Author Archives: Matt

Did You Hear? Hitch

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Speedy Ortiz is my new favorite band. They’re named after an ill-fated character in the comic Love and Rockets, and their singer is an MFA student at UMass Amherst.

Oh, and they rock. 

- Matt Tanner

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Franzen: Bezos Rides a Pale Horse

Bezos

In a long essay promoting his new translation of essays by Karl Kraus, literature’s curmudgeonly darling, Jonathan Franzen, writes:

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels?

Hear, hear!

There’s already a slew of blog posts (e.g., this one and this one) assailing Franzen for daring to question the utility of Twitter, the coolness of Apple products, and the informational bounty of Google. There’s no doubt that Franzen is being a spoilsport, but still, it’s hard to feel that snark like this is anything more than frivolous trading in the market of coolness—that is, exactly the kind of jockeying that Franzen objects to.

For what it’s worth, I disagree with Franzen’s assertion that Twitter is corrosively dumb and damaging to public discourse, but while one’s tolerance may vary, who could dispute that it is, indeed, a shallow form of social engagement? Even when I disagree, I appreciate that Franzen is one of the few writers out there thinking seriously about confluence of commerce and culture and the political implications thereof. After all, it’s not fun or cool to think about growing inequality or the growth of predatory lending, but it’s healthier to do so than not.

The biggest reason I enjoy reading Franzen is that he’s one of the few writers out there worth talking back to, but in the case of Amazon, I wholeheartedly agree.

- Matt Tanner

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Darkness Lite

Night Film

FA review tag

Marisha Pessl’s sophomore novel Night Film is a sprawling noir that follows disgraced journalist Scott McGrath as he searches for the heart of darkness that drives the films of the acclaimed and reclusive director Stanislas Cordova. At the center of the mystery is Cordova’s 24-year-old daughter Ashley, a piano prodigy who has committed suicide—or has she?

As a legendary purveyor of fear and anxiety, Cordova is an alluring figure. His drive to create ever more disturbing avant-garde psychological thrillers has forced both his film making and distribution literally underground. Having long since lost studio backing, Cordova’s cult lives on through “red-band screenings” held in abandoned tunnels beneath Paris and New York and bootleg videos that circulate among his network of obsessive fans.

McGrath dives into the New York underworld in search of the truth about Ashley’s death. Along the way, he picks up two sidekicks, Nora, a quirky wannabe actress and Hopper, a beautiful, brooding, young alcoholic who’s cagey about his past. Pessl, careful with the details but indifferent to her characters’ feelings or motivations, treats them like hand-painted dolls, and their interesting backstories don’t stop them, McGrath included, from playing as stock types. Still, the plot skips along enjoyably, unburdened by their emotional baggage and inner lives.

Continue reading

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Interview: Griffin Hansbury

newcover2Griffin Hansbury’s novel, The Nostalgist, runs the gamut. It is by turns a bildungsroman, a ghost story, a social satire, and a personal psychodrama. It is, however, most saliently a post-9/11 story. More than just a quest for post-traumatic catharsis, The Nostalgist is propelled not by shock or horror but by a mood truer to the period: anxiety.

The book’s protagonist, Jonah Soloway, is a dumpy, socially isolated thirty-something, who spends his days working a dead-end editorial job at an all-but-unread trade magazine. At night, he collects kitsch—in particular, radios—from bygone eras and works on a graphic novel. Jonah is haunted by the memory of a beautiful neighbor named Rose who died in the Twin Towers. The story is set in motion by a fateful lie: Jonah calls the phone number on a missing poster and tells Rose’s mother that he knew her. In fact, they had only one terse encounter over a dropped glove so brief and ambiguous that it’s unclear they spoke to one another.

Last spring, I was commissioned to design the cover for the  novel. Shortly after the publication, Griffin asked if he could post a Q-and-A about the design on his blog. In exchange, it seemed only fair that I ask him some questions, for FA, about his novel. Continue reading

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How Amazon Makes Its Money

MobyLives, a must-read for anyone curious about the changes taking place in publishing, has an excellent post today about the cost of publishing ebooks. What’s more, today’s story led me to an earlier post about self-published author Andrew Hyde who learned the hard way that Amazon takes more than just a 30% commission from its Kindle Direct authors:

Amazon’s total fees ate away almost a third of Hyde’s royalty: The book retails on Amazon for $9.99, and under the 70% percent royalty plan Hyde imagined he would get $7. But Amazon charges $2.58 per download to deliver the ebook, with the author’s royalty being calculated on what’s left after the delivery fee is deducted.

One of the things Bezos and crew have done extremely well is convince readers and self-published authors that they’re on their side despite all evidence to the contrary. But what I’ve wondered for some time now is how Amazon plans to make its money publishing ebooks. After all, they’re now selling Kindles at a loss, and their business plan for ebooks has been to sell them at a loss as well. If the publishers’ settlements with the DoJ get approval, Amazon will be prevented from selling ebooks at less than what they pay the publishers, but that won’t stop them from maintaining razor-thin margins. Moreover, Amazon’s financial statements are notoriously opaque, rarely revealing which parts of its business are profitable.

So, how do you make a profit selling both ebooks and ebook readers for nothing? By screwing authors and charging them for the privilege.

- Matt Tanner

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