Studio Tour: Oliver Jeffers

If you have a child, chances are you have or will eventually read them a book written by and/or illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. He’s become a real favorite of mine (If you’re a writer, Once Upon an Alphabet is a must-have for your kids.) and I literally squealed with delight when I saw this article in my RSS feed. Spoiler: Oliver Jeffers’ studio is exactly what you’ve been imagining all this time. Also—pay close attention to the stuff in the pictures he has hand-labeled. You’ll recognize the typeface.


Everything About Everything: David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ at 20

Tom Bissell, in a New York Times essay adapted from his foreword to the 20th-anniversary edition of 'Infinite Jest':

I read for hours that way, morning after morning, my mind awhirl. For the first few hundred pages of my initial reading, I will confess that I greatly disliked “Infinite Jest.” Why? Jealousy, frustration, impatience. It’s hard to remember exactly why. It wasn’t until I was writing letters to my girlfriend, and describing to her my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and host-family members and long walks home through old Soviet collectivized farmland in what I would categorize as yellow-belt Wallaceian prose, that I realized how completely the book had rewired me. Here is one of the great Wallace innovations: the revelatory power of freakishly thorough noticing, of corralling and controlling detail. Most great prose writers make the real world seem realer — it’s why we read great prose writers. But Wallace does something weirder, something more astounding: Even when you’re not reading him, he trains you to study the real world through the lens of his prose. Several writers’ names have become adjectivized — Kafkaesque, Orwellian, Dickensian — but these are designators of mood, of situation, of civic decay. The Wallaceian is not a description of something external; it describes something that happens ecstatically within, a state of apprehension (in both senses) and understanding. He didn’t name a condition, in other words. He created one.

Reading 'Infinite Jest' changes you. There's no way around it. Writer or not, it changes your brain. It doesn't just exercise your muscles; it activates muscles that you never even knew you had.


The World of Children’s Books Is Still Very White

Amy Rothschild, writing for FiveThirtyEight:

Annual statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center bear out what I know from visits to my local library. For three decades, the librarians at the center, a modest outfit at the University of Wisconsin, have tracked one dimension of diversity in books for children and young adults: racial diversity. Children’s and young adult literature (“kid lit”) represent a stubbornly white world even as U.S. children are increasingly people of color.

Just another one of those things that I never stopped to think about until I read this article. I know where I’ll be looking for Luna’s next few book purchases.


The Physical Constraints of a Book

As I sit here reading during my daughter’s nap time—the recently-released The David Foster Wallace Reader, essentially a D.F.W. “Greatest Hits” album—I’m reminded of an essay I wrote eight months ago:

I Paid That Bribe: Helping Amazon To Make My Life Worse

And I’m reminded of it because I’m not actually reading. I’m struggling to read. Why? Because The David Foster Wallace Reader weighs less than two ounces shy of three pounds. It’s over two inches thick. The density of pages makes reading the words towards the spine of the book, at most “normal” reading angles, almost impossible.

In short: it is not a good consumer experience.


Super Depressing Stats About the Most-Highlighted Kindle Passages

Joseph Stromberg:

Of the top 25 most-highlighted passages ever, a ridiculous 19 come from one of the books in the Hunger Games trilogy, including numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Additionally, the three books rank as 3, 8, and 13 in the list of most-highlighted books of all time.

It might not be a huge shock that the Bible is the single most highlighted Kindle book of all time. But it may be a surprise that it's also number 4, 6, 11, 16, and 18 — because different versions of it are listed separately. In addition to the six Bible versions, there are five other Christianity-oriented books in the top 25 most-highlighted books of all time.

When you take away The Hunger Games, the top 50 most-highlighted books include just eight novels written since the start of the 20th century.

So basically, as a nation, we’re reading below grade level, about God, and we really, really want to just be told how to be happy and/or successful.


Publishers’ Deal with the Devil

Ben Thompson:

The issue is that writing, editing, and publishing are all fixed costs; they are accrued before an article or book is published, and increasing the distribution of said article or book is, relative to these costs, completely free. The costs the Internet obviated, on the other hand, such as paper, ink, shipping, and retail space, were all variable costs; to create one additional book (or newspaper or magazine) required money. To put it another way, before the Internet free was not an option, and once customers were already paying something, it was a whole lot easier to get them to pay just a little bit more. And, with that little bit more, publishers could cover their fixed costs, and perhaps even turn a tidy profit.

As usual, another intensely rational, and at the same time, poetic, take from Ben Thompson. Did I maybe feel a surge of pride this some of his comments echoed my own? Maybe.


I Paid That Bribe: Helping Amazon To Make My Life Worse

When I finished reading George Packer’s New Yorker article, “Is Amazon Bad For Books?” I planned on linking to it and maybe adding three or four sentences of my own thoughts. But the piece stuck with me for the rest of the day, and the next day, and the next.

I realized I had more to say.

I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber. I am also an author whose book is sold through Amazon, a company that has ushered in an era in which, as Packer quotes, “Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value.”

By shopping on Amazon as much as I do, I’m actively supporting the biggest threat to the industry I am trying to succeed in.

I’m, at best, a hypocrite, and at worst, helping to destroy my career, warehouse worker’s lives, and who knows what else—consumer culture as we know it?

I sat down and thought about all of this and about what it might mean for the future.


Child’s Illustrated Guide to Recognizing Satanic Ritual Abuse

Cory Doctorow:

In 1990, in the middle of the moral panic over Satanic ritual abuse (an almost entirely imaginary phenomenon), Doris Sanford published "Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy," which was "based on months of intensive research into the nature and practice of satanic ritual abuse." Sanford claimed that "Any child who has been ritually abused will recognize the validity of this story."

But wait—pictures!