Future of the Book

Last night’s discussion at the Commonwealth Club was boisterous and entertaining. The topic was “The Future of the Book: Dead or Alive?” While the panel was firmly in the camp of “Books: Alive”, it was interesting to see how technology is helping keep books relevant; Brewster Kahle passed around one of the 600 first $100 laptops that will put the world’s catalog of books in the hands of 3rd world children. It’s a very basic machine, thin & light, with a screen that pivots & turns so that you can use the laptop as a tablet PC or as a regular laptop. There was some banter around “The Long Tail” (only economically beneficial if you own the entire catalog of the long tail…)
Highlights from the session:
Larson: books are a beautiful form that is a physical pleasure to read. To be a viable medium, they must be useable in bed, bath, beach & bus. For a book to be considered a bestseller, it’s all about volume and velocity of sales.
Gittins: Tyranny of retail distribution.. The opportunity is to provide tools for people to easily create books, tools to enable people to find what they are looking for. Blurb has $14M raised by people who care about the future of the book…
Kahle: Internet Archive is making the dream of the Library of Alexandria a reality; gathering all the books of the world in digital format. Library of Congress has 26 million books; if each book is 1MB of data, that’s 26 Terabytes of data, or $60k to buy the computers to run and store all the books of the LOC. Print on demand is virtually free, so the Archive can give away books.
Gunn: Everyone has at least one book in them. The book tour is a thing of the past– one stop at a major podcast can get you wider coverage than a book tour. What doesn’t work: authors hating the title or cover of their book and losing the energy to promote it; authors in it just to make money. Books are human, as long as we’re alive, they’re alive. “Begin!”

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The Soloist

Quickly read this one on a flight home. Salzman’s writing style is very readable, but I was disappointed overall in the book. Maybe it was because he re-used certain things in Lost in Suburbia (e.g. the time spent sitting in a box to impress NASA, the cello stuff). There was a nice tempo in the story as he jumped from jury duty to music lessons and back thru the past.
Basically, a child prodigy who never got social skills ends up teaching and not performing, gets jury duty where he almost loses his virginity to a fellow juror. The trial is a murder case, where a Zen student kills his master after contemplating the koan, if you come upon Buddha in the road, kill him. The question of insanity vs. knowing consequences of your actions. The cellist the lone holdout for not guilty, which results in hung jury. Side story is the discovery of the tiny Korean kid’s talent, taking him to concerts, enduring his mom’s harsh words. Eventually the cellist gets a cat. All is well.

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Top Picks of 2006

Here are my top picks for 2006.
The Winners
1. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
2. The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club and other stories by Julia Slavin
3. River of Doubt by Candice Millard
4. To Feel Stuff by Andrea Seigel
5. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Honorable Mentions
1. On Seeing and Noticing by Alain de Botton
2. Women by Charles Bukowski
3. Andes to the Amazon by Bruce Junek
4. Ask the Dust by John Fante
5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
6. Legends by Robert Littell
7. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
8. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead
9. Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson


Jess & Sophie are a couple so intertwined, playful, into each other, that they attract the attention of the mythical Lena, who enters their orbit and makes the twins into triplets. The threesome live together, play together, experience “Kink” together.
“…Lena shook her head: ‘No, kink is, it’s like art, it’s– well, it’s a theory, really, my theory of life,’ her smile mocking drama, more wine in our glasses, tiny moons to rim the lip. ‘It’s a way to see the world, to– like this guy’s kink would be his self-help thing, right? It isn’t only the money, he wants to help people, wants to be the one who makes them feel good… Like you two, you’re each other’s kink, right? You see the world through each other, you use each other to change the world, make the world. Your world: do you see what I mean? Like you’re not just living, just like everyone else, you’re making your life, shaping it like, like art, by the way you see things, the way you are. See?’ ” (p 52)
Then things unravel as Jess wants more and more of Lena and less and less of Sophie. Meanwhile, Lena & Sophie are the real couple, unbeknownst to Jess, and they leave him to his misery, where he spends the last 100 pages of the story chasing down leads on what Lena’s previous life was all about. In the end, he tracks Sophie down, as she is the only known survivor whom Lena did not slash & burn. Sophie has left Lena, tired of the lies, and moved on. She gives Jess Lena’s address for one last confrontation, fact-gathering mission. In the end, Jess wants Sophie back, and sits waiting in her salon to give her the earrings she’d left behind.
Great writing, borderline erotica of the best sort.

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Real Estate Riches

Great entry-level book to get your brain juices flowing about the possibility to own real estate. He makes a compelling case for borrowing most of the cash to finance the purchases; better to take $4k and invest $1k down in 4 properties, borrowing the rest, since there are so many tax advantages. Make the most of banks’ willingness to finance your real estate investing. Commercial vs. residential real estate also looks to be the most lucrative & easy way to go. Look at 100 properties, pick 10 to bid on, 3 will accept, find financing for 1. It’s all about the internal rate of return.
Good rah-rah book, a little weak on details of paying off mortages & how to go about getting started.

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Lost in Place

I wish I could tell a story this compelling about my growing up in the suburbs. Salzman exposes his extreme fanaticism with tales of kung fu practice in his parents’ basement, dying his pajamas black (turned out purple), buying a bald wig and burning lots o incense. After a year of trying to master kung fu and Zen on his own, he takes up lessons with a local Sensei (O’Keefe) who is a dash of nutso and a big swig of crazy. Tiring of lessons after the one where his friend Michael volunteers to be choked then restored, he attacks his cello in earnest. Flipping it sideways like a sitar, he starts a jazz band with Scott and refuses pot in the quest for purity. Eventually he succombs to the State of Whoa and becomes a burner. Tales of rebuilding engines, listening to his dad’s pessimistic view of the world, watching the stars with his dad, picking up the expensive telescope from the factory to save on shipping (all $$ went into the optics), getting a job in the mailroom of a lawyer office, studying Chinese, calligraphy, inventing his own curriculum in high school; getting accepted to Yale and deferring for a year, then tales of Yalehood. All in all, hard to put down, and has laugh out loud moments.
Recommended by Ellen

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