I’m turning 30 on Sunday, and now seems as good of a time as any to reflect. I’ve been writing about the arts for a living for eight years now, on and off. It’s not an extravagant living, to be sure. But I know now that writing isn’t a phase before I find something more “worthwhile” or lucrative to do, but an essential part of myself. I realize that I think more slowly and deliberately about things now than I used to, and I like going deep into one subject for a long period of time. I’m drawing up a proposal right now for a second book, a big book. It’s easier for me to write about difficult things when it’s cold and windy. The days in Boston are drawing shorter and darker, and the last of the yellow leaves are crumbling underfoot.
I’m happy that people seem to be liking Another Green World. The book is in stores now in the US and Canada, and will be out soon in the UK and Europe. I’m interested to hear what you think of it; drop me a line if you’ve read it. That small book on Brian Eno was a massive education for me, and continues to be now that it’s over. The work with books, I’ve learned, is never over. So many people think that writers write books, and then they’re somehow magically printed and put out into the world. Now I’m learning, in excruciating detail, about all of the things that happen after a book is researched and written. There’s the agonizing back-and-forth process of copyediting and typesetting the book, which can take months. Multiple iterations of proofs (in my case, five) are passed around. Apostrophes and em-dashes get argued about. Fonts get rearranged. Bibliographies have to be painstakingly formatted. There’s a lot of waiting, and a lot of staring. I found that after staring at the same text over and over, everything starts looking alien. Your words begin resembling something that’s not English at all; it all morphs into a vast indistinguishable text in some Martian language. You can try this yourself, by staring at a random page in a book for as long as you can possibly bear it, until it becomes numbing, and the words start swirling around you.
After all of that, there’s the printing process, which seems anathema to all of us in the Web generation. So many of my friends kept asking, “Where’s the book, already?” I tried to explain to them that printing books on dead trees takes time. There are books that need printing, boxes of books that need packing. There are big trucks that then ship these boxes to strange vast warehouses in distant lands, which then mysteriously dispatch them to bookstores. The whole process takes weeks and weeks.
Then there’s distribution. I never thought that I’d find myself trying to figure out the inner workings of Canadian bookstore distribution networks, for example. I find myself hearing from people all around the world, every day — via Twitter, or Facebook, or email, or this blog — who tell me that they can’t find the book at their local Canadian bookstore, or that Amazon Canada is backed up with orders, or that they pre-ordered my book 17 months ago and it hasn’t come through, or whether the book is out in the UK already. I’m gratified to hear from all of these people, because, problems aside, it’s far better to hear from readers than to not hear from anyone at all. These problems are getting sorted out, as fast as possible.
If you haven’t gotten the book yet and would like to, and you live in the US, I recommend Amazon, which is shipping quickly and has plenty of copies in stock. If you’d like to support your friendly independent bookstore — as I always try to do — I recommend buying from The Strand in New York City (which currently has 35 copies in stock) and Powell’s in Portland, Oregon (which has something like 33 copies, last I checked.) Or talk to your local neighborhood bookstore and tell them to stock the book. In my backyard, Harvard Bookstore and the inimitable Weirdo Records will both be stocking the book, and hopefully many other bookstores and record stores in the area (or what’s left of them, anyway) will follow suit.
I’m left with a deeper and richer understanding of the hell that musicians go through when they put out an album.