I think I had blogger's block. For months I was unable to write any posts for the Hobart blog. They just wouldn't come into my brain. My inability to write for the Hobart Blog was complete. For long stretches, I didn't even visit the Hobart blog. I KNOW. Terrible, right? Why am I confessing this, and here of all places? Because if I had blogger's block (and I believe I did), then the book that cured it was Steve Almond's "This Won't Take But a Minute, Honey."
From the moment I removed this book from the manila envelope in which it arrived from the Harvard Book Store (the only place on the planet that sells it, as far as I can tell) I've wanted to write about it. So this will be the first of, I hope, several posts. I'll try to keep them short.
OK, first: When I held this book, I had that rare feeling that I was holding the future. I had the same feeling when I first had espresso in Italy, almost 20 years ago now, and a few years before small espresso cafes starting arriving in America, and then Starbucks squashed them all. I also had this feeling the first time I visited an internet cafe, also many years ago, when the internet was still a new thing. The legacy of my life experiences of seeing the future: Starbucks and the Internet. A corporate behemoth and the cause of my ADD. Not such a great record. Perhaps the espresso book will fare better.
To be fair, this kind of book is probably not the future of publishing. But I think it's the future of a big part of publishing. Because purely as an object, without even getting into the text, this is a very cool book. It is, according to the Harvard Book Store website, printed with the "espresso book printing machine." No idea what that is, and at first I thought, "well, it's going to be a junky book, but at least it will be fun to read," but let me tell you, about that I was completely wrong.
This is a fun book. It's a cool book to hold. It looks great. The design, by Brian Stauffer, is simple, fun, and eye-catching. It's the kind of book you carry around hoping someone will look over your shoulder and ask you about it. It's just really cool and neat.
The text is clear and easy to read. And it's blissfully free of so much of the junk that, well, junks up the paperbacks you buy at book stores. Like the quotes on the cover about how great the book you're about to read is, and those pages at the beginning with the copyright information, and the printing history, and Library of Congress card catalog information (which, come to think of it, shouldn't it be on the actual card in the Library of Congress card catalog, instead of in the book?), and that line of numbers at the bottom of that page, that never made any sense to me. Even the summary of the book on the back cover, which always manages to be wrong, or miss something essential about the book. I never knew how much all that stuff cluttered my reading experience until I picked up this book and didn't have to encounter any of it. So relaxing. Such a relief!
The book is also real. Something about it -- the cheap paper, maybe? The DIY feel of it? -- just makes it a comfy object to hold in your hand, comfy and familiar, and natty and stylish, in the way no ereader will ever be.
And it was, if the Harvard Book Store website is to be believed, printed out on a machine in the store and mailed to me, all for less than $10.
Al of which makes me think: This is, if not the future of publishing, at least one part of the future of publishing.
Imagine: You drop in at your local coffee shop / internet cafe, and one of the things you can do there is print out, on the cafe's espresso book printing machine (still no idea what this is), a sleek and arty collection of stories, or novella, or novel, even, maybe, from your favorite writer. Then you can carry it around in your bag for a week or so, while you read it. You can give it to a friend when you are done with it. To me, this sounds like a lot more fun than downloading something onto your Ereader, or your Kindle, or whatever, and reading from an electronic device that, although the text may be wonderful, has no outward personality, and is boring to look at.
I read an interview with Amelia Gray recently, in which she said, joyfully, and I am paraphrasing here -- the printed word will never go out of style. There are always going to be those of us with printed books stacked in our apartments, by our beds, on the floor, because we've run out of room in our book shelves. I believe she is right about this, and for those people, and they will always be legion, the espresso book machine is going to be a part of the future.
What started as a blog post has become a manifesto: I have seen the future. It lives in the form of a small collection of micro stories and tiny essays about the psychology and practice of writing, entitled "This Won't Take But a Minute, Honey," by Steve Almond. Everyone should know about this. We're living through history, people.
In my next entry, I will discuss the essay section of the book, including Steve Almond's uncanny ability to capture the art of writing in pithy edicts, the simuntaneous smallness, largeness, and ephemeralness of the literary world, and also the slightly weird and mysterious undercurrent of anger in Steve's essays, that runs through them like an unspoken theme, and made me sort of uncomfortable.
-- Sean Carman