Is the Internet Archive’s free emergency library piracy?

The Internet Archive launched the “National Emergency Archive” last week, uploading 1.4 million titles online for free, ostensibly to help encourage people to stay home and read (newsflash: people who read already want to stay home because a) they enjoy their chairs, and b) they are smarter than the people who are going out all the time right now… Maybe there should be a “National Emergency Beer Fridge” to scoop up the rest?) But some people, namely authors and their allied tradespeople who rely on making money from the books in question, aren’t pleased. Thoughts?

Founded in 1996 to archive web pages, the IA began digitising books in 2005. It has long been at loggerheads with writers’ organisations who have accused it of uploading books that are not in the public domain, and denying authors potential income from sales and public library borrowing.

On 24 March, the IA announced it was suspending waitlists, meaning it can lend books to anyone in the world at the same time – instead of the one-in, one-out ebook borrowing system used by most public libraries. The move was pitched as addressing “our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research material” during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Several authors condemned the decision, including Pulitzer-winner Colson Whitehead, who tweeted: “They scan books illegally and put them online. It’s not a library.”

In a fiery statement, the Authors Guild in the US called the decision appalling and said it was “shocked that the IA would use the Covid-19 epidemic as an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges, and in doing so, harm authors, many of whom are already struggling”. Writers around the world have faced cancelled book tours and loss of freelance work during the crisis, while many bookshops have been forced to close.

On isolation and access

The Canadian literary landscape is currently adapting as best it can to its second pandemic in recent years (the first being terrible men) — but, as Adam Pottle points out, we are just really experiencing now what so many people in the the disabled community experience every day: being uninvited by circumstance. Good food for thought and cause for action here.

The pandemic has exposed certain flaws and strengths in our society – our over-reliance on capitalistic models being first and foremost – and it is no different for the Canadian literary industry. COVID-19 has forced the general population into the same isolation that many Deaf, disabled, and chronically ill people have long experienced. Advocates for accessibility are gritting their teeth, for they know that we have always had the capacity for positive change. We have always had the ability to make the world more accessible; it just took a pandemic to get us to realize it. It proves an old disability adage: no change happens until able people feel the same pain.

Does Don DeLillo deserve the Nobel?

This guy lays out his reasons for “yes”. Do you have reasons to add? Or better yet, reasons for “no”?

By every metric that we use to measure literary greatness—including overall achievement, scope and variety of subject matter, striking and fully realized style, duration of career, originality and formal innovation, widespread influence here and abroad, production of masterpieces, consistency of excellence, pertinence of themes, density of critical commentary, and dignity in the conduct of a literary career—Don DeLillo, now eighty-three, scores in the highest possible percentile. Since the publication of his ebullient and film-drenched first novel, Americana, in 1971—imagine if Mad Men had actually realized its literary pretensions instead of merely displaying them—he has produced sixteen novels and one story collection, not one of them without great value and interest and several of them regarded as among the supreme monuments in postwar American fiction. A recurrent criticism of American literature is that our writers are somehow stunted in the overall development and unfolding of their careers by the thinness of our cultural soil, as opposed to the more nurtured and stately European model. DeLillo’s career, so fecund and dazzling no matter what part of it you examine, so marked by growth from early promise to jaw-dropping midlife mastery to late-stage and highly personal autumnal richness, puts paid to that critique. I would go so far as to argue that no other American novelist in our literary history can match him for consistency matched with productivity. Even Roth, who, despite his astonishing late-career spurt, produced a fair number of duds.

Given the space and time I could fill an entire issue of this publication with extended praise songs of DeLillo and his novels. I have read his work since the early ’70s with the utmost attention and admiration, and—you should know—I edited one of his supreme masterpieces, Libra, an exalting experience, an editor’s dream. For now, though, let’s focus on the major justifications for a DeLillo Nobel. The case rests, I believe, on four propositions.

Tuesday newsday

Again, we will try for a mix of news. The fewer Covid stories the better. Can’t escape them entirely though.

Bravo, Writers Trust and Canada Council

The Writers Trust and Canada Council for the Arts have partnered to create an artist emergency fund for writers. RBC is in there too, but given how much I’ve paid them in banking fees over time, it’s not so much a “thank you” they deserve as a “finally”. If you’re writer adjacent and flush with cash during this time because you are rich or your employer continues to pay you, please consider donating to the fund. Link at the strangely designed website above (you have to scroll down for the content.)

The current public health emergency has triggered an economic crisis for self-employed workers across Canada. Professional literary creators have been especially hard hit.
Within a matter of days, book tours, lectures, performances, and school visits were cancelled. Other sources of income in the form of contracts for publishing-related or non-related projects have disappeared or been indefinitely postponed. Many professional writers and visual artists are left struggling to buy groceries or medications or pay rent.

Each year the Writers’ Trust distributes money to writers in need through its emergency grant program, the Woodcock Fund. These grants are invaluable, but demand during the present crisis exceeds what that program can match. The Writers’ Trust and Writers’ Union have approached partners to develop a coordinated response to this urgent need. They have collectively raised $150,000 so far for this project, and continue to talk to other participants and funding bodies about the possibility of increasing the pool of funds available.

From front page to the gutter

Imagine if you were supposed to release a book this year. Hell, I’m worried about my wife’s book next spring and my book in the fall of 2021. I’m used to poetry getting lost in the reviews/sales game, but you fiction and non-fiction people must be scared shitless. It gets easier, being invisible, if it’s any consolation. That said, some folk, like old Bookninja pal Laila Lalami, are suffering. You should order her book through your local independent.

Some of the most anticipated titles of the spring have been delayed by weeks or months — including the latest by the best-selling children’s book author Jeff Kinney, literary novels by Graham Swift and Ottessa Moshfegh, and nonfiction books by Representative Eric Swalwell of California, the Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and the comedians and late-night television hosts Desus and Mero.

“Bookstores are shuttered, everyone right now is worried about their health and their livelihoods, there’s so much anxiety,” said the writer Laila Lalami, whose new nonfiction book, “Conditional Citizens,” was scheduled to come out from Pantheon in April, but has been moved to the fall. “It makes sense to postpone it until there’s a bit more clarity, until we know what’s going to happen.”

Tentative mixed news post

I am sort of already sick of making coronavirus updates. Let’s assume everything is cancelled and we’ll revisit in the fall. So, today I’m going to try to mix the apocalypse news in with the regular news to normalize things. Let’s hope we don’t suddenly need separate posts again.

Leonard in Hydra

The Guardian has a nice excerpt on how Cohen’s days in Hydra formed him. As with most artistic circles of the time, the good stuff is about who is boinking who.

On Hydra, Johnston took a pen to the fresh manuscripts that young Leonard brought him, and taught him the value of fierce editing. It was he who encouraged Cohen to play his first concert of his own material. Johnston’s former colleague from his war reporting days, photojournalist James Burke, was living in Athens and is responsible for recording the event with his Leica. Burke took 1,573 photographs of the colony that year, commissioned by LIFE magazine for a feature that never appeared.

From the body language in those pictures, it is hard to dismiss the idea that Charmian and Leonard might have become lovers. It’s something I discussed with Jason Johnston, who was born on the island and is the only survivor of the family. As his father was impotent from TB medication and his mother, still in her 30s, such a ravishing beauty, it was something he’d wondered himself.

On writers and rituals

Are you a writer with a ritual? I am. Once I get into a work, I do the same thing day after day with only minor deviations. Every now and then this gets screwed by some obligation, but largely it’s a very specific set of things. Down to which pens I use. When it’s working, I call it my “Obsessive Compulsive Order”. Sadly, my ritual has gone shitual. I can barely even get the posts for Bookninja done, much less work on the novel. Are you making it work? Adapting? If so, please, outline below?

According to literary legend, probably false, Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day’s work. This was supposed to serve as inspiration for her macabre writing. Maya Angelou could work only in hotel or motel rooms. Truman Capote couldn’t begin or end anything on a Friday. Igor Stravinsky performed headstands when he needed a break, and Saul Bellow did 30 push-ups. For the work to go on, John Cheever required erotic release.

These examples appear to us as oddities, but what needs to be stressed is the importance of ritual in the creation of work. I tell my students that they must “write every day and walk every day”. It is not essential that they write a lot; only 150 words each day is enough. All that matters is the routine.

Stay classy, Bezos

Instead of doing things like, you know, paying taxes, Amazon and Jeff like to splash out now and then with big donations. Word to the wise: it’s a marketing spend. Here, Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon) employees are “offered the option” of donating their unused sick and holiday time to help fellow employees who have used theirs up. Bezos has enough money to fix half the world’s problems in one swoop, but the folk on the floor are being asked to share a piss pot together.

If this virus is teaching us anything, it’s that people like workhorse employees make the world function, not the billionaires who hold the reins. When it comes down to it, if you are an Amazon employee, or an employee of nearly any major corporation, you should know that you have a dollar value attached to you. If it’s more profitable to help you, you will get the help you need and deserve. If helping you is detrimental to the bottom line set from the top, you will get bulldozed into the mass HR grave in a heartbeat and no one will remember you were ever there. We could change all this, you know. I mean, once we’re able to gather again with pitchforks and torches.

(Note that Amazon is trying to spin this with PRs and updates, but it still stinks of minimum wage sweat.)

When progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders say “now is the time for solidarity” amid the coronavirus outbreak, they likely do not mean that employees of Whole Foods—owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos—should be asked to give their own accrued paid sick days to their co-workers who have either contracted the deadly virus or been forced to take time out of work because of what is now a global pandemic.

But that is exactly what executives with the grocery chain are asking its employers to do, even though Bezos’ could effectively give them unlimited paid sick leave during the current national emergency without barely a scratch in his bank account.