Monday, October 22, 2007

Can you yell 'fire' in a crowded blog?

Kicking off a truncated news meeting this morning, I point you toward Kaye's excellent post on coverage of the crazy Southern California wildfires, and the LA Times' smart use of Google Maps to help keep readers updated. Very good.

I notice on LA Observed that the fires prevented the LA Daily News from delivering to most subscribers today. Glad the Internet still works.

Lastly, in an era of so little straight talk -- everything's either larded with false sincerity or reduced to mean partisan squabbling -- I appreciated Lee Siegel's tough but fair pan of Alice Sebold's new book in yesterday's New York Times Book Review.

"This novel is so morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent that it’s bound to become a best seller," he writes.

Ouch.

Aside from delivering a punch, though, Siegel has something to say about a trend in fiction that feels true and like an observation that may gain more currency.

Sebold is mining a popular and lucrative vein in contemporary fiction: peg your book to some heartrending tragedy or act of violence and you’re almost sure to be greeted with moral seriousness, soft reviews and brisk sales. Whether it’s because the American novel is becoming Hollywoodized, or because the disjunctive tone and disassociated content of the news have numbed us to disjunctive and disassociated fiction, or because we’re losing the capacity to imagine other people’s pain, writing callously and sunnily and profitably about tragedy is now an established American genre.

I liked Sebold's first novel, "The Lovely Bones," but I see what Siegel's saying, even in that one. I'll probably skip "The Almost Moon."

By the way, if you're looking for a good list of bestsellers, my favorite is still USA Today's -- they mix fiction and non-fiction, hardcover and paperback all into one list so you can really tell where everything falls. This week's top 5:

  1. Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert. Paperback memoir. (This is on my coffee table waiting to be cracked open.)
  2. Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. Jessica Seinfeld. Hardcover.
  3. I Am America (And So Can You!). Stephen Colbert. Hardcover n/f.
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Paperback fiction. (Oprah's choice)
  5. Clapton. Eric Clapton. Hardcover autobiography.

4 comments:

kateco said...

Mark -- thanks for the shout out -- the google map item has now been updated -- you can see it here.

I've included a picture of the weird and oppressive sky over my house.

Oh re the morning meeting, re: "everything's either larded with false sincerity or reduced to mean partisan squabbling" -- sincerely: nice.

Mark said...

Thanks Kaye. Smart thoughts you have there about how to leverage even more news use out of the maps -- you should be running that joint.

Eerie pic of your house.

Rita said...

Another excellent job, Mark.

The morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent trend has scored big success in movies, TV and music, so....

Thanks for the best sellers tip.

kateco said...

yup -- i guess my interest in this comes from my days as the OC Register's graphics reporter.

(BTW their servers are giving them problems, their home page [when you can get to it] looks bad -- they *are not* looking like wonderboys right now).

The LAT map is like the graphic reporting ethic made real -- nonlinear, concise, immediately understandable, made for quick-entry into the story.