Think the beating the book market is taking by a slumping economy is a new phenomenon? Think again.
Writing in the latest issue of the journal Common-Place, Fordham University professor Edward Cahill discusses how the rise of easy credit in the early nineteenth century led to a devaluing not only of paper money, but eventually of literary currency as well — culminating in the financial panic of 1819 and the collapse of countless booksellers. Left standing among the debris was Washington Irving’s Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. “But if the appearance of the Sketch Book marked the economic development of American literary culture,” Cahill says, “it was also haunted by widespread economic unrest.”
Cahill goes on to explain why The Sketch Book was not only a survivor, but also provided elegant commentary on — and a bit of a eulogy for — the early 19th century publishing industry. Eventually, Cahill concludes, “elite literary culture would be inextricably tied to popular culture, despite many protests to the contrary.” Well put. Once again, almost in spite of himself, Washington Irving shaped our perceptions of popular culture.
Professor Cahill’s article, “The Other Panic of 1819: Irving’s Sketch Book, Literary Overproduction, and the Politics of the ‘Purely Literary,'” can be found right here. Go get it.
Congratulations to my colleague at Arcade, Dr. Stephen Weismann, for a pair of stellar advance reviews for his book Chaplin: A Life. Publisher’s Weekly called it an “engaging…portrait of how a cinema artist is created and how he practices his craft,” while the rock ’em, sock ’em Kirkus says it’s “a fresh entry in the evergreen field of works devoted to Charlie Chaplin,” as well as a “perceptive, literate take on the great screen clown.” Awesome.
I’ve begged, borrowed, and cajoled my way into getting an advance copy of the book, and I’ll let you know my thoughts on it, right here, as soon as possible. If you’re even a casual reader of this blog, you know that Chaplin is one of my Very Favorite People Ever, and I’m really looking forward to reading this book.
Just for fun, here’s four-and-a-half minutes of Chaplin doing what he does best, from my all-time favorite film of his, The Circus:
Jonathan Karp, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Twelve imprint, discusses the impact of “disposable books” in yesterday’s Washington Post. You can read Karp’s piece right here. (Oh, and writers everywhere, prepare to cringe while reading Karp’s opening paragraphs. You’ll never hear the word “mulching” quite the same way again…)
I’m one of those who’s still skeptical of the ability of self-publishing and print-on-demand to really compete — meaning with a truly viable product — in the publishing industry. But I share Karp’s hope that a wider availability of materials will start to sway publishers toward higher-quality books, rather than their perpetual wooing of the latest flame.
An alternate view, courtesy of Bookslut, will run later this week.