Being In Your Body

Becoming Animal – An Earthly Cosmology, by David Abram

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This is an important book. I’ve long held, upon viewing social practices of the last thirty years or so, as well as the tack of intellectual disciplines over that time, that we’re entering an era in which our right brain activities predominate. That is, we’re more prone to passionate, emotional responses. We see things not discretely but in relationship to other observed phenomena. We demand rapid responses to everything; consequently change in our world is moving at an accelerating pace. We’re more prone – and here’s where Abram’s book comes in – to be more aware of the natural world, i.e., to be in our bodies.

By that, I mean we’re not the intellectual creatures we once were, in which we saw everything in abstracions, from our family structure to philosophy and religion to the natural world around us. Instead, we’re more involved with sensory input; we’re once again developing a collective take on reality in terms of what our senses tell us.

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Abram is a philosopher by education. And when he takes on  philosophers from Descartes to our present ones, who seem to be drowning in brain studies and the like, he doesn’t dispute them. Instead, he embraces them as parallels to his more body-centric outlook.

The older philosophers have sought reality “out there,” in some unreachable, transcendental province our body mechanisms can only reach via mind and its inductive and deductive abilities. Abrams, however, accepts reality as the body knows it. He sees form’s discreteness, but he also sees its inter-linkage with all other forms of matter and energy, from angels to rocks. Sort of an interactive web of mutual experience.

The sort of thing that delights this reader/writer is that he not only states his bodily case, he gives us extended examples from his own far-flung experiences. His writing here is readable, enjoyable, with a flair of voice that tells one that he’s not only at home in his body, he’s at home with the elegance of words.

He does get a bit carried away with some of his examples, particularly his experience with shamans of various cultures, and he tarries too long in his summation. But his experiences and the stories they yield – which in turn underscore his developing philosophy – are as powerful a read as thosee by adventurers such as Jon Krakauer.  As with most groundbreaking thought that’s been reduced to writing, Abram’s tales are essentially about him. But he knows as much about the world of rocks and the world of mind as he does about his own body and senses.


My rating: 18 of 20 stars





Sam in Print


Last year I began writing a series of connected short stories, all taking place in or about the edge-of-the-law social center of a fictional town in Alabama, a pool hall called Sam's Place. Two of the stories have appeared in print, in one form or another, and this one is the latest. "What Might've Been" is the story that reveals the most about Sam, who isn't often a central character in these stories. 

I've been promised a publishing contract for this collection. Hopefully I'll have something good to report soon on that.

Of Dark Moods


Maybe it was my mood this month, or maybe it was  - as sometimes happens – an off-month for Harper's Magazine, perhaps suffering its own dark mood.  The articles were all to the appropriate point, of course, but not with the unique perspectives I'm used to from Harper's. For example:

There is among their introductory mots this month an essay wondering what the effect of Arab uprisings in the Middle East will be on oil production – and prices. Yawn.

The signature article, "Broken Britain – Nothing is left of the Family Silver," by Ed Vulliamy, begins with the recent British riots and  walks them back to Margaret Thatcher, then the decline of industrial Britain, the ensuing privatization of elements of British life that shouldn't have been privatized, and the growing economic inequality there. Yes, this presages what's now happening in the U.S., but the fact that Vulliamy's article presents little if nothing to counter these social ills embodies the "moral collapse" it bemoans.

I eagerly anticipate the creative nonfiction and the inventive stories Harper's presents each month. And I did lap up its memoir du mois, by Pico Iyer, "From Eden to Eton", but was disappointed by its pedestrian first-person writing, which seemed little interested in casting Iyer's life-snippet in a larger context.

But here's where I have to crow loudly and happily: Whomever sifts through the fiction submittals thrown over the transom did Harper's proud this month. Its fiction piece, "Snake," by Rebecca Evanhoe, is a pearl among lesser literary accretions. Again in first-person, the story's narrator depicts a single, sharp event, salted with just a touch of post-modernism. This sort of story, I think, exemplifies the role of post-modernism in what will be this century's future canon. I would hope that Evanhoe's MFA program doesn't relieve her of her apparent literary balance.

One other bit from Harper's begs notice. I always read the magazine's book reviews, but they invariably seem arcane and overly elite – as if the usual good writing out there is too plebeian to mention. And this month, Larry McMurtry follows suit – until he mentions John Jeremiah Sullivan and his new book, "Pulphead." Sullivan's story apparently inspired McMurtry to put Pulphead into a larger literary context. And by doing so he might've drawn me to into Sullivan's readership.

Book Trailers

Only a few years ago, making book trailers as a promotional tool was probably beyond the cost and the technical expertise of most of us. But nowadays, it's not that hard. Bookhitch provided this information on this valuable marketing tool.


Book Trailers as a Promotional Tool 


With the advent of eBooks, authors are looking for new, digital ways to promote their work. Book trailers are a viable option, and are quickly gaining in popularity. A book trailer is a video advertisement for a book title. Trailers have long been a key promotional tool for movies, and now they are moving rapidly into the book market.


The world we live in is becoming increasingly visual; consumers pay attention to something that is shown to them, especially with the addition of audio. Instead of solely relying on book reviews to increase awareness of a new release, book trailers give authors and publishers another venue in which to  showcase their book titles. The challenge of these videos is to create a well-crafted message that resonates with viewers. Successful videos effectively convey the genre and plot of the book–similar to the goal of a movie trailer.  If a consumer sees a movie trailer that presents a confusing montage and an unclear, uninteresting plot, they may opt not to see the movie based on their initial exposure. An ill-conceived and poorly produced book trailer might result in poor book sales, negating the hopeful intentions of the author.


According to Digital Booktalk,  "Commercial conceptualizations of video book trailers are valid and have their place as they serve a valid and specific function: to sell specific books."  In addition, book trailers can generate more publicity, particularly for those authors that are self-published. Readers will be more inclined to remember an author's  name if they can  associate it with the book trailer that they recently enjoyed. Also, if the author makes an appearance in the trailer, consumers will be able to match a face to a name, which creates an immediate connection between the reader and the author.


Producing a book trailer is a terrific marketing skill an author can add to his/her repertoire.  Providing a link to a video which people can share is very effective and immediate form of advertising. Furthermore, Darcy Pattison, author of "The Book Trailer Manual," offering her insight on The Savvy Book Marketer, suggests that using a series of book trailers can also be beneficial because it stretches out the shelf life of the promotion.       


Book trailers can be of varying styles. One example of a type of book trailer can be found on the bookhitch website.  The book video promotes a title called "Gog and Magog," a thriller in which Satan plans to destroy God and the planet in modern-day Washington, D.C. The trailer has the look and feel of a movie trailer. The viewer gets the gist of the plot and is engaged by the visuals and sounds, and are shown the book cover at the end of video. Another, more comical book trailer, for "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters," can be viewed in this Youtube video.


The book trailer for "Uncertainty" is a done in a very different, more personalized style.  This particular author takes an indirect approach, relaying a very touching story, which immediately draws in the viewer. The clues about the book are present, but subtle, and leaves the audience curious, and wanting more. This video presents a face-to-face interaction with the author, making it a very effective communication technique in which to convey a message. Consumers may be more inclined to find out what the book is about after viewing this trailer. 


As imperative as it is to create a good book trailer, it is also  important to launch it through the right channels, e.g. points out that Youtube is incredibly popular because people want a website that gives them video content. Authors cannot go wrong by posting to Youtube. To find other examples of book trailers, follow this link.


Print Books Away

The following is a reprint from the latest edition of It's hard to tell whether it was written tongue in cheek, but I sense a chilling touch of reality to it:


The Shelf Life of a Book

Predictions about the meteoric rise of eBooks are usually accompanied by dire forecasts that bemoan the demise of print books. According to the opening paragraph of anEconomist article entitled, "Great Digital Expectations," the industry shift away from traditional books may be reflected in the new design of a bookcase from furniture giant IKEA. Customers could be using IKEA's latest "Billy" bookcase, "increasingly for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee table tome-anything, that is, except books that are actually read."  Time will tell whether the redesign of a furniture basic is an accurate indicator of a trend, but according to a foray into the future by one blogger, things do look bleak for books.
The Future Of Books: A Dystopian Timeline by John Biggs
Reprinted from TechCrunch blog-9/27/11

-EBook sales surpass all other book sales, even used books. EMagazines begin cutting into paper magazine sales.
2014-Publishers begin subsidized e-reader trials. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers will attempt to create hardware lockins for their wares. They will fail.
2015-The death of the Mom and Pops. Smaller book stores will use the real estate to sell coffee and Wi-Fi. Collectable bookstores will still exist in the margins.
2016-Lifestyle magazines as well as most popular Conde Nast titles will go tablet-only.
2018-The last Barnes & Noble store converts to a cafe and digital access point.
2019-B&N and Amazon's publishing arms – including self-pub – will dwarf all other publishing.
2019-The great culling of the publishers. Smaller houses may survive but not many of them. The giants like Random House and Penguin will calve their smaller houses into e-only ventures. The last of the "publisher subsidized" tablet devices will falter.
2020-Nearly every middle school to college student will have an e-reader. Textbooks will slowly disappear.
2023-Epaper will make ereaders as thin as a few sheets of paper.
2025-The transition is complete even in most of the developing world. The book is, at best, an artifact and at worst a nuisance. Book collections won't disappear – hold-outs will exist and a subset of readers will still print books – but generally all publishing will exist digitally.


Lee Gutkind’s Creative Nonfiction Litmag

It's always a pleasant surprise when the reader in me finds a new publication worth subscribing to. In fact, I've just renewed my subscription to CNF. I received the Summer 2011 edition a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pleased to report that there are some pieces well worth any reader's time – particularly if you're a writer. Of course, different articles will attract us differently, but here are three that held me in thrall:


Encounter: an interview with Susan Orlean – I've not yet read any of Orlean's stuff, but after experiencing this interview, I will. CNF's Q&A reveals her to be a well grounded writer, one who speaks bluntly. I love that in a writer. She takes on one of my windmills, the MFA system nationwide, but with a twist. She lays the "industry's" occasional failings squarely at the feet of the faculty, not – as I might – with students who want to write without having read much.  

Suffering Self : Minh Phuong Nguyen – This is a rather long essay that won the Norman Mailer College CNF Writing Award. This young man has been blessed with an ability to view his own short life – and that of his Vietnamese refugee family – in historical perspective. He has a way with ideas that will only strengthen as his writing experience grows. 

Pushing The Boundaries – Herman Fegelin: Getting Out of Dodge, by Paul West. CNF is a relatively modern genre; as such it begs for experimentation of the sort Paul West gives us here. I don't know much more to say about it, other than  the cover blurb: "Paul West enters the mind of Nazi turncoat Herman Fegelin." It's a very short piece, and it bears expanding. I hope West does so.

If these teasers entice, I think you might still find copies of this summer edition on the newsstand – despite the increasingly chilly weather of fall.

Julian Barnes Wins the Man Booker Prize –


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It's great to see a short novel honored. Writing them is a discipline apart from that of short stories and the longer fiction.


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“The Sense of an Ending,” published in the United States by Knopf, part of Random House, is Mr. Barnes’s 11th novel, a 163-page book that has sometimes been called a novella for its size and simplicity. Mr. Barnes, 65, who lives in London, has been nominated for the Booker three times in the past.