Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Audio interview with Richard Lanham

June 27, 2006
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Audio interview with Richard Lanham

Chris Gondek has an audio interview with Richard A. Lanham on The Invisible Hand, his weekly podcast devoted to management and business topics. In The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, Richard A. Lanham traces our epochal move from an economy of things and objects to an economy of attention. According to Lanham, the central commodity in our new age of information is not stuff but style, for style is what competes for our attention amidst the din and deluge of new media. We also have our own interview with Lanham and an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Audio from Laura J. Miller’s BookExpo appearance

June 26, 2006
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Audio from Laura J. Miller’s BookExpo appearance

At one of the panel presentations at BookExpo America, the annual book publishing trade show, Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson interviewed Laura J. Miller, author of Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Miller responded to questions from Nelson and the audience on the history of bookselling, the conflict between chain and independent bookstores, and her sense of where the industry is headed. The audio of the discussion is available on a BookExpo site that collects podcasts from the show. Miller earlier wrote an essay for our blog. We also have an excerpt from her book. . . .

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Get these inflammatory toponyms before they’re gone

June 6, 2006
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Get these inflammatory toponyms before they’re gone

    Squaw Peak, which overlooks Phoenix, Arizona, drew the attention of Native American activists, who sought to change the name, and place names purists, who resented the governor‘s attempt at renaming. (From the Sunnyslope, Arizona USGS topographic quadrangle map.)   An essay by Mark Monmonier, distinguished professor of geography at Syracuse University and the author of From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame. I‘m surprised few people collect twentieth-century maps, which are more readily available than earlier artifacts, less expensive to acquire, and more varied in content. In contrast to traditional themes like military maps, nautical charts, or a particular mapmaker, the collector of modern maps can easily focus on his or her ancestors, birthplace, travels, hobbies, or occupation. History buffs can concentrate on places prominent in military, diplomatic, industrial, or intellectual history—Gettysburg, Versailles, Thomas Edison‘s Menlo Park (New Jersey), and London‘s Bloomsbury district spring to mind—or on specific types of places, such as battlefields, National Parks, or even disaster sites, which afford intriguing cartographic narratives of affluence, devastation, and recovery. Collectors eager to mix history and design can concentrate on propaganda or transportation maps, while hobbyists fascinated with mapping technology can focus on . . .

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Books: A Different Kind of Commodity

May 15, 2006
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Books: A Different Kind of Commodity

An essay by Laura J. Miller, author of Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. This past March, the Massachusetts press generated a flurry of reports that Cambridge’s Grolier Poetry Book Shop had found a new owner. The tone of these articles was one of great relief since Grolier, one of the few remaining all-poetry bookstores in the country, had been on the verge of going under for some years. Louisa Solano, Grolier’s long-time owner, was worn down by ill health and the financial difficulties of running a small, independent bookshop in a neighborhood with some of the most expensive commercial real estate in the region. While both local residents and poetry lovers across the nation were cheered by the turn of events, it is actually a rare success story in the recent annals of independent bookselling. This has been another bad year for independent bookstores. Most weeks I read about bookshops that have or will soon shut down; some are places known primarily in their local communities, while others have national reputations. Among those closing in the last six months were Tatnuck Booksellers of Worcester, Massachusetts, the Athena Bookstore of Kalamazoo, Biblio of Tucson, and Dutton’s Bookstore of . . .

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Oceans and Sustainability

April 21, 2006
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Oceans and Sustainability

An essay for International Earth Day by Dorrik Stow, professor of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton, UK, and the author of Oceans: An Illustrated Reference. Sustainability is neither a fashionable trend that will go away once its media exposure has played out, nor is it an option we can lightly dismiss. Sustainability is every bit as essential to the future of human existence as are the food and water we consume and the air we breathe. April 22 has been designated International Earth Day, a time to focus across the world on planet Earth—her natural resources, environment and future. Despite being endowed with enormous richness and diversity of natural resources, the United States can only sustain itself at present rates of consumption for about six months of each year. For the remaining half year it is totally reliant on imports. Furthermore, if the global population consumed at the same rate as the American people, the world would require more than five times the total global resource base to survive. The sums simply do not add up. But we are no better here in the UK, so I am not simply pointing an accusing finger from across . . .

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The Will to Act on the Environment

April 20, 2006
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The Will to Act on the Environment

An essay for International Earth Day by R. Bruce Hull, author of Infinite Nature. As the saying goes: We live in interesting times. Globalization and fundamentalism seem locked in a death struggle to control world economies and cultures. The biosphere, the thin skin of life that blankets Earth, is now dominated by the products of human creativity. Environmental alarmists look at this domination and see biodiversity loss, a destabilized climate, eroding soils, over-fished oceans, and collapsing ecological systems. Even most skeptical environmentalists—who typically highlight the reliable and abundant supply of food, energy, and other resources—acknowledge serious challenges to meeting exponentially growing demands. Meanwhile, the traditional methods of environmental management are faltering. Rational, centralized environmental planning is an admitted failure in most professional circles, and the science wars have diminished the credibility of all expertise. Environmental issues infrequently find space on the national agenda, and critics say environmentalism’s method and focus must change. These conflicting environmental currents and eddies flow within the larger river of postmodern angst, causing us to rethink answers to our ultimate questions: What does it mean to be human? What is the essence of the natural and supernatural world we live in? How should we relate to . . .

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Against National Poetry Month

March 31, 2006
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Against National Poetry Month

Charles Bernstein is one of America’s liveliest advocates and practitioners of radically inventive poetry. So why does he have a beef with National Poetry Month? A nationwide celebration of his craft during the entire month of April—what’s not to like? Plenty, says Bernstein. In an essay titled "Against National Poetry Month As Such&quot he writes: National Poetry Month is about making poetry safe for readers by promoting examples of the art form at its most bland and its most morally "positive." The message is: Poetry is good for you. But, unfortunately, promoting poetry as if it were an "easy listening" station just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way. "Accessibility" has become a kind of Moral Imperative based on the condescending notion that readers are intellectually challenged, and mustn’t be presented with anything but Safe Poetry. As if poetry will turn people off to poetry. Read the rest of "Against National Poetry Month As Such." Bernstein is perhaps best known as one of the founders of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement of the . . .

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Seeing Males Together: Brokeback Mountain and Picturing Men

March 1, 2006
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Seeing Males Together: Brokeback Mountain and Picturing Men

An essay by John Ibson, author of Picturing Men. History’s fundamental lesson warns those who are comfortable with contemporary social arrangements, as it reassures those who are oppressed by current practices: It hasn’t always been like this, and isn’t likely to stay this way forever. This lesson is certainly true when it comes to the way that American men today are inclined and allowed to express their affection for each other—whether that affection involves romance, sexual longing, or just profound fondness. Ang Lee’s magnificent film Brokeback Mountain is the sad story of two Wyoming ranch hands whose society severely inhibits their twenty-year-long affectionate and sexual relationship. They express their mutual attraction only when utterly alone in the wilderness, at huge expense to their emotional lives and also their relationships with women. Yet Brokeback Mountain may also be instructively seen as a movie that raises disturbing issues about the ways that all American men feel about the appropriate ways to express their fondness for each other, whether or not that fondness is accompanied by sexual desire. Our culture still so scorns sexual desire between two men that there is a common fear that such desire just might accompany any fondness, as . . .

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