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Thursday March 6, 2008

South Beach: The Novel. Based on real life people (Diddy! Paris! Versace!) in thinly veiled fictionalizations.

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Tuesday January 22, 2008

The [new] Bookstore in Coconut Grove has become quite the hangout, what with the coffee shop and free wi-fi. I always wonder whether this is economically sustainable — people sitting at a table on their laptop for two hours do not make the store much profit, even if they do buy a coffee. Getting customers in the store is key, of course, and it works well enough for Books and Books, so who knows? I sure hope it works out for them — I’d love to see independent bookstore/hangout-type spots everywhere.

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Monday November 26, 2007

“Latin America has a homicide rate of 27.5 victims for every 100,000 residents, compared with 22 in Africa, 15 in Eastern Europe and 1 in industrialized nations. Other studies show that Latin America, with only 8 percent of the global population, accounts for 75 percent of the world’s kidnappings.” — Andres Oppenheimer, who argues that the explosion of crime has fueled a wave of immigration to — you guessed it, Miami. The column is a summary of his new book, although it never actually gets around to the “solutions” section the book seems to promise.

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Tuesday November 20, 2007

Just came across Francisco Alvarado’s hilarious takedown of Rudy Crew’s book from a couple of months ago.

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Thursday November 8, 2007

What's the point of a book fair?

Miami’s Book Fair, one of the largest* in the nation, now in its 24th year, is considered generally a big deal. I’ve never been, and I don’t intend to go this year, unless someone coughs up a compelling reason. It’s not for a lack of love of books — in the last year I’ve finished several novels, a couple of books of essays, and an ass-load of non-fiction books (including Woodward’s 600 page State of Denial). I should be the book fair’s target demographic. But the whole idea strikes me as ass-backwards.

For a fair to make sense, the subject of the fair has to gain something from gathering lots of people with whatever the interest together in close proximity. Star Trek, stamps, ham radio, PHP, international relations, and lobster eating all make great subjects for a fair/convention/conference. But “books”? Books cover everything. You can be a fan of lots of things, but what does it mean to be a “fan of books”? Reading is an inherently solitary activity. It is, essentially, a specific mode of dispensing language. I see nothing that is gained by gathering adherents of a particular mode of language-dispersion together.

There are exactly two types of people for whom a “book fair” makes sense: #1: writers, and #2: book “fetishists.” Baring that, here are some reasons thrown out for why the book fair is great:

  1. You get to meet lots of authors. I’d suggest spending the time reading more. The whole reason someone wrote a book is that they took their best thinking and put it down in words. Do they have other interesting things to say? Maybe so, but if they’re a halfway decent author, their best thinking is in their books. If an author you particularly admire happens to be at the fair, it makes sense to go. But the author of a book you enjoyed? Would it be better reading another great book, or hearing “the story behind” the first one?
  2. You discover books you’d otherwise never see. Spare me. This is the fucking internet. Over here is Google book search, and there is the New York Times book review, which allows you to see any book review published in the last 100+ years. That’s two websites out of several million on the web. And you’re going to tell me that a fair is a good place to find a good book? Is your age higher then your room temperature?
  3. You’ll meet other book lovers. I don’t want to meet book lovers. I may possibly have some interest in meeting people who have interests similar to mine, but insofar as books cover every topic known to man, this is no more likely to happen at a book fair then at Starbucks.
  4. It increases literacy/awareness of books. No. Nobody wanders randomly into the book fair (ESPECIALLY NOW THAT THEY CHARGE ADMISSION) and suddenly realizes what books have to offer. And, nobody says “I heard about this big book fair happening, let me go check that out” and suddenly becomes a big reader.

The fair is probably great as an industry get-together, similar to what lots of industries have. It’s terrific for would-be writers, and for those who get a warm fuzzy feeling when they hold that special book in their hand and flip through those beautiful pages. But for anyone who’s interest in books doesn’t extend beyond the words, sentences, paragraphs, knowledge, ideas, and perspectives they contain, what is there to be gained from a “fair”?

* Or the largest?

Update: Thanks to Steve for helping me hash out some of these ideas a little bit. Obviously they’re not hashed out adequately by any stretch, so, to answer robotkid, yes: I’m fishing for someone to convince me that I’m wrong.

Update: Ha ha — the book fair build a new website, but to see what’s actually going on, you go to this page and download a 16 megabyte PDF. Nice work guys. Also, your navigation is all in graphics (with no Alt tags!), so it’s invisible to screen readers and search engines. That’s ok, right — the visually impaired don’t use books, do they? MKH still has plenty to be embarrassed about.

Update: Sweet Jesus — I just opened the PDF and it turns out to be graphical reproductions of the fair’s program — again with no machine-readable text. Barely human-readable, in fact.

Update: I just spent 20 minutes surfing the site and PDF looking for the answer to ONE question — is the fair charging admission like they started last year? — and couldn’t find the answer.

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Tuesday November 6, 2007

The Miami Herald noticed that there are actually no bookstores (none) in the City of Miami. Boy is that embarrassing. (But one is on the way.) Update: Commenter have noted that there are in fact a couple, which the Herald article considers “specialty bookstores.”

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Wednesday October 17, 2007

Miami Contemporary Artists the book! By Julie Davidow and Paul Clemence, with a forward by Elisa Turner. Over 100 artists, including Hernan Bas, Jose Bedia, Teresita Fernandez, Naomi Fisher, Luis Gispert, Daniel Arsham, Susan Lee Chun, Cristina Lei Rodriguez, and TM Sisters. Book launch events around Art Basel, but looks like you can get a copy now.

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Wednesday September 19, 2007

Jackie Gleason’s occult library on exhibit.

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Friday September 29, 2006

The Book Fair is coming, November 12 – 19th. Mkh has some issues with their web site. Check: click “2006 Confirmed Authors List” on the home page, and you get to a page that says “2005 Confirmed Authors,” and who’s URI is “miamibookfair.com/2004/author_eng.htm.”

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Wednesday September 13, 2006

Milan Kundera: Ignorance

Light blue book cover Milan Kundera’s novel Ignorance is about a few characters that emigrated from Czechoslovakia during Communist rule, and what happens to such people when the Communist regime falls and they return to confront those that stayed behind. What does one do with the years or decades spent in another country? What are the consequences of returning, and what are the consequences of staying?

Ignorance opens in 1989 with a conversation between a Franco-Czech and her French friend; the one utterly baffled that the other hasn’t returned to her country to support the protests. After just two pages, though, it veers into a lengthy discussion of the word “nostalgia” in various languages, the Odyssey, Arnold Schoenberg’s ideas about his legacy, and the numerical beauty of the history of the Czechs in the 20th century. In other words, it’s typical Kundera, diffuse and seemingly stream-of consciousness, weaving threads that will come together only gradually as the book weaves along.

    “They can’t understand that we left without the slightest hope of coming back. We did our best to drop anchor where we were. Do you know Skacel?”
    “The poet?”
    “There’s a stanza where he talks about his sadness; he says he wants to build a house out of it and lock himself inside for a hundred years. We all saw a three-hundred-year-long tunnel stretching ahead of us.”
    “Sure, we did too, here.”
    “So then why isn’t anyone willint go acknowledge that?”
    “Because people revise their feelings if the feelings were wrong. If history has disproved them.”
    “And then, too: everybody thinks we left to get ourselves an easy life. They don’t know how hard it is to carve out a little place for yourself in a foreign world. Can you imagine—leaving your country with a baby and with another one in your belly. Loosing your husband. Raising your two daughters with no money . . .”

When Communism falls in Cuba, many many Cuban-Americans will be faced with the stay here/return home question. Probably many contemplate that decision even today, and some may know exactly what they will do when Castro is dead and the island is free. But when it happens, this question takes on a whole new meaning. Those who once lived in Cuba and no longer do will be faced with questions and feelings that are probably too distant and abstract to contemplate now.

The book follows two people returning to their home country after decades, and the mixed feelings they experience at returning (temporarily for one of them) to places and people they have had no contact with in all that time.

    Now time as a very different look; it is no longer the conquering present capturing the future; it is the present conquered and captured and carried off by the past. She sees a young man disconnecting himself from her life and going away, forevermore out of reach. Mesmerized, all she can do is watch this piece of her life move off; all she can do is watch it and suffer. She is experiencing a brand-new feeling called nostalgia.
    That feeling, that irrepressible yearning to return, suddenly reveals to her the existence of the past, of her past; in the house of her life there are windows now, windows opening to the rear, onto what she has experienced; from now on her existence will be inconceivable without these windows.

Their two stories weave and intertwine, and towards the end they have a remarkable encounter, which I suppose implies that immigrants will always relate to each other in a way that is fundamentally different from how they relate to natives of their adopted country, or their friends and family that stayed behind.

It’s a sad book, but I have to hasten to say that Kundera doesn’t hit the reader over the head with anything. He forever digresses into beautiful stream-of-consciousness fragments, and even many of the scenes with his proper characters have the flavor of dreams. Reading any of his books is quite different from reading anything else.

Milan Kundera published his first novel in 1967. In 1975 he immigrated to France (so one assumes that this novel has its share of autobiography, or in any case that he knows whereof he speaks), but continued to write in Czech until 1990. His novels after that, written in French, got much shorter, and acquired a more direct poetry—a stronger sense of abstractness (they also all have one-word titles). This particular one has special significance for many Miami residents, but they’re all quite breathtaking, really.

And don’t get me started on the older, longer novels, which are full of strange literary experiments, history, sex, and the beginnings of that same poetry. You may have seen The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but of course the movie only shows the part of the book is filmable. I recommend reading all of his books in quick succession over a few months.

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