Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Homes and Grading and California

Early this morning, I entered the grades for my second set of classes taught at the Fall Program or Freshmen. Done!

My course is focused on writing about place and how we connect to it, which resonates with these students who are often leaving home for the first time, though the typical freshmen experience doesn't really apply to Berkeley freshmen -- at least,  not the ones in my classrooms.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Which I Have Thoughts about Irish Publishing

Responding to Publishing PerspectivesIreland's Tradition of Small Presses

This came out in July, but I was busy writing, editing, and prepping for my course this fall (in which I taught a novel by Colm Tóibín, another lauded  Irish writer who has moved to the US and who is not published by an Irish house [though a quick search indicates that his first two houses were now defunct small Irish presses Raven Arts and Pilgrim Press, back in the '80s, before he moved to being published in England].)

I did an MA at UCD on Irish lit and a PhD on Irish poetry at UC Santa Barbara (so there are my bona fides), and one thing I became entirely fascinated by was the role of the publisher in Ireland. I can't recall the exact numbers off the top of my head, but the arts council report during the boom years showed that about 30% of what was in Irish bookstores was from Ireland, and that only about 30% of Irish authors were published in Ireland.

I spoke with the publisher of a great poetry press back in 2006 about this, and I remember that he -- and later, others -- told me that he felt the problem was not lack of demand, but lack of distribution for Irish titles in Ireland.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Conceptual Memoir -- is this a thing? In France, apparently

Recently ventured back into literary criticism a bit for the Two Lines blog.

Since my dissertation discussed constraint in poetry, and that meant lots of reading in the conceptual poetry arena, I was pretty familiar with the approaches and goals of Georges Perec and Édouard Levé as conceptual writers. I'm very intrigued by the question of how one disrupts expectations of litrary grandeur and meaning, and uses ordinary things instead to create art, playing with audience expectations of entertainment or enlightenment (blame Beckett and Joyce for dragging me down this road). Perec's I Remember came out this year from the beloved small press David R Godine, and Levé clearly saw himself in a line of descent from Perec's experiments with narrative forms in prose. So I proposed writing a blog post on both in anticipation of our November event as a way of contextualizing Levé's work and responding to a book newly available to American readers.

Also, I'm SO excited that the Center for the Art of Translation's Two Voices events program is hosting Lorin Stein of The Paris Review in conversation with our marketing/online editor Scott Esposito (also an editor and critic in his own right) and the talented translator Jan Steyn on Wednesday 10/5. Both Steyn and Stein translated Levé for the Dalkey Archive, and Scott's written a ton about Oulipo's influence on literature. I'm just squealing in girlish nerd joy (on the inside) that I get to meet the editor of one of the foremost, most canonical literary journals in print.

So, here's the link to my brief essay (about 1200 words) about the connections and differences between the two authors: "Connecting the Dots"


I also conducted an interview with Margaret Jull Costa this summer that was posted on the Two Lines blog -- she's quite the force (translated any and every important Portuguese or Brazilian author you've heard of [Saramago ahem ahem]) -- and has been given an OBE for her service to English literature!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Cautionary Tale? Or an Inspiration? Both?

I was asked to discuss my career path by the career center at my undergraduate institution.  Since I feel like a scrambler more than a planner at this point, I found that quite funny, but tried to answer their questions truthfully (if optimistically).

Here's the result! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fall: The Academic Job Season

I let my MLA membership lapse this year, stopped going to conferences a year ago, quit pursuing academic publications in favor of writing ones for places that paid. I gave the job market three tries, and never even got a request for an interview. Which, looking back, makes plenty of sense -- despite the importance of doing so, I never published a peer-reviewed article. What was I thinking? But in the end, that pushed me back out into a life that might turn out to be a better fit.

I got a new job that I love, as associate editor for the literary magazine and eponymous press Two Lines (look how pretty our covers are!). How lucky is that? What a dream opportunity to work with incredibly well-read colleagues who genuinely care about poetry and avant-garde literature. I'm working out this life that's part reading and writing, part editing, part adjuncting for the best program on the planet for adjuncts: the Fall Program for Freshmen, run by UC Berkeley Extension for spring admit Berkeley freshmen. Teaching smart kids, editing literature, writing for fun and money -- all good. I even teach and hold office hours in Wheeler Hall, which is also the home of the English dept at Berkeley.

Then I opened an email a month ago about local jobs in higher ed .

Monday, February 24, 2014

My goal for 2014: Write and Submit Weekly

In order to challenge myself to write, and set deadlines, and then abide by them, I am using stickk.com to hold me to my promises, as well as friends in charge of checking on me.

One of my goals is to write and submit SOMETHING every week. I need a fire lit under my butt, and I also need to get my confidence back. And the fun I used to have writing.

So I decided to give Medium a try (despite my reservations), to see what happens, after a fun writing prompt asked for flash fiction and I came up with a raging set of lies about journalist Joel Stein. 

See the 1500 word story (7 minute read, according to Medium) here! It was too long to submit to the contest, but I am going to try to go shorter and sweeter for the next one, due in three days.

[ETA: So yeah, only wrote the one, but it was chosen as an editor's pick! Got the taste of what 1.5K views feels like. "Exposure," they say these days, when you ask folks what they pay for material, but I can see the lure of that kind of attention. Almost feels like money.]

There's also a flash fiction writing contest at To The Best of Our Knowledge asking for "Three Minute Futures" -- short hard sci-fi. I'd like to try my hand at that!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Abuses of Hand-Lettering in Book Jacket Design

This should be a much longer post, with many more citations.

But basically, as I have been immersing myself in book jacket design, and paying hawk-like attention to the look of literary novels everywhere I go, I've noticed a trend for illustration on covers, and especially hand-lettered titles.

I first noticed it after seeing the exact same trend in wedding invites to an overwhelming degree (maybe because I'm getting married and am designing my own invites, which, yes, I set in lead type and hand-printed, so I am a bit of a luddite and a hipster don't judge me). I love the look, but it seems layered in that postmodern, hipster irony of reproducing the nostalgia for the thing using the very technology that has replaced it. Especially when the hand-lettering is then printed using letterpress, but rather than using lead type (as is PROPER), using a photopolymer plate. Double layers of obsolete technology!

But I digress.

I do love the look, but the book world is getting a bit saturated with it. It make zero sense to me, for example, for Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel to have a parchment cover and watercolored words:

watercolor illustration as book jacket
Lahiri's most recent book, The Lowland
Seriously, what does that tell you about the book? Other than that the graphic designer who made the jacket likes to underline things. It has no connection with her previous work, even though her last book, with its gorgeous cover, was published by the same house.

Anyways, I do think that it can be used well, but I think it's interesting that it's being used across so many genres, whereas oftentimes typeface choices are so genre-limited. I noticed the following books in particular because they use a hand-lettered title, but it seems to jar with the genre, content, or audience one would think the publisher and author are trying to convey. Is this a case of graphic designer revolt?

Achebe             The Tree

WaughRoddy Doyle 

 Rosenstrach TarttPowers

I am sure these are all lovely books. Who could turn their nose up at Achebe? Roddy Doyle will have you laughing your head off. But WHY use the same signifiers for fiction and non-fiction? The answer has to be the aura of the handmade object, and the attempts of fine books to look not mass-produced, to look special, to look like you really need to buy and own this precious, hand-made just-for-you object. And to update classics to look fresh (Achebe and Waugh just won't resonate with current marketplaces otherwise, I guess?). As paper books war with ebooks for customer dollars, the materiality of the object is becoming emphasized as a positive. Ebooks aren't chipping away at hardbacked sales, but they've destroyed the massmarket, rack-size paperback. If you want to buy something a machine made, you'll download the digital version, and all the books in your pocket library will have the exact same font (typeface), the covers won't matter, and you'll likely delete or remove the book once you're done instead of passing it along to someone else and starting up the oh-so-desired word-of-mouth campaign. So I get the inspiration. It's possibly also behind the emphasis on chalkboards and personalization Etsy has been hammering for years. But you can't apply the same idea to everything! It's the cheap easy way to connect to current trends, but is it servicing the book or just demonstrating the in-the-know-ness of the designer?

OK, to pull my cranky pants all the way up, the worst offender in design, overall, bar none, of recent books in this trend is, in my opinion, Cartwheel

Holy crap I don't want to ever look at this jacket again (I got like three in their publicity carpet bombing exercise and have been trying to give them away). It makes no sense. I mean, I like the subtle curve in the actual title, and the spokes radiating from the center do evoke an actual cartwheel, but overall it just feels scattered and totally, totally unrelated to the novel -- and doesn't even have the excuse of echoing her previous book. There's a bird, and what seem to be post-its with rough-pencilled scrawl -- but as described in the jacket copy, the novel is basically a ripped-from-the-deadlines fictionalization of the Amanda Knox story. What the heck is the connection of this pinwheeling cover to an international tale of lurid crime and uncertain guilt? How does this stylishly designed cover tell me anything at all about the book? The cover is a vital piece of information to help a reader engage with a book, and this one, I believe, does a horrible disservice to book and author. It feels like a designer got fed-up with feedback and Portlandiaed the jacket.