the future of publishing

Jason Epstein, in the March 11 edition of The New York Review of Books, predicts how the digital revolution is going to change the publishing industry in  “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future.”

It sounds like the challenge will become, not getting work published, but getting it noticed.  The good news is this may end the stranglehold on the market of huge conglomerate publishing houses, more interested in the next blockbuster celebrity book than a well-written tale from a “nobody.”

“I’m nobody … are you nobody too?”  to paraphrase Emily Dickinson.

Rice University Press has implemented an innovative print-on-demand publishing business for their academic press. It makes a lot of sense.  A VCU professor, Nicholas Frankel, is one of the two editors for their Literature by Design series.


Literature by Design: British and American Books 1880-1930 consists of literary works …  that foreground the vehicle of the book and the visible nature of language itself. Literature by Design titles incorporate facsimile reproductions of the original editions—all of which are noteworthy for the role design and typography played in shaping readers’ responses—along with new critical material by leading contemporary scholars.


This one was printed on wallpaper originally.  That swirl was in the wallpaper design.  A book like this would only have been seen in a rare book collection, until now.

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after reading "just don’t go"

Just finished reading two depressing articles about the lack of jobs for Humanities PhDs.  I already knew this, but Thomas Benton certainly states it bluntly in his Chronicle of Education articles. It’s true that most English PhDs end up working as adjunct professors for less than a living wage.  That’s not where I want to be even five years from now.  But then I stumbled on this paragraph in his follow-up article:

There is, however, another category of student that I would like to see going to graduate school … Perhaps members of a generation that enters graduate school with no expectations of an academic position — who never even consider, for one moment, that they will become tenure-track professors — will bring about positive change in the way things are taught. Such students will be less beholden to advisers, and empowered to demand that courses have some relationship to existing opportunities. With an eye to careers outside academe, they will challenge the tyranny of the monograph; they might seek technical skills; they will want to speak to a wider public; and they will be more open to movement between academe and the “outside world” than previous generations, who were taught to regard anything but the professorial life as failure from which one could never return.

I didn’t enter this PhD program in order to find a tenure track job in the Humanities.  That would be a wonderful thing, but my expectations are low.  As Benton says, it’d be like “winning the lottery.”  Do I even want a tenure-track job?  I entered an unconventional PhD program to learn technical skills and to broaden my choices in crafting a hybrid kind of career … one that combines teaching with writing, and perhaps nonprofit work propelled primarily by grants.

That’s why my focus this semester, beyond completing the hoops for the doctorate, is my writing – perhaps completing a book of short stories to shop around by July.  That’s the other part of this binary star of a career I’m trying to jumpstart. 

Thomas Benton’s “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”
Thomas Benton’s “Just Don’t Go, Part 2”

working in thin winter light

This time of year I find it hard to be motivated, productive, or light-hearted.  I don’t know if it’s the chill or the long nights … but I want to hibernate … to sleep and to dream.  Instead, I work on my projects and make lists and push myself to check stuff off the lists and keep our household running as if the weather and the thin winter light didn’t exist.

I blog less when I’m in this state.

One reason so many people become giddy with snow that closes everything down is that most of us are pushing too hard.  It’s not good for our bodies.  It’s not good for our spirits.  But there’s the mortgage to pay and achievement to show at the end of the day.

I love to work … but most work I’ve been asked to do over my lifetime has not felt like real work to me, but like something I do to promote someone else’s agenda and to bring in life-maintenance money.  As long as I sort of agree with the agenda, I’ve been able to pull this off.  With every passing birthday, however, I increasingly tire of wasting time that I won’t get back – that’s why I’m pursuing a PhD.  I’d like to spend my life doing the work I love to do … writing and research and teaching writing and research … and get paid enough, maybe just enough, to provide food, shelter, clothing, and soul-sustaining cultural experiences for me and my family.

It’s a simple goal.  I’ll see it more clearly as the days get longer and the nights shorter.  

latest post from Eastern Shore Stories project

I haven’t written about my oral history project in a while, mostly because I’ve had to work on other PhD related stuff … like passing comps and starting a new semester.  But I have been posting excerpts from the interviews I’ve done on the blog Eastern Shore Stories .  Here’s today’s post which I called “I guess you know how to drive, don’t you?” 
I was driving a Model T truck in the field. They were loading ‘em up, you know, and going along the rows where the barrels were, when I was ten years old. I was ten in May, and in June, July, we were digging those potatoes. I didn’t drive it out on the road then, but I drove it. I was driving before I was old enough, old enough to have a license.
We only had one state trooper in Accomack County, and that was Harry Parker. He lived at Accomac, but his wife and my grandfather were first cousins. That’s right. And he told Papa one day, said “that boy is driving, and I know it. And I know he’s got no license. Now I’m not gonna pull him because I know he’s got no license. But if he gets in trouble, I got to carry the law.” 
So, one day, I decided to go down there and get my license. Well, I wasn’t eligible to go down there, see. I went by myself, and I went in the office at the Accomac courthouse. That little book, I knew that. He didn’t even have to ask me, I could give him all the answers. And he went through all that and he said, “well I guess now we’ll have to see how you do driving. Drive around the block and see how you park between the sticks.”
He had never smiled a bit – he made a good officer. He could scare people just with that look, you know. The only time he smiled, when he got ready to get in the car, he was on the passenger side. He said, “I guess you know how to drive, don’t you?” And I said, “Yes sir, I think so.” I couldn’t help [but] laugh – he was laughing too. ‘Cause he knew I’d been driving, you know, a long time. I rode around the block and parked back. I usually parked pretty good in a parking place. And I got my license. And guess how much it cost then? I think that was about ‘36 or ‘35. Fifty cents.
A lot of people were driving that didn’t have them. But that was wrong for me to ride down to Accomac to the courthouse and park right in front of there with no more license than – well my dog’s out here somewhere – than that dog has.
from an interview with Norman Mason, summer 2009

For more excerpts: Eastern Shore Stories

snow and the rare book room

D and N went back to school today for the first time all week.  Last weekend’s snow storm socked in Richmond and left us with icy, dangerous streets for days.  Even the University closed on Monday, which is rare.  It looks like  another storm is going to hit tomorrow – although the weather guys on Channel 12 say the amount we’re going to get could range anywhere from 12 inches to 4.  Even four inches snarls things up here, though, and events are already being cancelled for tomorrow and Saturday.  


I had blocked off tomorrow to spend at the rare book room on campus. In our Methods class we’re learning how to do academic descriptions of material objects – using guidelines established by textual bibliographers.  I found the manuscript much easier to do than the printed book and have to go back and spend another few hours with Dr. Samuel Johnson’s Journeys.  But another storm could mean more school closures which would mean I’d have to postpone my date with the rare book room.  

For today – I’ll restock the pantry and do some writing.  Writing is harder to do when N & D are home interrupting me and probably more important for my long-term professional development … not to mention my mental health. 

a rant and unsilent night

I’m not going to rant about people who choose to live in wealthy counties, counties that thwart efforts at regional cooperation especially if it means avoiding any economic support for their urban center.  People who support leaving concentrated poor neighborhoods to fester with typical urban blight problems while they enjoy their sanitized, gated communities … these same people then bash the same city they refuse to support when basic services like plowing the streets clear of snow or fixing potholes are a problem for them on their daily commute.    


A pox on them … may their SUV tires pop in a city pothole and their Lexus slide slowly sideways on slushy ice into a tree on Monument Avenue.  I’m tired of the grousing.  Either accept the consequences of a lack of regional cooperation or do something about it.  Everything would be better if we stopped acting like so many separate communities and worked together as one.  Streets would get plowed and poor kids might get a decent education. 

There – I wasn’t going to rant, but I did.