Links: Tools of Change No More, Scalzi on RT, and More

While I was at RT, news broke that Tools of Change in Publishing is no more. Brian O'Leary, whom I met at ToC (and who, like many people in publishing, is my neighbor in Jersey), has a sharp post about the closing of ToC, and what it means for the people of the ToC community who gathered annually:

Even if you believe that traditional publishing “gets” digital (if there is any ambiguity: I don’t), what about things like self-publishing, or the primacy of web standards as a vehicle for creating, maintaining and disseminating content of all types? The most recent TOC in New York featured two widely praised, day-long workshops hosted by key players in the self-publishing and W3C communities. The hallway conversations alone were worth the price of admission. Who is going to lead that kind of dialogue now that O'Reilly has shuttered TOC?

You don’t have to convince me that maintaining a community is hard work. Sustaining a publishing community is even harder, because there is no one thing that people universally recognize as “publishing”.

But once you’ve helped make a community, you have an obligation to nurture and sustain it. If you decide you want to do something else with your resources, you still have to provide for its care and feeding. You don’t shut everything down without making an attempt to at least provide for its welfare.

The thing that made TOC valuable – unique – was its ability to cut across a range of silos and present ideas that mattered. Despite what O’Reilly claims, that isn’t something other events do or even try to do. The ones that come closest are the events that pretty much mimic whatever TOC did first.

Shutting down TOC is more than a disappointment. The decision calls into question much of what the company claims that it stands for.

As O'Leary said in his article, he wrote three books for O'Reilly, the now-divorced parent of ToC. An essay I wrote is in one of them – and I was a media sponsor for ToC for the past few years. I confess to being disappointed with this past year's ToC lineup, most notably with the number of panels that were promotion for a specific company's services and less about problems and solutions, ideas and suggestions, and innovations that continue to develop within the publishing industry. O'Leary's article helped me identify the reasons for one of the other reactions I had to the news that ToC was closing down: great, gaping sadness.

I agree with O'Leary that it is a shame that, instead of selling the conference, O'Reilly shuttered it and laid off the two coordinators, Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer. As part of that community, I am genuinely sad that it was closed without respect for the connections, the time, and the effort that we had made as part of that community, even as I was bummed by the tenor and experience of ToC 2013. I had high expectations for 2014 and had been thinking of potential topics to present and propose – figuring that, if ToC was not working for me, it's my responsibility to do something to help, and not just complain. I had some ideas for presentations about using technology to unite authors and readers in genre fiction, and had already begun reaching out to marketing and publicity folks to do a panel on low-cost innovations in book promotion. ToC was where I had ideas I'd never have thought of otherwise, just from being in the same group as so many curious, creative people. As O'Leary wrote, “The thing that made TOC valuable – unique – was its ability to cut across a range of silos and present ideas that mattered.”

So long, ToC. I'm sad to see you go. I hope another gathering of challenge and creativity can come close to capturing the Jiffy-pop brain I experienced at ToC in the past. 

At the RT booksigning, I met Sara Ramsey, who was wearing adorable earrings -  typewriter strikeplates of individual letters. She was nice enough to let me know that they're still available  – though limited in quantity and selection – at Fab.com, a membership shopping site. 

They're $20. And gosh, they're cute. I'd feel like a horrible person if I didn't share the link. Thanks, Sara! 

Speaking of RT: thank you to the many, many people who forwarded me this link to John Scalzi's recap of his attendance at RT to receive his award: 

I’ll note that as RT is heavily focused on the romance genre — a field which, by the way, has significant crossover into the speculative fiction and YA genres (and often both at the same time) — the author and fan attendance skewed largely female; while men weren’t entirely absent (there were male authors and fans, and spouses of female authors and fans) they were relatively rare. In the evenings, I would be hanging out at the bar with other writers and friends and I would look around and every other person around the table would be a woman. And I would go, huh, and then go back into the conversation.

This is something that I think might be worth noting out loud: At a largely female-oriented convention, as a man, I was never excluded, resented or made to feel unwelcome. There were folks who were surprised I was there, but that surprise was always “Oh! Cool! You’re here!” rather than “Why are you here?” And that, of course, is a salient difference. No one questioned my reasoning for being there, or suggested, say, that I was a Fake Romance Boy, or quizzed me about who my favorite romance author was or if I could recite that author’s bibliography to their satisfaction. I certainly wasn’t skeezed on. On the contrary, people went out of their way to ask me if I was enjoying myself and to let me know they were glad I was there. When I admitted ignorance about certain writers or genre details they were happy to expand my knowledge, and they wanted to know more about what I did and my own experiences as a writer.  I met lots of new people and made new friends and in many ways it was one of the best convention experiences I’ve had in a long time.

This leaves wide open and hanging the question of why was it so easy for the folks at the RT Booklovers’ Convention, fans and creators both, to welcome a stranger of the opposite gender into their midst, while other enthusiast communities that skew male still have creators and fans who blow a gasket about women doing their thing in that genre. It’s not difficult to be welcoming and friendly. I wish the genres I am actively a part of could do as good a job of it as romance and the RT Booklovers’ convention did for me (and, I will note, the other men I saw at the convention).

Word to us.

On one hand, we do have our exclusionary practices, though they don't usually rest on gender. If anything, we pay too much attention to the men within the romance enterprise, and give their opinions and presence too much weight. But I remain very proud that another newcomer was welcomed and left happy.

Here, this will set some of your hair on fire: in New York Magazine, Kathryn Schulz explains why she hates The Great Gatsby

I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains.

None of this would matter much to me if Gatsby were not also sacrosanct. 

I spent some of the early part of last week with Sarah MacLean, who told me that Gatsby is her favorite book – that she re-reads it annually. That is way cool. Me, I'm of the camp that wasn't too moved by it, mostly because of the distance Schulz describes. But then, I read it years ago, and was insufficiently moved by it that it never occurred to me to read it again. Regardless of my own reaction, I love hearing what people's favorite books are, and why they love them – and of what people's least favorite books are, and why. 

Alas, the comments are a hotbed of “You are far too stupid to understand how great this book is.” Be Ye Warned. It can be so alienating to feel like you're one of very few who dislike something everyone tends to laud and celebrate without limit – and it's worse when your discussion of why you dislike something is met with insults. Tread carefully in the comments.

 

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  1. 1
    library addict says:

    Count me in the “meh” camp that will never read The Great Gatsby again.

    Those earrings are cool. Thanks for the link.

  2. 2
    LoriK says:

    Conversations about books that are supposedly sacrosanct or about being the only one who didn’t like a book that everyone else considers great art are always interesting to me, because IME there’s actually no such thing. I’m one of the people who love Gatsby, although not enough to reread it regularly. I’ve often had the experience of being the only one in a conversation who likes it. The most common comment I’ve heard about it is that it’s boring. On more than one occasion that declaration has been accompanied by a look that suggests that there must be something wrong with me for liking it. Many times I’ve seen it pulled out as a prime example of what’s wrong with high school required reading lists and the way they kill the love of reading. 

    The same is true of pretty much every other “great” book. I can’t think of a single one that doesn’t have plenty of detractors. I think that in some social circles there are books that act as shibboleth and you have to claim to love them in order to be “in” or to be considered smart, but that’s not the same thing as a book being sacrosanct or universally loved or praised. Back in the day I think it was understandable for people to not necessarily realize that their experience isn’t typical and to therefore think that if everyone they know personal likes, or claims to like, a book then everyone does. This is the internet age though and I feel like there’s not much excuse for it any more.

  3. 3
    Lostshadows says:

    Never read “Gatsby”, but people who insist that the only reason someone doesn’t like a book is because “they didn’t get it” really irritate me.

    Nothing is going to be universally loved or hated, people’s tastes are just too diverse.

  4. 4
    Vasha says:

    And if, in fact, a person just doesn’t get a particular book, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Literature exists on a background of other literature and of moral, cultural, and aesthetic assumptions, and sometimes we readers can’t find enough of a footing in a book to “read” it at all—and that is not a sign of lack of intelligence or interest.

    However, it is possible to be able to read a book and also judge it morally (etc.) insufficent, too!

  5. 5
    CarrieS says:

    Scalzi just gets more awesome with every day.  As someone who moves through both the sci fi and romance worlds, THANK YOU for that awesome observation on his part.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    “people who insist that the only reason someone doesn’t like a book is because “they didn’t get it” really irritate me.”

    @lostshadows: I wonder if some people who say they “didn’t get it” merely don’t quite know how to explain why they didn’t like it. Could be anything from “not my catnip” to “it was not printed in a language I can read.” It’s sort of the opposite of all those many many reviews that talk about characters who were “true to life.” Describing book reactions can be way difficult, darn it. (I always struggle with, “It was meh.”)

  7. 7
    hapax says:

    Kathryn Schulz is perfectly free to love, loathe, or lose sleep over THE GREAT GATSBY, and she makes an articulate case as to why she dislikes it.

    However, I am free to hold in equal contempt the writings of any critic who feels compelled to begin her essay with a repugnant display of intellectual dick-waving:  “oh yes, I was dropping in on graduate seminars at Hah-vahd, just for laughs don’t you know…”

    John Scalzi, however, is Made of Win.

     

  8. 8
    Jessica says:

    I will freely admit that I did not enjoy the Great Gatsby when I read it in high school.  I remember liking it more than the other books I read that year for school but we read a lot of Shakespeare that year and I loathe Shakespeare almost as much as I loathe Dickens.  I’ve thought about re-reading it but I frankly don’t care enough.  I know that some people love Dickens, Shakespeare, and Gatsby but I’m not one of them and I’m completely ok with that.  If we didn’t all have different tastes in books then we wouldn’t have such an amazing array of talented authors that entertain us with their stories and their creativity.

  9. 9
    tracykitn says:

    Honestly, I kind of liked Gatsby—it was more than meh, but not on my regular reread list.

    But then, I was that one kid who messed things up for everybody else by kind of liking all those books that everyone else in the class loved to bitch and moan about. I engaged with the books and whatever we were supposed to be talking about regarding the books (although I’m still a bit lost nine times out of ten if you want to talk about “symbolism.” AND I always miss Easter eggs unless they have a big neon sign pointing at them…).

    Also I read (and loved!) Tess of the D’Urbervilles in 8th grade.

    But, y’know… I’m just thrilled to see my kids reading whatever floats their boats. My 7YO read The Wizard of Oz, The Borrowers, and Redwall this past year. My 9YO read The Hobbit (which, for the record, I hate with a passionate passion). And my 12 YO? Well, the Twilight books, sadly. But also ALL my LMMontgomery (I have almost everything she wrote), a lot of Louisa May Alcott, some Terry Pratchett, and she’s currently making her way through the Artemis Fowl books. So, y’know… quite a range. ;)

    Books speak in different ways to different people. I think it would be nice if schools could expose kids to more of a RANGE of different kinds of books, but then, just because something is considered “seminal” (and I’m sorry, that always makes me think of dancing sperm!) or a “classic” does not actually mean it will appeal to all kids everywhere. Which is why having books at home is so important (I will tell you right now, I think my personal library is more expansive than the public one, in terms of variety if not actual number of volumes).

    Oh, and for Christmas? My mom got my kids a gorgeously illustrated copy of The Odyssey (written in prose), which ALL THREE of my kids have read. They all have favorite parts, which they can speak intelligently about. I love my mom.

  10. 10
    kkw says:

    No one is obliged to like what I do, and I don’t think less of people for disagreeing with me (unless they don’t like Stendhal – I struggle with it, but can’t help this particular prejudice). I do think less of people who can’t articulate their criticism but still go around pissing on other people’s parades. I think it’s our obligation as an audience to try to understand and appreciate art. There’s nothing to be gained by sitting back with arms crossed demanding skeptically to be impressed, which of course one encounters a lot in high school. If you don’t like something that is generally lauded, of course you’ve every right to that point of view. Nothing will convince me that the billions and billions who eat at McDonald’s aren’t crazy to do so, because for realz I don’t get it. But since I’m missing out on something that other people love, I owed it to myself to try and find some enjoyment in consuming the simulacrum of food – obviously I failed. But I genuinely tried, more than once, and now I will freely offer my criticism when it’s relevant, but I don’t shame people who want to eat there, and I don’t discount the possibility, the extremely slim possibility, that I’ll change my mind.
    I spent years wondering why anyone liked Cy Twombley, thinking that meant I didn’t like him, or rather, his art. One day I got it, and my life was that much richer. I think Schultz has every reason to dislike Gatsby, but as far as seeing what makes it great, patently she does not get it. I consider it her right, and her loss. I don’t say there’s something wrong with her for not appreciating it, I don’t myself, but we’re both missing out on an experience that brings joy to a great many people. Fortunately, there’s a world full of other things to love.

  11. 11
    Emily A. says:

    I personally had mixed feelings about The Great Gatsby, but then I loved Wuthering Heights. My own feeling about Great Gatsby is yes everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I want this site to give it the “Wuthering Heights” treatment, and point out this is not a romance. I think it could be a classic or good book, but romance it is not. I see it regularly pointed out as one of the most romantic or greatest romances of all time, etc. 
    Oh also I like This Side of Paradise better. It sold more than The Great Gatsby when first released.

  12. 12
    Karen H says:

    I agree with Kathryn Schultz about The Great Gatsby. I knew I didn’t like it, but she was able to articulate the reasons why.  The book I dislike more than Gatsby?  Catcher in the Rye, of course. It’s awful.

  13. 13
    MochaBean says:

    I love me some Scalzi.  And for readers here so inclined, I highly recommend his Old Man’s War and its sequels (The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony), because, they are, at their heart, a love story.  They are also kick ass SF.  His blog is always entertaining.

  14. 14

    I’m reading Gatsby this week since I kinda mostly skipped it during high school. I can’t wait for the movie, so I’d like to be able to compare the actual story to the Baz Luhrmann craziness.

  15. 15
    Rebecca says:

    And if, in fact, a person just doesn’t get a particular book, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Literature exists on a background of other literature and of moral, cultural, and aesthetic assumptions, and sometimes we readers can’t find enough of a footing in a book to “read” it at all—and that is not a sign of lack of intelligence or interest.

    To combine this with what kkw said about trying to understand why OTHER people “get” something that you genuinely do not….I do think it’s ok to tell someone that they don’t “get” a book (or painting or piece of music or what have you), if you’re able to explain what it is they’re not getting.  It would be a sadly boring world if we not only disagreed with different sets of moral, cultural and aesthetic assumptions but also denied the possibility they existed.  I think that the root of the “demanding skeptically to be impressed” that kkw talks about has a lot to do with a lack of exposure to people whose worldview is radically different from one’s own.  That’s probably why you get it a lot in high school…a lot of kids simply haven’t run across enough people who really don’t share their “cultural, moral and aesthetic assumptions.”  (Let’s hear it for international field trips people.  And no, watching a video in the classroom isn’t the same.)

    That said, you can’t make someone love a work of art they dislike.  But maybe in clarifying why they dislike it they can think about what part of the author/creator’s values/beliefs/assumptions they find problematic…and maybe get to know their own beliefs a little better.  So yes, I think it’s ok to say “you don’t get it.”  (And also ok to say “by the standards that this particular piece is judging ITSELF by, it is crap.”  But that’s a different story.)

  16. 16
    Kelly S says:

    I’m in the camp of love Scalzi and didn’t like Gatsby.  I read the Great G because it was the skinniest option but found it boring.  I think reading a fat book that is interesting with great characters & plot is actually easier and quicker than a skinny one that lacked anything interesting.

  17. 17
    Laura says:

    I really like Scalzi. He and Jim Hines are welcome voices in the book world about gender.  Their book cover recreations are funny and telling.

    I was sort of “meh” on The Great Gatsby, but after reading this article at Salon, I’ve rethought my opinion.  http://www.salon.com/2013/01/09/was_nick_carraway_gay/  Olear’s analysis made it a richer tome that may not be accurate, but it’s far more interesting than a “rich people’s problems” plot to me.

  18. 18
    Adrian says:

    Try being a high school English teacher and voicing that you can’t stand the Great Gatsby. I was villified by my fellow teachers.

    My curriculum called for teaching a Fitzgerald novel or a Hemingway novel and I jumped on teaching The Old Man and the Sea. Since at that time I was teaching in an inner city school with kids who had little opportunity and were short on hope, the tale of perseverance and dignity and what it means to be a man in society resonated more with them than Fitzgerald’s novels would, I thought. But for me, it was more about teaching a book I could stand rather than The Great Gatsby, which I couldn’t. :)

    Scalzi now, I love him and Jim C Hines. I found Scalzi because he did a reboot of a classic novel I loved as a kid Little Fuzzy. I then gravitated to Old Man’s War and found Jim C Hines through the cover reenactments. If you’re a reader of Hines and loved his Libriomancer book (fantasy about sorcerers who can create objects from books – also has a romantic element with a surprising conclusion of a nonconventional relationship), the 1st chapter of the sequel is on his site. Also worth reading on his blog is the discussion about cover models.

    http://jimchines.com

  19. 19
    Emily A. says:

    @SBSarah
    Never read “Gatsby”, but people who insist that the only reason someone doesn’t like a book is because “they didn’t get it” really irritate me.

    See I didn’t see as Tracy read the Great Gatsby and didn’t like it because she didn’t get it. I saw this as Laura, who’s a literary snob, insists that if Tracy didn’t like the Great Gatsby. Tracy’s argument is then “I got it. I didn’t like it.” Laura saying is “If you didn’t like it, you didn’t get it. I think you misread what she said.

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