This space, for those handful of you who check in on occasion, has been quiet for awhile. After the first few weeks I began to receive queries about my well-being. Was I all right? Had something happened, or was I in any sort of trouble? Even one person who feared the silence indicative of something they had feared bound to happen: we'd bitten off too much and it had finally caught up with us. Blog silence as a sign of impending doom.
I'm happy to report that not only am I well, but that the press is no closer to collapse than it was a month ago. Nor, alas, is it any further away from it. My reasons for quitting Thirsty for awhile were both personal and professional. I've too little time any more and keeping up the chatter seemed not worth it. I decided it would be more beneficial to read a book if I had a half an hour to kill, to get back to reading for pleasure, something I've had a hard time doing over the last couple of years. So I sat down with Roth and Houellebecq and Arthur Krystal; Grant Buday, Cormac McCarthy, Arturo Perez-Reverte. Most recently, Charles Foran's Last House of Ulster. Reading these seemed much more worthwhile than sitting for yet another half an hour a day trying to keep a blog current. If you're actually reading this, I expect it is because you're one of the few who still care about books and good literature; if you're like me, you're finding it harder and harder to find time to get to the books you want to, to keep up to date on what's new and worth reading, to get to the stack of classics sitting on your shelves or piled next to the nightstand. In my own case, the volumes of Clive James, including his latest, Cultural Amnesia, which I picked up this past week in Toronto; Bolano's Savage Detectives, Casares's Invention of Morel, The Best Canadian Stories and Journey Prize anthologies. This blog meant that I had that much less time to read, to remind myself why the hell I spend the time I do behind this computer in the first place. We'd all do better to spend less time with blogs, more time with books, so taking a break seemed a way to deal with this.
But it was more than that. When I started this blog it was the hope that it would be a press blog, with all of Biblioasis' many talented writers contributing. That lasted for about two weeks. It became a publisher's blog, news, reviews, views. I've been told, more than once, that it quickly developed into the best example of its kind in the country, which says more about how poor the rest must be than how good this one was. But the rule of blogging is that new content is essential. If you can't keep people coming back, there's no point doing it at all. So I tried to post regularly, every day for a while, and then at least several times a week. I posted reviews, announcements, the odd poem, editorial, rant. Some were good, some I later regretted. Some were posted in anger and frustration, and caused problems I'd not foreseen. One, unintentionally, caused a person a fair amount of embarrassment and pain. I became a touch careless, not checking up on things as I should, got in the habit of commenting on things in a way that, had I stopped for a few minutes, I probably wouldn't have. In my search for content and commentary, in my attempts to keep things fresh, I posted about things best kept a bit more under wraps. I began to feel less a publisher where this blog was concerned and more a pundit.
This focus on the new is part of the problem. It's a cliche to say that literature is not about the new. But in publishing, in literary publishing, it's getting damned hard to talk about anything else. It's hard to get anyone to even consider covering/reviewing/discussing a book that's even a couple of months old. Want to try and get a writer from last spring a few gigs in April? Forget it. Here we are, February, the Spring 2008 season hardly even begun, and I need to have all my covers and catalogue copy and everything else to my US distributor for Fall by tomorrow evening; to our Canadian sales force in less than two weeks. At the same time, books that were ordered 45, 60, 90 days ago are already being returned to the warehouse. The preparation for a season's titles begins earlier and earlier; the actual selling season seems shorter and shorter. And no one any longer is interested in backlist. The fact that Leon Rooke's Hitting the Charts remains one of the most important books we've published -- and are likely to for many a year -- is irrelevant. A master's selected stories, stories which, in the words of Russell Banks, "work out there in the terra incognita, mapping limits" and hardly anyone has read it; and now that it is backlist, relegated to the amazonian 3-5 weeks, unavailable on bookstore shelves across the land for the casual browser to trip upon, t'is unlikely anyone will. How many out there will find David Hickey's In the Lights of a Midnight Plow now? Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant? Goran Simic's From Sarajevo With Sorrow? Pray for a course list, as it's the only chance of a book having a meaningful afterlife, and in the age of the coursepak even this is damn remote. No, alas. Rather, let's talk about what's new.
So I thought, in some sort of strange, tangential, way, this blog might be contributing to the problem. Punditry, by focusing on the new, on keeping the content fresh as opposed to the quality of it. Not sure that makes any sense at all, but t'was my thinking.
Anyway: I'm back at it again. New books to push, new frustrations to share. Though, as this semi-coherent rant has already taken much too much time, perhaps I should leave it here.
Cultural Amnesia. Clive James' volume, sitting an arm's length away. Says it all, really. Perhaps when I finish General Ludd -- perhaps a future Renditions book (the pitching begins) -- I'll pick up there.