layouts or interior art.

In e-book land, I can see a lot of ways to exploit the advantage of digital files. A lot of self-published authors “bundle” short novels or stories together to let readers sample different authors. There is no reason that traditionally published authors couldn’t do that too. Maybe presses will sell cheap “samplers” of the writers on their catalog like music labels used to do. An e-book file can be as long as you want, so why not include bonus materials that would muck up a print book? (Here’s a more dystopian e-book vision: e-book apps that are free to download and start, but require in-app purchases to finish the entire narrative or get bonus material.)

And what about using POD technology to allow customers to create their own anthologies from a publisher’s catalog? Publishers need to find ways to use the different advantages of each type of book, and figure out what kind of work can be done on e-book but not print, or POD but not hardcover.

You will also, I think, increasingly see e-books used to supplement the print edition. From J.K. Rowling writing new Harry Potter stories on her Pottermore website to Adele Waldman writing an e-single story from the POV of a minor character in her novel, writers are starting to figure out how to use digital distribution to provide additional material to readers.

In short, the various formats will cohabitate peacefully…at least until the next dinosaur-killing, paradigm-shifting, sea-changing, revolutionary technology appears.

***

Lincoln Michel’s fiction appears in Tin House, Electric Literature, Unstuck, NOON, and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of Gigantic magazine and Gigantic Worlds, a forthcoming anthology of science flash fiction. Sometimes he draws authors as monsters. He tweets at @thelincoln.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnmichel/the-future-is-never

How I Learned To Be OK With Feeling Sad

It wasn’t easy, or cheap.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

The first time I didn’t feel sad about feeling sad was on Sept. 17, 2013. I was in my therapist’s office. More specifically, I was lying on a table, faceup, in my therapist’s office. Maybe it sounds simple, but it was a trick I’d spent years practicing and trying to learn.

I do not mean that I take sadness lightly. Four and a half years ago, after a work-related immersion in sexual violence, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Subsequently, I was diagnosed with comorbid major depressive disorder. Comorbid to all that, I was diagnosed as alcoholic and suicidal. More than $20,000 worth of treatment later, I am no longer those things, but, as an evaluating psychiatrist put it in a report last year, I have “chronic,” “recurring,” “residual psychiatric symptoms” serious enough that she ruled me permanently disabled. I’ve been an emotional gal since always — “She has a lot of feelings,” my best grad-school friend would chuckle by way of explanation when I got worked up about some topic or other in front of strangers — and my emotions now are enormous. Frustration over a failed attempt to buy a sold-out rug online ends in so much yelling and foot-stomping that my neighbors complain. The intensity of a pop song lands like a blunt punch to my chest and explodes any grief nestling there; the very day I’m writing this, Nicki Minaj made me cry in my car.

Sincerely: I do not take sadness lightly. But after a lot of retraining, I do take it wholly, life-alteringly differently than I was raised to, and than almost anyone else I know. Now, sometimes when I’m not sad and I think about sadness, that thought is accompanied by this startling one: I miss it.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

Pre-therapy, this is the only thing I was ever taught, implicitly and explicitly, about sadness: It is bad.

You do not want it. If you’ve got it, you should definitely try to get rid of it, fast as possible. Whatever you do, don’t subject other people to it, because they do not like that.

Sadness can be legitimately problematic, absolutely. If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can’t keep living like that. But culturally, we aren’t allowed to be sad even for a little while. Even when it’s perfectly sensible. Even when, sometimes, we need it.

This is reflected in our entertainment. Watching Bridesmaids, I shake my head over how Melissa McCarthy slaps Kristen Wiig around and tells her to stop being sad, though she has recently lost her job, her savings, her home, and her best friend. (Miraculously, this solves Kristen Wiig’s attitude problem.) In the third episode of MasterChef Junior‘s second season, judge Joe Bastianich tells a contestant who has ruined her shepherd’s pie and possibly her dream of winning, the biggest dream she’s had up to this point in her life, “When things are as bad as they can be, you gotta pull it together. Wipe your tears.”

The contestant has been crying for mere seconds. She is 8 years old.

What does it say about our relationship to sadness that Joan Didion — who we can all agree is a pretty smart, educated, and worldly cookie — had to write an entire book about trying to learn how to grieve? This ethos was fine for me when mostly nothing bad happened and if it did, the accompanying sadness didn’t linger for too long. But post-trauma, it turned out to be a massive impediment to my recovery.

I had a lot of symptoms. They all alarmed me, but equally so the most straightforward one: sadness. Sometimes I cried from uncontrollable, overwhelming, life-swallowing sadness. And all the time, the sadness and crying itself freaked me the fuck out. I would start crying, and then immediately hate myself. Why was I crying? Why couldn’t I get this sadness to go away? What was wrong with me?

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

I got into therapy. I’d gone before, casually and occasionally, for support with some huge changes — a new city and new job and fresh divorce years earlier. Now, it was a therapy emergency. I considered myself decently good at self-care in general, but sure, I let it slip when I got too busy, when work was too demanding, when there were things I had to do that I knew I was getting too burned out to but did anyway. But taking care of myself was not optional anymore. As a matter of survival, I had to make as much room for it as it needed.

And so, I started intensive treatment — during which my therapist had to spend incalculable amounts of time trying to convince me that it was OK to be sad. The alarm I experienced over my sadness was another terrible feeling on top of my already terrible symptoms. The energy I spent panicking that I was sad could have been better spent on coping with the sadness. It was true that I — like many people, people with clinically depressed, never-ending, or life-threatening sadness — needed a lot more assistance than just a big philosophical hug, but if I could accept sadness, my therapist kept suggesting, I would be able to experience it (long and hard as that may go on) and then it could pass. The alternative — being sad, plus condemning yourself for being sad — only heightens the suffering. And, likely, the time it lasts.

“Sadness is a legitimate emotion,” my therapist would say. “There is an acceptance you can get to with it where it’s just a sensation, and without judgment, that sensation can be exquisite.”

“LIES,” I responded to this sometimes. Sometimes I called her a hippie. Nobody accepts sadness. Everybody knows that crying girls are silly and weak. Hysterical, and overdramatic.

But as much as I didn’t — I couldn’t! — really believe her, I still really wanted to learn how to do that.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

I can’t explain, in a tight little essay, how I finally did it. It would take an entire book for me to describe how I got even most of the way there. I can sum up that it took three years to the DAY after the events that started my symptoms, and that it cost a lot of money, and time, and time off, which cost more money, and was so painful that the very memory of how painful it was sometimes makes me need to go lie down in my bed. I can point out that most people are not given the opportunity to go through this process, even if they desperately want to. Unfortunately, healing is a luxury in our society, not a right; so many who could benefit from treatment simply can’t.

And I can tell you about the moment, that September. It was sunny and in the 60s. I was in my therapist’s office in San Francisco, which had fairly bare walls, industrial carpet, and windows that let the light in. I was lying on a massage therapist’s table, because that was normal in my somatic therapy; the treatment addressed the physicality of one’s symptoms, the places and ways trauma lived in one’s body (last year, a hero of my therapist’s, the very brilliant Bessel van der Kolk, released a book about this called The Body Keeps the Score), which was often explored with eyes closed, lying down. The first umpteen number of times I got on the table and was prompted to breathe, to feel into where my tensions and disconnections were, I resisted the falling apart this awareness and reconnecting could lead to. I feared starting to cry and never stopping. I feared never being able to put myself back together, ever, sometimes metaphorically but sometimes literally writhing and kicking and screaming with my resistance to just relaxing. Feeling. To be clear: Sadness was far from my only issue. But by Sept. 17, 2013 (around which point my insurance tallied it had so far given my therapist $18,000), I was taking feeling it in much better stride.

“How do you feel?” my therapist asked.

“Sad,” I said. I was extra sad that day because I was in the middle of a no-fault eviction, and it was turning out not to be practical or affordable to stay in the Bay Area, where I’d lived for a long time. “I feel sad because we have to move.” I cried as I talked about this. I loved California. “I have to grieve a state.”

I cried harder. “It’s a bummer.”

My therapist was very calm. “That is a bummer,” she agreed in soothing tones. She told me to open my eyes and when I did, asked me what sensation I noticed. Instantly, I pictured a kid lying in a yard.

That’s me right now, I thought. A kid lying in a yard, feeling sad — but not feeling sad about feeling sad. It was what it was. It was fine. It was a peace. Me, or a kid, being just what she was: alive.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

“I’m not bummed out about feeling bummed out,” I said.

The significance of this moment was clear to us both. My therapist was speechless for a second. Then she smiled — we were often smiling, because we joked through even the hardest and ugliest moments together — and said, “People pay a lot of money for that, Mac.”

“They should!”

They shouldn’t have to. I hadn’t panicked over being sad every time it had happened in my life, say over a breakup, but I had never had that level of acceptance of it, peace-spreading, unrushed, cell-deep, certainly not as an adult. And as a person with PTSD, I had completely lost any trust in my own emotions, fearing them constantly, sadness included — or perhaps especially, as it was the most persistent. Now, I was finally embracing it.

Which is how I could come to be in a position to miss it. The interestingness of it. The difference of it from other emotions. I remembered the sensations of it: the weight. The way it slowed things down and took the space of everything else up. It was exquisite, objectively but also as evidence that I could feel, that I was open and not shut down, capable of having a whole gamut of emotions rush in, and maybe overwhelm, but move through and move me. Not everyone can. Or does. I am occasionally jealous of people whose emotions come more softly, or quietly, or less often. I assume they have more time and energy, with those not being taken up by sensitivity that makes even the widely considered “good” emotions like joy feel like they’re making their heart explode. But for the most part, I’m not. Some people are born, and then they live, and then they die, one of my doctors told me once, in an effort to comfort. You, you die and are reborn sometimes 10 times in one day. Lucky.

The next time I felt sadness after I missed it, I was reminded why it was so hard to feel it all the time. Oh yeah, I remembered. It hurt. It was difficult to work. To cook, to eat, to play. To take care of others. Exquisite it may have been, but painful, and not invigorating, and quite tiring. Still I trusted that I needed it at that time, that it was expressing something necessary. I didn’t hate or judge it. I did not feel silly or weak. They say it takes a big man to cry, and I think — unfortunately, given our collective feelings about sadness — that’s true. But it takes a bigger woman still, to feel the strength of a sob, without apology or shame. With pride. I’m the biggest I’ve ever been, the way I let my emotions run, sadness included: the way it cleanses me, tears washing my face, resolving me to continue to feel with abandon.

***

Mac McClelland is the author of Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story (out this Tuesday, February 24th) and For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question. She has written for Reuters, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Times Book Review, among other publications, and has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Sidney Hillman Foundation, the Online News Association, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Association for Women in Communications. Her work has also been nominated for two National Magazine Awards for Feature Writing and has been anthologized in the Best American Magazine Writing 2011, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011, and Best Business Writing 2013.

To learn more about Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, click here.

Flatiron Books

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/macmcclelland/not-feeling-sad-about-feeling-sad

Leave It To A Group Of Brilliant Librarians To Get Me To Open A Book Again. This Is Really Cool.

Redditor botd44 recently shared these pictures made by a group of librarians in the city of Kaposvár in Hungary. The librarians made these clever pictures in hopes of increasing the community’s interest in reading books again. In many ways, it is becoming a lost “art” as the masses let visual entertainment steal their imaginations. Not only that, but it seems actual books (real paper and binding) are becoming increasingly less used as well. Great for the environment, but sometimes reading the old fashioned way is just better. Check out their series of photographs to see how they brought attention back to book reading in their city.

As awesome as these pictures are, I’m not a 100% sure if they make me want to grab a book and start reading. They sorta make me want to grab my camera instead. Source: reddit Share these clever librarians with your friends below. Promote reading books with them.

Read more: http://viralnova.com/librarian-photos/

What They Just Discovered In The Harvard Library Will Make Your Skin Crawl. Seriously, OMG.

Recently, three strange books were discovered hidden within Harvard’s enormous library. The tomes covered the topics of Roman poetry, French philosophy  and a treatise on medieval Spanish law. But that wasn’t the weird part. The weird part is that the books give off a distinctly creepy vibe. They’re covered in thin, crackling leather. It’s a shiny material that looks familiar and strange at the same time. When researchers discovered what material the books were bound in, they probably had to sleep with the lights on for a few nights.

The strange, leathery covers of the books already had an air of creepiness to them.

But it wasn’t until they were more closely inspected that researchers realized they were bound in human flesh… locking in the creepy factor.

Anthropodermic bibliopegy, using human skin to bind books, was once a fairly common practice.

In the 17th century, professionals would make use of the flesh of cadavers they used in their research.

The books made out of flayed skin garnered so much attention, the university had them tested for authenticity. It seems one of the books was just a horrifying hybrid of animal skins… but the others were legitimately human. Source: Road Trippers If we have learned anything from various horror movies over the years, anyone handling the human skin books should probably avoid reading from them (especially if there is strange Latin inside). When movie characters do that, they tend to summon evil spirits. Or at least sound really, really silly.

Read more: http://viralnova.com/creepy-skin-books-harvard/

Books, New York, And The Internet: A Love Story

A tale of life in the city, 14 years in publishing, and embracing technology to save the culture you love.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

There was a time in the predigital age, a time before e-readers and tablets and mobile phone apps, when taking an entry-level publishing job was like signing on to fight a war against paper. Back in the days when book publishers killed trees and prospective authors’ dreams with equal abandon, there would be territory battles for access to that one Xerox machine on the 11th floor that jammed less frequently than the other ones. There were “It’s not you, it’s me” letters to be written and mailed back to literary agents along with scads of rejected book proposals. There were faxes to be sent and received, legal-size contracts to be filed, and pink perforated phone messages to be recorded and disbursed. There were copyedits to shepherd, reams of marked-up pages that smelled of coffee or whiskey or baby vomit, depending on the current life stages of both author and editor. There was so much mail. There were piles upon piles of manuscript pages to be collated and read and evaluated beneath unforgiving fluorescent lights, and ensuing headaches caused by eye strain and recycled air and too much Diet Coke.

I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, the area Springsteen sang so many songs about leaving, but I never felt an urgency to flee my hometown. I certainly never had my heart set on becoming a New Yorker. It was those damn headaches that felt like they were my birthright. Like most New Yorkers I know, I am happiest when things are awful. I find joy in seeking out wonderful ways to be miserable, so it only made sense that I was drawn to the glamorous world of book publishing. Those headaches, and all the crazy hours and adorable little paychecks that accompanied them, made me feel alive. I loved those headaches. I was privileged — literally — to be able to experience those headaches (thanks for the safety net, Mom and Dad!). Those headaches meant that I had found my place in the world, alongside equally masochistic and idealistic people who loved to read as much as I did and who were prepared to sacrifice emotional and financial stability in order to turn their love of reading into a career. In other words, my colleagues were as crazy as I was, in the best possible way.

I blame George Plimpton. I met him at the very first swanky publishing party I ever attended, at a townhouse on the Upper East Side. I was drinking wine that didn’t come from a box and was feeling very optimistic about my future prospects. And then there he was, the New York literary legend. I bravely approached Mr. Plimpton to introduce myself, and he said he was delighted to meet me, and perhaps he was more focused on checking out my breasts than on our conversation. Talking to him was so exciting! Degrading too, of course, but also very exciting. Just like the publishing industry!

I blame Chloë Sevigny too. I look back now on The Last Days of Disco and realize that the film finds many uncomfy parallels between an outmoded style of music and nightlife and the book publishing industry. Dinosaurs, both. But gosh, Chloë made it all look so fun and stylish.

I especially blame Margaret Atwood and Lorrie Moore and Susan Sontag and Charles freaking Dickens. I blame Toni Morrison and Roald Dahl and all the uncelebrated ghostwriters known collectively as “Francine Pascal” for the Sweet Valley High series. And yes, I blame Joan Didion. It was the idea of eventually working with writers like those that made me feel OK about the countless hours I spent, in the meantime, editing books that weren’t uniformly thrilling. I relished the thankless coordinating I did for ghostwritten celebrity tell-alls, and I didn’t mind babysitting a bunch of self-help authors, who were notoriously the least self-actualized nutcases on the planet. Those books were the reality TV shows of the book biz, the ones that would appeal to the masses and thereby finance the riskier, more thought-provoking books that I might one day publish to great acclaim. Because there was always the chance that somewhere buried in the slush pile, I’d find… blah blah blah. You get it, no need for me to fill in the details. Let’s just say I had visions of National Book Awards, lifelong friendships with authors I’d edited, and stimulating parties filled with people who’d engage in watercooler talk about a newly published literary novel like it was the latest greatest show on HBO. I remember that when I acquired my first book as an assistant editor — a subversively funny story collection by an up-and-coming superstar — I received a congratulatory email from a senior editor I’d been crushing on. I think I skipped down Sixth Avenue that day.

I chose to make a life for myself in the epicenter of the book publishing world, the one place in the United States where performing menial tasks every day ultimately gave me a great sense of purpose. By choosing publishing, I also chose New York City. I chose to share a railroad-style apartment with three other women, scurrying like a mouse through our connected rooms alongside the actual mice that were scurrying through them. I chose to live in a location where mundane items became unimaginable luxuries: a dishwasher, a porch, a yard, a car, a washer/dryer in one’s home. A supermarket. A Target where the women’s apparel hasn’t been thoroughly picked over. I chose summers that smelled of hot garbage and winters so icy that it was barely possible to slink over to the corner bodega without falling on your ass numerous times.

But New York was like the free bookshelf by the ladies’ room at the office: There was a lot of unwanted crap stacked on those shelves, but there was often a gem or two to be found if you were motivated enough to dig around. There were endless possibilities. Dinner might be a rubber-banded container from the deli across the street where the entire salad bar was 50 percent off after 5 p.m., but then dessert could be a glass of champagne at a debut novelist’s launch party. An acrid-smelling misogynist could proselytize about the impropriety of your attire on the subway, but the train itself would be speeding toward some moment of transcendent beauty, even if it was just a publishing assistant sing-along at some Koreatown karaoke bar.

The problem with choosing an identity and a lifestyle that’s tied to a particular profession is, of course, that you must rely on job security for a sense of self-worth. In 2008 I left the corporation where I’d slowly but surely been making a name for myself for five years in order to take a job at a smaller publisher where ideally I’d have more authority — or at least fewer phones to answer. Four months into the job, my division was sold, and I lost my job. It was the worst breakup I’d ever experienced. I was a spurned lover, frantically trying to figure out what was left of me if my beloved had rejected me. What made me me if I wasn’t a book editor? Being unemployed in New York City in the springtime should’ve been somewhat enjoyable. The city was alive and I had the time to take it all in! I was receiving unemployment checks, after all, and poverty wasn’t imminent. But that season felt like one long panic attack, made worse by the fact that I felt overwhelmingly stressed about not being able to just relax and enjoy myself. This, as many neurotic and/or driven people know, is a vicious cycle.

After a string of desperate dates (informational interviews, really — it turned out my layoff coincided with an economic crisis that led to mass consolidation in the publishing world), I found a vaguely book-related position at a startup and I snapped it up. I spent years at that damn job, watching from afar as former contemporaries climbed their respective corporate ladders and became forces in the publishing field. I was jealous and frustrated, and so, as many others have done before and will continue to do, I took to the internet.

I had spent years trying to help others find their own distinctive voices, and I was amazed to find that I could help myself in the same way. It turned out I didn’t need stationery or a corporate card or a fancy job title in order to take part in New York book culture. And I didn’t need a book deal in order to be a writer. I didn’t even need to consider myself to be a writer in order to be a writer. “Serious” writerly types might bemoan the detrimental effect that social media have on productivity or creativity, but one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done was to start a silly Tumblr blog called Slaughterhouse 90210 on a whim. I was bored at work and a friend suggested that I create a blog featuring some of my favorite quotes from literature — I had thousands. But quotes alone weren’t fun. I realized that if I juxtaposed quotes from books I loved with images from TV shows, my blog posts would be entertaining and provide unique commentary.

Slaughterhouse 90210 was singularly mine. I could never be fired from it! My blog gave me a platform to become a writer and critic and performer, encouraged by the literary community I found on Tumblr. I was inspired by all my newfound Bookternet friends — readers, writers, bloggers, booksellers, publishing world types, and fellow refugees. You certainly didn’t have to live in New York City to take part in the discussion. But it sure was fun getting to know some of these new friends in real life. There are an abundance in this city.

A fundamental tenet of society at large is that book readings are supposed to be boring. Why would anyone want to spend an evening glistening to some pretentious twerp drone on and on? How many tiny plastic cups of cheap chardonnay would one have to drink not to mind when a creep in the back row asks the reader intensive questions about the creative process? Or if he has more of a comment than a question? One of the most magical things about New York is that readings are not boring here. On any given night, there are at least three or four literary events taking place in New York, and thanks to great curation and a high level of passion among event planners, at least two or three of them will be delightful. I can walk into any one of an amazing collection of local bookstores and know that I’ll be inspired and entertained, and that I’ll have a friend or two in the audience. I love that. As highly esteemed experts have been saying for many years, book publishing is undergoing many technological shifts. It’s in a constant state of flux. But literary culture, especially in New York City, is alive and well and essential.

Life is sometimes shitty. I don’t ascribe the shittiness of life to New York, maybe because I don’t really know any other way of adult life, so I have little to compare it to. I ascribe my bouts of unhappiness to being a person who sometimes has difficulty relaxing and taking it all in. Betrayals and heartache and injustices take place everywhere, and loneliness is pervasive. But reading and being on the internet and living in New York City are simultaneously solitary and intensely social activities. Somehow sitting on the couch in my apartment in Greenpoint, all alone with a book, I feel surrounded by friends.

***

Maris Kreizman is the creator of Slaughterhouse 90210, a blog and soon-to-be book (Flatiron Books, 2015) that celebrates the intersection of her two great loves–literature and TV. She’s currently a publishing community manager at Kickstarter. A former book editor, Maris cannot get enough of critiquing her own writing.

Excerpted from Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York edited by Sari Botton, published by Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2014 by Sari Botton. Reprinted with permission.

For more information about Never Can Say Goodbye, click here.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mariskreizman/skipping-down-sixth-avenue

Why I Ended A Perfectly Fine Relationship

My boyfriend and I were going nowhere, so I did what any self-proclaimed gay academic would do: I re-read Roland Barthes.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

I was introduced to Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse by a good friend I was sleeping with. We’d just had brunch and sex when he told me, “Read it.” I found his edition of the book on his bedside table. The yellowing pages were soft against my fingers as his own traced figures on my skin. “It’s right up your alley.”

“Why’s that?” I said.

“You’re like the book.” He planted kisses down my spine with each word. “Intelligent. Gorgeous. Romantic…”

After another orgasm, I got a copy that very afternoon.

We weren’t, nor would we ever be, “boyfriends.” He was in a long-term open relationship (now marriage) and I was living in New York for just a few months. So I didn’t expect much. But his warm brown eyes were engaging. We’d walk around Manhattan and talk about books. We’d go out to dinner and talk about writing. And we’d kiss and turn snowfall into rain.

We weren’t sure what to call ourselves. He was older and established — my mentor, in a sense. So we played with the term “lover.” How French, I thought. I could do French. But for Barthes, an actual gay Frenchman, being a lover was a different ordeal.

Barthes wrote A Lover’s Discourse in 1977 as a collection of notes on amorous language. “Figures,” he calls them, gestures of the lover at work. He says his goal is to present scenes of language wherein the lover might recognize himself. The whole thing reads like a dictionary of a lover’s desire, an exercise in defining every move made, thought shared, word said. Or unsaid.

“Waiting,” for example, Barthes describes as “the tumult of anxiety provoked by waiting for the loved being, subject to trivial delays (rendezvous, letters, telephone calls, returns).” He talks about waiting by the phone for his loved one to call. He dare not attempt to find him or call him lest he miss him. Barthes reports how his feelings ricochet between dread and anger and sadness, all while seated by the telephone. (Imagine if he had iMessage.)

“Am I in love?” he writes. “Yes, since I am waiting. The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.”

Barthes uses words to make a lucid mirror out of Discourse. But it was only two years later, when I looked into it again, that I recognized myself. This happened, predictably, when I found myself a “boyfriend.”

We began using the word when we were having real estate problems in New York. I needed to move out of an apartment I couldn’t afford and his landlord refused to renew his lease. After he texted me with this news, I called him.

“I think we can do it,” he said. I could hear his crooked smile through the phone.

Between breathy laughs, I said, “I know we’ve only just met.”

We’d already gone on four dates within nine days, so the intimate act of telephoning was permissible, among other suggestions. “We could live together.”

The fact I could sit in silence with him, gaze into his steely blue eyes for hours, I willingly mistook for comfort. We’d walk around Brooklyn and stare at the pavement. We’d go out to dinner and chew on our food. But we’d kiss and turn the rain into steam.

He was beautiful and said the same of me. He’d text me good night and good morning. He was my age and single. These things, I decided, were good enough. And thus, I became the lover at work.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

Adorable

adorable / adorable
Not managing to name the specialty of his desire for the loved being, the amorous subject falls back on this rather stupid word: adorable!

Via Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

During the Gay Pride parade in New York, I got belligerently drunk. He had to take me home to his place in Williamsburg when it was still light out. I accidentally left my bag at a bar in the West Village. In the bag were a flask once filled with vodka and the Ray-Bans he lent me. I wore them at the parade, but they weren’t in my bag when I woke up in his bedroom that evening, close to midnight. I didn’t mention this loss to him when I found him sleeping on the couch in the living room.

“What’re you doing out here?” My tongue was still catching up to my thoughts.

“You’re still drunk.” He smiled. “I need to give you some space.”

In the amber glow of the streetlights outside, his handsomeness was made princely. I said, “You went back to the bar for my bag?”

“Of course.” He turned away from me on the couch, tightening his hold on a pillow.

But I pulled him into his twin bed and wrapped my sunburnt arms around him. I thought about how lucky I was, to be here with him, in this home leased for only a little while longer, but with him nonetheless. I kissed the nape of his neck and said, “Thank you.”

Whenever anyone asked what made me want to be in a relationship with him, I’d often cite this story. Selfless, I called him. We didn’t talk about much else other than work and the weather, but he was sweet, kind, adorable — capable of loving and being loved. The nights after dinner on his couch watching Netflix with my head on his shoulder outweighed everything else. This was the honeymoon period I’d heard about.

But, of course, as all moons do, it waned.

“Special Days”

fête / festivity
The amorous subject experiences every meeting with the loved being as a festival.

Via Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

We would see each other almost every day, at first. We had drinks two days after our first date. He spent the night at my place three days after that. He’d meet me at the park for lunch and soon invited me to meet his friends. I’ve always had the habit of marking down these special days in my calendar. In the beginning, these days were wonderfully cramped into short weeks, but it wasn’t long until I began to measure my life in the days I didn’t see him.

He grew distant, for whatever reason. We saw each other less. His texts became less frequent, less sprinkled with emojis — which everyone knows is an infallible barometer of intimacy. And we used to call each other on video just to watch movies together. I’d point my phone at Clueless on the television and hear how he’d memorized the lines.

Then it became different. Then came weeks of radio silence. I could only count on seeing him on our monthly dates on the 15th, our month-aversary. But even then I’d have to wait for him, for his texts to tell me when and where to be. And whenever I did see him, the festivity I felt was more of a gratitude than sheer joy. Thank you, I wanted to tell him, thank you for picking me tonight. But after the dinner, after the gazing, after the toe-curling under the sheets, I was made to wait again — the subject subjected.

I decided to re-read A Lover’s Discourse. My copy’s pages were beginning to soften and yellow. In it, I found my notes naive, if not foolish; wide-eyed, if not provincial. And if Barthes’ work was once incandescent, now it was searing. His words were once warnings, cautionary tales to be heeded. But now the book, for better or worse, was our shared diary.

Still, I lied to myself. I gave my boyfriend excuses in the weeks between, blaming his own rendezvous and returns. And he was adorable; no one else could promise such pleasure. These were just growing pains, I reasoned. Our relationship was going through puberty, and every time we met, my voice would crack.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

I Love You

je-t’-aime / I-love-you
The figure refers not to the declaration of love, to the avowal, but to the repeated utterance of the love cry.

Via Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

On our first date, he took me to the carousel at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. He paid for our two tickets and tossed me the penny he got back. I tried to catch the change, but failed. It spun in circles on the cement, then rolled toward his foot. He stepped on it and picked it up. I told him he should have checked first, to see if it was lucky or not.

He put the change in my shirt pocket and pressed a hand to my chest. “Make your own luck.”

Then the lease ran out. I landed an apartment with friends in Harlem and he was moving to Crown Heights. We were on his Williamsburg rooftop for the last time when I thought I felt the breeze pick up. I held his face in my hands and ran a thumb across his manicured stubble. His hands were on my waist and I inflated my chest against his.

“I love you.” I felt him tense. I added the next line I’d practiced: “You don’t have to say it back. I just wanted you to know.”

“I’m not a good boyfriend,” he said. “Just wait. Let me catch up.” This was one of his many promises.

Time and again, he’d promised to communicate more openly, to be more forthright with his emotions, to just treat me like his friend. But I never once felt him work on these vows. I felt us going in circles where nothing was wrong and nothing was right.

In cabs, in bed, outside parties, it was the same conversation: how I felt like an accessory of convenience in his life, to be used only when he needed help moving furniture or having an orgasm. We weren’t us anymore, as much of an us as we ever were. He’d left the job of making our own luck to me. He was not the lover at work.

At last, after months of waiting, he explained that whenever he’s in a relationship, he wants to be single again. And when he’s single, he wants to be in a relationship. I congratulated him on this novel feeling.

“Are you dating someone else?” I said. He paused, tightened my duvet around himself. “You’re not lying to me in my bed.”

“I’m not dating anyone,” he said. The next morning, we woke up with our backs turned to each other.

On the 15th of some month, we broke up at the waterfront of Brooklyn Bridge Park, near the carousel and the horse he rode in on. Some paces away, a couple taking their wedding photos was standing in the water, the Manhattan skyline as their backdrop. I silently wished them luck; I’d just found out fidelity is too much to ask for nowadays.

“I love you,” I said, “but I can’t keep waiting for you.”

From Waiting

A mandarin fell in love with a courtesan. “I shall be yours,” she told him, “when you have spent a hundred nights waiting for me, sitting on a stool, in my garden, beneath my window.” But on the ninety-ninth night, the mandarin stood up, put his stool under his arm, and went away.

Via Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

When I began to feel my relationship crumble, I picked up my copy of A Lover’s Discourse, fiercely notated, aggressively dog-eared, and loved. In both, I saw the lover at work. But it’s the “lover” — singular, alone — at work by himself. The loved one, the other, is oblivious to this. He is passive while the lover becomes active in his waiting. He begins to feel himself waiting. Calling it hoping, calling it pretending.

The title of the book can be misleading. Barthes was not writing about love, at least not in its healthiest sense, but about desire. It’s a romantic work, sure, wildly emotional and recklessly hopeful — very much up my alley. But it makes no pretenses about deconstructing an unrequited ideal. As Barthes discloses on the very first page of the book, to see oneself in these scenes of language is to be reminded of the lover’s extreme state of solitude.

Today, Barthes’ figures now come with sharp pangs of recognition. It’s a comfort in disguise. Barthes, eager and tormented next to his telephone, seems to say, “You are not alone in your aloneness.” It’s as singular and unique a work as it is unrequited and one-sided; that is to say, devastatingly so.

As I flip through the beautiful, bleeding pages now, I’m made to conclude that, by Barthes’ standards, I can’t do French. I don’t want a lover, for the time being at least. I just want a good friend I’m sleeping with.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mattortile/the-one-who-waits

8 “Wishbone” Episodes For The Modern Reader

Maybe we should just stick with the classics.

1. The pup who lived!

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / Warner Brothers / Courtesy Everett Collection / PBS

2. May the paws be ever in your favor.

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection / PBS / Via sodahead.com

3. Team Edward, team Jacob, or team Wishbone?

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / Summit Entertainment / Via netflix.com

4. I want you to scratch me behind the ears, as hard as you can.

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / 20th Century Fox Film Corp. / Courtesy Everett Collection / PBS / Via Twitter: @wellreadpup

5. The adventures of a young pup whose principal interests are violence, Beethoven, and kibble!

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / PBS / Warner Bros. / Via maceksimon.wordpress.com

6. Winter is coming, get my tiny sweater!

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / HBO / Courtesy Everett Collection / PBS / Via fanpop.com

7. Do you like Huey Lewis and the Dogs?

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / Lions Gate / Courtesy Everett Collection / PBS

8. Mr. Wishbone will see you now.

Maritsa Patrinos / Buzzfeed / Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection / PBS / Via lionsgatepublicity.com

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/maritsapatrinos/wishbone-episodes-for-the-modern-reader