Thursday, July 31, 2008

Please take this book: Chapter 2

OK, here's a literacy organization that answers my previous questions and also looks pretty great. It's Better World Books and you can (a) donate books (b) buy books or (c) give them those embarrassing books (self-help, perhaps?) that you read and enjoyed but can never, ever, tell anyone you owned. If Better World Books can't sell them, they'll recycle them.Though they're a for profit organization, they partner with non-profit literacy organizations such as Books for Africa, Room to Read, The National Center for Family Literacy, and the World Education and Development Fund.

So far, they've collected over 11.4 million books from 1,600 colleges and universities and 900 libraries, and raised over $2.8 million for over 80 literacy and education non-profits. And to think it all began with three college students who wanted to help their community but also get rid of a few textbooks, too.

I still have questions about local organizations, though. I'll keep looking for info, but again, any and all good old advice will be much appreciated.

Please, take these books...

I'm feeling generous (or rather, I'm cleaning house) and I want to donate some books. Because they come to me like strays, I've accumulated more reading material than I have reading space. The shelves are full and I don't want to become one of those women who are found in their homes, surrounded by stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines, lying on the floor after having been crushed by a falling tower of books.

So, where does one donate? There's the Goodwill and the ARC, but where are the other centers, the organizations, the programs that could use a little help filling their shelves? Does the juvenile detention center take them? Books can have a rehabilitating effect, no?


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Center Street & WNBA

Ok, I admit it. I love Nashville and I love publishing. More and more these two interests are intersecting which excites me to no end. A prime example is the research I did this morning on Center Street, an imprint of Hachette Book Group USA. (By way of background, Hachette Book Group USA was created in 2006 when Hachette Livre purchased Time Warner Book Group which was made up of Warner Books and Little, Brown and Company. I have a soft spot for Hachette as I was an editorial intern in college at Little, Brown). If you had asked me, I would have said without reservation that Center Street was based in NYC and I would have been wrong. According to a 2004 article in Publishers Weekly, Center Street shares (or perhaps shared) office space here in Nashville with Warner Faith. The article describes the strategic focus of Center Street as follows:

Egen noted that many booksellers report a growing demand for titles written from a values-based perspective that is not necessarily a religious one. "We're convinced the market is receptive to a program based on wholesome lifestyle titles," she added. Center Street will publish books with an emphasis on self-help, motivation, health and fitness, fiction and regional interest.

Another motivation for launching the imprint was that Warner Faith authors had expressed a desire for more mainstream exposure. "Our authors need another place where they are comfortable, where their voice can be heard and their view respected," Egen said. The demographic that Time Warner hopes to reach through Center Street includes listeners of country and western music, NASCAR fans and residents of the South and Midwest regions of the nation.
Off the top of my head, I can think of two books the imprint published by local authors: A Guitar and a Pen co-editted by Robert Hicks and A Miscarriage of Justice by Kip Gayden. They both fit under the "fiction" and "regional interest" categories. (I'd argue their appeal is significantly wider than "regional" but you get my drift.) It appears as if Center Street is staying true to the purpose laid out in the article.
What strikes me is that I have been living in Nashville for almost two years and work in the publishing industry and did not know the imprint was based here. This is an open invitation to anyone at Center Street or anyone interested in books in general to join the Women's National Book Association (WNBA). It is the biggest bargain in town, with annual membership at $25 (memberships forms are available at meetings and on our local chapter's website.) Don't let the name fool you -- there are some male members as well. We meet the first Thursday of the month (September-May) at 6pm at Davis-Kidd at the Green Hills mall for an hour-long program on a book related subject. In addition, our local chapter is active within the community and provides volunteers for the Southern Festival of Books and Book'em to name a few.
--Ginna F.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Great news!

Got some great news yesterday! Martha Stamps at Martha's at the Plantation has agreed to host the next three events in the Evening with an Author series (August-October). We've had the last two there and the space works beautifully in addition to being lovely. The tables are set up "seminar" style which promotes good discussion. Also, it's been great fun to continue the conversation in smaller groups over dinner ($25 per person) and then enjoy some good music. We hope you'll be able to join us.

If you would like to be added to the HTML mailing list to receive notices about the series, please send an email to with "Subscribe" in the subject line. The series is free and open to the public. Thank you.

Upcoming Schedule
Steven Womack will read from and sign By Blood Written on Thursday, August 21st from 6:00-7:00pm. For more information, please see

Susan Gregg Gilmore will read from and sign Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen on Thursday, September 25th from 6:00-7:00pm. For more information, please see

Robert Hicks will read from and sign A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music's Greatest Songwriters on Thursday, October 23rd from 6:00-7:00pm. For more information, please see

--Ginna F.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What's the deal?

What a nasty surprise! The Tennessean seems to have dropped the Nashville Bestseller List as part of its Arts & Entertainment coverage. What's the deal? Can this be attributed to Jonathan Marx leaving the paper? Can anyone shed some light on this issue?

--Ginna F.

Family Affair

Perhaps those ads on the radio for the new exhibit on the Hank Williams Family at the Country Music Hall of Fame are getting to me. But, I just cannot get the refrain of "Family Tradition" out of my head. It seems appropriate as last night's reading at Landmark Booksellers felt like a family affair.

Robert Hicks, one of the co-editors of A Guitar and a Pen and who will be the featured speaker at October's Evening with an Author, kicked off the night with a heart-felt introduction. He said he'd never been prouder of a project he'd been associated with than this one. His words rang true. The sentiment somewhat surprised me because I would have thought his swan-song was Widow of the South. It just goes to show the power of gathering people together and discussing matters they hold dear.

Robert was followed by about six song writers who read from their short stories. A favorite moment was seeing Marshall Chapman gracefully rise from the floor in her bright colored flip flops to deliver a powerful reading. The whole night felt like a poetry slam or creative writing seminar with various people sharing pieces of their soul that just happened to be collected in a published work. Hats of to Joel and Carol Tomlin of Landmark Booksellers for putting this salon together.

--Ginna F.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Literary Center: Fostering Creativity

Thanks to Craig Havighurt's book and the discussion had at Evening with an Author on Thursday night, I have been giving a lot of thought about Nashville and how it became Music City. It did not happen by accident; neither was it the brain child of some marketing executive with a clever marketing idea. The evolution happened organically over several decades.

WSM, the radio station for National Life and Accident Insurance Company founded in 1925, played a key role in shaping "hillbilly music" and popularizing the genre. When the phrase "Music City" was first uttered by a radio announcer, he was referring to all genres of music and not specifically Country. Nashville had become a magnet for musicians of all types, in large part because WSM employed countless studio artists at the radio station and Grand Ole Opry. It was possible to make a decent living as a musician. It was possible to get on the job training by performing in front of live audiences. It was also possible to network because WSM served as a feeder for the various business offshoots. It was a tight community that fostered creativity, both in music and in business.

This line of thinking quickly brings me back to Nashville's place as a nascent literary center. What can we do to initiate a similar creative outpouring within the literary sphere? Over the last two months, I have written a number of posts about Nashville being a literary center and the associated educational, economic and cultural impact (see posts in May and early June). Lacey G. and I are convinced that the individual pieces are here. What seems to be missing is a linking mechanism to connect the individual contributors and organizations. What form should this linking mechanism take? What do we hope will result from such interactions? One answer is a common vision and understanding of how we as a community will benefit from becoming a nationally recognized literary center. Another is an outpouring of creativity that will in turn attract even more talent and businesses to Nashville. The time is ripe for action. Please join in the discussion which will propel this growth.

--Ginna F.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making of Music City

Craig Havighurst, author of Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City, was a delightful featured speaker at last night's Evening with an Author. He not only has a great handle on the facts & figures but was able to bring them alive with his passion for the subject. By employing countless numbers of live entertainers over the years, WSM nurtured the creative spirit and business offshoots that transformed Nashville into Music City USA. If you haven't read the book, I would highly recommend you do so.

--Ginna F.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reading on Sat night

This coming Saturday, July 26, at 6 PM, Landmark Booksellers in Franklin is hosting an event for: A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music's Greatest Songwriters.

The event will include Robert Hicks (collection's co-editor) and seven songwriters including Marshall Chapman, Don Cook, Tim Johnson, Gary Nicholson, Tim Putnam, Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers. They will read from their short stories, sign books and even more. Hopefully, there will be some music as I am a fool for a good Country song. (A favorite of mine is Marshall Chapman's "Call the Lamas!" from her Bitter End album).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Week's Highlight: Craig Havighurst

It's lucky #13! This Thursday, July 24th, Evening with an Author is featuring local writer Craig Havighurst, author of Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City. (If you've read the book, you know it's a wonderful read chock full of local Nashvillians, both famous and non.) Taking place at Martha's at the Plantation, it's the thirteenth event in this series of "books, wine, and smart conversation."

Free and open to the public--great writer, great topic, great deal--guests are invited to stay afterwards where for $25 they can enjoy a fabulous dinner and live music.

Date and Time: Thursday, July 24th from 6:00-7:00pm**

Place: Martha's at the Plantation (Belle Meade Plantation, 5025 Harding Road)

Featured Author: Craig Havighurst on Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

To RSVP in the affirmative for the July 24th event, please send an email to

** Note: For those interested, you can stay for dinner and a musical performance. dinner and a musical performance. The price for dinner and music is $25. Dinner is at 7:00pm and music starts at 8:00pm. Please call the restaurant directly at (615) 353-2828 to make your reservation. Mention Evening with an Author to be seated at the group table.For more information, please see

Praise for Craig Havighurst and Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City

"This is a vital book in the canons of country music history, but it's also a delightful read because the corporate growth and technological advances are peppered with stories such as Ernest Tubb's arrest for firing a gun in the National Life lobby and Hank Williams's call from jail. Havighurst treats WSM as if it's a character as rich and important as those it made famous, and he recreates the intangible studio moments that evaporate into thin air after reaching listeners' homes."--Weekly Standard

"Havighurst has done a service in preserving the colorful and instructive history of WSM - and in reminding us that giants once lived on the radio dial."--Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Craig Havighurst is a Nashville based writer, editor, and producer whose company String Theory Media specializes in music documentaries. His short WSM Snapshot for Nashville Public Television won a regional Emmy Award in 2001. A former staff music writer for the Tennessean in Nashville, he is also an independent journalist whose music correspondence has appeared on NPR and in Billboard, the Wall Street Journal, Country Music Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly. For more information, please see this link.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Newspaper

In today's Los Angeles Times there's an article by James Rainey on the state of newspapers. In what Rainey calls one of the most "comprehensive" studies ever done in the "embattled industry," the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism surveyed 259 editors across the country. Though over half believe the quality of their papers to be better now than 3 years earlier, there's no denying that the newspaper industry has changed and not always for the better. The Internet is the obvious catalyst; more readers are getting their news online. Papers have gained wider readership, but decreased ad sales (online ad sales bring in much less revenue that print). Low ad sales mean imminent cuts in both staff and content.

English and journalism majors take heed: "85% of newspapers with circulations over 100,000 have reduced their staffing levels in the last three years." The L.A. Times announced it's cutting 250 positions, 150 of those editorial staff in its print and web department. In papers across the country, international coverage, national coverage, and business news have all been drastically reduced. The status on book and art's coverage is even more dismal; The Nashville Scene is owned by New Times Media and out of its conglomeration of papers, it's one of the few--if not the only--paper to retain an entire section devoted to reviewing books. I know that former editor Liz Garrigan often fought to keep this coverage intact, but how, or if, that'll change with the hiring of new editor Pete Kotz is unclear.

Change is inevitable, but if these are growing pains, they sure do hurt.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Kids Are All Right

Kids aren't reading? Kids can't write? What's all this hysteria when The BookClaw proves the youngest generation is doing just fine. Created by AH (these are her initials by the way) who's "7 (almost 8) years old," and her mother (a professor of French), it's AH's way of sharing her love of books and reading.

Invented by AH, the site's descriptions reads, "Ever wish you had a magical book grabber that would bring amazing things for you to read, any time, anywhere? "Book Claw to the rescue!"

Full of book reviews amd the occasional interview--check out the one with Grandma-- it's a fun read and should inspire any young reader. Lit Magic hopes to interview AH soon and hear what her thoughts are on today's kid lit scene, but she's an in-demand personality. According to the majordomo (her mother), AH is currently out on tour with Grandma.

Friday, July 11, 2008

David Maraniss

Technically I already posted my "Highlight of the week" but here's another gift: David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner, Washington Post reporter, and author of the recently published Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, is scheduled to speak this upcoming Tuesday, July 15th at the Main Branch of the Nashville Public Library. Starting at 6:00 pm, An Evening with David Maraniss is part of the McNeely Pigott and Fox Speaker Series and RSVPs are encouraged; to do so please call at 615.259.4000 ext 111 or email

Of particular interest to Nashvillians will be the roles Tennessee State University's Wilma Rudolph and Ed Temple play in the book.

The reception, discussion and book-signing are free. Who doesn't love that? (And just think, if you carpool or take the bus, the money you save in gas can go towards buying stacks and stacks of books.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pick of the Week--J.K. Rowling

You may have already heard that J.K. Rowling was this year's commencement speaker at Harvard University. Or you may have been forwarded a copy of her speech. If neither applies, then it's your lucky day. Here is my Lit Magic Pick of the Week, my weekend gift to you.

It's a long one, so get comfortable. And since no university is a proper university without some debate happening somewhere at all times, here is an article about what some graduating seniors had to say. As reported by NPR's Tova Smith on Morning Edition, some seniors were less than happy with the choice. Most, though, found Rowling's speech "inspirational." I agree, leaning (or laughing) towards what David Edelstein, a 1983 graduate of Harvard, had to say about the ruckus. "They'll grow up," he told Smith. "They'll have a broader worldview and they'll understand that there are many, many ways to contribute.You know what they say--the freshmen bring so much and the seniors take away so little."

Morning Edition also reprinted Rowling's speech on their website as did, naturally, Harvard Magazine. The latter has a downloadable audio recording available, too. And just in case the thought of clicking away from Lit Magic scares you, noble reader, here are Rowling's words exactly. Add it to the list of Memorable & Noteworthy Commencement Addresses, and please, enjoy.

Harvard Class of 2008 Commencement Speech
Copyright of JK Rowling, June 2008

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.

The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you.' Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I've experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world's best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can't remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the 'gay wizard' joke, I've still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me. Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents' car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person's idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old
self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International's headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country's regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people's lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people's lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children's godparents, the people to whom I've been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I've used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Storied Preservation

It's funny how when you put one idea out there, more of the same seem to come your way. In my last post, I referred to the archiving and preservation of books, photos, and important documents. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, journalist Julia Klein has an article entitled "She Strives to Save the Works of Man from Acts of God." It's not very long, and it profiles the current director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Anne-Imelda M. Radice. (She's also known for her tenure at the National Endowment for the Arts; when she was named acting chairman in 1992 she took on Congress's mandate to impose a "decency" standard at the NEA.)

Radice's mission now, is "Connecting to Collections: A Call to Action" As Klein writes, it's "aimed at enhancing conservation and preservation of everything from digital information to zoo animals." That's a pretty wide scope, but preservation is about history, and history can be forgotten (or re-vised) if there's no written record available.

Writers--and their stories--fall away, too. There are any number of great authors and poets out there whose books are either no longer in print or risk becoming so. Sometimes their reputations are revived; an academic takes up their cause and a whole new group of readers are introduced to the writer's work. In college, I had a professor, Dr. Dorothy Scura, who did this with Tennessee author Evelyn Scott, and I'm forever in her debt for the introduction.

As the end of the article, Radice is asked about New Orleans and the damage done during Hurricane Katrina. What she has to say sums up the gist of the initiative Connecting to Collections. She says, "You see both what is at risk if these collections are lost--and also the power of these collections to provide experiences full of learning and hope for the future."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Archive This. Catalog That.

As a child I loved all things office supply and library related. Stationary? Loved it so much I didn't want to use it because then it'd be gone. That time/date stamp with accompanying ink pad? It was perfect for the lending library I created in my room. No neighborhood kid was leaving my house with the Babysitter's Club #1 without first signing a check-out slip.

Quirky kid or burgeoning obsessive-compulsive: it's a toss-up. Take into account that now, as an adult, I search for the most perfect archival supplies in which to house my photos (PrintFile) or protect my books (dust jackets from Brodart are great, and yes, I know this may be borderline neurotic) I see that the adage about some things never changing eerily applies to me.

The Internet is not just the biggest enabler of all, but a place where other like-minded souls can gather and share. My new-found favorite is LibraryThing. Part catalog system for your personal library, part social-networking for bibliophiles, it's just like the site says and, "the world's largest book club."

Just think how many suggestions for filing systems and book cataloging are out there, waiting, for me to discover. It's too much. Too much I say.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Amazon's Entry into Self-Publishing

This morning, made a bold play to capture the self-publishing market in the U.S. with the announcement of the launch of CreateSpace.

This will be disruptive to the marketplace for a number of reasons. It will obviously impact self-publishers as many customers will likely go with given its size, brand strength and broad distribution capability. It is not clear if will continue to distribute books by published by self-publishers as it has in the past. It will likely also impact such companies as Lightening Source (owned by Ingram Book) that specialize in print-on demand / short-run printing. There is no question that the number of titles printed each year will dramatically increase. For a small fee, any of us can be published authors with broad distribution. I suspect that PR and marketing companies focused on books and authors, like Swift Book Promotion, LLC, will also be impacted. As it becomes increasingly difficult to connect with audiences, generate buzz and garner media attention, it is likely that more authors will engage PR and marketing companies to work on their behalf. I also suspect that authors will spend more time building their personal brands, positioning their books and conducting market research on their readers. We may also see the rise of a new role -- the business manager as is found in the music industry -- who helps an author navigate these new complexities.

Email from
Dear Customer,

As someone who purchased products about authoring, publishing, or writing, you might also like to know about CreateSpace, a platform that provides one the easiest and most economical ways to self-publish your work and distribute through and other channels. CreateSpace, a member of the Amazon group of companies, offers self-service publishing tools that allow you to upload ready-to-print PDF book files and make your trade paperback book(s) available for sale on and your own E-store with no setup fees. You pay only for one proof copy of your book. When customers place orders, your product is manufactured and shipped directly to them, so there is no need for a large-upfront investment in inventory to start selling.CreateSpace Key

Features & Benefits:
* No setup fees for the CreateSpace Standard Program and no print minimums
* CreateSpace Pro Plan enables you to keep more on every sale and pay less when you order copies of your own book**
* An inventory-free fulfillment model
* Earn monthly royalties based on the list price you set
* Non-exclusive agreement keeps your publishing options open
* One of the easiest ways to distribute through
* CreateSpace ISBN provided at no additional charge
* Amazon's Search Inside!™ feature for your book
* Choose from many different trim size options

**Through July 31, 2008, CreateSpace is waiving the $39/yr per book setup fee typically associated with the ProPlan a new pricing plan, which enables you to keep more on every sale of your book and pay less when you order copies of your own book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

State of the Industry

Thanks to Publishers Lunch for showcasing one of the best articles I've read on the state of the publishing industry by Jonathan Karp titled "Turning the Page on The Disposable Book" in The Washington Post. It addresses the need for publishers to make their quarterly numbers as well as the quality of books being written today. It concludes that, as competition increases from self-publishers and independent presses and access to customers levels with digital distribution, publishers may be forced to invest more heavily in well-researched and well-written books to maintain their niche. The quality of the product (aka the book) will be what differentiates it in the market. Fingers crossed that Karp is correct.

In an earlier post, I spoke about how short run printing and print on-demand have the potential to change how we think about books and authors. If content can change on a dime, will we continue to give them the same respect they are now afforded? Will they possess the same gravity and expert status? Will these works stand up to the test of time? Another point which is raised in the article is that authors now write books in 1-2 years. This means less time is spent researching the material and working on the craft of writing. To quote Karp, "Journalism has long been regarded as the first rough draft of history; lately, however, books have too easily been thought of as the second rough draft, rather than the final word."

A few other noteworthy quotes from the article:
"Most authors want their work to be accessible to a typical educated reader, so the question really isn't whether the work is highbrow or lowbrow or appeals to the masses or the elites; the question is whether the book is expedient or built to last. Are we going for the quick score or enduring value? Too often, we (publishers and authors) are driven by the same concerns as any commercial enterprise: We are manufacturing products for the moment."

"Consequently, publishers will be forced to invest in works of quality to maintain their niche. These books will be the one product that only they can deliver better than anyone else. Those same corporate executives who dictate annual returns may begin to proclaim the virtues of research and development, the great engine of growth for business. For publishers, R&D means giving authors the resources to write the best books -- works that will last, because the lasting books will, ultimately, be where the money is."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Summer Tradition

What does summer mean to you? To me, it means sunshine, beefsteak tomatoes and above all else, reading. (At this point, I am guessing this does not surprise you -- smile). As such, about five years ago, I started a tradition among a circle of girlfriends to put together a summer reading list. When I woke up this morning, I knew it was time to send it out. In a week, I will have 100+ recommendations to tide me over until fall. I can hardly wait!

So, how does it work? It's pretty simple really. I send around a spreadsheet, pre-populated with my recommendations, with the headings "Title", "Author", "Genre", "Recommended by" and "Comments". Friends fill it out, I collate the results and then send out a master list. It a great resource and a fun way to connect.
Over the years, I have discovered many wonderful books and authors through the lists. I have also learned more about myself and my friends by the choices they make and how they describe them. If you're a big reader, I highly recommend sending out your own list to your circle of friends. The results will surprise and delight you!

For example:
Title: The Nine: The Secret World of the Supreme Court
Author: Jeffrey Toobin
Genre: non-fiction
Recommended by: Ginna F.
Comments: Easy-to-read and engrossing account of what happens behind the scenes at the Supreme Court.