Reflections on Editing

by Askold Melnyczuk

You can’t say Askold doesn’t have good stories:

As it happens, I also brought along some poems J Laughlin had submitted to Agni. They were accompanied by a modest note, typed on his Olivetti manual. I was on the fence about the poems: they were so colloquial, so bare, bereft of all ornament. After Frank had finished commenting on my poems, I asked him if he’d mind reading Laughlin’s work. Frank immediately agreed. He read them on the spot — and then he proceeded to praise them in a way that made me feel dull for having missed their many virtues. Frank pointed out that what seemed to me a flatness in the poems reflected J’s adherence to the advice of his mentor, William Carlos Williams, who insisted poetry should be written in language cats and dogs could understand.


I can’t always live up to my own publishing motto. The recent elections are a case in point. The problem with much political language, as James Brandon Lewis suggests in his satire Grocery Store Chronicles in this issue, is that it depends on repetition for its effectiveness. Complex problems and ideas, reduced to slogans repeated like mantras, can, through their oversimplifications, rigidify their advocates’ own thought processes. In our quest for formulas, algorithms, and patterns we risk prejudging others’ ideas and behaviors. In doing so, we overlook the singularities inherent in every encounter.

The Bigger the Publishers, the Blander the Books: The Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster deal threatens the values that the book business champions

by Dennis Johnson

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or know me at all), this recommendation won’t be surprising. See:

But in roll-ups like this one, much of what’s feared turns out to be slow moving and hard to register. Looking back at the merger of 2013, can we say for sure that it had all that much of a homogenizing influence? We can sense it more than prove it. But the situation is more obvious if we take a wider perspective, and examine what the big houses have been publishing since they started buying up smaller houses—since 1960, say, when Random House bought Knopf. Before that point, while the industry certainly put out its share of commercial dreck, publishers were far less reliant on lowest-common-denominator best sellers. The privately owned houses were less like faceless corporations, and their lists had individual character reflecting the whims of their owners. Now even insiders would be hard-pressed to explain how one house’s taste in fiction differs from another’s. They’re all trying to sell the same kinds of books, to the same (big) demographics.


Which is one way the very idea of politically defiant books can be disappeared from a company’s corporate memory, and, eventually, from the larger cultural memory. So yes, I’d say we could be witnessing democracy getting injured in real time.

The Hoatzin

on Wikipedia

One of my coworkers (at the “Animal Book” company) has this really fucking neat bird on the cover of one of the books they’re working on, and it’s really fucking interesting!

The hoatzin (/hoʊˈætsɪn/, Opisthocomus hoazin), also known as the reptile bird, skunk bird, stinkbird, or Canje pheasant, is a species of tropical bird found in swamps, riparian forests, and mangroves of the Amazon and the Orinoco basins in South America. It is notable for having chicks that have claws on two of their wing digits.

…wing claws?!

Evictions are hitting hard in parts of Mass. where people are most vulnerable

by Tim Logan and Zoe Greenberg

This is a bummer, but not a surprise. Housing should be a right (like food access). If you’ve got extra $$ maybe send to help? But also, talk to your local reps and put the harpoons in them and pull them left, left, left. Then vote them out and put better people in.

There was more I wanted to include but the week got kind of busy (OK: I took the day off yesterday because of A’s birthday, meaning that I have a lot of work to do today), but anyway, I think this is two weeks in a row? Working on it.